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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Interviews

Common Ground on the BWC: An Interview With U.S. Special Representative Laura Kennedy

Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Jonathan B. Tucker[1]

Laura Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, was named last December to serve also as U.S. special representative on issues relating to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). In that position, her principal focus is the treaty’s review conference later this year. Her previous diplomatic postings include a broad range of arms control assignments.

Arms Control Today spoke with Kennedy by telephone May 12. She described the U.S. approach to the BWC and the upcoming review conference, which is scheduled to take place December 5-22. The interview covered many of the topics that are expected to be central to the review conference, including verification, peaceful cooperation, and the BWC’s intersessional process.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity and length.

ACT: Could you bring us up to date on where things stand after the April BWC preparatory committee meeting and tell us what the results of that meeting indicate about the outlook for the December review conference?

Kennedy: I’d be delighted. We finished the PrepCom on April 14. It went extremely well—so well, in fact, that we finished a day early, which in my experience happens very, very rarely. Now this was a procedural meeting, but on the other hand, I’ve certainly been at procedural meetings that were pretty unproductive and nasty, and this went extremely well. It was efficient. As I mentioned, we even finished early, so that is a very good sign. We were also very impressed with the president-designate of the review conference, a colleague of mine incidentally here [in Geneva], Ambassador [Paul] van den IJssel, who was, as one would expect from a chairman, impartial, and, we are delighted to see, effective. It was a very constructive tone, I thought, throughout the discussions.

That is not to say that there were not differences of view; there certainly were and are. But I found that the delegations there were focused on finding solutions and avoiding polemical speeches. That’s a good thing. So I think that judging by this and other signs, the outlook for the review conference is a positive one. We, and I mean the U.S. here, certainly see it as a real opportunity to strengthen implementation of the BWC, reinforce its importance and relevance for this next century. Although people properly look at areas of disagreement, there’s also a huge amount of common ground in the international community.

ACT: There has been quite a lot of discussion about what threats the BWC should be trying to address. You and other U.S. officials have been quite clear in saying that the focus should include subnational threats as well as national programs and that it should also cover areas, such as the surveillance of natural epidemic diseases, that go beyond “security” as it’s normally defined. Can you describe the relative importance of these threats and how the BWC can help to address them? Do other countries generally subscribe to the U.S. approach?

Kennedy: I think the issues that you’ve identified indeed are ones that were identified by my boss, Undersecretary [of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen] Tauscher, who came out to Geneva for the annual meeting [of states-parties] in [December] 2009 when she unveiled the U.S. national strategy. She made just those points, that you need to work on this complex of issues.

First of all, we believe that you need to increase confidence that countries are complying with their obligations and effectively implementing the convention. As you know, the U.S. government does not think that a verification protocol would achieve that objective. That, however, doesn’t mean we think that the objective is not important or that there’s nothing to be done. Very much to the contrary.

Second, the threat of bioterrorism—we think it’s real. We think it’s important to deal with this problem in order to achieve the aim of the BWC: a world free from the threat of biological weapons. We would be the first to say that this is a complex problem, that the knowledge and materials that could be misused are widely and, of course, appropriately used for important scientific and health purposes. Therefore, we think that you have to take a very nuanced approach, including not only security measures, but outreach to industry, to academia and individual scientists, for example.

That brings me to a third area that’s sometimes called health security, which we believe requires sustained attention because the range of possible threats is so broad, and the potential consequences so dire, the international community needs to be prepared to recognize a disease outbreak and respond to it quickly and effectively, whether or not it’s recognized as a deliberate attack. So we’ve got to work together to strengthen disease surveillance and detection capabilities around the world, as well as national and international preparedness, coordination, and response capabilities.

You asked if some of these views were widely shared. I would say that’s one of the good-news stories about the BWC, in that the capabilities that I just described are also needed for many other reasons beyond the security area: natural disease outbreaks or disease caused by accident[al releases of pathogens from research laboratories]. Certainly, all nations have a shared concern for disease and the need to prevent and deal with it. There’s increasingly a shared recognition that when you enhance capabilities to deal with, say, a bioweapons threat, you’re also getting benefits across the board in the health area. As we all know, germs know no borders, so this is something that genuinely unites the international community.

ACT: Can we expect to see some effort on [global health security] at the review conference, some language in the final document reflecting that?

Kennedy: That’s certainly our aim.

ACT: One of the tasks for the review conference is to renew the mandate for the Implementation Support Unit [ISU], the small Geneva-based staff for the BWC. How would you evaluate the ISU’s work so far?

Kennedy: I think I can speak for more than just our own view in the U.S., which is that we think the ISU has done an extremely impressive job over the last five years. I would bet with great confidence that there will be agreement to continue the ISU. I would say there’s also a lot of support for modestly expanding the ISU, although in these difficult budgetary times around the world, I think some governments might find even a tiny increase very difficult, and nobody is going to just write a check. Everyone will want to sort out priorities and come to a consensus on what should be the work plan, what sort of new mandate, what sort of tasks we would set for the next five years for the ISU. Then, presumably, we will make resource decisions based on that review. People aren’t going to say, “Let’s just expand.”

ACT: What is the U.S. position on whether the ISU should be made permanent?

Kennedy: Frankly, I’m not sure we have a set view on that. I think generally it’s been looked at in five-year increments. I think that’s a pretty sensible position myself, and I would suspect that most nations think that this every-five-years review actually makes sense. We certainly would be open to any proposals to make it permanent; but again, let me just go back to the previous point that resources, staffing, and so on should be tied to a consensus on what their tasks should be.

ACT: Another issue is the intersessional process and in what form it will be continued. Currently, the intersessional process is a forum for meeting and discussion between review conferences but not for decision-making. You have said that the process should have greater flexibility and authority. Could you give us some details on what you have in mind?

Kennedy: Sure. I think, as I hope some of my earlier comments made clear, that the intersessional process has been a huge success. When I talked about how the BWC has provided this forum to bring together various actors in the international community, I mean that the intersessional process has been a real winner in this regard. I think this is an issue that is absolutely ripe for a thorough discussion and new steps. It has raised awareness, we’ve exchanged experiences in this forum, and it’s certainly prompted lots of actions at the national level.

If, in the intersessional process, you come up with really useful stuff, like a set of best practices, or guidelines, procedures, in any number of areas, why wouldn’t you want to endorse them in that year, rather than waiting until the next review conference years down the road? Why not have the states-parties give themselves the freedom, the mandate, the opportunity to take decisions to do things that are useful and appropriate?

ACT: In 2001 the United States withdrew from talks on a BWC verification protocol, and the talks subsequently collapsed. You said this past December that a “verification regime is no more feasible than it was in 2001, and perhaps even less so, given the evolution of technology and industry.” However, some countries, including close U.S. allies, do not share this view. Is the United States pursuing some compromise or alternative approach that could bridge the differences on this issue?

Kennedy: You mentioned the previous efforts to negotiate a verification protocol, and you’re certainly right that we abandoned that effort earlier. We went back and did a top-to-bottom review in the new administration and came to the same basic conclusion, that we did not think that a verification protocol was doable for the reasons I spoke to before. But that’s not to say that confidence in compliance is not vitally important to promote by enhanced transparency and compliance diplomacy. There are indeed things that we can do in this general area. There’s a lot of work, for example, going on with respect to possible changes in the confidence-building measures [CBMs].[2] Let me speak to that just briefly.

I think there are three different strands to that discussion. First of all, how do you expand participation? Last year, we had a record number of countries that submitted their CBMs, which are politically binding although not legally binding. But despite the fact that we hit a new high, it’s still less than half the membership.[3]

Two, how do you make the questions more precise so that when you collect all this data, it’s consistent and more usable? Number three, are we asking the right questions, are there new types of information we need to be seeking? Conversely, some of the information we’ve been collecting may be no longer relevant because, for example, it may be available from other sources. These are important questions, and I think there’s a lot of willingness to tackle them. We might not be able to come to agreement at the review conference itself, but at a minimum, I would think we would be able to establish a follow-on process to address these issues.

Another aspect of what we can do to answer these concerns is to find the middle ground, given the differences of view on a verification protocol. Initiatives for increased transparency are important. I think they could meaningfully contribute to additional confidence among the states-parties. We’re looking at ways we can promote and demonstrate transparency, particularly with regard to biological defense programs. We’re looking at various aspects of this general area to increase transparency and confidence in BWC compliance.

ACT: Another area of debate has been peaceful cooperation under Article X of the BWC. What is the likelihood of developing an approach that satisfies the United States and other members of the Australia Group[4] that are concerned about loosening restrictions on transfers of dual-use biotechnology equipment and materials, while also addressing the concerns of countries such as Cuba, Iran, and Pakistan that want to see a freer flow of trade among BWC member states to facilitate the peaceful uses of biotechnology?

Kennedy: Excellent question, [which addresses] a balance that is always struck in complex issues like this. But in general, let me say that I am indeed optimistic that there is a constructive way ahead on this issue. Let me just mention a couple of reasons.

I talked earlier about a cross-regional approach, a greater willingness to work on an international community basis. Instead of the haves versus the have-nots, which in many cases has typified the dialogue in the past, I find increasingly that what we generally refer to as the developed countries have embraced capacity-building assistance. It’s important for the recipient nations, and it’s important for the donor countries, for their respective national-security interests. We also find that, in the biosciences, the distinction between developing and developed countries is simply breaking down. There’s a lot of what we used to call Third World countries that are doing extremely sophisticated science. There’s lots of South-South cooperation. It’s not just relationships being redefined between donors and recipients, but also between partners and collaborators.

There’s a huge amount of cooperation going on in the life sciences, and just because it may not have been identified or have a “BWC Article X” sticker on it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. We think that you can defuse the debate because we are as enthusiastic about Article X as, say, a recipient country. We want to stay away from ideological debates because that could be a recipe for deadlock, and I think people recognize that.

There’s been talk about an Article X mechanism. We’re open to that. We just need to work out what would be meant by that, [and if it is] something everybody can live with.

You mentioned the Australia Group; countries have their own national [export control] regimes or multilateral regimes like the Australia Group. Those are important nonproliferation export control regimes, which we believe in. We think they are absolutely compatible with good assistance programs, which are in our interests as much as the recipient countries’.

ACT: So you’re getting positive reactions from countries that, in the past, have expressed concerns about this area, and you anticipate that [the issue of peaceful cooperation] will be resolved amicably and won’t hold up consensus at the meeting?

Kennedy: I don’t want to be too Pollyannaish. I don’t mean to say that there are not real differences of opinion, but I think we can find common ground; we can deal with these issues. At this point, I’m not seeing anything that is a deal-breaker. I think there’s more of an interest in finding that common ground and working around areas that divide us.

ACT: Could we circle back to one compliance and transparency question? What further measures is the United States prepared to take to reassure other countries that the U.S. biodefense program complies strictly with the BWC’s prohibitions on offensive development?

Kennedy: I want to underline for your readers the fact that the U.S. took the lead in terms of making its annual submission of confidence-building measure data public. Last year, we took this initiative; and for the second year, we did so again. That is one enhanced confidence-building measure, and we’re seeing other countries do that as well.

In terms of transparency, visits and exchanges could be part of the package of transparency measures we’re looking at. I won’t go any further now except to say that these are some of the transparency initiatives we’re looking at on a national basis.

ACT: What are the United States and other countries doing to increase the membership of the BWC and ultimately bring about universal adherence? What are the additional steps to achieve universality that should be adopted at the review conference?

Kennedy: That’s a vitally important issue. We only have 164 countries that have joined the BWC. The good news is that this represents the majority of the international community. The bad news is that there is still a good chunk of countries that haven’t joined. In most cases, it’s not that there is an ideological or political objection to the BWC—by no means. It appears to me to be basically a question of competing priorities. There are countries that say, “Well, we’ve never had biological weapons, we never plan to have biological weapons, [and] we’ve never felt threatened by biological weapons. So joining the BWC may be the right thing to do, but it’s just not a priority.” Some countries have signed and simply have not gotten around to ratifying.

We all know that legislatures get busy, legislative calendars get filled up. But we think it’s vitally important to persuade those countries that haven’t signed to accede to the BWC; if they’ve already signed, to do the final work on getting it ratified. We want them to be on the right side of history, to make sure that there are no BWC loopholes or safe havens anywhere.

There are ways to assist countries to join and also to help them in fulfilling the provisions of the convention, which we are doing and will do. We just had a meeting here in Geneva, together with the [BWC review conference] president, with a number of countries that have not yet joined the convention. We want partners in this endeavor around the globe.

We’re delighted that, in different regions, various countries have taken the lead [on achieving universal adherence to the BWC]. I think of Kenya in Africa, the Philippines and Indonesia in Southeast Asia, just as a few examples. The EU is very active. We are eager to partner with regional partners. We will use every tool at our disposal to focus on the importance of this issue. For example, when President Obama was just in Brazil, the communiqué that was signed with the Brazilian president included a specific reference to the BWC review conference. The G-8 put out a very solid statement on the BWC this year.

I think it’s really important to tailor it to the specific country. What are your issues? How can we help? Raise it in capitals, in Washington, in the host country capital, in Geneva, in New York. Partner with as many other countries as possible. Do it on a regional basis; if there’s a regional group, ask them to put it on their agenda. There are lots of different things that we can do, and we’re doing them.

ACT: Just to wrap this all up, given all the difficult issues we’ve been discussing, what’s a reasonable best-case scenario for the outcome of the conference? What would you look for it to produce?

Kennedy: I would like to see an increase in universality, not just in terms of the number of countries joining the BWC, but new ways to enhance, make easier, and make more relevant participation in the regime for those that are already in—maybe reach agreement on some sort of mechanism or way, for example, to better incorporate science and technology [into the review process]. What are ways to stay ahead of that scientific curve? Agree on a solid review on CBMs: what are ways we can make them more accessible and update them? On the ISU, conduct a thorough review of their work, what else they should do, and then make sure that they are appropriately resourced for the agreed mandate. Openness and transparency: as I mentioned before, we want to promote this. If necessary, we’re prepared to lead unilaterally, but we would hope that this would spark a trend toward greater national transparency across the board. The intersessional process: continue to enhance that vital forum, bring in more industry and academia. Reinforce the synergy among a broad community of diplomats, scientists, law enforcement officers, public health officials. That is vitally important.

ACT: Thank you very much. We really appreciate your taking the time and going into such detail on the answers.

Kennedy: Thank you again.


ENDNOTES

1. Jonathan B. Tucker is a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association.

2. Pursuant to understandings reached at the BWC review conferences in 1986 and 1991, BWC member states are politically bound to submit annual confidence-building measure data declarations covering a variety of topics relevant to compliance with the convention, including unusual outbreaks of infectious disease, maximum-containment laboratories, facilities that produce human vaccines, and national biodefense programs, facilities, and activities.

3. In 2010, 72 of the 163 BWC states-parties submitted confidence-building measure data declarations.

4. The Australia Group is an informal multinational forum of 40 countries plus the European Commission. In an effort to impede proliferation, the group’s members harmonize their national export controls on materials and equipment relevant to the production of chemical and biological weapons.

 

Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Jonathan B. Tucker

Pursuing the Prague Agenda: An Interview With White House Coordinator Gary Samore

Sections:

Body: 

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Gary Samore is White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction terrorism. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, he was vice president for studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. During the Clinton administration, he served as special assistant to the president and senior director for nonproliferation and export controls.

Arms Control Today spoke with Samore in his office April 7. Among the topics covered in the interview were the current impasse in talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the modernization and expansion of nuclear weapons programs in Asia, and the U.S. approach to talks with Russia on missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: It has now been two years since President Barack Obama’s April 2009 Prague speech, in which he outlined his vision for addressing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. A central part of that vision was the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [New START] with Russia, which entered into force earlier this year.

But New START still leaves both sides with very substantial numbers of nuclear weapons. The president has declared his intention to seek further bilateral nuclear reductions involving deployed and nondeployed, strategic and tactical warheads, and national security adviser Tom Donilon recently said, “We are ready to begin discussions soon with Russia on transparency and confidence-building measures that could provide the basis for creative verification measures in the next round.”

What factors will help determine how much further each side is prepared to trim its remaining arsenals? What types of verification, transparency, and confidence-building measures would help provide the basis for further reductions?

Samore: Well, let me speak on the U.S. side because I can’t really talk about how the Russians make their decisions—but I can speculate. As far as we’re concerned, we’ll need to do a strategic review of what our force requirements are and then, based on that, the president will have options available for additional reductions. That review is ongoing. It’s likely to take quite a bit of time because we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations. Reductions below the level that we have now are going to require some more fundamental questions about force structure.

Once we have that review in place, then we’ll be able to actually start a real negotiation with the Russians in terms of providing them with a position. On the verification and the transparency piece, we believe that the next treaty or the next agreement should include nondeployed systems, which have never been monitored or limited under arms control agreements. We believe that tactical nuclear weapons should be included in the overall ceiling. One approach to take, which is our inclination at this point, is to have a single ceiling that would include both deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic [weapons]. And then, both sides, given the different force structures we have, would have some freedom to mix under that total ceiling. But in order to make that kind of an approach work, you would have to have inspections that we’ve never had before, and that would include inspections of nuclear weapons storage facilities.

I think you would need to have some kind of a mechanism to account for nuclear weapons that are destroyed because we have a huge backlog of nuclear weapons that are waiting to be destroyed, and the Russians will want to know how to account for those because, in theory, they could be reused. So, to me, the next treaty or agreement is going to require a very different set of verification and transparency measures, and up to now, both sides have been reluctant to agree. Frankly, the Russians are much more cautious than we are when it comes to verification, so we’re going to have to overcome serious hurdles if we’re going to get down into an agreement that gets at the nondeployed forces.

ACT: Is it accurate to say the rationale for the majority of U.S. nuclear forces is Russia’s nuclear force?

Samore: If you look at the NPR [2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report”], you’ll see the rationale for our nuclear force structure.

ACT: Does the administration foresee further U.S. nuclear reductions if Russia’s deployed nuclear force shrinks below the 1,550-warhead level allowed by New START?

Samore: As the NPR says, at this point it makes sense for there to be some parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, so we don’t rule out taking steps on our own. In the absence of a formal agreement or treaty, there may be parallel steps that both sides could take or even unilateral steps that the U.S. could take. But those are not—decisions haven’t been made yet. Right now we have the New START treaty to implement, which gives us seven years to [come] down to the levels that are identified there. Whether we do things in addition to that or that would supersede that, that would depend very much on the discussions that we have with the Russians.

ACT: During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama said, “Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice...increases the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation” and pledged to “address this dangerous situation.”

The NPR report calls for the evaluation of options that could increase the president’s decision-making time regarding the use of nuclear weapons in times of crisis. News reports suggest new presidential guidance will be formulated that may address this matter.

What specific steps are under consideration that could reduce the potential risks of accident or miscalculation due to so-called prompt launch posture?

Samore: You’ll notice that in Tom Donilon’s [March 29] speech [at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace], when he talks about the strategic review, he mentions that alert postures will be one of the factors that will be addressed in that review. We’re expecting that options will be presented to the president that will look at the implications of changing the alert status and postures and what impact that would have on force size and structure.

ACT: Russian leaders continue to express concern about the more advanced U.S. missile interceptors planned for the later phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

Could you update us on the status of the ongoing U.S.-Russian talks on missile defense cooperation and describe the types of missile defense cooperation that these discussions might produce? For example, would it focus on joint early-warning data sharing, an agreement not to target defensive systems against the other side’s strategic offensive systems, or something else?

Samore: We’ve had very senior-level discussions recently with the Russians on missile defense cooperation including Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates’ discussions when he was in Moscow. President Obama and [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev have discussed the issue in their regular phone conversations. We’re certainly engaging with the Russians at a very senior level to try to find ways to cooperate on missile defense in a way that provides assurance to them, because our missile defense system really isn’t intended to threaten their nuclear deterrent, as well as improving our capacity and their capacity to defend against emerging threats from countries like Iran.

Certainly one of the areas we’re looking at is sharing data in terms of early warning. Again that’s something that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech as an area where we think it would actually serve both sides if we could work together and where the Russians have something to bring to the table because they have radar capacity that would be useful for us in terms of defense of Europe and the United States. So that’s certainly one aspect of cooperation that we’re discussing.

ACT: When do you hope to see some kind of agreement concluded?

Samore: I would be rash to predict when an agreement will be concluded. But it’s something that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have identified as the top strategic priority right now, because we think that’s an area where there’s room for progress.

ACT: The administration has expressed interest in engaging Russia in talks on tactical nuclear weapons. National security adviser Donilon recently has suggested that “increas[ing] transparency on a reciprocal basis concerning the numbers, locations, and types of nonstrategic forces in Europe” could be a useful starting point. Could you give us more details about what you have in mind?

Samore: I think we have to recognize that there’s a disparity between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons in terms of numbers and in terms of mission. From the Russian standpoint, they have many more tactical nuclear weapons, and they claim they believe they need them to counter NATO’s conventional superiority. So one way to begin to get into a process that will lead to reductions on a reciprocal basis is to have a better understanding of both sides’ numbers, doctrine, storage facilities, and so forth, and that’s something we would be prepared to exchange with the Russians on a confidential basis. Whether the Russians are willing to go down that road, I can’t tell you; but what we have in mind is at least starting with an exchange of information as a way to try to get a better understanding of each side’s position and hopefully that would lead—as I said, we think tactical nuclear weapons could be included in the next overall agreement. But another approach would be to take parallel actions in advance of there being a new treaty or agreement, something else that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech.

ACT: Regarding the remaining U.S. tactical nuclear stockpile in Europe, which is part of the ongoing NATO deterrence review, are the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe necessary for the defense of the alliance?

Samore: The primary mission or the primary value of tactical nuclear weapons is symbolic and political because whatever military mission they serve could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe.

ACT: Under what circumstances might NATO consider their consolidation or withdrawal?

Samore: What Tom Donilon talked about in his speech is [steps taken] on a reciprocal basis with Russian actions. That is a principle that all the NATO allies have agreed on. If Russia took reciprocal actions, we would be prepared to take actions. But there’s no agreement in NATO to take unilateral actions as concerns U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

ACT: A general question relating to all of these issues on the U.S.-Russian agenda: How would you characterize the nature of the conversations at this point? These are taking place at the cabinet level, and these are discussions. At what point do you expect that there might be more formal work occurring on any one of these or all of these issues?

Samore: If you’re talking about a formal arms control negotiation, neither side is ready to do that. We’re not prepared to do that yet because we haven’t completed our internal reviews, so we wouldn’t know what position to take. The Russians have indicated publicly that they’re not prepared to consider additional reductions until their concerns about missile defense and weapons in space and a number of other things have been addressed. At this point, I don’t anticipate we would begin formal arms control negotiations anytime soon. That’s why we’re emphasizing the need to have discussions about things like verification, transparency, and so forth; that’s a precursor to having a formal arms control negotiation.

ACT: In the Prague speech, the president pledged to pursue U.S. ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT]. Mr. Donilon recently reaffirmed that the administration will engage with senators on that treaty.

How does the CTBT contribute to U.S. nonproliferation efforts, and do you expect ratification would lead the handful of other states that have not yet done so to reconsider the treaty?

Samore: I think the best argument we can make for the CTBT is that it serves U.S. national security interests by giving us one tool to help constrain the nuclear buildup in Asia. I do believe that if the U.S. ratified the CTBT, it’s likely that China, India, and Pakistan would all ratify the CTBT and that would create a legal and political barrier to a resumption of nuclear testing. I think the risk of a resumption of nuclear testing is greatest in Asia. Obviously, North Korea could test at any time, but among Pakistan, India, and China, those are the countries that are building up their forces, modernizing their forces, and where testing might make sense in terms of those programs. So, to the extent that we can put in place the CTBT and to the extent that that will constrain options in Asia, it will help to tamp down the one part of the world where there is a nuclear buildup taking place.

ACT: On Iran, the United States, particularly with its P5+1 partners,[1] was pursuing a dual-track strategy. We saw from the [January 21-22] meeting in Istanbul, there were no real gains, no progress made on outstanding issues. U.S. officials have said since then that the door is still open but that they’re also looking at tightening the implementation of existing sanctions. How would you characterize the P5+1 diplomatic strategy and options going forward?

Samore: You described it very well. The P5+1 and [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] Lady [Catherine] Ashton have said that the door is open to a resumption [of talks]. I’ve seen no indication that the Iranians are interested and no indication that they’re prepared to come to the table with any serious intent, so we’re very much focusing on the pressure track of the dual-track strategy. We’ve continued to take actions, and you will see in coming weeks and months that, with our allies, we’ll continue to try to increase pressure on Iran in order to persuade its government that the best way to avoid those pressures is to come to the bargaining table and be serious about trying to come up with a diplomatic solution. But at this particular moment, there’s no active diplomacy.

ACT: As you are well aware, Iran has asserted that progress with the P5+1 depends on other states recognizing what it claims is its right to enrich uranium.

Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran could possibly enrich uranium at some point in the future under very strict conditions and “having responded to the international community’s concerns and irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program.” Can you give us some sense of what those strict conditions might be and how the United States intends to ensure that Iran takes those necessary steps?

Samore: I think the key to Iran resuming its full nuclear—peaceful nuclear—activities is to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions that require them to suspend all enrichment- and [spent fuel] reprocessing-related activities and to fully cooperate with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to address concerns about their past and present nuclear activities, especially in the area of weaponization. So, the first step, if Iran wants to restore confidence and if Iran wants to lift sanctions, is to comply with the Security Council resolutions. What Secretary Clinton said has made explicit what has always been implicit in our policy, going back to the Bush administration, that if Iran were to satisfy the UN Security Council that its nuclear intentions were peaceful, then we would have no objection to Iran engaging in the full suite of peaceful nuclear activities. Up to this point, Iran has not been able to persuade anybody, frankly, that its nuclear intentions are peaceful. That’s why the Security Council continues to demand full suspension as the initial step they can take.

ACT: Turning to North Korea, recently Mr. Donilon said that, in order for the six-party talks [involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States] to resume, “North Korea first needs to engage with the South and address issues surrounding its military provocation and then take significant and irreversible steps toward the goal of denuclearization. Those steps must include monitored suspension of their newly declared uranium-enrichment program.”

What steps can the United States and its partners in the region take to achieve these objectives, and what risk is there, in the meantime, that North Korea might continue to build on its nuclear and missile capabilities?

Samore: Very much like the case of Iran, we have applied pressures to North Korea, both in the form of UN Security Council resolutions and in actions we and our allies, especially South Korea and Japan, have taken to try to persuade North Korea to take the steps we consider necessary to resume a diplomatic process. I think we’ve begun to see the North Koreans, at least right now, looking for a way to resume the six-party talks. We’ll continue to do that, and as Tom Donilon said, for us it’s very important that we not go back to the old way of doing business where the North Koreans get benefits in return for just talking. What we want to see are concrete actions. As Tom said, getting the North Koreans to suspend their enrichment program is an important step.

ACT: On the fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT], U.S. officials, including yourself, Clinton, and Donilon, have said that “our patience is not infinite” and that if the stalemate continues in the CD [Conference on Disarmament], the United States would seek other options. What is the United States doing now to break the deadlock in the CD? In the absence of agreement on a work program, what “other options” are you considering to halt the further production of nuclear bomb material?

Samore: We’re continuing in the CD as we have since President Obama’s Prague speech to argue that we’re prepared to begin negotiations on a verifiable FMCT. In fact, all countries at the CD agreed to such a work plan. Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to block a consensus on carrying out that work plan, and at this point, it appears unlikely to me that the CD will be able to come up with a compromise to begin FMCT negotiations. We’re going to start consulting. We will start consulting and have started to consult with allies and partners on whether there’s an alternative venue for the Conference on Disarmament. There are a couple of different ideas out there in play and we’re open-minded. The important thing for us is to get the negotiation started. So, we’re talking to the key countries, including countries that would be directly affected by an FMCT, as well as the technology holders.

It seems to me that is a group that we would want as much as possible to be included in such a process. Recognizing that the Pakistanis are probably not going to be willing to participate, but nonetheless if the CD is not going to be able to get started in terms of negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty, it’s important that we find some other way to do that, even if it means bypassing the CD, because these negotiations are not going to be quick and easy. There are a lot of pretty fundamental disagreements or differences of point of view, for example, whether existing stocks should be included and how the verification would be carried out. This is going to be a very lengthy, difficult, complicated negotiation, and the longer we wait to get started, the longer it will be before a treaty can actually be achieved.

ACT: You say such consultations should involve “technology holders.” By “technology holders,” do you mean those countries that have enrichment and reprocessing technology?

Samore: Yes. It would be good to include the Japanese, the Germans, Brazil, South Africa—countries that have developed enrichment and reprocessing for peaceful purposes. It seems to me they have something to bring to the negotiations, and to the extent that any verification regime would have some elements that would be in addition to the existing IAEA safeguards, it would directly affect countries that have [enrichment and reprocessing] facilities that are already under safeguards.

ACT: In the meantime, Pakistan and India are the two countries, North Korea aside, that are believed to be continuing fissile material production for weapons. What steps can the United States and the international community pursue prior to a negotiation on an FMCT to address the risks posed by the continued accumulation of fissile material in South Asia?

Samore: I think it’s very unlikely that either India or Pakistan is prepared at this moment to stop its nuclear buildup. Both countries, for their own reasons, just like China for its own reasons, seem intent on further developing their capabilities. In the near term, I don’t think there is any sort of [regional] arms control arrangement, whether it’s by one of those countries or by two or three of them, that could deal with this buildup. That’s why we think the FMCT and the CTBT provide international instruments for trying to get at that concern. Certainly in the case of South Asia, it’s very important, I think, to minimize as much as possible incidents that could lead to military tension and conflict between India and Pakistan because, in my view, the risk of a conflict escalating to a nuclear war is probably higher in South Asia than in anywhere else in the world. We’ve obviously worked very hard to encourage India and Pakistan to resume their composite dialogue, worked very hard to try to convince the Pakistani government to take action against groups in their country that might be carrying out terrorist actions against India. So to me, the focus in the near term has to be on confidence building to reduce the risk of war. In the long term, to the extent that we can get these international instruments in place, like the CTBT and the FMCT, that’s a way to constrain the nuclear buildup.

ACT: There have been reports in recent months suggesting that Pakistan’s fissile material production rate has been accelerating. Is this the case? Has India also increased its rate of fissile material production since the approval [by the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group of a policy of resuming nuclear exports to India] in 2008?

Samore: I probably can’t talk to that specifically. All I can do is repeat that there is a nuclear buildup under way in Asia: India, Pakistan, and China all are modernizing and expanding their nuclear forces. We need to figure out a way to, A, manage and, B, try to constrain that as much as we can. The best approach we’ve been able to come up with is one that emphasizes these multilateral international arms control instruments because I don’t see any purely regional approach that will be effective, and I don’t see any approach where any of those three countries would, on their own, decide to stop.

ACT: In an October 2010 presentation, you cited Pakistan as the issue that keeps you up at night. With regard to nuclear proliferation and material security, do you still have those concerns?

Samore: The Pakistani government takes the nuclear security threat very seriously, and they’ve put a lot of resources into trying to make sure that their nuclear facilities and materials and weapons are well secured. There’s no lack of recognition that this is a very important issue, and there’s no lack of incentive on the part of the Pakistani government to maintain control. What I worry about is that, in the context of broader tensions and problems within Pakistani society and polity—and that’s obviously taking place as we look at the sectarian violence and tensions between the government and the military and so forth—I worry that, in that broader context, even the best nuclear security measures might break down. You’re dealing with a country that is under tremendous stress internally and externally, and that’s what makes me worry. They have good programs in place; the question is whether those good programs work in the context where these broader tensions and conflicts are present.

ACT: On the nuclear security summit, we’re about a year away from the second summit to be held in Seoul. What are the United States and South Korea hoping to accomplish at the summit next year? What are the biggest challenges that have to be addressed in order to meet the four-year goal that has been set out?

Samore: I think we’re on track to have a very successful summit. We’ve already been able to secure, remove, [and] eliminate very large quantities of fissile material, and we’ve still got a year to go. So, I think we’ll have an additional track record of success.

We’ve also made a very concerted effort to set up the centers of excellence and training, which is very effective because nuclear security is more than just the material. It also requires, and it is in many ways more important, that the people responsible for securing the material do their job properly. Since the [2010] Washington summit, we’ve signed agreements with a number of countries to either establish or work together in these nuclear security centers, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, and so forth. I think there may be some additional ones that would be announced in Seoul.

Lastly, and this is the one area where I think we have the greatest challenge, how do we translate the work that the summit participants do into the broader international community? I think there is a very good working relationship among the 47 or so countries, and we’ve all agreed on a work plan and will be able to come to Seoul and show that we’ve made very significant progress to carry out the steps in the work plan. But we need a mechanism for including the 150 or so countries that are not actually at the summit, and that means finding a greater role for the UN. I think Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is very interested in being active in this area. I think it means using other international organizations, like the IAEA, and strengthening their nuclear security assistance program.

The summit will show that there has been substantial progress among the countries that participated in the Washington meeting in terms of carrying out the work plan. The challenge for us is to find some way to include those countries that are not actually physically present at the summit because, as a practical matter, we can’t include everybody, and that’s something we’re working on.

ACT: The part about the president’s four-year goal—can you address that? Where do things stand? What are the challenges in order to complete that particular goal of the president?

Samore: We, of course, still have a ways to go before we’ve reached our four-year mark. I think there will be cases where we don’t have access [to] or even knowledge of nuclear material, for example, nuclear material in North Korea. We don’t have a cooperative relationship with the North Koreans, so we won’t be able to say from our own knowledge that that nuclear material has been secured. I think it probably has been, but I have no way to make that judgment. In some cases, we can have direct access, work directly with countries on-site, either to secure, remove, or eliminate nuclear material. In other cases, we won’t have direct access. That’s why we’re trying to work through these indirect mechanisms, like centers of excellence, where we think we can help countries to establish a good security culture and training and equipment and so forth, and then strengthen the international elements, whether it’s the UN or the IAEA or the different conventions. At the end of the four-year period, I can’t tell you exactly where we’ll be, but the Seoul summit is sort of coming up on the halfway mark, and we’ve already been able to show very substantial progress.

ACT: At the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review conference last year, there was an agreement to hold a conference on a Middle East weapons of mass destruction-free zone. What does the United States hope to achieve through the 2012 conference? Are you looking for states in the region to take certain interim steps that would contribute to the realization of such a zone? Given the nature of the nuclear debate in the region, to what extent will the meeting focus initially on chemical and biological weapons?

Samore: Our view is that it’s important that the meeting, if it takes place in 2012, focus on the broader range of nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic missile [issues]. When we agreed to organize this meeting at the NPT review conference, 2012 seemed like a pretty reasonable timeline for getting something organized. Obviously, since then there have been some extraordinarily dramatic changes in the region; and whether or not we can still make that 2012 meeting is, I think, much less clear. We have to continue to make an effort.

What we would like to do is identify a number of host countries and then see if we could get some, if not consensus, at least strong support from among the countries in the region for a host. That would be an important first step in terms of making the conference more real. But given the disagreements in the region on these issues and given the turmoil and uncertainty in the region, this whole thing is going to be a very challenging enterprise.

ACT: The P5 states[2] plan to meet in Paris later this year to discuss nuclear transparency issues and possible ways to verify additional nuclear arms reductions. What do you hope to achieve at this meeting, and do you expect similar meetings to follow?

Samore: We hope there will be similar meetings. There isn’t any basis on which the five recognized nuclear-weapon states can engage in formal arms control negotiations. There’s no political basis on which you can have a five-way nuclear arms agreement because of the disparity between the U.S. and Russia on one hand and the U.K., France, and China on the other. In place of, or in advance of, there being any kind of formal multilateral arms control process, we’re trying at least to develop some areas of understanding on verification and transparency because if the U.S. and Russia continue to reduce [their nuclear arsenals] in the long term, it would create conditions where, in theory, you could have an arms control negotiation among the five, among states that possess nuclear weapons. If you were to have such a negotiation, there would have to be some kind of verification and transparency arrangement. So these discussions, I think, are useful in that sense, recognizing that the conditions for having formal arms control negotiations among the five just don’t exist.

ACT: Just remind us about the genesis of these meetings. There was an earlier meeting in London...

Samore: It was the British that started the idea, and we were very comfortable with that. Now the French have picked up [on it], and I would hope in the future, although this hasn’t been agreed, you would see similar meetings hosted by the other countries. But we have to recognize that the other countries are very wary of being brought into an arms control process at a time when, from their standpoint, the U.S. and Russia have 10 times more nuclear weapons than they do. I don’t think any country of the five is prepared to agree to any kind of a treaty or agreement that would lock them into a position of having less weapons.

ACT: Has a date been firmly set for the meeting?

Samore: I don’t believe so; you would have to ask the French. I’m not sure there has been complete agreement on there even being a meeting. I think that’s still under discussion. We’re very comfortable with it, and we would hope that all of the others would agree to it as well.

ACT: Is there anything we should have asked that we didn’t? Anything you want to say that we haven’t touched on in our questions up to this point?

Samore: The one thing I would say is that I really do think that President Obama’s approach to this range of issues is that there has to be an integrated approach, and the Prague speech was very deliberately designed so that there were four interlocking elements, and I think we’ve made very good progress on each of those. But to me, the challenge of Iran and North Korea continues to be an area that if we don’t get right, will unravel everything else we’re trying to do. I really do think that unless we’re able to check the programs in North Korea and Iran, there’s a very high likelihood that it will eventually lead to further proliferation. I’m not saying it’s going to happen right away, but if that happens, if we see additional nuclear powers emerge in East Asia and the Middle East, then that completely undermines everything else that we’re trying to do. So, I hope that people appreciate how important it is that we work together to convince Iran and North Korea to comply with their obligations. Otherwise, everything else that we’re doing in the other areas, I think, will probably come to naught.

ACT: That’s a wide-ranging and complex set of challenges. Thanks for giving us an overview on all of these things two years after the Prague speech.

Samore: Sure.


ENDNOTES

1. P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany.

2. The P5 also are the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the NPT.

 

Description: 

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Country Resources:

The Stockpile’s Steward: An Interview With NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino

Interviewed by Tom Z. Collina and Daniel Horner

Thomas D’Agostino was sworn in on August 30, 2007, as the Department of Energy’s undersecretary for nuclear security and as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency within the department. On September 3, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that D’Agostino would continue to hold those positions. From February 2006 to August 2007, he served as the NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense programs.

In December 2010, D’Agostino, Kazakhstani Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Umarov, and their international partners were chosen in an online poll as the Arms Control Association’s Arms Control Persons of the Year for completing the job of securing material containing 10 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and three metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from the BN-350 reactor in Kazakhstan.

Arms Control Today spoke with D’Agostino in his office on February 18. The interview covered NNSA weapons efforts such as plutonium pit production and warhead life extension programs, including experiments that use nuclear weapons materials without generating a nuclear explosion. On nonproliferation issues, Arms Control Today asked about the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which aims to reduce and secure vulnerable nuclear materials at civilian sites around the world, and the disposition of surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You have just submitted your fiscal year 2012 budget to Congress, and we would like to ask you some questions that go to the NNSA’s role in supporting U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, reducing nuclear arsenals, and maintaining the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Let’s start with the NNSA’s role in U.S. nuclear weapons policy. First, on the test ban treaty:

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] reaffirmed that “the United States will not conduct nuclear testing and will pursue ratification” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion for almost 19 years.

Last November, the administration outlined its plan to increase funding for NNSA weapons activities, totaling more than $85 billion over the next 10 years. The directors of the three nuclear weapons laboratories wrote Dec. 1 that the proposed budgets provide “adequate support to sustain the safety, security, reliability and effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent.”

In your opinion, is there any technical reason that the United States should not ratify the test ban treaty and forgo testing for the foreseeable future?

D’Agostino: No. In my opinion, we have a safe and secure and reliable stockpile. Every year, we go through a very detailed annual assessment process where we evaluate the condition of the stockpile. We get independent input from our laboratory directors that comes through a variety of processes both within the Department of Energy and NNSA and at the Defense Department. Both of those come through independently at the top. It’s very consistent on the policy message that you described: There’s no need to conduct underground testing.

There is continued work that has to be done, and that’s what is great about the budgets that have been submitted by the president in the past two years. They represent a very consistent view that we need to increase surveillance work because if we’re going to maintain the deterrent and get into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, we actually have to have the data in order to ensure that we understand the condition of the stockpile as it currently exists and as we expect it will progress out into the future. Because with that [surveillance] data, we use our people and put it into our machines to understand and simulate and do subcritical experiments [which utilize high explosives and fissile materials, including plutonium, but do not generate a nuclear yield] and the like in order to ensure that we can continue to maintain the stockpile without testing.

So, I feel very strongly that we have the right plan in place. The president has submitted this plan. He’s been true to his word with respect to the 1251 report—the report that we submitted last year to Congress describing what kind of program and plan needs to happen.

[The report] shows increased investments across a variety of fronts, increased investments in work on modernization and work on the stockpile itself to make sure we extend the life of the existing stockpile. It shows increased investments in scientific work that has to happen—I mentioned subcritical experiments. It shows increased investments in surveillance activities to gather data.

Importantly, it shows investments—and this applies more broadly, not just to the warheads themselves, but in the facilities—that the nation needs in order to do nuclear security work generally. This is nuclear security work on the warheads, nuclear security work on nonproliferation, nuclear security work on nuclear counterterrorism and nuclear forensics and intelligence analysis.

All of those [areas] are pieces that we know we need in order to have a safe world out into the future. It’s a very nice wrap, frankly, between the warheads and nonproliferation activities and people. Those things come together in a very tight way with this program and budget.

ACT: The NPR pledged that “the United States will not develop new nuclear warheads” and that, regarding any decision to proceed to engineering development for warhead life extension programs [LEPs], “the Administration will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse. Replacement of nuclear components would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met and if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.”

Does the NNSA have any plans to “replace” warheads or parts in the future, that is, introduce warhead designs that are not currently in the stockpile, but are based on tested designs?

D’Agostino: The United States has a plan to extend the life of the existing stockpile. As you mentioned, the Nuclear Posture Review very clearly directs our laboratory directors to study the full range of options to make sure that we get the benefit of their technical knowledge and capability. As I think you mentioned earlier, the laboratory directors have endorsed this as an acceptable approach to move forward with taking care of the stockpile out into the future.

So, to get right to your question, we’re in the very early study phases for the two life extension systems where your question might be appropriate. One is the B61 life extension program, and the second one is the W78 life extension activities. Both of these, particularly the W78 activity, have barely just gotten off the ground.

With the B61 [program], we are in the early phases, with the study examining that full range of options well under way. I don’t have the analysis yet because we’re in what we call the “phase 1-phase 2” area of the work on the B61 life extension. When that data comes back to us, we’ll look at all of the options that are being proposed, and then we will decide whether option A, option B, or option C is the best track. If it’s option C, we’ll need to go back up. We’re not at that stage on these life extensions yet.

ACT: Okay. Do you see at this point any potential missions that could not be achieved with refurbishment or reuse?

D’Agostino: At this point, right now, I don’t have the data, so I can’t answer that question directly. The mission space is a responsibility of the Defense Department, but the president has made clear that what we’re doing right now is not adding new missions to the warheads. We’re taking care, extending the life, of the warheads that we have right now. So, the analysis is currently under way on whether replacement is the way to go, or refurbishment, or reuse.

It’s very clear, though, that the president’s direction and our direction to our laboratories is to study, make sure they have examined that full range of options. We want to give them, frankly, the benefit of doing that because we want the nation to have the safest, most secure stockpile technically possible. The decisions will get made to balance, do trade-offs. Trade-offs in cost, trade-offs in risk, trade-offs in political [terms], maybe some atmospherics that may be happening there. We’re not there yet; we’re far from that point on making those decisions.

ACT: Would future warheads with “intrinsic surety” require “replacement,” or are there other operational measures that can provide sufficient protection at lower cost? If you were to design warheads with intrinsic security, can you do that with refurbishment or reuse, or would you have to move to a replacement design?

D’Agostino: The answer is, “It depends,” frankly.

It depends on the technical details. Now we’re delving into the heart of work on the primary, and the answer will be, “It depends.” It’s not clear that you would have to use a particular approach. What’s clear is that we’re going to examine all of our approaches, because we do want to extract that benefit and that knowledge and then allow policy and programmatic decisions to get made after that.

ACT: The NNSA’s [fiscal year] 2012 budget requests [funds] to study “scaled experiments” for “improving predictive capability of performance calculations for nuclear weapon primaries.” Can you describe these experiments and explain what they are for?

D’Agostino: Certainly. Scaled experiments basically are a type of subcritical experiment. Scaled experiments involve plutonium, but like subcriticals, they’re subcritical, they’re not nuclear tests.

Subcritical experiments are done all the time in order to gather the data that we need to study how the plutonium ages and make sure that we understand the dynamic [properties of the material], how the material moves under extreme pressures and temperatures. It’s an additional set of inputs. Because the president has a commitment to maintain the stockpile without underground testing and pursue the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, our view as a technical organization is to make sure we examine all the technical approaches to get data so we can take care of the stockpile and fulfill that mandate.

An element of the resources we’re talking about here has to do with making sure and understanding, “Can a more robust set of activities in scaled experiments provide data that allows us in effect to ensure that we don’t have to conduct an underground test?” We don’t know the answer to that question. That’s why the JASONs [group of senior science and defense consultants] are looking at it. That’s why we’re examining it in depth within the administration. That’s why we’ve got some money set aside to go answer that question.

Before we decide to pursue a path of additional scaled experiments, we want to make sure we understand the benefit that it provides versus the costs, the financial costs, associated with doing that. It’s going to take us a few years to get to that point because this is the heart of the matter, frankly. The data from the primaries is the key point in being able to take care of the stockpile.

ACT: Would a new facility be necessary? And if so, how much might it cost?

D’Agostino: We don’t know if a new facility is necessary. We don’t know if a new scaled-experiments program is necessary, and therefore we don’t know what it would cost.

ACT: Okay, and just a clarifying question: scaled experiments have or have not been done up to this point?

D’Agostino: Scaled experiments are done by, have been done by states that have stockpiles of warheads.

ACT: But not in the United States?

D’Agostino: In the United States, we don’t have a very—no, we haven’t done scaled experiments in a long time.

ACT: Los Alamos National Laboratory currently has a relatively limited capacity to produce plutonium parts, or pits, for warheads. The planned future capacity is 50 to 80 pits per year.

Given that New START [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] will reduce the deployed U.S. arsenal by hundreds of warheads, why do you believe this production capacity is still necessary?

D’Agostino: To be clear: pit production actually does not happen in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility. Just to be clear on that. Pit production happens in one of our facilities within the technical area [at Los Alamos] that does this work.

Fifty to 80 pits per year is the throughput rate we expect that we might possibly need out into the future. [That] doesn’t necessarily mean we need it now, but we might possibly need it in order to take care of the stockpile, given the size of the stockpile.

The reductions of the New START treaty were factored into that particular analysis. So if you think about the need to conduct a life extension on a warhead and any modifications you might have to make to an existing pit in order to extend its life, and how long our life extensions would typically take—our life extension programs typically take 10 years or so on the average, because we do have a number of different warhead types in our stockpile—we believe that 50 to 80 provides a reasonable balance.

The last thing we want to do, because this is a very expensive facility, is—we don’t want to build a larger facility than we need. But we also need to be able to respond to a technical problem in the stockpile should we have to reconstitute a whole warhead type within a reasonable period of time, or respond to a geopolitical change that would require us to ramp up. These are all political decisions, of course, and technical decisions.

The nexus is that crossover between politics and technical, that sphere we’re operating in. But 50 to 80 is considered a reasonable throughput rate. It’s very small; it’s nothing at all like we were [doing] during the Cold War. It’s much smaller than the Cold War.

In fact, the point that is very important to remember on a Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility is that we’re trying to lay the groundwork for the future. Get out of two plutonium facilities and move down to one plutonium facility. [We don’t need] one at Los Alamos and one at [Lawrence] Livermore [National Laboratory]; we just want one for the nation, that’s all the nation needs. We have hundreds of thousands of [square feet of] plutonium lab space. We need 40 percent of that out into the future.

What we’re trying to do is drive efficiencies. But importantly, these investments are important in order for us to do our nuclear counterterrorism work and in order for us to do our nonproliferation work. The Chemistry and Metallurgy [Research] Replacement facility is a facility that is needed to do the analysis on the samples to make sure our stockpile is safe. It also—should there be a condition in the future where we get our hands on plutonium that’s been smuggled—allows us to do some nuclear forensics work.

ACT: In 2006 the NNSA published the results of a laboratory study that found that plutonium pits have lifetimes of at least 85 years. The NNSA [fiscal year] 2012 budget states that “a lifetime was established for a W88 primary, advancing our lifetime estimates beyond the pit lifetimes produced in 2006.”

Can you tell us what the new lifetime estimate is for the W88 pit?

D’Agostino: No. Sorry, I can’t. These [estimates] were general. If you recall, the 2006 study spoke in some generalities because there are ranges. In fact, I might add, we’re quite fortunate that we had these longer lifetimes. Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos did the detailed studies. If the lifetimes were significantly shorter, we would have been forced as a nation to accelerate our activities, and then we would have, of course, run the risk of potentially overbuilding the size of the pit production capabilities. So, longer lifetimes is good stuff.

ACT: What is the NNSA’s current opinion on how long pits last, in general?

D’Agostino: In general, we’ll stick by the data you talked about earlier.

ACT: Now we’d like to shift to the NNSA’s nonproliferation programs, particularly nuclear security and fissile materials disposition.

It has been almost two years since President Obama announced the effort to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” There have been a number of significant accomplishments in those two years. What are your priorities for 2011 and 2012? What can we expect to see by 2013—the end of the four-year block—and beyond that?

D’Agostino: The president has made it very clear what my priorities are. I love it when I get clear guidance. The clear guidance is to secure all the most vulnerable material in four years. And we have a plan. We are implementing that plan.

The plan, of course, needs to be resourced, and we’re resourcing that plan. The president’s budget requests for FY11 and 12 and the out-years do resource that plan. If numbers change, obviously we will look at our priorities to make sure the right thing happens given the priorities. If that means making some tough decisions, we’re ready to make those tough decisions.

ACT: What can we expect to see by 2013, four years since he made the statement? [Are there things] we should look for beyond that as well?

D’Agostino: Well, the plan that we have right now completes this effort in December of 2013. That’s the key. So we’re working to that plan. We’ve identified a scope of work to get this four-year material secured. Not just ourselves, of course; we’re doing this with the international community.

Last April at the nuclear security summit, there was a commitment that two years hence we would meet again in Seoul and see how well we’ve done. We’re tracking very closely against the commitments made by other nations on work that they would do in order to get this material secured and in some cases removed. For some of the work that they’re doing, we’re partners with them to make sure it happens. So, that is in our plan and in our budget.

It’s exciting work. What’s wonderful about this is there’s a reporting-back mechanism to the highest levels in government—to the presidents or the prime ministers—that says, “I said I was going to do this two years ago; well, how did I do?” The whole world is watching. This is great stuff.

ACT: As you said, though, there are likely to be some budget constraints. In its budget request for fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration requested an increase of more than $200 million from the fiscal year 2010 appropriation for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. But because Congress has been funding the government with a continuing resolution [CR], spending for the first five months of fiscal year 2011 has been at the 2010 level.

What impact has that had on the effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material?

D’Agostino: Because the FY11 budget is still being negotiated, we don’t know where it’s going to end up. What I will say, what works with a continuing resolution is that the continuing resolutions provide us flexibility in the executive branch to move resources to the areas of highest priority.

Will there be some impacts? There likely will be some minor impacts associated with, “Well, we’ll have to move this shipment back a few months.” Our plan was to front-load that Global Threat Reduction Initiative work to get it under way robustly in 2011 so that as schedules change, we don’t lose track and we can still hit our December 2013 target. Our plan is still to do that. We’re down at the FY10 levels, but we can reallocate resources.

I would say if we’re at a situation where we’re going through a whole year [with a continuing resolution that does not provide the requested increases], there will likely be some greater impacts. We adjust our programs on a regular basis as a result of [the uncertainty of operating under a series of short-term continuing resolutions]. Do we anticipate another weeklong CR? How does it impact our plans? As a three-month CR becomes a six-month CR, becomes a full-year CR, there are actually different plans that have to be developed in each case. With the three-month CR, well, I can hold out, but with the one-year CR, I might have to delay some things. If I knew what the future was like, it would be easy, but I don’t. So, that’s why this is hard.

ACT: You mentioned reallocating. So, you’re already looking at areas other than the nuclear security efforts where you can draw money from and reallocate it to nuclear security, is that what you were saying?

D’Agostino: That’s right. What we have been doing is looking at areas where resources aren’t being spent at the pace we expected or may be of lower priority. At this point right now, all of our programs are running on track because we typically have a slight carryover balance that we bring in from the previous year. We’re on a one-year kind of an approach. So, we’re managing just fine, but things get harder as the year goes on.

ACT: Turning to military fissile materials, you are working on the disposition of more than 30 metric tons of former U.S. weapons plutonium by building a plant at the Savannah River Site to turn it into mixed-oxide [MOX] fuel that is to be used in commercial reactors.

The MOX plant is the largest item in the nonproliferation budget; you are requesting $579 million for construction [of the MOX fuel fabrication plant and two supporting facilities] for fiscal year 2012.

Given that the United States has historically tried to discourage civilian use of plutonium and given that converting plutonium into reactor fuel is not the only option for disposition, please tell us why you see this as a major budgetary and policy priority.

D’Agostino: It’s a significant priority for a couple of reasons. One is, we’re talking about 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, probably the most dangerous stuff on earth. Using it up, putting it in a form that it can never be used for its original purpose, is a great goal. Two is that we’re going to be able to extract a significant amount of energy out of this material.

When we’ve done studies in the past, we’ve looked at immobilization, long-term storage. At the end of the day, with all of those other approaches, you still at the end of the day—after 50 years, at the end of 100 years—have this 34 metric tons of plutonium. Using the approach the nation is proceeding down right now, that material doesn’t exist in that particular form. It’s really, in my view, the ultimate swords-into-ploughshares program. It’s that conversion of that material and getting rid of that material.

The president’s plan, the plan that we have laid out right now, really focuses on the material. Securing the material at sites, detecting illicit transfers of material across borders or between geographic locations, not making more material, and getting rid of material that you don’t need. Obviously, this question you asked on mixed-oxide fuel falls into that last category and also has the added benefit of extracting some of the value out of the material that the nation put into it.

ACT: What’s the timetable for producing the MOX fuel and irradiating it in commercial reactors, especially that second piece?

D’Agostino: Well, the timetable right now is that we’re currently operating on a track to get the facility up and operating in 2016.

Now, just like very many complicated things, it’s not a light switch that flips “on” on day one. In making this many metric tons per year of material, there’s a ramp-up in its approach. What we’re doing right now, though, is focusing on project management; that’s a key element of what we want to do in order to make sure that we’re successful.

The NNSA’s fiscal year 2012 program and budget request has a significant number of large projects in it, and the focus now is going to be making sure that we deliver on those projects on time, on schedule, as committed once we hit our performance baseline.

That’s all about improving the way we do business, which is one of the three themes that I’ve mentioned in presentations in the past. The first theme is investing in our future. The second theme is implementing the president’s nuclear security agenda, the topic which we’ve talked about. The third theme is improving the way we do business. So, the focus is on getting that MOX plant together.

[On the question of when reactors will start loading MOX fuel,] there’s work we’re doing with Energy Northwest and with the TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] to reach some agreements on how we would use this fuel on what type of time period. With the Tennessee Valley Authority, we have a commitment with the NNSA to do a supplemental environmental impact statement to evaluate the use of this material in the five TVA reactors that can use it. Then the agreements will get modified, and we’ll go from there.

We expect this, in about the 2012 time frame to come to fruition, because we recognize that we need an end-stream user. With Energy Northwest, we’ve recently entered into an agreement to examine the use of this material. Typically what that involves is making the right types of components that can be irradiated so that they can be examined by the end user to make sure they’re comfortable in putting this fuel inside their reactors.

ACT: Just to be clear, they’re doing testing; you don’t have contracts with those utilities to go ahead yet. Is that correct?

D’Agostino: That’s correct. We have agreements to do the upfront work necessary before we can actually put a contract in place. Because before we put a contract in place—an agreement that I give you this, and you give me that on this type of timescale—the utilities, appropriately so, need to make sure [they know] what are they getting themselves into. They see value in taking the time and energy to examine this question, and our discussions with TVA are very promising in this area.

ACT: On the timetable, 2018, I think, is when you plan to start loading [MOX fuel] into reactors. Is that still the timetable, and does that allow time for testing of the assemblies and all the other preliminary [work] and licensing and everything that’s necessary to be ready to actually start loading commercial fuel elements into reactors of that kind?

D’Agostino: I believe so. I don’t have the exact date on the tip of my tongue. That sounds about right. It’s a period of time after, obviously, the MOX plant has to get up and running. It gives us the time to get these elements in place.

ACT: You talked about the five reactors at the TVA, that’s the two Sequoyah and three Browns Ferry [reactors], I assume. But if I recall, the two Sequoyah reactors are also backup reactors for the tritium mission. So, is there a potential juggle you’ll have to do?

D’Agostino: Those specific details will have to get handled if and when they’re needed at that particular time. That’s how I would view that.

ACT: Is there anything that we should have asked that we didn’t that you want to make clear?

D’Agostino: Well, first of all I want to thank Arms Control Today. I appreciate the honor of receiving this award [as an Arms Control Person of the Year]. I recognize it’s not because of me, frankly, it’s because of all the work of the men and women in the NNSA that work all over the world and in this country to get this work done. I think it’s actually a recognition that the NNSA is making the shift from a Cold War nuclear weapons complex to a 21st-century nuclear security enterprise, where nuclear security is the paramount watchword. Frankly, I’m very excited about it, and the people in the NNSA are as well.

ACT: I should say also that the award was voted on [by participants in an online poll], so we can’t take credit for choosing you.

Thank you.

 


 

Updated June 2, 2011: Shaw Areva MOX Services, the NNSA's prime contractor for the surplus-weapons-plutonium disposition program, has a contract with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to explore the potential use in the Columbia reactor of MOX fuel made with the surplus weapons plutonium. The reactor is located near Richland, Washington and is operated by Energy Northwest, which is considering a paper study with PNNL that would look at certain aspects of using MOX fuel at Columbia, including licensing, operational requirements, and security. As of June 1, 2011, Energy Northwest had not signed the subcontract for the study with PNNL.

 

Interviewed by Tom Z. Collina and Daniel Horner

Taking Stock of the NPT: An Interview With U.S. Special Representative Susan Burk

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Susan Burk has served as special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation since June 8, 2009. In that position, she plays a lead role in U.S. government preparations for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which is scheduled to take place May 3-28 at the United Nations. Burk previously served as deputy coordinator for homeland security in the Department of State’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. She also has served as acting assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation and in other nonproliferation posts at the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Arms Control Today spoke with Burk in her State Department office January 19. She outlined her views on recent progress in strengthening the NPT regime and on the challenges that the treaty parties will have to confront at the review conference.

The interview was transcribed by Caitlin Taber. It has been edited for clarity.

The interview is part of an Arms Control Today article series, which began in the January/February 2010 issue, on topics related to the NPT and the upcoming review conference.

ACT: In April of last year, President Barack Obama said efforts to contain nuclear weapons dangers “are centered in a global nuclear non-proliferation regime,” and he pledged to strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty “as a basis for cooperation.” How does the United States hope to use the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May to strengthen the goals of the treaty?

Burk: I think in the first instance, what we are looking at is a review conference that will revalidate the importance of the treaty for international and regional security and stability. That would be the first goal—what some officials have been calling a renewal and a reinvigoration of the NPT. That is the large strategic goal. We also think the review conference can address measures under all three pillars of the treaty that would strengthen the treaty and improve its implementation. The first would be the disarmament pillar. Obviously, the president has laid out an ambitious disarmament program, steps that he is committed to take. On the nonproliferation pillar, the United States is looking at issues of compliance, safeguards, support for the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in all aspects—financial, human, political support. With regard to the third pillar, we are addressing the challenging issues, the interesting issues, that have now arisen with the new focus on nuclear power in response to the global consensus on climate change. There are a number of important actions to be taken up under all three pillars of the treaty, and the review conference is the place to address those issues.

ACT: How important is a final conference document outlining specific benchmarks and goals to a successful NPT review conference and future efforts to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation system?

Burk: If you look historically, tremendous importance has been attached to production of a consensus final document. But if you also look at the history, we see that that’s an elusive goal. I would have to say personally it would be very positive if we could agree on a statement, a forward-looking statement, and we are prepared to work very hard with our NPT partners to see what we can do on that. But we think we ought to be striving for quality, not quantity. Perhaps if we go for something brief and concise but specific, we might be able to be successful. But success can be defined in other ways as well.

ACT: I hope we’ll get into more detail on how we define that. How would you describe the political climate leading into this year’s review conference? Is it more conducive to reaching agreement on the treaty’s three pillars that you just mentioned than in 2005, and if so, why?

Burk: Well, I wasn’t involved in 2005, so I don’t want to do too much speculation. I think we’re facing a number of the same problems and concerns and stresses, if you will, on the system that we faced in 2005.[1] That includes North Korea’s withdrawal from the treaty and Iran’s program. So those are constants, but there is definitely an improved atmosphere. From all accounts from my colleagues who’ve told me about the preparatory meetings leading up to this, it is definitely a different atmosphere, very positive, in large part due to the United States’ embrace of multilateral diplomacy in a very significant way, and also because of the disarmament proposals that the United States and President Obama have put forward. So I think we’re in a good position.

ACT: In April, President Obama pledged that the United States “will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons,” beginning with steps “to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy” and by pursuing a new, verifiable START with Russia. Could you please explain for us the case that the United States will present at the upcoming review conference regarding its record over the past year in connection with the implementation of its Article 6 disarmament commitment?[2]

Burk: I think the case that we’re going to make is the case that I’ve been making over the six months that I’ve been on the job and the case that other administration officials have been making. The president made clear that the United States has a special responsibility for the nuclear disarmament provisions of the NPT and accepts that responsibility and to that end has committed to negotiate with Russia a new START agreement, to pursue CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] ratification, and to participate in negotiations in Geneva on a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT], and he has talked about reducing the role of nuclear weapons. How that will be translated after the Nuclear Posture Review is still to be determined, but I think we will make the case that we are committed to a number of the major initiatives that have been on the agenda. The U.S. president is determined to achieve them.

ACT: Is the case dependent on having START negotiations completed or the treaty ratified? To what extent is it dependent on the status of START at that point?

Burk: I have been making this point very clearly, and I would have to say that my foreign interlocutors, who are very sophisticated, understand how our political system works. They understand that treaties require the advice and consent of the Senate, and that is not something that the United States can promise will be done by any certain date. That’s very well appreciated, so I don’t think the status of that agreement—whether or not it is ratified—will have any impact. The commitment of the United States and the credibility of the president making those commitments are very important. That’s what we have now, and that’s what’s working for us.

ACT: At the conference last September on facilitating the entry into force of the CTBT, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged to “work in the months ahead both to seek the advice and consent of the United States Senate to ratify the treaty, and to secure ratification by others so that the treaty can enter into force.”

What does the administration intend to do in the months prior to the review conference to demonstrate its commitment to achieving these goals?

Burk: The president has not set any timeline for achievement of ratification. This goes back to the point I just made—that ratification is a Senate prerogative and we can’t prejudge that. Later this spring, we’re going to see publication of both the National Academy of Sciences update to their 2002 report on the key technical issues and a National Intelligence Estimate. I think those are the two developments that we can see coming between now and May.

ACT: What is the United States doing to pursue ratification by the other Annex 2 states?[3]

Burk: I’m not the right person to ask that question. I’m completely focused on preparing for the review conference, and I’m not involved in other negotiations. This is a full-time job.

ACT: UN Security Council Resolution 1887 recalls the five declared nuclear-weapon states’ April 1995 security assurances against the use of nuclear weapons to the non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the NPT.[4] In the context of the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the five declared their “unequivocal commitment” to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Are the five nuclear-weapon states considering similar statements prior to the upcoming conference?

Burk: The United States and the other NPT nuclear-weapon states are engaging in consultations as we traditionally do in connection with the review conference, and we’re looking at where there might be areas of agreement that would be reflected in some sort of a statement. But we don’t have that yet.

ACT: But it is something that is under consideration?

Burk: Under consideration. It’s become sort of routine to do this, so we are engaging in consultations. So we’ll see how that goes.

ACT: And likely to be on the issue of negative security assurances or something more broadly focused?

Burk: On security assurances, we still have the long-standing negative security assurance that every U.S. administration has reiterated.[5] That’s our position right now, and I can’t predict changes at this point. But it’s a good assurance, it’s a solid assurance, and that’s what we have at the moment.

ACT: Since the last review conference, the IAEA Board of Governors has found one NPT party, Iran, to be in noncompliance with its safeguards obligations. The handling of that country’s situation was a major point of contention at the 2005 review conference.

In the view of the United States, how should the upcoming review conference address the importance of compliance, and can it agree on a set of “real and immediate consequences” for noncompliance?

Burk: This is one of those issues that is a carryover from 2005. What’s important to remember is that, with very few exceptions, all the other NPT parties are in compliance with their obligations under the treaty. What we have been discussing with our partners as we engage in diplomatic outreach is the importance of full compliance with the treaty to maintaining the integrity of the treaty and the corrosive effect that noncompliance has on the treaty itself and on the understandings that other countries have had. We expect that this will be discussed in May. It has to be discussed—full compliance, full support for safeguards, and all those other measures. Exactly how it will be discussed is up in the air at the moment. There are different views on how to handle the issue. But I don’t think there is any disagreement among parties—certainly not in my consultations—that full compliance is absolutely essential.

ACT: But part of the issue here is that because a final document or any agreement there requires consensus, and one or more parties may be not complying, then how do you achieve a consensus when one of the people who would have to agree is one of the countries who would be directly affected by that?

Burk: Well it depends on what you’re saying in the document. If your goal is to censure countries, I think we all can understand that if one of the countries that you are censuring is in the room and has the ability to block consensus, we can predict how that will turn out. But there are other ways to deal with the issues of compliance and noncompliance and strengthen safeguards. It’s not clear; there are discussions going around right now on how to deal with these issues. We are all very aware of the fact that it is difficult to move forward on proposals that target specific countries if they are able to block a consensus. We’ll have to see whether the desire to have consensus—what kind of power such a veto right affords.

ACT: You said Iran is not in compliance, with a few other exceptions. Can you say what other countries you consider not to be in compliance with their NPT obligations right now?

Burk: What I have in mind when I make that comment is North Korea, which announced it was withdrawing from the treaty, after violating it. So that remains an outstanding issue on the NPT docket.

ACT: What about Syria?

Burk: Syria, to the best of my knowledge, is still under consideration at the IAEA. I don’t know how that will play, but I don’t think there’s been a final report on Syria in Vienna.

ACT: You mention, in the context of noncompliance, strengthening safeguards. Resolution 1887 has called on all countries to adopt an additional protocol and also to make an additional protocol a condition for nuclear supply.[6] What are the prospects of adding some sort of an agreement at the review conference on the proposals?

Burk: There are lots of different views on the [Model] Additional Protocol, so I don’t want to speculate about what the review conference may or may not agree specifically on it. But it has become an important point for us to raise in consultations because we have ratified the Additional Protocol now and we do believe that it should become the new verification standard. But the more important point is the fact that [Mohamed ElBaradei,] the former director-general of the IAEA, before he retired, made a very strong statement, which I quote frequently, that without the Additional Protocol the IAEA has no capability to verify undeclared facilities. Our experience over the past years and discovery of clandestine nuclear facilities led to the negotiation of the Additional Protocol. We learn from our mistakes. It is very clear that we need to look forward on the Additional Protocol. There are well over 100 countries that have had additional protocols accepted by the IAEA and 90-some countries that have brought it into force. This is a critical mass of states that have adopted the Additional Protocol. We will continue to discuss with our partners how we can make it universal, invoking the words of the IAEA leadership on what they need in order to do their job, and we expect that there will be a strong statement of support for the Additional Protocol at the review conference in May.

ACT: In 2008 the Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] agreed to allow civil nuclear trade with India even though it doesn’t allow comprehensive IAEA safeguards covering all of its nuclear facilities. Has the exemption for India complicated efforts to achieve universalization for the Additional Protocol?

Burk: I can’t say that that, in and of itself, has complicated efforts to achieve universal adherence to the additional protocol.

ACT: Has the issue of the U.S.-Indian deal and the broader India deal with the NSG factored in discussions? Has that been raised by countries in discussing obligations they need to assume and responsibility under the NPT?

Burk: Yes. It gets raised frequently in NPT discussions, and our response is that it was seen as a way to bring India closer to the nonproliferation norm, to an agreement that would in the end bring more of their facilities under safeguards. That was the motivation. But it does come up frequently in discussions.

ACT: Moving on a bit to the issue of Article 4,[7] the Obama administration has backed proposals for international arrangements, including a so-called fuel bank, intended to give non-nuclear-weapon states an incentive not to pursue enrichment or reprocessing technologies.[8] But as you’ve seen, there have been many countries who haven’t exactly embraced this concept. How would the United States like the upcoming review conference to address Article 4 issues?

Burk: Well, addressing Article 4 issues is a broad area, and I think the fuel banks really relate to the resurgence of interest in nuclear power. But let me just make a comment about the nonpower applications. We are very mindful of not forgetting these applications in nuclear energy because, with few exceptions, NPT parties, especially in the developing world, have benefited from access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy in nonpower forms, such as medicine, agriculture, industry, universities with small reactors, and that sort of thing. In many ways, we have gotten so comfortable with this technology that we now more or less take it for granted, and we forget that it really is derived from the Atoms for Peace program of the 1950s and is made possible by the NPT.

On the power aspect of it, there is an energetic debate going on [at the IAEA] in Vienna right now on fuel banks and other multilateral fuel assurances. As I read the reports of the debates and the statements, I’ve described it as a glass half full, not a glass half empty. It is clearly a debate that is generating a lot of interest and raising a lot of issues—technical, commercial, legal, political—that need to be worked through. But our thinking is that the review conference is not the place to solve those problems. It’s not going to answer the questions and come up with the right answer on multilateral fuel banks and fuel assurances. But it is a legitimate topic of discussion because it really goes to the heart of Article 4, particularly if we’re moving in the direction of increased use of nuclear power. But the review conference could encourage the discussions in Vienna to continue because it’s important to have the right experts addressing these hard questions and urge the IAEA to continue to address them. So, we think that would be a good outcome. The review conference could usefully give a boost to these discussions and encourage that they continue, without prejudice to how they would come out.

ACT: Can we just turn that around a bit? Because, as you say it might not be the purview of the review conference to decide something that is being discussed in Vienna, but it’s the whole issue that the divisions among countries on the fuel banks might be seen as showing the different views of how the Article 4 obligations should play out, the balance between the inalienable right versus the need to be in conformity with Articles 1 and 2. Doesn’t that divided vote at the Board of Governors indicate a very different perception among different countries about what exactly Article 4 requires, whether the dissemination of enrichment actually constitutes a proliferation risk or not, and basic, fundamental questions for Article 4 like that?

Burk: It does, and I think if you look at the review conference, this is a legitimate discussion to have in the Main Committee on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We can debate this issue. We have to sort through some of the political debates and the more practical technical debates. At the moment, we have got a mix of both. So I can’t prejudge the discussion, but I think you framed it correctly. That is an issue we can expect to spend time on in New York. But again, I don’t think that the review conference is necessarily going to agree on a solution to the problem. I think the IAEA is where this debate needs to continue because it has the right technical experts. Perhaps the review conference could agree on some principles under the “peaceful uses” heading, but I can’t predict what the outcome would be. We will get into this discussion of inalienable rights because that is clearly the point that has struck a nerve. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to explain where the multilateral nuclear assurance proposals stand now and their advantages. The whole goal here is to try and find a way to make nuclear power—if that is the course a country wants to pursue—affordable, safe, and secure without contributing to proliferation. I think, in the end, we can get through some of these discussions and get to that point.

ACT: You mentioned earlier that North Korea was an outstanding issue, that they declared they had withdrawn from the treaty. Since that declaration, NPT states-parties have been trying to find a way to deal with the potential for additional withdrawals. How would the United States like the review conference to address that question?

Burk: First, it is important to state up front, because there is frequently a misunderstanding, that the United States is not seeking any changes to the withdrawal provision of the NPT.[9] We believe that states should have the right to withdraw and to decide what conditions require them to take such a significant step. But what we have been looking at is the issue of potential abuse of the withdrawal clause. When I first came on board, I was reading about what had been done in 2005. Articles have been written by folks outside of government on this issue, and NPT parties, including the United States, have tabled papers at past PrepComs [Preparatory Committee meetings] on this issue. The concerns seem to be, in the first instance, a situation where a country violates the treaty and then withdraws as a way to escape the violations. I have not encountered anyone in my contacts who believes that a state should not be held accountable for those violations even if it decides to withdraw. So our effort has been to try to identify some specific points or specific measures that the NPT parties might agree that they would be prepared to take, one, in the event a state announced it was withdrawing, to determine whether or not it was in violation, and two, if it were, to remedy that violation. I think the North Korea case is the one that most people are familiar with.

ACT: That discussion has been going on for some time. Do you believe that the states-parties at this conference are close to an agreement as to what the collective response should be?

Burk: At this moment?

ACT: Is this a particular goal of the United States at this conference at this time?

Burk: It is one of our goals. We would like to see the conference address this issue and ideally agree on some steps. But at this moment in time, are we close to agreement on that? No. We are still talking about it and expanding the circle of countries that we are sharing specific ideas with.

ACT: Even if you manage to find agreement on all those issues at the review conference, another outstanding issue that many observers believe might need to be addressed, if there is going to be an overall agreement, is the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, which calls for the establishment of a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone and for all states in the region to join the NPT. At last year’s Preparatory Committee, key states, including Egypt, had issued specific ideas for advancing the goals of the resolution. What is the possibility at the review conference for getting agreement on either those proposals or other ideas for advancing progress on the resolution?

Burk: I’m not into predicting possibilities for agreement at this point on things. What’s important is that we are making very clear that we support fully the goals and objectives of the 1995 resolution. To the extent there was any question about that in the past, we are trying to set that straight: We support it. We support the achievement of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. I can’t speak to specific proposals on this. We are very aware of the proposals that are out there and understand the importance of this issue to this review conference.

ACT: But if I could just follow up: The 1995 resolution was widely supported. Since then, it has been widely supported. Yet there has been, by all measures, very little progress toward that goal, and one of the key points of friction at the last review conference was the apparent lack of progress on this goal. What ideas is the United States prepared to support to help advance that goal even in modest ways? If there is not a possibility of agreement at this review conference on this subject, how likely is it that the conference as a whole might agree to a set of benchmarks and standards to strengthen all three pillars of the regime?

Burk: It is important to remember that the situation on the ground in 1995 was very different than the situation on the ground in 2010. In 1995 there was one country [in the Middle East] outside the treaty. In 2010 I need not elaborate on the additional complicating factors that have developed. So all of these developments in that region on the nonproliferation front have just added new complicating factors into any solution. That said, I think there is a good-faith effort to see if there is a way forward on this issue. It will require the goodwill, creativity, and constructive energy of more than one country. We will hope for the best, but I don’t want to predict what the outcome would be. In terms of progress on the three pillars, again, I don’t want to speculate. There is an awful lot to be gained at this review conference on all three pillars. I think we have to see where we are in May on the three pillars and on the Middle East resolution and on what there is broad, near consensus.

ACT: A month before the review conference, the United States is going to be hosting a summit on nuclear security here in Washington. How might the review conference itself advance some of the goals of that summit in terms of dealing with the threat of nuclear terrorism and securing weapons-usable nuclear material?

Burk: That is a good question. I get asked all the time about this because the proximity of the two meetings leads to a lot of confusion about their relationship, and I am at pains to tell people that they are different events. One is an NPT forum; the other is not an NPT forum. The security summit is dealing with a very narrow slice of the problem, focusing on nuclear terrorism. At this point, it will be up to the participants in the security summit that are NPT parties­, including the United States, to decide what out of that might be exportable to the review conference. I just can’t prejudge. I’m not involved directly in the preparations for the security summit. The issue could be relevant to NPT discussions, but I think we really need to leave it up to the parties to decide what to carry forward on that. That is what I have been saying when asked, and I think it’s the best way to handle this issue.

ACT: During the Preparatory Committee meeting last year, in President Obama’s personal message to the meeting, he said that the treaty needs to be strengthened and deal with nuclear weapons threats and the threat of nuclear terrorism. Is there something that the review conference can do to deal with the terrorism issue?

Burk: We haven’t been focusing on the terrorism piece, per se. We’re really focusing on the broad issue of securing and safeguarding materials, including encouraging all states to have comprehensive safeguard agreements or small quantities protocols,[10] which not all have, and to adhere to the Additional Protocol. Sort of “Nonproliferation 101” if you will—first principles. If you can secure nuclear materials against theft or diversion, that would make a big contribution. Again, we have the nuclear security summit, but it is not a meeting of NPT parties. We’ll see what comes out of that. I have been reading articles about this and listening to people talking about the relationship between safety, security, and safeguards. To my mind, it is all part of the same thing.

ACT: You said it is part of Nonproliferation 101. The NPT specifically refers to things such as safeguards and so on, but I don’t think there are specific textual references to things having to do with nuclear security and those kinds of obligations. Yet there are countries­—I’m thinking of the United Kingdom’s “Road to 2010”—where they talk about how this needs to be the fourth pillar of the NPT. So how is that going to be worked in? How will that be integrated into a discussion that is specifically focused on this treaty?

Burk: Regarding the idea of a fourth pillar—what we have to be careful of is that we don’t convey the impression that we are trying to create new obligations under the NPT. If you look at strengthening the IAEA across the board—not just safeguards, but in terms of all of its programs—that then gives you additional capacity to deal with these security issues. But I do think that the threat of loose or vulnerable material is something that NPT parties could take up. Again, there is growing international interest in pursuing nuclear power and other kinds of nuclear technologies. The international community will have to be very mindful of how to do that in a safe and secure way and not contribute to proliferation.

ACT: As I’m sure you are well aware, after the review conference is over, the gavel comes down, there is still quite a bit of work to do to strengthen the disarmament and nonproliferation regime. What does the United States intend to do in the months and years ahead to try and work toward the goal?

Burk: I would say your question goes directly to a point that I have been making in my meetings with other treaty parties, which is that the NPT review conference is a very important event in the life of the treaty, a critical event, but it is not an end in and of itself. The goal here is to renew and reinvigorate the treaty and agree on some specific steps that the international community is prepared to take in all three pillars to move forward. But very importantly, a constructive, positive review conference will give important momentum to our efforts in Vienna at the IAEA, in Geneva at the CD [Conference on Disarmament], in New York at the UN, to deal with all the issues, because that is where the work will continue to be carried out. This includes negotiations on the FMCT at the CD and dealing with issues of noncompliance at the UN, strengthening safeguards at the IAEA. So we think that the review conference can give a real boost to these efforts. You will see the United States continue to support, aggressively support, progress in all three treaty pillars, consistent with the president’s agenda.

ACT: Are there any thoughts at this point, in January of course, about, aside from you, who else might be representing the United States at this once-every-five-years review conference?

Burk: No, we don’t have a decision on that. I expect to be up there for the month as a working head of delegation, but beyond that, we don’t have any decision at this point. I would say that it is very clear that, at the highest levels, there is a keen appreciation of the importance of the NPT. I think the president has made that clear in statement after statement. The secretary of state, the undersecretary for arms control and international security have also done so. We’re working on an issue that we know is the very highest priority and on which we have the highest-level support for our efforts. That is a very gratifying thing.

ACT: Thank you very much.

 


 

ENDNOTES

1. See Wade Boese, “Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Meeting Sputters,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2005.

2. Article 6 states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” For the full text of the treaty, see www.state.gov/www/global/arms/treaties/npt1.html.

3. Under the treaty’s Annex 2, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. Nine of those countries—China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—have not ratified the treaty.

4. The five countries that the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Statements pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states are often known as negative security assurances. Paragraph 9 of UN Security Council Resolution 1887 refers to such assurances. For the text of Resolution 1887 and background information on it, see www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sc9746.doc.htm. See also Cole Harvey, “Nuclear Arms Resolution Passed at UN Summit,” Arms Control Today, October 2009.

5. For a historical summary of U.S. security assurances, see Arms Control Association, Fact Sheet, “U.S. ‘Negative Security Assurances’ At A Glance”.

6. The 1997 Model Additional Protocol provides the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with greater authority to verify all nuclear activities within a state, increasing the chances of detecting undeclared nuclear activities. Each country negotiates an individual additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA based upon the 1997 Model Additional Protocol.

7. Article 4 says, in part, that “[n]othing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.”

8. For an account of recent IAEA action in this area, see Daniel Horner, “IAEA Board Approves Russian Fuel Bank Plan,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2010.

9. Article 10 of the treaty states, “Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”

10. Countries that are not pursuing significant nuclear activities can negotiate a small quantities protocol with the IAEA. Such a protocol suspends some of the requirements of IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreements as long as the country maintains only limited nuclear activities. The protocol’s requirements were strengthened in September 2005, and paragraph 15(a) of UN Security Council Resolution 1887 calls on all NPT non-nuclear-weapon states to adopt comprehensive IAEA safeguards or a modified version of the small quantities protocol. See Paul Kerr, “IAEA Board Closes Safeguards Loophole,” Arms Control Today, November 2005.

 

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Interview with OPCW Director-General Rogelio Pfirter

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Body: 

Interviewed by Oliver Meier

Since 2002, Rogelio Pfirter has served as director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body charged with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Pfirter, an Argentinean diplomat, replaced José Bustani, who was voted out of office.[1] Pfirter’s second four-year term will end in July; last December the members of the CWC appointed Ahmet Üzümcü to succeed him. [2] Arms Control Today spoke with Pfirter on December 14 about the OPCW’s achievements, as well as current and future challenges.

The interview was transcribed by Andrew Fisher. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Over the eight years of your tenure, what do you see as the biggest accomplishments? What are the biggest problems that you were not able deal with? What do you hope to achieve before you hand the reins over to Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, the next director-general? It may be a bit early to sum up but maybe you can try nevertheless.

Pfirter: Overall I feel satisfied. Objectively one can say that the organization is in much better shape today than it was in 2002. In 2002, there were big questions about the continued viability and ability of the organization as such. I remember very well, in July 2002 when I came, there was a profound political crisis. My predecessor’s term had been terminated early, there was a big division between some member states, and the secretariat and there were no industry inspections going on. A lot of inspectors were just sitting idly. The destruction [of chemical weapons stockpiles] in some important countries had not even started. Overall, there was a fear that the organization might find it very difficult to move on, certainly after the high expectations that gave birth to the CWC.

Today, we have a very different situation. We have moved on substantially in the implementation of the core program. Not because of the director-general but because of the overall atmosphere surrounding the organization, we have seen a substantial increase in destruction. We have seen a substantial increase and consolidation on the nonproliferation front. We have also seen a parallel increase in the other core activities of assistance and protection as well as international cooperation. Not only that, I think that as a result of us having been able to deliver on these very concrete objectives of the convention, the overall political atmosphere surrounding the organization is much stronger. We operate by consensus. It is today considered an organization that is a model and a reference for others, certainly uniquely successful in the field of disarmament and nonproliferation. The fact that seven highly qualified diplomats from very important countries presented themselves as candidates [for the post of director-general][3] I think is a sign of the respectability and regard in which the OPCW is kept today. I think also that on the administrative front, we have been able to establish an organization that is efficiently administered and managed. For the last five years we have been able to propose zero nominal growth budgets with no detriment whatsoever to our ability to deliver on the core front. Program delivery has been always to the full. Hopefully, all these things can be assessed as positive.

Now, do I regret that some things have not been achieved? Certainly. First of all, I think one our big achievements has also certainly been on the front of universality. We have 188 states-parties today. So we have come a long way; we cover 98 percent of the surface of the earth. However, I do regret that, much as we have made enormous progress, we still have not been able to bring in all the countries that are out there. There are still seven missing, of which four are very important for the ultimate success of the organization─Egypt, Israel, Syria and North Korea. So that I regret that I have not been able to accomplish that to the full, although I believe again we have made substantial progress.

I also regret that it doesn’t necessarily seem that 2012 will be the date when the destruction will have been completed.[4] But I also believe that the success of the convention is not tied to any particular date. The dates are very important milestones but certainly what is crucial is the destruction of the stockpiles, is that there is no doubt about a very strong commitment of possessor states.

On nonproliferation, I do regret that we have not been able to gain greater support for the case for inspecting more intensively certain categories of industry, particularly what is called OCPFs [Other Chemical Production Facilities]. I do believe also that there is some unfinished business in terms of getting all the necessary political support for the technical secretariat to have all the necessary equipment to face potential challenge inspections.

I think that that is more or less the status of things. It doesn’t mean that big challenges do not lie ahead. I think that there are very big challenges ahead. The fundamental challenge is probably to continuously ensure that the organization enjoys the degree of necessary political support. That necessary political support is crucial for the ability to perform. This is an organization with a strong technical arm. It could not achieve its goals without such a technical arm. But the technical arm per se would not exist without the necessary political support of governments. So the continued support for disarmament, for nonproliferation of this category of weapons of mass destruction, I see as crucial for the organization to continue its long-term mission.

ACT: Many observers, and you also, have emphasized that the election of your successor was an “example of multilateralism” and that member states acted unified. Yet on a number of issues, including reform of the industry verification system that you mentioned, and interpretation of Article XI,[5] there are ongoing discussion between the North and South. What is your opinion as to how these differences can be overcome?

Pfirter: Well, I think that they need to be overcome through consensus. There is no question: whatever we work for, it will require consensus. But if I may say so, the fact that these are the issues that you mentioned as divisive, is a show of the strength of the organization because although these issues are extremely important, they are not show-stoppers. Nobody is saying that the organization is not doing anything on international cooperation. The dilemma or divisive issue at the moment is how to continue and enhance that from the point of view of some, and what are the ultimate implications of that. But it is not a show-stopper in the sense that it has not split the organization into two. It does not in any way deviate countries from the implementation of the core objectives of disarmament and nonproliferation. I think this organization can survive with a deep debate about international cooperation but it cannot survive if there is no agreement about its disarmament or nonproliferation chapters. I’m not saying that one is less important but I think quite clearly the name of the organization itself tells what this is all about substantially. So this is an issue which is important, but I don’t think this endangers the life of the organization.

ACT: The annual budget for 2010 is 74.5 million euros. This is the fifth time in a row that a zero-nominal-growth budget has been approved by states-parties. At the same time, the scope of responsibilities is growing for the organization. How long do you think you can keep the organization running on this budget?

Pfirter: I don’t think forever. Certainly not. I think that it depends on the year, each year. I think no year necessarily sets a precedent for the following year. The work we do starts from scratch, and zero-nominal-growth budgets should not be the premise but rather the consequence of the process of elaboration of the budget. We have gone for zero nominal growth budgets not out of our whims but because that is the honest evaluation about the resources necessary to carry on full program delivery.

Certainly the commitment to efficient and prudent administrative management requires continued oversight of the issues that have a budgetary implication. It requires from us regular reassessment of the resources and also a re-evaluation of resources, as they come. For instance, take human resources. Every time we have a vacancy, we do not automatically proceed to fill it but rather reconsider whether this is necessary. Reallocation of resources, re-evaluation of resources, elimination of redundancies, and so on: these are all key to prudent management, and I think, as much as is feasible, zero-nominal-growth budgets will continue. And if it is no longer feasible with zero-nominal-growth budgets, then it will be for the director-general to propose.

ACT: How can and how should member states deal with a possible violation of CWC destruction deadlines, particularly by the United States and Russia, which hold the two largest stockpiles? In the past you have mentioned the possibility of holding a special conference in 2012. And in your statement to the conference of states-parties, you refer to the decision by the Executive Council to engage in informal consultations with interested delegations. When do you think member states need to take action on this matter? What action could a special conference of states parties take on this matter?

Pfirter: Well, first of all you speak about violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention if I heard you correctly. The core purpose of the CWC is to ensure the full, irreversible, complete and universal destruction of existing stockpiles by possessor states. I do not believe that we run the risk of that central objective being violated by the two major possessor states. I think all possessor states are fully committed to the complete and irreversible and verifiable destruction of their stockpiles. I also believe that their commitment has never weakened and that they have taken and continue to take the necessary measures for that. So I don’t think the convention will be violated from that point of view.

The convention of course also establishes a date for this to be completed. We know already that present estimates in the United States indicate that they may not be able to complete destruction by that date, and we also know that for all possessor states the remaining task is dangerous, expensive, and complex and that it is not guaranteed that they themselves will finalize it by 2012.[6] So ideally this is a situation that should be remedied within the terms of the convention. The convention does offer the mechanisms for this. I also believe it would be entirely premature at this stage to come to any definitive conclusions. We come with a group of possessor states. We know there is a determination and we come with a commitment to seek continuously ways of accelerating destruction.

Should destruction not be completed by 2012, I think that will be the moment when we need to cross that particular bridge. In the meantime, as I said in my statement, I think it is prudent, it is correct for the policymaking organs and particularly the Executive Council to have entrusted its chairman, on the basis of a proposal made by Brazil, to begin consulting on how delegations see this issue, on how we can be best prepared for the future.

I myself have as an add-on to my official statement included some personal reflections on this issue, and I have tried to indicate that I am convinced that the date of 2012 is extremely important. It is a legally standing date in the convention, but I think we need not to make the ultimate success of the treaty dependent on any particular date.

The treaty will be successful if all chemical weapons are destroyed. The fact that the council has chosen to act in the way it has chosen[7] indicates to me that people indeed share this view of moving on prudently, always bearing in mind as a priority the ultimate goals of the treaty. I have said in preparations for the second review conference [in 2008], in a document I produced in late 2007, that in my view, as we approach 2012, there would probably be merit for some sort of special meeting in order to address this issue. At such a meeting member states could take stock of the actual status of destruction and if the situation would merit it, they could also decide some sort of additional remedial action. I am not saying we ignore the significance of meeting the destruction deadline in 2012, but certainly we do not at the same time overstate its implications for the ultimate central disarmament goal of ensuring destruction of chemical weapons.

ACT: Two questions on verification. The first one is rather general. What is the state of affairs is with regard to shifting the focus of CWC verification from destruction monitoring to industry verification? What progress on this issue has been made since the last review conference in 2008 and what do you think the next steps should be?

Pfirter: I think as a consequence of the ultimate success of the convention in ensuring the total destruction of existing declared stockpiles, unavoidably there will be a progressive devolution in the engagement of the organization into chemical weapons verification activities. You have to recall that at this moment, 85 percent of the verification effort is allocated to destruction. As this is completed, unavoidably there will be less demand on our hands. At the same time, we have a long-term objective in the convention of ensuring the future nonproliferation of chemical weapons. I’m not saying all energies allocated to verifying destruction will automatically be shifted to verifying nonproliferation, but there will certainly be greater emphasis [on] and greater visibility of [the] nonproliferation goal because somehow this will demand and receive the greater percentage of the verification effort.

So I think it is a natural result of the flow of activities, as the convention moves on. Of course disarmament will not be completed because there might still be countries outside which have chemical weapons, but by and large, the task of verifying Russian and American stockpiles will have diminished. I think that we have made progress in the sense that people increasingly recognize this flow of emphasis, not from one to the other, but rather [in the sense of] nonproliferation being more evident. People have to recognize this is not a consequence of any sort of political doctrine of the convention intended to shift priorities, but rather just as I said, it is the natural flow of the implementation of the treaty. The more people understand that, the more confident they will be that this is not a change in the objectives of the convention but rather a reassuring indication of fulfilling it to the full. And the long-term goal is obviously nonproliferation.

ACT: The other question on verification is related to so-called Other Chemical Production Facilities. This is one of the issues you have highlighted over the years. In your statement to the conference of states-parties, you basically admitted that within the current verification framework, it might be very difficult, or maybe even impossible to inspect a sufficient number of OCPFs to be sure that they are not misused for prohibited purposes, at least in the few states that have a large number of OCPFs [8] Instead you have proposed a complementary approach for expanding the number of OCPFs that can be inspected each year. You have said that in those countries with many OCPFs, the national authorities themselves would verify, or could verify some of the declared OCPFs. Can you elaborate how this system would work and how under such a system, other countries would be ensured that these self-inspections would be credible? What have been the reactions to your proposal from states-parties?

Pfirter: After several years of dealing with this issue and after several years of hopefully having shown my strong belief in the need for considerably greater effort on the front of OCPFs─particularly those OCPFs, which, due to their characteristics, offer the potential for quick reconversion for introduction of chemicals which are prohibited under the convention─after these many years and having represented that in my proposals for increased number of inspections, I believe that it is appropriate for me to recall also the fact that the convention itself is a source of some ambiguity on this front. As you might know, there is a quantitative limit on the number of OCPF inspections that could be conducted in any given year or in any particular country. The combined schedule 3[9] and OCPF number of inspections per country, the maximum allowed under the convention is 20. So for a country which declares a thousand OCPFs it is just a question of dividing the totality [of facilities] by the maximum number [of inspections] allowed under the convention, and you can well see how many decades it would take the organization to verify those facilities.

In addition to that, there is some urgency arising from the fact that the organization can only inspect that which has been approved in the budget. The budget negotiations show quite clearly that improving or obtaining the necessary resources to increase, not significantly but just modestly, the number of OCPF inspections, is very complex  It is very, very difficult to get any consensus around it. So the realities of the convention are also augmented by the inflexibilities we face with regard to the practical allocation of resources for this type of inspection.

In that light, and because I remain strongly convinced that we do definitely need to enhance our efforts on that particular category of facilities, I have tried to find a way of enlarging the scope of inspections while at the same time somehow dodging the obstacles we face at present.

I thought that maybe, bringing it to the fore and seeking the cooperation of national authorities in those very few countries that have a large number of facilities, seeking their cooperation, as a complement, not as a substitute for, but as a complement to, what the OPCW will do on its own, and based on the regular budget for [inspecting] OCPFs, maybe could help us to augment the number and quality of what we are addressing currently through our OCPF regime.

Therefore, it will not replace the OCPF program which will work as usual. Rather, through the goodwill of national authorities and through a procedure which will have to be cleared with the OPCW, which will have OPCW endorsement─and that could only be forthcoming if we know there will be no diversion whatsoever from the strictness of the verification regime─we could in this way enlarge the number of facilities under verification.

But let me be clear that this would be without prejudice to the OPCW carrying out its regular program. I don’t see how the regular program can be increased, because we would either need to change the convention or change budget allocations.

ACT: Have you had any reactions to your proposal yet from states-parties?

Pfirter: I made it quite clear this was not part of my statement in what pertains to the implementation of the convention as dictated by the convention but rather a personal reflection. What I sought at this stage is to, if possible, motivate some discussions on the basis of these [proposals] or something different. What I believe is we need to break the inertia and the status quo. Our discussions have been inconclusive with regard to any concrete improvement in the verification of this category and this may be something that will motivate member states.

Some member states have expressed to me an interest in the concept. No one came to me rejecting this. Of course some countries have questions. I am not thinking of presenting a concrete format nor is it a formal proposal. It is just an idea. And I hope in that sense we will have been feeding some food for thought and provoking some brainstorming on the part of member states about this.

I think that we need to do something on this front because otherwise we run the risk of being complacent in believing that we are doing what the convention allows us to do and that is all right, we are very fine and therefore should not be worried. But the truth is we are not doing a sufficient amount in terms of quantity nor in terms of quality. For me, it has been a source of some frustration to see that we have not necessarily succeeded in awakening all member states to what needs to be done in this category. This is a category that is difficult not only for what a member state itself could do but if terrorists would like to engage in something more than an occasional act. This is a category that would open itself for such a possibility. So I think we have to be very careful and we have to act on that.

ACT: The next question is on incapacitants. The last review conference was unable to address the issue of how toxic chemicals, such as incapacitating chemical weapons, can be better regulated when used for permitted law enforcement purposes.[10] For example, Russia has employed chemical incapacitants for domestic counterterrorism. Yet the convention is ambiguous with respect to the types of operations for which such use is permitted.[11] In your statement to the conference of states-parties, you said that at some stage in the not-too-distant future, there is a need to take stock of the growing interest on the part of some governments and civil society in developments related to matters where the convention might be ambiguous or where it has gaps which might have an impact on the ultimate effectiveness of the ban on chemical weapons. You said “incapacitants, or nonlethal weapons is one such area when it comes to exact types and quantities of permitted use,”[12] and you specifically recommended to involve the Scientific Advisory Board[13] and that the next review conference, in 2013, should look into the matter. Can you elaborate a little bit on these proposals and can you explain what type of action needs to be taken?

Pfirter: I prefer to be a bit shy on that front. However, I have to say that throughout my years as director-general, this issue has risen in interest, not just from a purely theoretical point of view. It needs to be tested vis-à-vis the convention, also because some riot control agents have been used in certain circumstances, with the result that we have a special interest of concern. And so these issues are real. I think we will all recognize that when it comes to types and quantities [of toxic chemicals for purposes that are permitted under the CWC], and when one takes into account developments in chemistry and the appearance of so-called nonlethal chemicals, we need to seek further clarification, just to make sure that the CWC remains the ultimate relevant document for addressing anything that has to do with the issues which are central to its objectives.

In that context again, some legitimate questions have been presented and we need to look into that. We need to look into that prudently. We should not allow this issue to be politicized. This issue first and foremost needs to be well informed from the scientific point of view, and that is why I am suggesting that the [OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board] be the first one, if the organization so considers, to look into this matter, and then at the next review conference, if sufficient information has been produced by that date, the member states will look into it. The issue will not go away. There are some countries which are very keen on having it debated. Precisely because I believe we should look at the future and be prepared [and that] we should also recognize that questions have to answered, I have suggested what I have suggested. I think this is a prudent and reasonable way to move on.

ACT: There are only seven states that have not ratified the CWC. What can be done to convince the remaining holdout states, particularly those in the Middle East, to accede to the convention? Which non-member state do you think is likely to ratify or accede next?

Pfirter: I’m hopeful about Angola because I don’t believe there is any issue behind the delay, or at least not any issue related to the objectives and purposes of the convention. I think we should continue to try and support Angola as it focuses on this convention and to present the case for early adherence. I’m confident that Angola can take such a step within a reasonable period of time, hopefully very soon.

Myanmar is another country which I believe has demonstrated a recent interest in following up this issue. They have had some concerns which I have tried to clarify. I will not lose hope that within a process of reappraisal of relations with international organizations and countries, they could see that [accession] is ultimately advantageous for all, including Myanmar.

In the case of Somalia, I believe that many other things have to happen before any government there will be able to focus on ratification.

Then we are left with the other four countries. As for North Korea, I would hope that at some stage, the countries that still have the ability to have contacts and maybe some degree of influence on the policies of that country, that they would pursue relentlessly the idea of encouraging them to join. I think that no country should be given the privilege, the undesirable privilege, of not being under the need to join the convention. Sometimes, I hear about North Korea that this is not a priority, that maybe one day [they would join], let’s not stir the issue so much, let’s focus on the nuclear issue. I don’t think anyone is in doubt about the seriousness and urgency of the nuclear issue but I don’t think that should be a reason for not at the same time presenting the case for the CWC. That would give privilege to North Korea by saying “You are not under the same urgency as others.” It defeats the purpose and the standing of the convention to accept that there might be reasonable reasons for not joining.

And a bit of that also goes for the Middle East. I’m not holding my breath about any of the three countries in the Middle East that are still not members to join any time soon. I do believe that Israel has shown goodwill in being an observer at the OPCW with interest. That in itself will not suffice. It can never replace ratification of the treaty, but I think it is positive in the sense that the signals are, “We are willing to engage.” And it allows the OPCW to present its case directly to the country concerned. I also recognize Israel has enacted internal legislation and an export control regime that is tantamount to the nonproliferation [commitments of] our member states under the treaty. And I value the diplomatic dialogue which we have continued to have, at least throughout the years when I have been director-general.

Something of the same goes to Egypt. We have had a good dialogue. We have also had Egypt participating in some of our activities. I think this also does not replace adherence to the convention but it is a good sign of a will to engage. I also have to recall that Egypt, like all the other countries, has always participated in the consensus resolution in support of the OPCW in the United Nations General Assembly.

In the case of Syria, I value mostly the fact that we have restarted our dialogue, which for two or three years was a bit idling. I had an hour with Syria’s ambassador in the United Nations and he offered me a very good opportunity to advance the case for universality.

But in none of these countries should we be expecting any quick moves. So it will remain a challenge for the organization, and I am absolutely convinced that Ambassador Üzümcü should continue with this matter. I’m sure he is ideally positioned for doing so. I am an optimist that progress will eventually be achieved.

ACT: On the sidelines of the last conference of states-parties, the “Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition,” a new network of nongovernmental organizations [NGOs], was launched. What is your view on how civil society can best support the CWC?

Pfirter: I think [involvement of] civil society in these things, which are subjects of interest to the international community and humanity as a whole, is crucial. It is absolutely legitimate that NGOs take an interest and recognize us as stakeholders on this issue and that we will try and engage them. That is why I have been delighted to support the initiative of Global Green in the United States in the creation of a global coalition in support of the objectives of the convention, most specifically on the issue of universality. I think it’s a brilliant idea. I think the OPCW needs continued support. It is an idea which is inclusive, which helps produce interest across the membership, and we have a very representative rainbow of organizations [participating at the meeting]. So I think that hopefully this will be something the OPCW will continue to recognize and support.

ACT: Thank you very much.


 

ENDNOTES

1. See Rose Gordon, “New OPCW Head Appointed,” Arms Control Today, September 2002, p. 20, www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_09/opcw_sept02.

2. See Oliver Meier, “OPCW Chiefs Ponder Chemical Arms Deadlines,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2010, pp. 32-33, www.armscontrol.org/act/2010_01-02/OPCW.

3. See Oliver Meier, “Race is On for New Head of OPCW,” Arms Control Today, September 2009, pp. 31-32, www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_09/OPCW.

4. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires states-parties to destroy their chemical weapons by 2007, 10 years after the CWC's entry into force. It is possible to request an extension of this destruction deadline by up to five years, until 2012. The conference of states-parties on December 8, 2006, approved requests for extensions of the final date for the destruction of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles for India, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Russia and the United States are now obligated to eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012. See Caitlin Harrington, “Chemical Weapons Deadlines Extended,” Arms Control Today,, January/February 2007, pp. 29-30, www.armscontrol.org/act/2007_01-02/CWDeadlines.

5. Article XI promotes trade in chemicals for peaceful purposes and the development of chemistry in all states-parties for purposes not prohibited under the convention.

6. The United States has already announced that it will be unable to meet the April 29, 2012, destruction deadline and there are doubts about Russia’s ability to comply. See Rachel A. Weise, “Russia, U.S. Lag on Chemical Arms Deadline,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2009, pp. 28-29, www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_07-08/chemical_weapons.

7. During its October 13-16 session, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW’s) Executive Council requested its chairperson, Ambassador Jorge Lomónaco Tonda of Mexico, “to engage in informal consultations with interested delegations on how and when to initiate discussion by the Council on issues related to meeting the final extended deadlines for the destruction of chemical weapons and to keep the Council informed of these consultations.” See OPCW Executive Council, “Report of the Fifty-Eighth Session of the Executive Council” EC-58/9, October 16, 2009, p. 5, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_download&fileID=13461.

8. OPCW Conference of States Parties, “Opening Statement by the Director-General to the Conference of the States Parties at its Fourteenth Session” C-14/DG.13, November 30, 2009, p. 26, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_download&fileID=13622.

9. The CWC verification system is based on three “schedules,” or lists of toxic chemicals and their precursors that have been developed and manufactured in the past for military purposes. Schedule 1 consists of chemical warfare agents and precursors that have no significant commercial applications, although they may be synthesized in small quantities for scientific research, pharmaceutical development, or chemical defense. Schedule 2 lists toxic chemicals and precursors that have commercial applications in small quantities. Schedule 3 contains toxic chemicals and precursors that have commercial applications in large quantities. The primary focus of routine inspections of the chemical industry under the CWC is on declared production facilities that manufacture the dual-use chemicals listed in Schedules 2 or 3. In recent years, however, the advent of small, multipurpose chemical-production facilities has made the batch synthesis of organic (carbon-based) compounds more automated and flexible. Such multipurpose plants, which constitute a fraction of the category of Other Chemical Production Facilities (OCPFs), are potentially easier to divert to chemical weapons production than large, inflexible facilities that produce specific scheduled chemicals. As of November 2006, 77 member states had declared a total of 5,225 OCPFs, or more than five times the number of declared facilities that produce Schedule 1, 2, and 3 chemicals. See Jonathan Tucker, “Verifying the Chemical Weapons Ban: Missing Elements,” Arms Control Today,, January/February 2007, pp. 6-13, www.armscontrol.org/act/2007_01-02/Tucker.

10. See Oliver Meier, “CWC Review Conference Avoids Difficult Issues,” Arms Control Today, May 2008, pp. 32-35, www.armscontrol.org/act/2008_05/CWC.

11. Article VI of the CWC gives states-parties the right to maintain toxic chemicals for purposes not prohibited under the convention, including “law enforcement, including domestic riot control.” Whether the CWC permits the development and use for domestic law enforcement purposes of incapacitating agents with long-lasting effects, in addition to riot-control agents with transient effects, such as CS tear gas, is a matter of intense debate.

12. OPCW Conference of States Parties, “Opening Statement by the Director-General to the Conference of the States Parties at Its Fourteenth Session” C-14/DG.13, November 30, 2009, p. 27, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_download&fileID=13622.

13. The Scientific Advisory Board is a group composed of independent experts who are mandated to assess relevant scientific and technological developments and report on such subjects to the director-general.

 

Description: 

Interviewed by Oliver Meier

Pressing a Broad Agenda for Combating Nuclear Dangers: An Interview With Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher

Sections:

Body: 

Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Tom Z. Collina

Ellen Tauscher was sworn in June 27 as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Before that, she represented her northern California district for 13 years in the House, where she served on the Armed Services Committee. From 2007, she chaired the panel’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Arms Control Today spoke with Tauscher in her office October 21. The interview covered a range of issues in Tauscher’s portfolio, from strategic arms control to plans for an international fuel bank.

Shortly before the interview, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a high-profile speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace on arms control and nonproliferation. Tauscher and ACT refer to that speech at several points in the interview.

The interview was transcribed by Anna Hood. It has been edited for length and clarity.

ACT: You were recently in Moscow to discuss START, among other issues. On the START follow-on, there are a lot of unresolved issues and not very much time. What in your view are the most difficult issues to resolve?

Tauscher: Well, I’m not going to negotiate with myself, nor am I going to negotiate through the press. Let me just say that we have a very senior team in Geneva. [The Russians] have a very senior team in Geneva. The presidents, President Medvedev and President Obama, have agreed to have a legally binding follow-on to START in place for the expiration of START on midnight of [December] 4. We do have a number of issues to go through. These are complicated treaties, but at the same time, I think we really want to have a treaty that reduces our weapons, increases stability with our friends, the Russian government, and at the same time is working toward our nonproliferation objectives, and I think that we are on a path to go forward. We have a stock-taking at the end of [October] with our team to see where we are on the issues that are perhaps going to have to be raised up to different principals or moved forward in a more expedited way, but it’s our intention to be able to replace the START treaty when it expires.

ACT: And you’re still confident that you’ll have some agreement by December 5?

Tauscher: Well, keep in mind that this is very difficult. This administration came into office, had to get people confirmed, had to step up its engagement and reset our relationship with the Russians. And we think that we have done that in a very quick time frame. But at the same time, there’s no denying that this existing START treaty expires. We are working to get something that we can put into place that meets what the presidents have agreed to. It’s hard to do, but not impossible to do. We’ve got everybody that we need to have on it on it. The Russians have met us with both seniority and expertise on their negotiating side, and we’re pressing ahead.

ACT: Secretary Clinton said in her confirmation hearing that the administration “will seek deep, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, whether deployed or nondeployed, strategic or nonstrategic.” And President Obama said at the UN Security Council meeting in September that the U.S. “will complete a Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] that opens the door to deeper cuts.” Beyond the START follow-on, what will be the administration’s goals for the scope and scale of further reductions?

Tauscher: Well, we are finishing the Nuclear Posture Review that is due toward the end of the year to the Congress. And what’s clear is that we’re working under the scope of strategic offensive weapons in the START treaty and that there is an asymmetry between the United States’ stockpile, both strategic and tactical, and the Russian stockpile. What we’re looking for is a follow-on to the follow-on, where we will begin to deal with those issues. But one treaty at a time. So we’re congruent with what both Secretary Clinton said in her confirmation hearings about moving forward, after we’ve finished with what we’re doing, and certainly with the president’s ambitions too.

ACT: I realize that it’s one treaty at a time, but can you conceptually say where you’d like to get on issues like verification?

Tauscher: Well, let me just say that the underpinning of all of these agreements is verification. There is a level of confidence that is meant to be attained by these agreements. Although it is not trivial to take down weapons, that is not the only piece of this that we’re looking to attain. It is a sense of stability and confidence building, and the way to do that is through verification protocols.

ACT: One of the things that Secretary Clinton talked about that isn’t happening in the START follow-on is verified warhead dismantlement. You seem to be moving from the past, when we looked at monitoring the missiles, to monitoring the actual warheads in the future at some point. Is this something that is envisioned as part of the follow-on to the follow-on?

Tauscher: It is certainly envisioned to be in future opportunities, but, as I said, verification is a piece of what we’re looking for in all future negotiations. It is important, not only in the sense that you move past just the accounting for things and actually have the ability to reassure the two parties, multiple parties, the world community, that we are fulfilling our obligations. The NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] obligations of Article VI of disarmament are defined more than just… “Disarmament,” what does that mean? Does it mean you put it down? Does it mean you put it down, take it apart? Does it mean that you put it down, take it apart, put it on blocks in a garage? Or does that mean you put it down, take it apart, and make sure that you can’t ever use it again? We could disagree. I could tell you I’m disarming, but it could mean that I’m just putting things on blocks in the garage. So we have to have common agreement on what these definitions are, and we have to have verification.

ACT: Are there arrangements in place to continue the verification measures under START after December 5 if there is no treaty in place and in force? How is that going to be handledf

Tauscher: Well, our plan is to find an accommodation to manage, maintain verification protocols in between [expiration of the current treaty and ratification of the new one]. We’ve got lawyers looking at that, we’re talking to our Russian friends about how we do that. But as you can see, we have a significant accent on verification. So the key is how do we maintain it in the absence of a ratified treaty but a legally binding one. So, we’re looking at that.

ACT: Moving now to tactical weapons, how could the United States draw the Russians into a conversation about tactical nuclear weapons? Your adviser Robert Einhorn suggested at a meeting organized by STRATCOM [U.S. Strategic Command] in July that the United States, as an inducement to Russia, “should be prepared to reduce or eliminate the relatively small number of U.S. nuclear weapons that remain in Europe.” Is the United States actively discussing this possibility with its NATO allies?

Tauscher: Well, we are beginning to have conversations because the NPR clearly is an opportunity for us to get in and discuss these and bigger issues, missile defense and other things, with our NATO allies. So I was on the phone with Ambassador [to NATO Ivo] Daalder this morning on how we’re going to manage the narrative, as we call it, of the NPR and what that means for extended deterrence, tactical nuclear weapons, all of that. So we are formulating our positions on these things. We will safely say that there’ll be very large engagement on these issues.

ACT: Do those conversations begin with the assumption that tactical weapons still have a useful military role in Europe or that they are more symbolic weapons?

Tauscher: That’s what the NPR will answer. The narrative of the NPR is a transformational message. While the NPR is a lot about numbers and is about declaratory policy, doctrine, and posture, the narrative of those pieces of it [is] a significant policy statement of this administration. So it is very important that everything is done to prepare what that is. We have an agreement on that inside the Obama administration. Then, once we do that, we can start to begin to have conversations with our friends and allies, interested parties and those to whom we have extended our deterrence. So there is a direct link between what we’re doing in the NPR and these conversations that you have suggested, and there are lots of people that are interested for lots of reasons, and they will become part of the conversation. But we are still in the midst of the NPR review.

ACT: The secretary of state alluded to this subject in her speech this morning. At one point, she talked about providing reassurance to allies in a way that reinforces U.S. nonproliferation objectives. Can you explain what she meant by that and expand on that a little bit?

Tauscher: Part of the NPR is that it’s a policy and political document, and it is meant to articulate how the United States views the uses of nuclear weapons, what that says about the stockpile, what it says about our declaratory policy. But it also is meant to reassure both the people to whom we have extended our deterrence, our allies, [and to] make clear that we are—while the president has articulated a point on the horizon for nuclear zero and while it will take persistence and patience to get there, we may not get there in our lifetime, but we will maintain a credible deterrent, one that is reliable and effective, until the point where we take down our last weapon. So there is a balancing act there.

ACT: At the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] Article XIV conference in September, Secretary Clinton said that the CTBT “is an integral part of our nonproliferation and arms control agenda, and we will work in the months ahead…to seek the advice and consent of the United States Senate to ratify the treaty.” Could you tell us a bit about how the administration plans to win Senate support for ratification and your time frame for that?

Tauscher: The president has set no specific timeline for achieving ratification. The vice president is very involved in the effort to seek ratification. There’s a lot of queuing and sequencing going on. Right now, we’re finishing negotiations on START. START needs to be ratified. In the meantime we’re conducting the Nuclear Posture Review. We’re going to have a [fiscal year 2011] budget submission. There are a number of pieces here that are important to the narrative for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have been living under the conditions of it since [President George H.W.] Bush.[1] So it’s been a very long time, and we have had advances in Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship. Secretary Clinton [in her October 21 speech] also talked about Stockpile Management and where that fits in. What we have is a commitment by the administration to advance the CTBT.

The CTBT is both about policy and about politics. This administration will not attempt to [seek ratification] unless we believe it can actually pass.[2] So there is a lot about this that is important to informing [the public and Congress] to gain [the Senate’s] advice and consent. Part of it is clearly a domestic campaign, and there is a lot of international interest because of the consequences of United States ratification for those eight Annex II countries,[3] its significance. The whole question of going into force is on the bubble.

From our point of view, we have a plan, but it is one that is about informing and advancing the different parts of the president’s agenda. But we do think that these information data points are very, very key to us getting the narrative right. There is clearly, for many senators, a need to thread the needle, find the sweet spot between the goal of a nuclear zero but the necessity to maintain a secure and reliable and effective stockpile until those conditions for nuclear zero are met. So there’s a need to be doing the things necessary to get to nuclear zero, which includes things that strengthen nonproliferation and the ability to maintain weapons in an effective way. Making those investments in the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] stockpile stewardship management and the [U.S. nuclear weapons] complex itself. Then the things that you’re doing in a multilateral, bilateral way and through treaty obligations, either ones that you build yourself or ones that you have had long relationships with, like the NPT. So you’re doing it almost in a parallel effort. So we have the NPR, which is [expected to be released] in late December, early January, and then you have the February budget submission. There will be a number of senators looking to those two events for the congruity of their quest to be able to support the CTBT.

Now we also have the issue of having to ratify START. In a perfect world, perhaps we wish it was already done. We will go to the Senate for the ratification of [a] START [follow-on]; and then at the same time, we will bring up the conversation and the narrative of CTBT, which leads us into the NPT. We’re hoping, obviously, that on an FMCT [fissile material cutoff treaty], the program of work will go forward in the CD [Conference on Disarmament].[4] We join everyone in requesting that our Pakistani friends protest at the right moment but not now.

As you can see, these are all interrelated and interconnected. Next year is an election year. It’s a shorter year legislatively, so a lot of this is kind of wait-and-see. But we definitely have a plan to go forward.

ACT: If the CTBT is not ratified before the NPT conference, is the administration thinking about any steps short of that to show progress on the test ban in the NPT context?

Tauscher: Yeah, we’re very aware of—I think that part of our delivery in the short term will be the NPR and the budget submission. [We are] laying the groundwork for the support of a supermajority in the Senate, 67 votes—we think we understand where we need to be to attract persuadable senators and certain senators that have voted for it before, persuadable senators who have not voted on it yet. Part of it is also to get START done in a way where we have very good support. The fact is that these are interconnected and interrelated, and we have to do them somewhat in order because of circumstances like START expiring. We [will] have a very, very short window to talk about CTBT. But when we believe that we have the right conditions, we will begin to engage the Senate.

The NAS [National Academy of Sciences] study will be coming out in January-February,[5] so there are a bunch of data points that are coming forward. There are a number of things that we’re looking for to inform the debate and to provide the narrative and to provide the fact base and more current information. It’s been a very, very long time since the Senate considered this. At the time, it was only six and a half, seven years between the [start of the U.S. testing moratorium] and when the Senate considered it in ’99. We had a long record at the time of Stockpile Stewardship and Life Extension Program[s], but now we have 10 more years. You cannot trivialize the success of the Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program. But at the same time, I think that you also see that there are a number of senators that are looking for other kinds of reassurances, including what the budget is going to be and the financial commitment and the sustainability. So I think that the NAfS study is going to provide an independent, nonpartisan set of facts that can be used by anyone that wants to be informed on how we should go forward.

ACT: You talked about how the various issues are interrelated and many states around the world see the CTBT as a means to limit qualitative improvements in nuclear arsenals. The president made clear during the campaign that he would “stop the development of new nuclear weapons,” and you, as a member of Congress, were instrumental in defeating an earlier proposal to develop a so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead [RRW]. However, some have suggested that, to maintain the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, the nuclear weapons infrastructure and perhaps some warheads will need to be “modernized.” You were quoted in The Cable September 15 as saying, “I think there are a lot people that still hope for the return of [the] RRW [program] and they are going to be sadly disappointed.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

Tauscher: Well, it’s amazing how things happen. It’s like the tree falling in the forest. When I was still chairman of [the] Strategic Forces [Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee] in the winter and spring [of 2008-2009], we built the strategic forces component of the defense authorization bill, which included what’s called Stockpile Management. Let me just step back for a minute. RRW, when it was originally conceived by the [national laboratory] directors, was something that I supported. It was the ability to refurbish classes of weapons without [adding] any capability, changing platform, or requiring testing. It’s a life extension function; it is not to create a new capability or to boost capability or to enhance capability or to create a new weapon. It is to take the existing weapon portfolio and, as needed or required, refurbish that weapon class so that it survives, so that it is part of the stockpile that can give the assurance that Gen. [Kevin] Chilton, as the commander of STRATCOM, needs.

Unfortunately, in the previous administration’s hands, RRW became a new weapon, and it had to go away.

But the capabilities that were originally envisioned in RRW are still necessary. So we brought them back under life extension principles. The other problem RRW had was that it was out by itself. It was on its own. It looked like a whole new thing. Part of the problem was that it looked like an effort as opposed to a tool. So we created something called Stockpile Management, which effectively is the same kinds of abilities, tools under life extension programs, under stockpile stewardship. A tool called Stockpile Management, and the [congressional] authorizers say you can refurbish weapons but you may not refurbish weapons [in a way] that causes a question of certification. You may not use anything that cannot be certified that could cause you to test. You cannot do anything that is going to increase yield, change the characterization of a weapon, or change the platform. We put all these fences around it. That exists now, in the [fiscal year 2010] national defense bill. Until about three or four weeks ago, I still had people saying to me, “Don’t you think we need something to refurbish weapons?” or “Don’t you think we have to find a way to bring RRW back?” I’m saying we did. It’s called Stockpile Management. So they started looking at it, and they said, “Oh.” So we have a way to refurbish weapons.

You know, even Jim Schlesinger in that strategic posture [commission report] says that “modernize” is one of those kind of riddled terms.[6] It makes people ask, “What do you mean by that?” So talking about it has been very difficult for a lot of people because you don’t want to lead people down the RRW path, which is that you’re going to go and build new weapons.

The other thing we killed was RNEP [Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator]. So it wasn’t like [the Bush administration] got accused of this without any history of trying to do this stuff. I think this administration understands that we need a capability to refurbish weapons. But it’s a tool. You don’t go out and refurbish everything.

ACT: Some are concerned that, in the context of Stockpile Management, RRW, by which we mean new designs of warheads that may not have any additional characteristics or military value, will be brought be back under the NPR.

Tauscher: No. No.

ACT: There are these three proposed categories of stockpile maintenance—refurbish, reuse, replace—and the concern is that RRW is the “replace.” Can you tell us if that will be part of the NPR findings?

Tauscher: Well, I cannot speculate because we’re still working on it, but I don’t consider RRW to be anything other than something from the past. As a member of Congress and chairwoman of the subcommittee, I led an effort to kill the RRW. When I kill something, it stays dead.

ACT: President Obama and other members of the administration have argued that U.S. leadership on disarmament is critical to building support for measures to strengthen the NPT at the 2010 review conference. What are your hopes and goals for that conference, and what is the United States doing in the run-up to build support for the outcomes it wants and to deal with the likely challenges?

Tauscher: Well, we have a fabulous presidential envoy, Ambassador Susan Burk, who’s working full time on this. Susan is burning up the phone lines and racking up the miles seeing friends, allies, and others. We have a lot of friends and allies who have been not always cooperative in reaching consensus in the NPT. So we are doing everything we can to deliver a simple message: we need to have a consensus resolution in the NPT [review conference]. We need to understand that there are a number of issues that have become causes célèbres for certain countries in certain regions, and while we believe that those are very, very important, we cannot get stuck in the wickets here. We’ve got to get out and get something done because we don’t help anyone who is for the NPT by not making it stronger. That means delivering on the promise of a consensus resolution. So I think we have a good message, I think she is an amazing messenger, but it takes a lot of work.

We are a new administration that has got a much more, I think, vital vision for these things. I think it’s safe to say that President Obama has spoken more about [these issues] in the nine months [that he has been in office] than perhaps the previous administration did in [its eight years], but this is an issue that requires American leadership. This is the persistence and patience that the president is talking about. We have to give people a chance to know who we are and to know what these kinds of commitments mean. That’s why the secretary of state gave the speech today, [why] we were in Moscow last week. This is really a very, very significant agenda item. Not for once a month, not for once a week, but every day. And every day we’re doing something, and every day we’re trying to build consensus. We’re listening, we’re talking to folks that have had problems in the past reaching consensus, to find a way to satisfy the issues that they’re concerned about so that they will come to where we need them to be.

ACT: In terms of what’s being pursued, is UN Security Council Resolution 1887[7] a sort of a road map?

Tauscher: It was. It was. I meant to tell you that. Yes. 1887 is a road map.

ACT: How is the United States going about implementing it?

Tauscher: It was the beginning step to say that even people that in the past have not agreed can find a way to agree. Part of it is to listen, and so we are taking 1887 on the road, and we’re taking the principles behind that on the road, leading us back to New York in May, back at the UN for the NPT. I think we’re having significant bilateral conversations with countries that have expressed a lot of interest in working toward a consensus.

ACT: One thing the secretary mentioned today was nuclear security and the summit in April.[8] What are the aims and goals there, and how will that play into the work of the NPT review conference?

Tauscher: Well, this is an idea generated by the president; and the president is, I think, sufficiently agitated about the issue of nonproliferation not delivering on what everyone’s hopes are. Even with lots of people saying the right things and even supporting the right things, we live in a very dangerous world. So this is the president’s effort to get, at his level, at the head-of-state level, during just a one-day conference, to bear down on what these things are and to get international agreement on the kinds of efforts that we all have to support.

For too long, responsibilities for the care, custody, and control of nuclear weapons, for nonproliferation, for cooperative agreements, for disarmament, have all been at the feet of the nuclear-weapon states. As the secretary has said, as the president has said, no one can be obviated from responsibility on these issues, everybody has something to do, everybody has responsibilities and things that they have to invest in, pay attention to.

And this whole issue of proliferation security. You could just be a transshipper, you could be completely out of any of the categories, but you have a global strategic situation where you actually might not even know that you are part of global transshipping proliferation regime.

I think part of the opportunity is to have the president say, “We’re doing our part. We’re doing very well, thank you very much.” Not that many people pay attention to the fact that we are disarming. We may not be going as fast as we want or as anyone wants it, but we need to take credit for that. We’re also attempting to deal with [NPT] Article IV considerations on civil nuclear [programs]. But at the same time, as the secretary said today, the right to have nuclear power, which we recognize as a sovereign right, cannot be seized without responsibilities. We’re trying to build international consensus for multilateral fuel banking and the kinds of safeguards and controls and inspections and IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] authorities and budgeting that cause us to say, “We don’t really want to worry about that country that perhaps has an immature democracy, or even a immature government, that can’t protect its own borders but wants a nuclear power plant.”

ACT: Are those countries accepting that as part of their responsibilities, or do they see this whole new security push as an added obligation that they’re being asked to assume?

Tauscher: What was made very clear is what this [nuclear security] conference isn’t. It isn’t a donors’ conference, and it’s not meant to overshadow the NPT. We’ve added this fourth pillar [nuclear security] because we believe that it is, unfortunately, what hit us on the head when we turned the corner on the 21st century. Part of it is the vestiges of the old A. Q. Khan network but [also] others, the unnamed networks that we don’t even know about, and the fact that we live in a very integrated world that’s not necessarily interdependent yet.

So there’s a lot of stuff happening that you don’t even know about, that you’re involved in. By either geography or by relationships or by circumstance, countries have got to have this brought up to them. The president decided that he wanted people at his level to understand it. President Obama isn’t the first president to talk about nuclear zero, but he is the first who pointed to a place on the horizon and said, “There it is.” He’s the first one to use his political capital and persuasion so early in his presidency. He’s using his popularity, his policy positions, his persuasiveness on this issue because he believes, he believes—this isn’t something that’s been brought to him—he believes that this is a threat and that it needs to be brought up to the level of heads of state so that they understand that it’s not just the nuclear powers that have these responsibilities; everybody does.

ACT: The United States and other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] have been trying to tighten the guidelines on the transfer of sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle technologies, that is, enrichment and reprocessing. In November, the NSG negotiated but failed to approve a draft proposal for criteria-based guidelines that would bar NSG states from transferring those technologies to non-NPT member states, and recently the Group of Eight agreed to adopt that proposal. What is the United States doing within the NSG to get the whole NSG to approve those guidelines?

Tauscher: We’re working with the NSG. We’re also working in the IAEA. We’re on the board of governors; there’s a board meeting [in November]. We want to be able to move forward on a fuel bank. We want there to be a fuel bank stood up. We are looking strongly at supporting the Russian Angarsk facility[9] because we want something up. These are not competing ideas; we don’t want them to be viewed as competing ideas. We want them to be viewed as “Let’s get something going.” So we’re looking to work with our Russian friends; I’ve been working with my counterpart on that. What we’re trying to do is to have people look across the expanse of opportunities and to knit together the things you have to have in order to get solutions to some of these problems.

You have a lot of countries that are critical about the P-5[10] record on disarmament, [saying that] we’re not doing enough. You have a number of countries that believe that the P-5 have denied them their sovereign right to have civilian nuclear power. From our point of view, and as the secretary laid out today, and as I’ve said and as the president’s said, they should not be in conflict. The idea of strong nonproliferation regimes in the NPT, and a number of other initiatives, NTI [Nuclear Threat Initiative],[11] Nunn-Lugar programs, all of the other things the president’s made a commitment to, holding a nuclear security summit in the spring, tying down fissile material within four years, all of these commitments, they are a basket that is porous, with a membrane between them. There’s a lot of things that go in between them, and they don’t contradict each other. It’s important on the civilian nuclear side that we make clear that you can have civilian nuclear power, but there has to be a way to ensure that having civilian nuclear power doesn’t create a proliferation risk.

How do you do that? How do you build international consensus to do that? What are the international regimes that you have to put in place? What are the incentives? How do you make sure that even for those of us who think that they’re climate neutral or even climate enhancing, whatever the reasoning is, how do you make sure that those countries understand that they’re going to have access to the fuel they need and maintain their reactors? We have a very good example in the UAE [United Arab Emirates] 123 agreement [in which the UAE said,] “We’re not going to do any enriching; we’re not going to do any reprocessing”[12]

ACT: What is the current U.S. policy on export of reprocessing and enrichment? There’s been some confusion about this.

Tauscher: None, we don’t do it.

ACT: You mentioned a fuel bank proposal, but that’s run into a lot of opposition. A lot of people had hoped it would be wrapped up by now, but the countries, the ones who would be using the fuel bank, are very suspicious; they see it as a way to deny them the capacity to enrich uranium. They don’t recognize the spread of enrichment as a proliferation concern. How do you address those really fundamental concerns that they have and move forward with this proposal?

Tauscher: Well, I think the truth is, above anything else, nobody can say, “Well, the last time I used that fuel bank, this is what happened to me.” We have to work to educate people, to a certain extent. There are two or three competing proposals right now. I think that in the end there could be one fuel bank, but I think that we need as many of them up and running as possible.

You have to find a way to create that safety and security. We have a 123 agreement with the UAE. Are we going to get other agreements like that? I don’t know, but the key here is to get agreement. That’s why we’re interested in supporting [the proposal for a fuel bank at] Angarsk. Right now, no one knows what would happen if they went to the fuel bank.

But you know part of it is that we have to get some confidence going, especially in countries that are very concerned about their ability to have a reliable bank that they’re going to be able to go to. But you know there’s always a cost for doing business. The bank is there so that there are alternatives to reprocessing and enrichment.

Well, it is the luxury that you don’t have, but what we’re trying to do is to make that luxury too expensive. We’re sin-taxing it. We’re saying, “Hey, if you want to do that, we’re going to make it really, really hard for you because we just really can’t afford to have outliers.” We have to make clear that we support expansion of nuclear power and are prepared to help countries gain access to nuclear energy, but in a safe and economical way that does not increase the risk of proliferation.

ACT: Thank you very much.

ENDNOTES

1. On September 24, 1992, Congress passed a spending bill that included the Hatfield-Exon-Mitchell amendment, which imposed a moratorium on U.S. nuclear testing. The Bush administration opposed the amendment but signed the bill into law on October 2, 1992. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since September 23, 1992.

2. In 1999, the Senate voted 51-48 against CTBT ratification.

3. Under Annex 2 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States are the countries that are on that list but have not ratified the treaty.

4. On May 29, the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva agreed on a program of work that included the negotiation of a verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. Since then, however, the conference was able to make little progress before adjourning for the year in September. The conference will have to adopt a new program of work when it returns next year.

5. The National Academy of Sciences is in the process of updating its 2002 report, Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty. The new report is expected to be completed in early 2010.

6. Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, “America’s Strategic Posture,” 2009, http://media.usip.org/reports/strat_posture_report.pdf.

7. For the text of the resolution, see http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/523/74/PDF/N0952374.pdf?OpenElement. See also Cole Harvey, “Nuclear Arms Resolution Passed at UN Summit,” Arms Control Today, October 2009, pp. 22-23.

8. For the text of the speech, as delivered, see www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/10/130806.htm. In the relevant section, Clinton said, “We must continue to strengthen each of the three mutually reinforcing pillars of global nonproliferation—preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, promoting disarmament, and facilitating the peaceful use of nuclear energy. And to those three pillars, we should add a fourth: preventing nuclear terrorism. Stopping terrorists from acquiring the ultimate weapon was not a central preoccupation when the NPT was negotiated, but today, it is, and it must remain at the top of our national security priorities.”

9. Russia has made a proposal to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to establish a fuel bank of two reactor loads of low-enriched uranium at the InternationalUraniumEnrichmentCenter at Angarsk. This proposal is one of several for a fuel bank, which would serve as a backup source of fuel for countries with good nonproliferation credentials. The aim of the fuel bank proposals is to give countries an incentive to refrain from pursuing indigenous uranium-enrichment programs. See Miles Pomper, “Russia Offers to Jump Start IAEA Fuel Bank,” Arms Control Today, October 2007, p. 41; Daniel Horner and Oliver Meier, “Talks on Fuel Bank Stalled at IAEA,” Arms Control Today, October 2009, pp. 24-26.

10. The term “P-5” refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Those countries also are the ones recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

11. See Horner and Meier, “Talks on Fuel Bank Stalled at IAEA,” pp. 24-26.

12. Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act requires the United States to have a nuclear cooperation agreement with any country with which it is engaging in nuclear trade. Under the terms of the U.S. “123 agreement” with the United Arab Emirates, the UAE “shall not” pursue an indigenous uranium-enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing program. See Daniel Horner, “U.S., UAE Sign New Nuclear Cooperation Pact,” Arms Control Today, June 2009, pp. 34-35.

 

Description: 
Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Tom Z. Collina

Interview With British Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Bill Rammell

Interviewed by Jeff Abramson and Daniel Horner

Bill Rammell serves as minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs in the United Kingdom. His responsibilities encompass the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran; counterterrorism; counterproliferation; the Far East and Southeast Asia; North America; drugs and international crime; and migration policy. Arms Control Today met with Rammell May 5 to discuss the United Kingdom's efforts on an arms trade treaty and other international arms control issues.

ACT: The United Kingdom is playing a leadership role in the arms trade treaty, promoting a legally binding global arms trade treaty. By some accounts, the United Kingdom is the second- or third-largest arms supplier in the world.[1] Why is the United Kingdom still interested in this treaty when it could in theory limit its ability in the arms market?

Rammell: This would put no greater constraints on the legitimate trade in arms. And yes, we have got substantial jobs and business investments in that. That is something that we support. But there is nothing within our proposal for an arms trade treaty that would constrain us any more than our current arms export controls, which are very strong. It will be an international treaty implemented by domestic law. It is about creating a level playing field with the same environment for everybody. There is a fundamental issue that, in some circumstances, weapons are exported to countries of conflict, to countries of civil disorder, that are creating enormous problems and carnage for civilians. That is what we are trying to tackle. It is not the legitimate arms trade, which I think is here to stay.

ACT: Other countries have been less enthusiastic about the arms trade treaty. What do you think their rationale for supporting the treaty would be? Is it the same as yours, or would it be different and require different arguments?

Rammell: One, what is interesting with the way we have led this is that this isn't just a government or nongovernmental organization backing it. We've got substantial elements of our own arms exporting industry that are backing it because they can see it makes life clearer and it reinforces their legitimate trade and underlines those companies that seek the illegitimate route. I think there is growing support for this. I mean, if you look at the figures from when we first raised this, there were 114 countries who co-sponsored a resolution. There was then, at the back end of December, 133 states who voted in favor of the resolution. We're now going through the open-ended procedure at the United Nations.[2] I think there are grounds for optimism that this is an argument that is beginning to gain greater traction.

I'm sure you're going to ask me about the position of the United States. My very strong sense is that, under the previous administration, it was no, no, no. It was interesting in the first meeting of the open-ended working group, the contribution from the U.S. delegate was not no, no, no.[3] It was, "Well, how exactly would this work?" That, combined with our discussions with the administration, indicates to me that there is now an interest in this issue. It is by no means at the point where [the U.S. position] is "Yes, we want to sign up" yet. But [there is] an interest, and we're going to pursue that dialogue, and I hope it gets to a position where the United States can support it.

ACT: You mentioned that the British industry is behind this, which may not be happening in other countries. Do you have a feel for whether there is dialogue in that way to bring another voice to calling for an arms trade treaty at this point?

Rammell: Yeah, I guess because we've been very up front with this and taken the lead on it internationally, we've gone out of our way to take British exporters with us.[4] And I think that has worked. We're now trying to do two things. In the discussions that we have with other partners internationally, we're saying, "Look, you guys need to be talking to your arms exporters." And two, we're actually getting British businesses to talk to their counterparts from overseas to try and build that momentum and coalition.

ACT: One criticism leveled at conventional arms treaties is that there is no real enforcement mechanism. The UN Security Council can have an arms embargo, but sometimes those are not effective. How do you think about an arms trade treaty and how it might be enforced, if "enforced" is the right word?

Rammell: We're not saying that there's going to be some global mechanism to enforce this, one, because I don't think it would be very effective, [and] two, it would kill the treaty stone dead. It's going to be a legally enforced situation, but down to national enforcement. Now if you look at the countries that have got strong arms export control regimes, that's how it works. We've recently had a judicial review on some aspects of our arms sales to Israel. and it came through very positively. In fact, the claim that the government wasn't following the rules was dropped because it became clear that the rules were being implemented in a way that they should be implemented. So I think there are grounds for confidence that once you establish it, there will then be the legal powers within individual countries and it's then down to them to enforce it.

ACT: Another way to think of it might be in a trade aspect rather than an arms aspect. You have the World Trade Organization that has mechanisms promoting dispute resolution enforcement. Is there any thinking along sort of a trade route in regulations in how countries might hold each other accountable?

Rammell: I'm just thinking of the number of disputes that lasted years in the World Trade Organization without resolution. I'm not sure if I'm desperately attracted to that as a route to it. I mean, look, this is going to be about consistent standards, consistent rules, and it's then down to individual countries to implement it. I think that's the most practical, realistic way.

There was one other thing on the United States I wanted to say because I think it's important to make this very clear. This is in no way, shape, or form targeted at domestic gun control. You've got rigorous arms export controls at the moment. That doesn't impact on domestic possession of guns in the United States. This wouldn't in any way, shape, or form do that also.

ACT: Back to your point about those standards: What level of specificity do you have?

Rammell: Part of my difficulty in answering that question, and I'm not trying to duck it, is we're in a process of negotiation and if I start setting out detailed prescriptions, then that's going to put some people [off from] coming on board. Nevertheless, there will be standard benchmark criteria that will exist for every country, but it's then down to those individual countries and their legal systems to enforce it. I think that's the right way to go. There are a number of models we can look at internationally that already exist, like we've got now legally binding arms export controls within the European Union, which again are legally enforceable, but it's down to the individual nation-states to enforce them.[5] But that's just one example. There are many others, of good, strong arms export control regimes internationally, and I think, through the dialogue, we're going to be looking to seek agreement on the best.

ACT: Tell us one or two of the other examples that you have in mind.

Rammell: Well, there's a system in the United States that works very effectively. There's a number of other countries where they work very effectively, and I think we're going to want to draw on the best of those systems. What does that mean? It ultimately means [that] if there's a risk of fueling internal repression or external aggression, then you don't export to that place.

ACT: Some people think of this treaty and think of small arms and light weapons. Others think of major systems. Depending on who you're talking to, is one aspect of the arms trade more meaningful than other aspects?

Rammell: Some people would say small arms and light weapons were the answer. You look at some of the worst conflict areas in the world, it's that element of the trade that is creating absolute mayhem. So no, we're looking for as comprehensive an approach as possible that includes that but also includes major conventional weapons as well.

ACT: As currently set up, the open-ended working group that is discussing the arms trade treaty could extend its work through July 2011. It has been suggested by some that if that goes too slowly, it might make sense to pursue negotiations outside of the group, perhaps something similar to the Oslo process.[6] How do you assess progress so far in the open-ended working group? Do you think it realistic that countries might launch a separate process, and could you envision the United Kingdom ever being part of that separate process?

Rammell: Well, I never say never, but I'm actually cautiously optimistic at the moment. I think the figure I quoted-133 states have signed up in principle to support, [and] when we had that vote in December there were only 19 abstentions, and I know the United States voted against it, and I think things have shifted since then. So there's a lot of detailed work to be done. I would hope we can get there sooner rather than later, and I think this is developing a momentum. Again, in some of the debates that have taken place, not in the United Kingdom but in other nations, there is a crying need for this kind of approach. So, I never rule out any mechanism, but I think at the moment there are very reasonable prospects that we can achieve this through the open-ended working group.

ACT: Any other countries that have been slower but where you now see changes?

Rammell: Again, forgive me, it's not in my interest to start singling people out. I'm commenting on the United States because I'm here in the United States. But I don't think there's anybody at the moment who is saying you are fundamentally off track here, and there is no way, shape, or form we are prepared to countenance this. There's still a number of countries who are very questioning, very skeptical. We've got to make the argument with them and reassure them about the impact of this, and particularly that this is not, not, not about impacting on their legitimate arms trade. I think there are cautious grounds for optimism.

ACT: One thing that might happen is, if the treaty exists, you might see civil society really being the monitor for these things, as you see in landmines, [where] civil society really plays a role in holding countries accountable.[7] Do you see a role for civil society, if it's going to be sort of on nations or countries to keep track of what they're doing to live up to these standards? Do you see international civil society playing a large role?

Rammell: I think civil society does play a role. But I wouldn't want anybody to get the sense that that will mean civil society will be dictating the decisions beyond the treaty that is agreed. That would be a matter for national implementation, national legal jurisdiction.

ACT: Address some of the nuclear questions, especially along the lines of what Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised in his speech.[8] Can you flesh out a little bit more of this concept of the new international architecture for nuclear security? There were some specific references to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and the role of the IAEA, so how do you see that playing out, and how would you strengthen the role of the IAEA? Financially? Institutionally? Enforcement mechanisms?

Rammell: I mean, in personnel terms, we need a strong director-general, and the process of his appointment or election is currently being gone through on that front. We want a properly resourced IAEA. It is interesting that the IAEA recently undertook their own internal assessment.

It said actually there needs to be a greater prioritization, and I think also the idea, especially in the current fiscal climate, that you're going to get a lot more resources is not realistic. I think we've got to bridge the divide that exists and really focus on the role of the IAEA in enforcing the international agreements that exist. I think we're looking in the [Preparatory Committee] for the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review for strong outcomes.[9] I am encouraged by the moves that are being made generally on disarmament. If you look at our own record, we've reduced our number of warheads by 50 percent in the last decade.[10] I think we've taken a leading position on that. But I'm now very encouraged by President Obama, what he's been saying about further reductions. The Russians appear to be responding cautiously and in kind. That's the disarmament side, and I think that is positive, and we've got to move forward with that.

The flip side is, we've absolutely got to tackle the problem of proliferation, which is why the IAEA dealing with Iran, why, through the six-party talks process, tackling the problem in North Korea is particularly important. Because go back to the heart of the NPT and there's a deal there.... I think sometimes we can underplay how effective the NPT has been. I was giving some evidence recently to our foreign affairs select committee, and I came across [President John Kennedy's] statements....[11] His projection, and I don't think this was unrealistic at the time, was that there would be a massive explosion, excuse the pun, massive growth of nuclear-weapon states, and actually it hasn't happened. We've got some challenges, but we've got to keep that deal going.

ACT: Can I just backtrack on some of the points you sort of ticked off? "We need a strong director-general." Do you think Mohamed ElBaradei has been a strong director-general?

Rammell: I think he's been effective, but inevitably when you come for the election for somebody new, you look at what you need from that person. You see you need someone that is managerially focused, who can manage what is a very large organization. You need someone who will be able to bridge the divide between the advanced world nuclear-weapon states and the Nonaligned Movement. You critically need someone who is going to implement the rules and the authority of the IAEA and not try to paper over...if you got someone who is that sublime that they will actually seek to tackle that problem with the authority of the IAEA, not look at the compromises which actually lets an offender off.

ACT: And you're implying that perhaps ElBaradei has done that?

Rammell: Nope, I think he's been effective. But I'm saying to you whenever you have an election for a new post, you need to look at what qualities you're looking for.

ACT: People have been talking for a long time that there would have to be some penalty for countries doing [something] like what North Korea did: they withdraw from the treaty and invoke this clause of the NPT of a supreme national interest,[12] when it is apparently not the case. It is difficult to come up with a really feasible, implementable way to do that. What can you do?

Rammell: I think that is the difference if you look at North Korea, and I'm still the only British minister to have gone to North Korea, which I did in 2004, it is more cut off from any nation anywhere on Earth. Historically, it has not been able to feed its people, has very little trade links with the outside world. In those circumstances, what sanctions could you implement? I mean, there is a debate about those countries which do have trade links with the country actually being prepared to take action on that front. But a legally enforceable sanction, I think, would be difficult to achieve.

ACT: On the economic issue, you said, given the current financial situation, it would be difficult expect significant increases. The Zedillo report advocated an immediate 50 million euro increase,[13] and the Obama administration has been talking about doubling the IAEA budget.[14] Do you have some sort of quantity in mind or some goal?

Rammell: Over the medium term, I think you may get some movement on this. But I just think, at the moment, it is unrealistic to expect big increases in the budget. Actually, what came out of that report strongly for me was that [the] first call wasn't for an increase in resources. It was actually, "Come on guys; we need to look at the way money is being spent and how it's being prioritized at the moment."

ACT: Looking at strategic and tactical weapons, the new debate about strategic weapons and nonstrategic weapons in Europe, maybe you can say something about growing sentiment that all those substrategic weapons should be removed from Europe.

Rammell: Look, we did an overall framework that we are committed to disarmament and our aspirations to eventually get rid of nuclear weapons. We will look for all opportunities, and I think if you look at what we have done, we have reduced the arsenal significantly. I think, within the START II process, there will be further efforts at reduction, but I'm not going to plot specifics. There's a process of bilateral and multilateral negotiation to take place, and I'm not going to plot specifics out of the air apart from saying the United Kingdom has taken the lead. I think there is a beginning to the momentum in terms of disarmament and we want to push that forward. But the flip side of it is, we've got to tackle proliferation as well.

ACT: You said sort of an important parallel component to the strategic reductions and proliferation, substrategic weapons-do you see the United Kingdom as playing a role in pushing that? Do you still see those weapons as necessary in serving an important security function?

Rammell: At the moment, yes. But our longer-term ambition is to get further disarmament, and I think the commitment being made by the United States, the discussions, the potentially starting with the Russians, I would hope that that would make progress.

ACT: In April, the E3+3 welcomed the U.S. approach to Iran, including the occasional joint talks with Iran from now on.[15] What does U.S. participation mean in the process, and is there a new approach to be pursued as a group?

Rammell: I think there is genuine unanimity on this. We certainly welcome President Obama's commitment to engage in a dialogue with the Iranians. It's not an open-ended offer. I think the Iranians need to recognize that this is a serious opportunity and they could have taken it by engaging seriously. I think there is a window of opportunity for that to happen this year. If they don't, then I think we need to be in a much, much tougher position on sanctions. I think it is that twin-track approach that's saying, "Look, come on, there's all sorts of advantages and benefits to you here, in terms of normalization, in terms of trade relationship, in terms of giving you what you say you want in terms of access to civil nuclear power, if you can reassure us on your nuclear weapons intentions. If you don't take that approach, we're going to be in a much tougher position on sanctions."

ACT: You have a broad portfolio of responsibilities: drugs, international crime, migration, and other topics. How might instruments or strategies from one or more of these arenas help to update and increase the effectiveness of multilateral efforts to reduce the security risks posed by nuclear and other dangerous weapons? Are lessons you see in what goes on in those other areas, which might not always be discussed when we talk about weapons, maybe leading to new thinking or ideas?

Rammell: There's inevitably a read across because ultimately you're dealing with states, the actions that they take, nonstate actors as well, particularly in migration terms, in terms of drugs, but also in terms of terrorism. So, I'm not sure I can, off the top of my head, think of specific examples. Undoubtedly, you look across the pieces, and you learn from experiences elsewhere, and that will feed into the weapons.

ACT: Thank you.


 

ENDNOTES

1. In recent years, Russia and the United Kingdom have been the second- and third-largest suppliers of conventional weaponry, depending on measurement metrics. See Jeff Abramson, "U.S. Atop Expanding Global Arms Market," Arms Control Today, December 2008, pp. 56-57.

2. In 2006, 76 countries sponsored and, ultimately, 139 countries voted in support of the UN First Committee resolution that began "[t]owards an arms trade treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms." The United States voted no; 24 countries, many from the Middle East, abstained. That vote led to the establishment a group of governmental experts to study the issue and to the submission of comments by more than 100 countries on a possible treaty. On December 24, 2008, the General Assembly voted to move the process forward into an open-ended working group. In that vote, 133 countries voted in favor, the United States voted no, and 19 countries abstained. That resolution was co-sponsored by 114 countries. See Jeff Abramson, "Arms Trade Treaty Discussion Creeps Forward," Arms Control Today, December 2008, pp. 53-54.

3. Prior to the March 2-6 open-ended working group meeting, the U.S. position had been interpreted as unsupportive of an arms trade treaty. On March 5, U.S. representative Donald Mahley stated that "[n]one of this history, though, can or should be taken to mean that the United States is not interested in and would not support effective international arrangements for controlling the international conventional arms trade and especially preventing such arms from serving illegitimate or anti-humanitarian purposes." U.S. Statement, ATT Session One, March 5, 2009, www.un.org/disarmament/convarms/ArmsTradeTreaty/docs/OEWG09_S1_statements/US-5Mar.PDF.

4. British trade associations that have expressed support for an arms trade treaty include the Defence Manufacturers Association and the Society of British Aerospace Companies.

5. In December 2008, the European Union adopted a legally binding common position that updates the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which established criteria for examining applications for the export of conventional arms as well as consultative and transparency mechanisms.

6. Following the failure of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to address the use of cluster munitions, Norway announced in 2006 that it would take the lead on reaching an agreement concerning the weapons. That effort, known as the Oslo process, resulted in the Convention on Cluster Munitions. See Jeff Abramson, "Countries Sign Cluster Munitions Convention," Arms Control Today, January/February 2009, pp. 25-27.

7. The Mine Ban Treaty is closely tracked by the Landmine Monitor, a research and monitoring initiative of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. That civil society-led effort has become the de facto monitoring regime for the treaty. See Peter Herby and Eve La Haye, "How Does It Stack Up? The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention at 10," Arms Control Today, December 2007, pp. 6-10.

8. On February 6, the British Foreign Office released "Lifting the Nuclear Shadow: Creating the Conditions for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons," which identified steps toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons. In a March 17 speech in London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown further discussed the United Kingdom's vision on nuclear issues.

9. The Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference met in New York May 4-15.

10. The British government stated in a 1998 Strategic Defense Review that it would "maintain a stockpile of fewer than 200 operationally available warheads," down from about 300. It is unclear how many warheads might be held in reserve.

11. At a press conference on March 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy warned, "I see the possibility in the 1970s of the president of the United States having to face a world in which 15 or 20 or 25 nations may have [nuclear] weapons. I regard that as the greatest possible danger and hazard."

12. Article X of the NPT says, "Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests." North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003.

13. Ernesto Zedillo et al., "Reinforcing the Global Nuclear Order for Peace and Prosperity: The Role of the IAEA to 2020 and Beyond," 2008, p. 30, www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/News/PDF/2020report0508.pdf. Zedillo, the former president of Mexico, was the head of an independent commission that prepared the report at the request of ElBaradei. According to the report, the IAEA Board of Governors should agree "to underpin the expansion of the Agency's security and safety work, other activities in support of newcomer states embarking on nuclear programs, and an expansion of work in nuclear applications and technology transfer." The report also says that "[t]he exact amount of additional regular budget should be determined after a detailed review of the budgetary situation and additional workloads of the Agency, but the Commission estimates that increases of about 50 million [euro] annually in real terms might be necessary during several years."

14. "The IAEA is understaffed and under-resourced for the current and growing responsibilities placed on it by the international community. That is why the President-Elect has called for doubling the IAEA's budget over the next four years." Hillary Rodham Clinton, Answers to "Questions for the Record" from Senator John Kerry, January 2009, p. 29. The questions were submitted in conjunction with Clinton's January 13 confirmation hearing.

15. The E3+3 comprises China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. An April 8 joint statement by the six countries said, "The other members of the group warmly welcome the new direction of US policy towards Iran and their decision to participate fully in the E3+3 process and join in any future meetings with representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

 

Interviewed by Jeff Abramson and Daniel Horner

Interview with Annalisa Giannella, Personal Representative on Nonproliferation of WMD to EU High Representative Javier Solana

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Body: 

Interviewed by Oliver Meier

On Feb. 16, Arms Control Today international correspondent Oliver Meier spoke with EU nonproliferation chief Annalisa Giannella to discuss Europe's nonproliferation and security policies against the background of the new U.S. administration taking office. Giannella has served in her current position since October 2003 and previously served as the EU Council of Ministers' director for security and defense policy and head of the division for security issues.

ACT: What do you think will be the impact of the change in administration in Washington on European efforts to strengthen arms control and nonproliferation agreements?

Giannella: I think that it will have a revitalizing effect. Since the adoption of the European Security Strategy and the [weapons of mass destruction (WMD)] strategy,[1] we have been very active in supporting what we call effective multilateralism, in support of universalization but also of effective implementation of all the multilateral treaties and conventions, as well as supporting new treaties which would fill the gaps in the nonproliferation/disarmament regime.

We must say that, over recent years at least on some of these points, we have not had full convergence of views with the United States. The emphasis has always been on nonproliferation. There was no consensus on nuclear disarmament, for instance. On the Biological Weapons Convention, there was no possibility of agreement on a verification protocol. The EU has always been in favor of entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but the United States didn't want to ratify the treaty and join our effort to promote universalization.[2] On the fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), the United States even put forward a proposal for initiating negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) but opposed the very idea of verification.[3]

However, there have been quite a number of areas where we had very good cooperation with the Bush administration, including Iran of course. For instance, we have both and sometimes jointly been supporting the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540.[4] We have been cooperating together with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and the 1540 Committee in support of the resolution. We have been working in synergy in the area of export control assistance to third countries. We have regularly compared notes about the assistance projects that we launch for third countries. The problem we have had was basically with the way we viewed our support for some multilateral treaties and conventions.

With the Obama administration, we are looking forward to the fullest cooperation and synergy because, from what we read and see and hear about Obama's intentions, they are very much along the same lines as the EU approach. We see that now the United States will be in favor of entry into force of the CTBT, is in favor of a verifiable FMCT, and in addition we also have a very open statement in support of a call for a world without nuclear weapons and the intention to start negotiations for a phased, verifiable, irreversible, transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.[5] This will also contribute to establishing a much better atmosphere in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review process. We think that we have a better chance of getting very good results in the next few years with the United States and EU working together in the same direction.

ACT: Are there areas where you think differences will continue with the new administration or might even grow?

Giannella: It is very difficult to judge because so far we have not had very precise and detailed proposals from the U.S. side. So we have to base ourselves on what we have read in speeches by President [Barack] Obama, Vice President [Joe] Biden, and Secretary of State [Hillary Rodham] Clinton. From what I have seen, I don't think there would be any divergence of views as far as weapons of mass destruction are concerned.

Maybe we will still have some slight differences on conventional weapons because the EU is in favor of and is actively promoting negotiations on an arms trade treaty.[6] I'm not yet sure that the Obama administration will be entirely supportive of this.

ACT: On the recent initiatives on arms control and nonproliferation that were taken during the French presidency, particularly during the December 2008 meetings, there was for example a new document, "New Lines of Action," which outlines a variety of measures. Mainly it seems aimed at improving internal coherence among EU member states.[7] I found very few initiatives to strengthen multilateral instruments. Why is this, and are there any additional initiatives planned to strengthen multilateral instruments?

Giannella: In fact, the document that was agreed under the French presidency, the New Lines of Action, is just an additional document. It is additional with respect to our WMD strategy, which remains valid, and with respect to the priorities for implementation of the strategy, which were also adopted by the same meeting of the [EU] Council [of Ministers].[8] So, you are right that the new Lines of Action is more an improvement of coherence among the EU member states, but we still have the list of priorities for the implementation of the strategy. We still have an approach based very much on work in support of multilateralism and also on cooperation with other countries. These documents have to be seen as a whole and as complementing each other.

ACT: Another additional instrument that was approved was a draft code of conduct for outer space activities.[9] This was also presented to the CD by the Czech presidency.[10] Can you explain the added value of the EU code in comparison to other instruments on space security? What is your time frame for agreement on a consensus document? In this context, how do you want to engage Russia and China particularly on this issue?

Giannella: I'm glad to have this opportunity to stress that the fact that the council agreed [to] this draft doesn't mean that the draft is a document that cannot be modified. The ministers gave an endorsement to this draft as a basis for consultations with third countries. So it is an official EU initiative, but of course the text is really very open to modification in the light of comments by partners. The purpose of this code is to enhance safety, security, and predictability of outer space activities. It is a code because the assessment, which was made within the EU, was that there was no consensus, for the time being, for a legally binding instrument. On the other hand, there are more and more activities in outer space, and therefore something needs to be done. We do not want this document to replace or to prevail over instruments which already exist and most of which are legally binding.

There are a number of conventions and treaties in the area of outer space, but subscribing states would commit themselves to full implementation of these instruments whereas nonsubscribing states would commit to take steps to accede or to adhere to these instruments. This is because we don't want to exclude the possibility for countries who may not wish to ratify to decide nevertheless to implement the provisions of these instruments. Then there are also transparency measures, confidence-building measures, notification, registration, et cetera. We believe that this code will improve the situation in terms of confidence building and transparency, and we think that this initiative is not a substitute. It does not stand in the way of negotiation of a treaty if everybody agrees on the idea of a treaty preventing weaponization of space, as proposed by Russia and China.[11]

Now, you ask me how do you want to engage with Russia and China as well as other partner countries. Actually, we have started to engage. We have already had a first round of informal consultations, and now after endorsement by the council, we have started a round of formal consultations which will involve not only the United States, Russia, and China, but also other main partners of the EU and space-faring nations. So we are consulting Canada, Japan, India, South Korea, Brazil, et cetera.

ACT: Do you have a time frame for these consultations?

Giannella: We were in Canada a couple weeks ago. We will be in Asia in March. There will be other countries that we will meet in the margins of multilateral meetings.

ACT: There's no target date, is there?

Giannella: We hope that if consultations go reasonably well and if the modified version can be accepted by most of the countries, we will be able to convene an ad hoc conference maybe at the end of the year or beginning of next year. Of course, all of this depends on how these consultations go.

ACT: The EU made legally binding its code of conduct on arms exports.[12] Why did it take so long to make the code legally binding, and what impact do you think the change in the legal character will have on actual exports from EU member states?

Giannella: As you know, the content of the common position [on arms exports] is 90 or 95 percent identical to the content of the former code of conduct. However, there are some improvements. The criteria [for arms exports] are the same, but the scope is wider in the sense that, for instance, the common position covers brokering and intangible transfers. But the fact that it is legally binding gives the instrument a different status, and it makes the EU a very credible actor as [a] promoter of the arms trade treaty. We are proposing to the international community the negotiation of a treaty governing the arms trade, and we are demonstrating that we ourselves are already committed to a legally binding instrument. This is a question of coherence. We could not propose a legally binding instrument if we did not already have legally binding commitments among ourselves.

ACT: Turning back toward the NPT, can you generally say what your expectations for the review conference are at this stage? Do you expect there to be a new EU common position to be agreed?[13] What specific issues might the EU try to focus on in that context?

Giannella: For the review conference, our position is classical and is largely the same although the text of our common position [on the NPT], which was adopted before the last review conference, will probably be adapted next year.[14] We think that the review conference has to address the three pillars in a balanced way.

We have to work on nonproliferation and peaceful uses. In this context, one of the issues on which we should focus is the multilateral nuclear fuel approaches. We have to work on those approaches because it is clear that there are more and more countries turning to nuclear energy for civilian purposes. It is also clear that it is for each country to make its own energy choices, and if a country is in compliance with the treaty, clearly it has the right to have nuclear energy for civilian purposes. We have to make sure that programs for nuclear energy are developed in such a way as to avoid any proliferation risk and to meet the highest standards in terms of safety, security, and nonproliferation. The only way we can do that is through multilateral nuclear fuel approaches.

We need to work on disarmament, and I think that the statements by President Obama give us very good grounds to hope that we can have progress on the nuclear disarmament pillar.

In addition, the EU has already put forward a paper on withdrawal because we want to better specify the procedure and the conditions for withdrawal. We want to work on export controls, we want to work on safeguards, on nuclear security, et cetera. We have a lot of items, but I think if we could have progress on multilateral nuclear fuel approaches and on disarmament, it would be a big success.

ACT: There is a new discussion on a nuclear weapons-free world. France and the United Kingdom have both explained their positions and expanded to some degree their positions on nuclear arms control during the last year.[15] Last December, French President Nicolas Sarkozy as acting EU president wrote a letter to Ban Ki-Moon explaining the EU's stance on nuclear disarmament.[16] How does this initiative in your assessment differ from past EU positions on nuclear arms control and disarmament?

Giannella: It is no secret that, on nuclear disarmament, the lowest common denominator between EU members was extremely low. The situation has started to improve over the last couple of years precisely because there has been a modification of the position in the United Kingdom and most recently in France. Now that the Obama administration is taking a very different position with respect to nuclear disarmament, this will also facilitate the further evolution of the French and British approaches because nuclear disarmament cannot take place on a unilateral basis. It has to be a negotiated process amongst the five [NPT nuclear powers]. The more Obama elaborates his approach, the more easily France and the United Kingdom will elaborate their own approaches and vice versa. It will be a mutually reinforcing process and will encourage Russia and China to move as well. Since the other countries in the EU have had no difficulty in being much more in favor of nuclear disarmament, this will help us to develop the EU position in a positive way.

ACT: One specific proposal that Sarkozy made in the letter to Ban Ki-Moon was the inclusion of tactical nuclear weapons in general arms control and disarmament processes. Do you think if this were to happen, this would also affect the deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in EU countries also?[17]

Giannella: It is premature for me to make comments on specific elements in the Sarkozy letter or in proposals made by other main actors. All these elements need a thorough examination, a thorough discussion. I think that the Sarkozy letter was meant to give a message that there is a new readiness to discuss these issues. How exactly the question of nuclear disarmament will develop, what exactly will be the elements for an agreement, it is too early for me and maybe for others to say.

ACT: There has also been a reversal of U.S. policies on CTBT ratification. What generally do you think Europe can do to speed up entry into force? Specifically, are there any lessons or experiences that Europe can offer to U.S. senators to convince them that U.S. security will be enhanced by approving the treaty?

Giannella: The EU has set a precedent because our own nuclear-weapon states, France and the United Kingdom, have ratified the CTBT very quickly. That means the CTBT does not necessarily entail any risk or danger even for countries which, after all, still believe in nuclear deterrence. Second, the EU has been working a lot in support of the entry into force of the CTBT. We have made demarches in support of ratification in countries which have not ratified, in particular in the countries listed in annex two of the treaty. Only a few months ago, we agreed on an energetic action plan in support of its entry into force.[18]

That is not all. We believe that the monitoring system of the CTBT has to be credible. We have also tried to use that leverage in our campaign. The fact is that the CTBT monitoring system can also be very useful for civilian purposes, for civil protection purposes. It can help, for instance, to give an early warning of tsunamis or earthquakes. So, it can be very much in the interests of each and every country to make use of this monitoring system. The EU is contributing financially to some activities which help the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization to maintain credibility and to further develop the monitoring system. Over the past two or three years, the council has adopted a couple of decisions by which we have supported training courses for monitors, for improvements of the monitoring system including radionuclides, noble gas, and many other things. We believe that an effective monitoring system is an important element in making the CTBT attractive.

ACT: The Obama administration has offered direct dialogue with Tehran without preconditions, which has long been the EU position. What is your assessment of Iran's reaction to the new U.S. position on this dialogue?

Giannella: I don't know whether the offer of the United States is to have direct talks without preconditions. If "without preconditions" is being taken to mean that there is no need for Iran to suspend or freeze enrichment activities, I am not sure if this is what is meant by the U.S. administration. I have understood the U.S. administration position as being that they are ready to be more directly involved with Iran in each and every phase of the negotiations on the nuclear issue and that they also want to have a direct channel of communication covering not only the nuclear issue but also other important issues such as the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, et cetera. This is very positive, this can only increase the possibility, the hope, for positive developments in the EU-3 Plus 3 process with Iran. But I'm not sure that there will be such a dramatic change in the U.S. position that it might deal on the nuclear issue only bilaterally and at no condition. This is not our reading. The preconditions are set in UN Security Council resolutions.

The other question is how the Iranians have reacted to the new statements by the U.S. administration. I think the reaction is typically Iranian. Instead of saying, "Okay, happy to see that now we have an interlocutor who is ready to talk to us. We are ready to talk as well, and maybe both of us should calm down our rhetoric," we hear "The Americans should apologize for what they have done in the past." Iranians are very difficult people to deal with, and I hope that American statements are not misinterpreted in Iran as unconditional acceptance that Iran need take no steps in order to the meet the criteria of the Security Council.

ACT: Now Iran's enrichment program is gaining speed and is proceeding much faster than many experts had predicted. Do you think direct dialogue can actually wait until after the Iranian presidential elections in June? What will be the EU-3's and EU's role in the context of such new talks?

Giannella: There is this debate about whether we should or should not wait until the presidential election [in Iran]. It is clear that it is difficult for Iran to take a bold decision in a transitional period. On the other hand, when we think about the data concerning the development of enrichment in Iran, they have already produced more than 1.000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, they already have 4,000 centrifuges in operation, they have 2,000 more centrifuges under test, et cetera. That means that, in a few months, they will have produced a quantity of enriched uranium which could be then enriched further to highly enriched uranium and would be enough to produce one nuclear device. Of course, other elements are needed to weaponized, et cetera, but in a few months Iran will reach a really important threshold.

Against this background, I think that we should not wait. It would be better not to wait. How many chances we may have to pressure Iran into making a major policy change I don't know, but I would not wait. My personal opinion is that we should not waste time.

ACT: The other side of the new U.S. position on this is that if Iran does not accept the new offer, more sanctions will be needed. What steps do you see member states and the EU as a whole taking to heighten pressure on Iran, and what can the EU do to engage Russia and China more on this?

Giannella: As you know, we have been implementing the Security Council resolutions very fully, and not just fully but always a little beyond the letter of the Security Council resolutions. We have been a little tougher or more comprehensive. Now we are re-examining the list in order to see whether any updating is needed. This is already a way of increasing pressure. We share the U.S. position that we have to work on the dual-track approach, which means that, on one hand, we have to be open to negotiations and, on the other hand, as long as Iran does not meet the UN Security Council requirements, we have to increase pressure.

What do we do to engage Russia and China? We regularly have meetings with them together with the Americans, and I hope that the increased readiness by the United States to engage directly with Iran, to be involved in all phases of negotiations with Iran, will make Russia and China more ready to adopt new sanctions if Iran continues to refuse to engage.

ACT: You don't sound very optimistic on this.

Giannella: Clearly we haven't had maximum convergence of views on this element over the last two months, but don't forget that the U.S. position was also much more prudent in terms of negotiations. So maybe we will find a new balance with more openness to negotiations and pressure.

ACT: On Russia particularly, at the Munich security conference, Javier Solana said that the Medvedev proposal for a new European security architecture should be taken seriously and that there should be an engagement and a debate on this issue.[19] Could you specify what this means for the security dialogue of the EU with Russia, what specific topics the EU could become engaged on, and how the division between old and new EU members, if you like, in terms of approaching Russia can be overcome?

Giannella: I hesitate to respond to your question because this is really beyond my remit. I am responsible for disarmament, nonproliferation, and arms control. What I can tell you is that, in my area of competence, we do have very good cooperation with Russia, and we are looking forward to improve it even more. We work and consult a lot with Russia on nonproliferation [and] disarmament issues, and we also have good practical cooperation with Russia on disarmament projects. We consider and we treat Russia as a major partner of the EU.

ACT: One of the areas of cooperation is the Global Partnership, which is due to expire in 2012.[20] There is going to be a discussion starting on whether to extend the Global Partnership and maybe also to support its geographical expansion. Do you have a position on this already?

Giannella: We are basically in favor of some geographical expansion because we think the objective of Global Partnership cannot be limited to Russia and the former Soviet Union. If there are proliferation threats, [Group of Eight (G-8)] members should address them. On this issue, we do have an open discussion with Russia in the context of the G-8.

ACT: Thank you very much.



[1] Council of the European Union, "A Secure Europe in a Better World: European Security Strategy," December 12, 2003, www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cmsUpload/78367.pdf; Council of European Union, "EU Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction," December 12, 2003, register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/03/st15/st15708.en03.pdf.

[2] The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions anywhere. It has been signed by 180 countries and ratified by 148 states. The treaty will not take full legal effect until nine key states, including the United States, ratify the accord. See Arms Control Association, "The Status of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Signatories and Ratifiers," February 2008. [at http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/ctbtsig.asp... numbers do not match up, I will work on this]

[3] A proposed fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) would outlaw the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons purposes. A nuclear weapon cannot be made without one or the other. In July 2004, the Bush administration changed the U.S. policy position on an FMCT, announcing that it does not believe an agreement can be crafted to protect against cheating. This has further complicated the commencement of negotiations on such an accord. See Wade Boese, "Bush Shifts Fissile Material Ban Policy," Arms Control Today, September 2004, pp. 20-21.

[4] Resolution 1540, adopted in April 2004, is a legally binding effort that requires all states to implement a variety of domestic measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery, and related materials.

[5] "Arms Control Today 2008 Presidential Q&A: President-Elect Barack Obama," December 2008, special section.

[6] In 2006 the UN General Assembly voted to work toward establishing "common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons." A UN group of governmental experts on August 26, 2008, adopted by consensus a report that called for further study within the UN in a step-by-step manner and on "the basis of consensus" of an arms trade treaty. See Jeff Abramson, "Arms Trade Treaty Discussion Creeps Forward," Arms Control Today, December 2008, pp. 53-54.

[7] Council of the European Union, "Council Conclusions and New Lines for Action by the European Union in Combating the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems," 17172/08, November 23, 2008, available at http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/08/st17/st17172.en08.pdf.

[8] Council of the European Union, "Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy: Providing Security in a Changing World," S407/08, December 11, 2008, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/reports/104630.pdf.

[9] Council of the European Union, "Council Conclusions and Draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities," 17175/08, December 17, 2008, http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/08/st17/st17175.en08.pdf.

[10] "Statement by the Czech Presidency on Behalf of the European Union: 'PAROS,'" Geneva, February 12, 2009, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/speeches09/1session/12feb_EU.pdf.

[11] In February 2008, Russia and China co-sponsored a proposal at the CD to ban weapons in space. See Wade Boese, "Russia Pushes Pacts as U.S. Kills Satellite," Arms Control Today, March 2008, pp. 50-51.

[12] Council of the European Union, "Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP of 8 December 2008 Defining Common Rules Governing Control of Exports of Military Technology End Equipment," 355 OJ 99, December 13, 2008, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:335:0099:0103:EN:PDF.

[13] Common positions are designed to make cooperation more systematic and improve its coordination. EU member states are required to comply with and uphold common positions that have been adopted unanimously by the council.

[14] Council of the European Union, "Council Common Position 3005/329/PESC of 25 April 2005 Relating to the 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," 106 OJ 32, April 25, 2005. (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/spru/hsp/documents/2005-0525%20NPT%20CP.pdf)

[15] On February 4, 2008, British Foreign Minister David Miliband presented a six-point plan on nuclear disarmament, in which he described conditions for achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. After this interview, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a March 17 speech further elaborated the British position and suggested that the United Kingdom would be ready to participate in broader negotiations "as soon as it becomes useful for our arsenal to be included."

[16] On December 5, 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in his role as acting EU president, wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, outlining the EU position on nuclear arms control issues. Among other things, the letter calls for increased nuclear weapons transparency and initiatives on tactical nuclear weapons. http://ambafrance-se.org/france_suede/spip.php?article2084

[17] It is estimated that the United States still deploys between 150 and 240 B61 bombs in Europe. Under nuclear sharing arrangements, as many as 140 weapons can be assigned for use by Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, none of which have their own nuclear arms. These weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime but can be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war. See Oliver Meier, "NATO Mulls Nuke Modernization, Security," Arms Control Today, September 2008, pp. 37-39.

[18] Council of the European Union, "Council Joint Action 2008/588/CFSP of 15 July 2008 on Support for Activities of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) in Order to Strengthen Its Monitoring and Verification Capabilities and in the Framework of the Implementation of the EU Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction," 189 OJ 28, July 17, 2008, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:189:0028:0035:EN:PDF.

[19] On June 5, 2008, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed a new security treaty for Europe. Medvedev elaborated on his proposal in more detail in a speech on October 8 at the World Policy Conference in Evian, France.

[20] The Group of Eight (G-8) Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction is an initiative launched in June 2002. The initial participants pledged $20 billion over a 10-year period to this effort, including $10 billion from the United States and, to date, have primarily funded projects in Russia.

Description: 

Interviewed by Oliver Meier

Country Resources:

Interview with Gareth Evans, co-chair of the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Disarmament Commission

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Body: 

Interviewed by Miles A. Pomper and Peter Crail

Gareth Evans serves as co-chair of the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Commission, an initiative sponsored by Australia and Japan aimed at providing recommendations for strengthening the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), reinvigorating efforts to halt nuclear nonproliferation, and promoting nuclear disarmament. Evans has held a long career in international security and arms control issues, as Australia's foreign minister during 1988-1996 and as the current president and chief executive officer of the International Crisis Group, a position he has held since 2000. Arms Control Today met with Evans Feb. 12 to discuss the work of the commission and his perspective on the issues it will be addressing.

ACT: Regarding the work of the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Commission, its goal is to "reenergize high-level political discussion about the elimination of nuclear weapons." About 10 years ago, you helped initiate the Canberra Commission, which sought to take the opportunity provided by the end of the Cold War to accomplish a similar goal.[i] What opportunities do you see today to re-energize this debate 10 years after that commission's work?

Evans: The last 10 years has been a period in which we have been sleepwalking as an international community, with multiple things going rather badly wrong. Obviously, the India-Pakistan breakout, the Iran and North Korea issues, the failure of the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, the failure of the 2005 World Summit, immobility in the Conference on Disarmament.[ii] It has been a desolate decade.

The opportunity to move things forward is intimately bound up with the new U.S. administration and the sense of confidence and momentum that hopefully that will generate, and is already generating, around the world, combined with the really significant contribution intellectually that has been made by the Gang of Four simply by putting out a hard-hitting case for zero nuclear weapons worldwide. They were not very forthcoming about how the steps are going to be taken,[iii] but getting the actual elimination issue back up in lights, getting the disarmament side of the house back on intellectual track, was hugely important. There is obviously that resonance all around the place, coming into this period in the run-up to the 2010 NPT Review Conference and beyond. But we also have to think beyond that because we do not want to be totally consumed by NPT theology when we have three big elephants outside the room-India, Pakistan and Israel-and no immediate prospect of bringing them into it. That said, nobody can afford another failure with the 2010 NPT conference, a failure to generate new momentum. The next year, as a result, is going to be extremely important, although it is obviously a much longer haul than that to realize our ultimate objective.

ACT: You mentioned the Gang of Four. How do you see the commission's role being different from them and other initiatives, such as Global Zero?[iv]

Evans: I have to preface by saying I do not yet know what the commission is going to recommend, and can only speak personally at this stage. While I think broad directions are reasonably clear, I cannot yet confidently state what we are going to be proposing. I think the critical thing is for this commission to actually add some value to the debate and not just produce another all too familiar wonky laundry list. Each of the earlier panel and commission exercises, and I have participated in some of them myself, have had their own utility in keeping the debate alive and clearly articulating some of the problems. Basically, the last series of reports have involved nuclear priesthood members talking to other nuclear priesthood members, and not really breaking out of the fairly closed circle of aficionados and actually generating resonance in the wider policy community.

The important role for this commission, if we can pull it off, will be to bring together all of the multiple threats that are out there, all the interlocking and intersecting issues- disarmament, proliferation, civil uses-and to articulate an action agenda from that, which is pragmatic and realistic, but at the same time hard-hitting and with an eye very clearly on the ultimate goal we are trying to achieve here, a nuclear weapons-free world. We need to be very tough-minded and pragmatic in the way in which we recognize the political realities that are out there and accordingly, in crafting the issues and recommendations, we need to devise a strategy that will have some resonance with policymakers, and not just be seen as more orchestral violins.

Each one of the exercises that are on foot at the moment has its own place in the firmament and its own utility. Global Zero, which is basically getting the long-term objective up there in the lights, very clearly articulated, and reasonably noisily articulated, is a highly useful contribution to energizing and maintaining the sense of importance of getting there, and energizing a global constituency to do so. I see it as wholly complementary to the other exercises that are in train. At the other end of the spectrum, you have a much more cautious step-by-step approach: "let's identify the first few foothills as we work our way up the mountain but we will not be too ambitious about giant strides because it is all a complex universe out there." That is a useful combination of the idealism and the pragmatism, and has an important constituency in the United States in particular. But what we have to try to do is energize a global constituency, bringing all of the key policymakers into the game and trying to map a way through this that is actually going to get some results.

ACT: You mentioned two different approaches: the approach promoted by Global Zero, as well as Indian leaders in the past, favoring the notion of some sort of deadline for achieving nuclear disarmament on the one hand, and the incremental steps promoted by others. [v] Do you find either of these approaches more compelling?

Evans: I cannot speak for the commissioners, but I hope where we will end up is articulating a pretty clear two-phase approach to this. Phase one will be getting to a minimalist vantage point. This would involve de-alerting, and nondeployment, or nonactive deployment, maybe involving significant separation of warheads from delivery systems. It would also involve having very massively reduced numbers, down to at least the low hundreds. It would involve an accompanying doctrinal commitment to no-first-use-whether that is enforceable, of course, is another issue. I think you could talk in terms of a timetable for getting to that kind of hugely improved universe. Maybe by 2025. Maybe that is too ambitious. It depends on what your vision of the final low numbers actually are and how you manage the business of juggling multiple players, but I think that is doable.

Phase two is getting from there to absolute zero. It does not seem to be really useful talking here in terms of a date certain because what you are really talking about to get from the minimum to the zero is satisfying a bunch of other conditions that have a lot to do with perceptions of conventional arms imbalances, with neighborhood security issues, and with the perceptions of where the tectonic plates are colliding in terms of larger global strategic relationships. [There are] a whole bunch of conditions which are going to have to be satisfied before people are going to be confident enough to move this far. There are also the technical conditions, effective verification strategies and other things on which people are now working assiduously. It is going to be very hard to get there, and it may be a little counterproductive, in terms of getting to a successful conclusion of phase one, to talk too much in terms of zero and not enough in terms of steps to zero.

What I'm thinking of is an approach to this which is really quite detailed and articulate in terms of describing the steps by which you can credibly get down to the minimalist vantage point, but also articulate about the degree of difficulty and the sort of things that are going to have to happen before you can get to actual zero and recognizing the kind of political constraints that are going to weigh heavily on that. Some people regard this as being a bit too nervously cautious: "let's just go for broke and do not even talk about anything else other than a steady continuum where everything will logically follow everything else." My perception at the moment is that that is not where policymakers' heads are at. We are going to need a hell of a lot more persuasion before getting to actual zero, but it is perfectly possible to persuade them that their security and regional and global security will be very effectively guaranteed by massively reduced arsenals and in effect taking these things out of capable use.

ACT: Going from the long-term vision to the much more immediate vision, is your report geared toward the NPT review conference of 2010?

Evans: If you are thinking in terms of phases, the short term is more like 2012 than 2010. Some of the things that need to be done with the short-term focus are not going to be able to be done in time for the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and there are some other things that are going to have to be done outside that framework anyway.

ACT: Are you thinking of doing anything for the Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) this year?

Evans: There really needs to be a massive amount of emphasis on the disarmament side. We all know what the agenda is on the nonproliferation side. The United States, including previous administrations, have been very articulate about that. There is a very wide constituency of support for universalizing the 1997 Model Additional Protocol and getting some more serious compliance and enforcement constraints operating for those who shelter under the NPT umbrella while doing things they should not and then walking away from it.[vi] All of that stuff we sknow about. Plus the efforts to move forward on fuel banks and other ways of internationalizing or multilateralizing the fuel cycle, as difficult as all those things are. I think that sort of agenda is clear and needs to continue to be assiduously pursued.

But it is not going to begin to be achieved unless there is very serious movement on the other side of the house. Accordingly, what we will be saying to the administration here, over the next couple days, and what the commission has agreed is that these five points are the key stories we want to tell the administration. For a start, there are a couple of crucial building blocks relevant both to the disarmament and nonproliferation side on which we have to see movement. First, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is preeminently up there in the lights; that has to be almost priority number one for the administration.[vii] It would be hugely significant if its ratification can be achieved before the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Secondly, the other building block is a fissile material cutoff treaty or at least a fissile material initiative of some kind; not necessarily the exact FMCT we have been talking about-there are other options in play.[viii] If the United States makes very clear, as it has already, its withdrawal of the reservations on the verification side and actually puts its shoulder to the diplomatic wheel to get those negotiations started, that would be another hugely significant move in the right direction.

The third thing that clearly has to happen is trying to bring to a conclusion the resumption of the START-SORT arms control negotiations, accompanied by really obviously deep reductions.[ix] There are a lot of side issues in play that are going to complicate these negotiations like missile defense, substrategic missiles, conventional imbalances, and all the rest of it. But I would have thought prima facie that there is potential momentum there to get to deep reductions. That is hugely important, and that will feed into the NPT process in a very useful way.

Combined with that, a fourth thing is the United States has to get started on some serious strategic dialogue both with Russia and with China on the associated issues I just mentioned. You have to get started now talking to them about transparency, confidence-building issues, and China's own willingness to come aboard on the CTBT if the Americans take the lead on that, plus the larger issues of how you multilateralize the disarmament process. If there are visible conversations of that kind going on, not only will that have significance in terms of beginning to untangle U.S.-China and Russia relationships, but again it will feed very well into the NPT dynamic.

ACT: Is there a willingness on China's part to do that?

Evans: That remains to be explored. China is engaged in fairly enthusiastic modernization and expansion at the moment.

ACT: The Bush administration tried to have some sort of dialogue...

Evans: Yes, but it was not the best environment if there was ever going to be achievement on that front. It partially depends on the continuation of a reasonably sane and stable atmosphere across the Taiwan Strait, and that is the part of the puzzle that appears to be for the moment locked away. Also, the India relationship is fairly key to this; not that I think China feels itself threatened in any way by India. (I am not sure India really feels itself threatened by China either, for that matter, although that has always been part of the Indian story.) That triangular dynamic is very much going to be in play. But I would have thought prima facie that there is every reason to believe that at least an exploratory dialogue could be started. With the Russians, by contrast, you have an immediate objective: by the end of this year, you have got to cover the hiatus with START and to get something really seriously done with verification to follow through on the Moscow Treaty.[x] While you have that very sharp and precise agenda with Russia, it is very much less well defined with China. But it is important that the agenda with China get started.

Just to finish the litany, the fifth thing that is important for the Americans to do is on the doctrinal issue, the nuclear posture review and everything feeding into it. Even if we cannot get America to come up with a no-first-use commitment, at the very least it would be important to get something out there at the presidential level saying that the U.S. perception is that the sole role of nuclear weapons is to deter others from using them [and] to get away from the present almost impossible position of keeping open the nuclear option to respond to chemical, biological, or terrorist acts, whether by states or by nonstate actors.

ACT: In your view, what impact would a doctrinal shift regarding the role of nuclear weapons by the United States have on the nonproliferation and disarmament efforts you have been describing? As a follow-up, one of the things some states and commentators have said is that there is a role for nuclear weapons in deterring assistance by states to terrorist groups to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Do you find this claim credible?

Evans: It is important that there be disincentives to state support of terrorist activity, but you do not need to dangle nuclear weapons over their heads for that purpose. Our conventional capability is enough to spook any halfway rational failed, failing, or rogue state. Nuclear weapons are just not a necessary part of the repertoire. That is the view I take on extended deterrence and as to all the other things that make a number of the allied countries very nervous about giving away nukes. Of course, countries like Japan and South Korea are going to want confidence that they will be covered against any security contingency. But why on earth nuclear weapons even need to be part of that equation, I do not know.

It is particularly implausible on the question of terrorism. I am not understating the anxiety about terrorism or the risk of a terrorist incident involving nuclear weapons. You do not to have to invoke the whole Graham Allison approach to nonetheless be really quite spooked by the potential for doing damage with the amount of loose material lying around and the battlefield weapons that are being insufficiently protected.[xi] It is an entirely serious and legitimate concern, and one of the reasons why we have to get our nonproliferation act together is to reduce that potential. But the notion of needing nuclear weapons for that purpose is really bizarre.

As far as a doctrinal shift, it would be pretty significant for the United States to say that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter other people from using them. It would play very much into global perceptions that the United States is really getting serious about winding back the centrality and salience of nuclear weapons. That would be relevant in terms of getting buy-in by others on the disarmament side of the house, but also to the nonproliferation side. At the end of the day, the real significance of all this is in terms of the psychological shift it would represent in America and the psychological shift that that should in turn engender in others.

ACT: You mentioned extended deterrence earlier. Your country is said to benefit from an extended deterrence relationship. How do U.S. allies participating in this extended deterrence relationship reconcile that with calls for nuclear disarmament?

Evans: Well, again it is having confidence in the conventional capability of your big-guy ally. That is what it is all about. That is what an alliance relationship means, that you are going to be rescued against any conceivable contingency. I do not think Australia has too much to worry about. We are not in a particularly dangerous part of the universe. Even for those countries that do feel continuingly edgy about this, all the protections in the world they need are available with present conventional capability. I see them as being completely separate aims that have become tangled together.

You have some interesting dilemmas that have been much written about, in that some of the countries that are the strongest in their enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament are also the most nervous about actually getting to zero. I am very conscious of that in the context of this commission. But you just cannot play games on this issue. If you are talking about getting to zero, you have to recognize the continued salience of the mutual deterrence argument. There is no sentiment for unilateralism in any way that I can discern. But this is a completely separate argument from that about needing nukes for a variety of other security purposes.

Of course there are other problems that then start flowing from this emphasis on conventional superiority. We all know the irony of the Russian position. In the Cold War years, everybody in the West was spooked by perceived Russian conventional superiority on the European continent and needed nukes as the balance, but now the Russians are spooked by western European-American conventional superiority and want to hang on to nukes as the balancer. This is always going to be a complicating factor.

But in terms of the basic dynamics of things like posture reviews and what the United States ought to be able or willing to do right now, all these five points are significant because they represent changes from the previous administration. The nonproliferation side represents continuity. The disarmament side, and the FMCT and CTBT, represent discontinuity and forward movement. If you can get something visible happening with the CTBT, FMCT, obviously the bilateral stuff with the Russians, plus the strategic dialogue with the Russians and Chinese, plus something on the doctrine stuff-and they're all things that are being foreshadowed in one way or another by this administration-that would be a really major leap forward.

The question is, will there be the energy? Will there be the organization? Will there be the capacity to allocate priority time to get all these things moving in this sort of time frame? Will the domestic political environment, the Senate, everything else, sustain this much activity? These are difficult questions to answer. But in terms of what I think the rest of the world ought to be asking of the United States, this is a pretty relevant agenda.

ACT: You have spoken in the past about the need to bring the three non-NPT members into the global nonproliferation disarmament regime. How do you think the international community can best achieve that goal?

Evans: You have three logical options. One, which is not really an option at all, is to get them to sign up for the NPT itself, wearing either a nuclear-weapon-state hat or a non-nuclear-weapon-state hat, either of which seem to be totally implausible notwithstanding the endless numbers of speeches that continue to be made to this effect. The rituals of First Committees and NPT PrepComs and review conferences do seem to be in need of a bump along.[xii]

The second approach is to say, let's have a new whiz-bang nuclear weapons convention which basically starts from the beginning and brings together all the good things that are in the NPT, and the FMCT, and the CTBT, and creates a new universe from scratch-that has a place for these guys in it. There is a tactical question whether there is still some utility in trying to start an Ottawa or Oslo kind of process just to energize the grass roots for that sort of campaign.[xiii] In terms of getting real world results in the short to medium term, I think that is difficult to imagine happening.

So this leaves you with the third option, which is to somehow find other forms of discipline: new regimes, new strategies-bilateral, plurilateral, multilateral-that can subject these guys to global disciplines both on the nonproliferation and on the disarmament side. In that context, we have now the India-U.S. nuclear deal. The good thing you can say about it is that it does demonstrate that there are ways out there, institutionally, of subjecting nuclear-armed states presently outside the NPT to various disciplines that will be important in the long run. The fact that the Indians have to safeguard at least some of their facilities is an important step forward. But the trouble is that it is not nearly as good a deal as it should have been. Clearly it is a very weak discipline to which India is being exposed-with basically no inhibitions on fissile material production, not even on the issue of testing. It is not a model to be emulated, but it does point the way forward. We do have to somehow create parallel structures, parallel processes, parallel forms of discipline, and gradually bring people aboard on them.

ACT: In pragmatic terms, in the aftermath of the so-called India nuclear deal, what specific things do you think could exert that discipline as you describe it, and how can those be accomplished diplomatically in the years ahead?

Evans: That will be a central theme for this commission, and I do not have a clear sense of where we might come out at this stage. The NPT and the NPT Review Conference, as crucially important as they are, should not be seen as the be-all and end-all of our arms control efforts. It will be hugely important to get strong outcomes from the review conference, including by regenerating the 13 steps in some way, maybe producing some new consensus document into which others can ultimately buy in.[xiv] But the NPT by itself is not going to get us there.

We need to have other kinds of strategies moving, such as how you bring into a multilateral disarmament process not only Russia and the United States, not only China, and not only France and the United Kingdom, but India and Pakistan as well. Sooner rather than later we have got to start that kind of strategic dialogue. George Perkovich's idea of trying to encourage every nuclear-armed state to start doing the kind of studies and analyses of the national interests involved, and just what are the constraints and limitations of the moving-into-a-multilateral-force-reduction sort of framework, is a very useful one. We have to find ways of putting the heat on countries to sign up to the Model Additional Protocol, or variations on all these themes. Obviously, the CTBT and the FMCT are not NPT constrained; they have their own momentum, and it is important to generate momentum in relation to countries that are outside the NPT framework as well as within it.

Although my commission was originally billed by the two prime ministers as primarily about feeding ideas and momentum into the NPT Review Conference process, and while we are targeting a major report to be completed by the end of this year, which will have very direct resonance for that conference, it has always had a larger remit than just that. That is one of the reasons why the commission is going to continue its life at least until the middle of 2010, to survey the broader landscape as it then exists.

Another reason for giving the commission a reasonable life is some parts of its remit will take some time to explore. In terms of the peaceful-uses side, and the nuclear renaissance whether that happens or not, there are major roles and responsibilities for the civil nuclear industry in terms of developing and applying proliferation-resistant technology, and in relation to other proliferation-relevant areas. I think we will get started on generating some momentum and meeting with the industry people in Moscow in midyear. But in terms of actually getting deliverable results, I cannot see too much of that happening before the NPT Review Conference next May. One option for the commission is to host a conference bringing together the industry players with the government players. That is something that could well postdate the review conference.

ACT: One of the conversations taking place is what to do about the nuclear fuel cycle. There are ongoing considerations in that respect about the criteria that should be used to determine which states have access to any established international fuel bank, including whether or not non-NPT members should have access. What criteria do you think are appropriate for such an initiative?

Evans: I have not thought through specifically fuel bank supplies to non-NPT members, but the full range of safeguards including at the [Model] Additional Protocol level would not be a bad start. Australia, for one, has adopted a very tough view about that even though we went along with the Nuclear Suppliers Group exercise and to that extent supported the India-U.S. nuclear deal. We have remained extremely cautious committing ourselves to supplying Australian uranium.

There is a real utility in having some guaranteed nuclear fuel supply for all potential users. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei's vision of a single multilateralized facility under international control as a producer is very attractive indeed. But it is a vision that is going to take a long time to realize given what we know about the existing fissile material producers and their willingness to be brought under some sort of international umbrella. It is also a matter about making a judgment about whether there is going to be real demand for enough of this stuff in the future to justify the creation of new institutions, or whether the main emphasis ought to be on trying to change the role of the existing producers. It is a really complicated issue, and I and the commission are just beginning to get our heads around what the options are. It will be a major issue for this commission to wrestle with to see if we can take a little bit further the work the IAEA and others have been doing.

ACT: Moving back to the nonproliferation regime, the issues of Iran and North Korea are two of the key state challenges. There is concern that failure to deal with these challenges early on may serve to unravel or begin to unravel the nonproliferation regime. What steps do you think can be done to make sure that those challenges do not threaten the regime as a whole?

Evans: As far as the North Korea issue is concerned, it seems likely that there is going to be more of the same process with the six-party talks [with] "two steps forward, one step back" being the name of the game maybe in perpetuity. But at least the situation is now stabilized. There is no particular evidence that any more bomb material is being made. Whether anything is happening on the highly enriched uranium side, as distinct from plutonium side, remains a matter of speculation.[xv] It is an unsatisfactory process. It is a limping process. But it beats the hell out of the non-process we had before.

Iran is rather more difficult, and on this one, I have my own views. Whether they will prove to be the commission's views I do not know. My view is that there is a doable deal there to be done right now with the Iranians, but it will require a deep breath on the part of the West-and that is accepting the reality of Iranian fissile material production. By all means, spread out over time the achievement of industrial-scale capacity, and by all means try to multilateralize the process to some extent with the kind of consortium arrangements that the Iranians themselves still seem prepared to sign up to.[xvi] But let's not pretend that any form of pressure at all-given the pride and all the other domestic and international political factors that are in play-is going to persuade the Iranians to go back to zero or even to stop where they are now. What I believe is doable is drawing the red line that really matters, that against weaponization.

I have had a sustained dialogue with the Iranians about this. As recently as last weekend, I had 45 minutes with Speaker of the Iranian Parliament and former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani in Munich, and I was in Tehran last year talking to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and many other key players. On the other side, I've talked to key U.S. players; Undersecretary of State for Policy Bill Burns and others in the previous administration, plus with the Europeans, [including] EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, his adviser Robert Cooper the EU director-general for external and politico-military affairs, and various ministers. So I have a pretty clear idea of what is going on and a sense of what options are in people's heads.

The way through this is for Europe and North America to recognize the reality on the fissile material side of it, but to draw an absolute red line against weaponization which I think would be sustainable. There are a whole bunch of reasons why the Iranians should in fact have made the cost-benefit judgment that it would do them much more harm than good to actually acquire a nuclear weapon But that is distinct from having a perceived breakout capability, the capacity to produce one. They want that very much. That is non-negotiable, I think. But having got that much, I think they would be content with it.

The issue is of course, verification: trust but verify. The Iranians should have to sign up to a highly intensive, highly discriminatory monitoring and verification regime. That, at the very least, would have to be the Model Additional Protocol and all the bells and whistles that go with that-but probably a special Additional Protocol-plus regime to enable the West to have a little more confidence, not only on the fissile material side but also concerning physical weaponization and missile delivery systems. The Iranians are not very happy about anything that constitutes further "discrimination" since their whole argument is they have been discriminated against in exercising their rights under the NPT. But, as I say to them: you guys have had a program,- maybe not committing you to weaponization but certainly to exploring the options-which everybody is concerned about. And with your president spooking a lot of people internationally with his public statements, and with the kind of existential threat that even the possession of just one or two weapons would represent and be perceived to represent to the Israelis, you have to recognize that very stringent verification indeed will be required.

I think there is a deal to be made where the West makes a big concession, the Iranians make a big concession, and then you just juggle it out on the basis of incentives and disincentives. You keep, very obviously, the military option should they step across that red line [which is] the 800-pound gorilla in the background. You also have lots of incentives in the form of normalization of relations and progressive relaxation of sanctions, all of which would create an environment under which we could fairly rapidly achieve some serious normalization of relations in the region and very much play into a much more constructive Iranian approach on Syria, Lebanon, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I think the nuclear issue is the key to resolving all those others. You are just not going to begin to make progress on them unless you can resolve this one.

Larijani's speech at Munich last week was fairly fierce. Ninety percent of it was pitched to a domestic hard-line constituency, but as to 10 percent of it, the doors and windows were wide open. Similarly with Vice President Joe Biden's speech and what has come out of the administration so far the doors and windows are open. The trick will be to manage the process now and find ways of exploring the kind of deal in essence that I'm describing, to get each side past the initial barriers of mistrust that are inhibiting any serious discussion. I could go into much more detail about why I think the Iranians do not actually feel themselves committed to a nuclear weapon, on the contrary, but that is another story.

ACT: The world is grappling with a number of challenges right now. How do we make sure efforts to lead to nuclear disarmament are given the momentum and attention they deserve?

Evans: That is a good question and one that has really troubled me. How do you energize a political constituency that basically, apart from the terror issue and the concern about nonstate actors getting hold of nukes, just does not really instinctively grasp the risks that are involved out there [and] which thinks that it's a Cold War problem and we've moved on. How do you move a public that is just not really energized or even interested in this issue at all and regards it all as just hairy-socks-and-sandals-placard-waving stuff from the sixties? Our own commission, and all of the other initiatives that are presently going on, have to find ways of demonstrating the nature and scale of the risks that are out there.

Telling some of the Cold War stories about how close we came during this allegedly sane and stable period may be helpful. The more information that comes out, the more disconcerting it is. Understanding the extent of the insecurity that is out there at the moment is also important. It helps to get those stories about the Air Force losing half a dozen strategic missiles for days on end. Similarly with stories about how much more work needs to be done to secure weapons stockpiles, particularly the small battlefield stuff, which is easily transportable, plus fissile material. Similarly to get the story out loud and clear about just how much damage these things can do. I do not think we have spent enough time getting city-impact diagrams out there about the damage that a Hiroshima-sized bomb would do, as compared say with the 9/11 attacks, and then of course what a strategic weapon could do. In all of this it is a matter of getting the information into the heads of the senior policymakers, and it is a matter also of energizing something bottom-up with the civil society constituency.

ACT: How do you do that without the sort of scare tactic we have seen in the recent commission report that says in the next five years there's a 50 percent chance of an attack with weapons of mass destruction?[xvii]

Evans: You harness the scare tactics to the extent the data and analysis will support them. Some people like Graham Allison are saying that there is a 10 per cent chance in the next 10 years of a major nuclear incident in a major city in the world. For example nonstate terrorist actors taking a boat into New York harbor and bolting together some sort of gun-type device, not just a radiological or dirty bomb but a real nuclear bomb.[xviii] If that figure is defensible, nobody in the universe would think a similar level of risk, a 10 per cent chance in 10 years , is acceptable in building, for example, a nuclear reactor power plant.

The risk of something going very badly wrong with nukes, and the catastrophic implications of this for the whole world, are right up there with the level of risk involved with the present economic meltdown and the climate change story. The nuclear threat really is one of the big three in terms of the sheer scale of the damage that could be done by getting it wrong.

There is also the story about how readily available the relevant technology is, not only through the help of Mr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, but via the internet. This is very much more real, and dangerous, than it was 15-20 years ago in terms of what is doable by the malignly disposed. Then if you get more players in the proliferation game, it gets worse. The United States and Russia had a pretty well-orchestrated set of minuets that they danced in terms of the control arrangements, hotlines and the rest. But elsewhere things are more problematic. I was in Pakistan just three weeks ago and a senior official told me privately, "You know we put in place so-called hotline arrangements between ourselves and India after some of the earlier scares to try and minimize the risk of anything untoward happening. But with all the tension we've had since Mumbai, lasting many weeks now, that telephone line has not been used and there has basically been no direct senior-level communication at all." I know from being in both Indian and Pakistani capitals how high the level of tension was. It has been a classic situation with great potential for miscalculations and escalation. Yet those mechanisms, rudimentary as they are, are just not being used.

All of these stories have to be told and in a way that has resonance for policymakers. You are not going to get them to make any of the changes we want just by making the moral case or the technical case-the verifiability issue, and the argument that military uses are negligible and probably counterproductive. You have somehow to make a political case, talking about the cost of weapons possession, the downside risks associated with it, and somehow change the parameters of the political debate. The best chance of doing that is with the new administration here in the United States that is seriously committed to thinking and talking in those terms. Your presidential bully pulpit is infinitely more significant than any commission, or anything that any nongovernmental organization can do.

ACT: Thank you.


[i] The Australian government established the Canberra Commission in 1995 to provide recommendations for steps toward global nuclear disarmament.

[ii] The eighth NPT review conference held in 2005 concluded without any substantive agreement on its consideration of the provisions of the treaty and has therefore been widely seen as a failure. The same year, the UN General Assembly held a high-level summit that adopted a final document that excluded any reference to nuclear disarmament, which was contained in earlier drafts. The Conference on Disarmament is a 65-member negotiating body on nonproliferation and disarmament matters. Since 1997, it has been unable to agree on an agenda to begin substantive work.

[iii] Former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), sometimes referred to as the Gang of Four, joined to write two op-eds in The Wall Street Journal in 2007 and 2008 calling for steps toward a nuclear weapons-free world. See George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15; George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "Toward a Nuclear-Free World," The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13. Both essays can be found on the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Web site. See www.nti.org/c_press/c3_opeds.html.

[iv] Global Zero is an international civil society campaign launched in 2008 working to promote global nuclear disarmament.

[v] In 1988, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi called for an international convention banning nuclear weapons as an effort outside the NPT. Since then, Indian leaders and officials have often repeated this call. New Delhi has refused to join the NPT, which it characterizes as "flawed and discriminatory" due to the division of nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states.

[vi] The IAEA Board of Governors adopted the Model Additional Protocol in 1997 to address concerns that states may carry out undeclared nuclear activities in an effort to develop nuclear weapons. States that adopt an additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements provide the agency with greater legal authority to monitor all nuclear activities carried out in that country.

[vii] The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty prohibits all nuclear explosions and will formally enter into force after 44 designated "nuclear-capable states" have ratified the treaty, including the United States. As of March 2009, 35 of those countries have done so. The United States maintains a nuclear testing moratorium, but the U.S. Senate declined to give its advice and consent to ratify the CTBT in 1999.

[viii] In 1993 the United States called for a multilateral convention banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear explosives, often called a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). The Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed on a mandate to negotiate such a treaty in 1995, but the CD has failed to reach agreement to begin negotiations on such a measure. Following a U.S. policy review of the proposed FMCT, in 2004 the Bush administration determined that the treaty was not effectively verifiable and indicated that it would not support the inclusion of verification provisions in the treaty. The Obama administration has indicated that it would reverse that position.

[ix] The United States and Soviet Union signed the START in 1991 to limit the number of strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems each state would deploy by December 2001. The treaty expires in December 2009 but may be subject to five-year extensions or superseded by another agreement.

[x] The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), or Moscow Treaty, was concluded by the United States and the Russian Federation in 2002 to limit each country to 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads. The deadline for implementation and expiration date for the treaty is December 31, 2012.

[xi] Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, estimated in his 2004 book Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe that the chance of a terrorist attack involving nuclear weapons occurring by 2014 is a greater than 50 percent.

[xii] The UN General Assembly First Committee meets annually to address disarmament and international security issues. NPT states-parties hold conferences every five years to review the treaty and preparatory committees (PrepComs) for those review conference each year for three years preceding those review conferences.

[xiii] The Ottawa and Olso processes were arms control negotiations on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions, respectively, conducted outside the formal, established disarmament negotiating fora. The efforts were pursued following a lack of agreement in negotiating fora such as the CD about whether and how to limit the use of such weapons. Both negotiations resulted in treaties prohibiting the use of specific classes of arms.

[xiv] As part of the 2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document, the states-parties agreed on a list of 13 "practical steps" aimed at "systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI" of the NPT. The Bush administration opposed a number of the 13 steps, including the early entry into force of the CTBT and refused to reference the 2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document in the agenda of the NPT review conference in 2005.

[xv] The United States has accused North Korea of maintaining an undeclared effort to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) in addition to its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. The extent of any such North Korean HEU effort remains unclear, but Pyongyang is known to have imported materials of relevance to a gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment program.

[xvi] Iranian officials have proposed that other countries participate in Iran's nuclear activities, including its uranium-enrichment effort, as part of a multinational consortium.

[xvii] A December 2008 report by the congressionally created Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism concluded that "it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013."

[xviii] A gun-type nuclear device is the simpler of two forms of nuclear explosive mechanisms. It entails firing one piece of weapons-usable fissile material into another in order to achieve a critical mass and produce a nuclear chain reaction. It can achieve a desired nuclear explosive effect without the need for nuclear testing.

 

Description: 
Interviewed by Miles A. Pomper and Peter Crail

Country Resources:

Arms Control Today 2008 Presidential Q&A: President-elect Barack Obama

Arms Control Today (ACT) posed a series of detailed questions on arms control and nonproliferation issues to the major presidential nominees. Published here are the responses ACT received on September 10 from Sen. Barack Obama about how he would address key weapons-related security issues as president of the United States.[1]

Click here to view the web exclusive PDF Version of the special section appearing in the December 2008 print editon of Arms Control Today.

ACT: Dozens of senior U.S. statesmen, led by former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), are urging the United States to lead the world toward nuclear disarmament through such steps as ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), rendering nuclear forces less ready to launch on short notice, and eliminating tactical nuclear weapons, including U.S. bombs stationed in Europe. Do you support the goal of nuclear disarmament, and what actions should be given priority to make progress toward that objective or to reduce global nuclear dangers?

Obama: As president, I will set a new direction in nuclear weapons policy and show the world that America believes in its existing commitment under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to work to ultimately eliminate all nuclear weapons. I fully support reaffirming this goal, as called for by George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn, as well as the specific steps they propose to move us in that direction. [2] I have made it clear that America will not disarm unilaterally. Indeed, as long as states retain nuclear weapons, the United States will maintain a nuclear deterrent that is strong, safe, secure, and reliable. But I will not authorize the development of new nuclear weapons. And I will make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of U.S. nuclear policy.

To make progress toward this goal, I will seek real, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons—whether deployed or nondeployed, whether strategic or nonstrategic—and work with other nuclear powers to reduce global stockpiles dramatically by the end of my presidency. As a first step, I will seek Russia’s agreement to extend essential monitoring and verification provisions of the [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] START I before it expires in December 2009. I will work with Russia in a mutual and verifiable manner to increase warning and decision time prior to the launch of nuclear weapons.

I will initiate a high-level dialogue among all the declared nuclear-weapon states on how to make their nuclear capabilities more transparent, create greater confidence, and move toward meaningful reductions and the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. As president, I will reach out to the Senate to secure the ratification of the CTBT at the earliest practical date and will then launch a diplomatic effort to bring onboard other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force. Finally, I will lead a global effort to negotiate a verifiable treaty ending the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes and will work with other interested governments to establish a new nuclear energy architecture.

ACT: What role, if any, should nuclear weapons have in U.S. security policy? Can existing U.S. warheads and the current nuclear weapons complex support those roles, or do you believe new warheads and capabilities are needed?

Obama: The most important objective with respect to nuclear weapons is doing everything we can to prevent the use of any such weapons, anywhere in the world. So long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States needs to retain nuclear weapons to prevent this from happening. But we need to do more. I will restore America’s leadership in reducing the role of nuclear weapons and working toward their ultimate elimination. A world free of nuclear weapons is a world in which the possibility of their use no longer exists.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, I will retain a strong, safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent to protect us and our allies. But I will not authorize the development of new nuclear weapons and related capabilities. And I will make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of U.S. nuclear policy.

ACT: Many Americans fear that terrorists might acquire biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons and use them against the United States, its troops, or allies. What more should be done to prevent that tragic possibility from occurring?

Obama: Conventional thinking has failed to keep up with new nuclear, chemical, and biological threats. Today we confront the possibility of terrorists bent on our destruction possessing a nuclear weapon or bomb-making materials. We need a president who understands these new security threats and who has effective strategies for addressing them. Since early on in my time in the Senate, I have worked with Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and others across the aisle to expand efforts to stop smuggling of nuclear material and keep nuclear and conventional weapons out of terrorists’ hands.

As president, I will lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years—a critical way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a nuclear bomb. I will work with Russia in this effort and with other countries to develop and implement a comprehensive set of standards to protect nuclear materials from theft. I will also phase out highly enriched uranium from the civil sector; strengthen policing and interdiction efforts; build state capacity to prevent theft, diversion, or spread of nuclear materials; and convene a summit on preventing nuclear terrorism.

Biological weapons similarly pose a serious and increasing national security risk. To prevent bioterror attacks, I will strengthen U.S. intelligence collection overseas to identify and interdict would-be bioterrorists before they strike, assist states to meet their obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1540 [3] and the Biological Weapons Convention, strengthen cooperation with foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies, build capacity to mitigate the consequences of bioterror attacks, improve local and state emergency responses to cope with catastrophic emergencies, and accelerate the development of new medicines, vaccines, and production capabilities.

ACT: Countries are expressing greater interest in nuclear power at a time when there is mounting concern that the spread of nuclear technologies and expertise for energy purposes could contribute to secret weapons options or programs. What can be done to prevent countries from acquiring and misusing latent nuclear weapons production capabilities, particularly uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technologies and know-how?

Obama: Our nuclear security and that of our allies requires that the expansion of nuclear reactors for electricity generation is not accompanied by the expansion of sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle facilities that can produce bomb-grade plutonium and uranium. As president, I will make it a top priority to prevent nuclear fuel from becoming nuclear bombs. I will work with other interested governments to establish a new international nuclear energy architecture—including an international nuclear fuel bank, international nuclear fuel-cycle centers, and reliable fuel supply assurances—to meet growing demands for nuclear power without contributing to the proliferation of nuclear materials and fuel-production facilities. An international system that ensures access to reasonably priced fuel will encourage developing countries that they do not need sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle facilities to grow their economies, while ratcheting up pressure on any states seeking to disguise their nuclear weapons ambitions.

ACT: START is set to expire December 5, 2009, and the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (also known as the Moscow Treaty) limits end December 31, 2012. Should the United States and Russia continue the process of negotiating nuclear cuts through verifiable bilateral agreements or manage their nuclear relationship in other ways? How should the two countries minimize strategic distrust and overcome decades of strategic competition?

Obama: The United States and Russia should seek real, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons—whether deployed or nondeployed, whether strategic or nonstrategic. I am committed to working with Russia and other nuclear-weapon states to make deep cuts in global stockpiles by the end of my first term. This process should begin by securing Russia’s agreement to extend essential monitoring and verification provisions of START I prior to its expiration in December 2009. As president, I will also immediately stand down all nuclear forces to be reduced under the Moscow Treaty [4] and urge Russia to do the same.

Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice is a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation. I believe that we must address this dangerous situation—something that President Bush promised to do when he campaigned for president back in 2000, but did not do once in office. I will work with Russia to end such outdated Cold War policies in a mutual and verifiable way.

ACT: Ballistic missiles can be used to deliver biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. What should be done to address threats posed by ballistic missiles, and how much of that effort should be devoted to developing anti-missile systems, including the possible deployment of U.S. missile interceptors in Europe or space?

Obama: Nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons pose serious national security risks, especially when delivered on ballistic missiles that can strike our homeland, our troops abroad, or our allies. Missile defenses can be a significant part of a plan to reduce these dangers, but they must be proven to work and pursued as part of an integrated approach that uses the full range of nonproliferation policy tools in response to the full range of threats we face. As president, I will make sure any missile defense, including the one proposed for Europe, has been proven to work and has our allies’ support before we deploy it. I will also strengthen the Missile Technology Control Regime and explore other arms control measures to reduce the ballistic missile threat.

But in our haste to deploy missile defenses, we cannot lose sight of the real 21st-century threats. The biggest nuclear security risk is not from a rogue state lashing out with ballistic missiles, but a terrorist smuggling a crude nuclear device across our borders. We spend more than $10 billion a year on missile defense, but far too little on securing nuclear materials around the world and improving security (including detection) at our ports and borders. We must focus our defenses on the most likely threats.

ACT: As China increases its military spending and modernizes its nuclear forces, what role, if any, should arms control play in preventing a regional arms competition or crisis and improving relations between the United States and China?

Obama: China appears to be developing a credible retaliatory capability as part of its evolving nuclear deterrent. As president, I will ensure that the United States continues to maintain our own military capabilities so that there can be no doubt about the strength and credibility of our security commitments in the Asia-Pacific region. I support the continuation of military-to-military exchanges with China, including efforts by the Bush administration to sustain a dialogue on strategic nuclear issues and resume laboratory-to-laboratory exchanges that were terminated in the 1990s.

I will urge China to increase transparency of its nuclear weapons policies and programs — indeed, of its military and defense policies more generally. We are not enemies. I will engage the Chinese leadership in discussions that convey how greater openness in military spending and nuclear force modernization is consistent with China’s and the United States’ national interests and more likely to lead to greater trust and understanding.

ACT: China and the United States recently have each destroyed one of their own satellites with missiles, raising concerns about space-based weapons and arms that target objects in space. What, if anything, should be done to limit such developments?

Obama: While steps such as improving procurement to ensure timely, cost-effective delivery of satellites and diversifying our remote-sensing capabilities are important, satellites will remain vulnerable as well as indispensable to our national interests for the foreseeable future. We cannot ignore dangers and should thoroughly assess possible threats to U.S. space assets. This will include establishing contingency plans to ensure that U.S. forces can maintain or duplicate access to information from space assets and accelerating programs to protect U.S. satellites against attack. I will take whatever military and diplomatic steps are needed to safely assure the survivability of our satellites and respond appropriately if another country targets them. But our national security—as well as that of our strategic competitors—requires that we work in concert to prevent military conflict in space, to address the practical problems that the growth of satellite launches and operations have created, and to help all nations reap the benefits that peaceful uses of space can provide. That is why I have endorsed an international code of conduct to clarify the rules of the road to manage traffic in space and prevent satellites from being put at risk. In addition to unilateral steps needed to protect our interests in space, I will pursue negotiations of an agreement that would ban testing anti-satellite weapons.

ACT: How would you build on U.S. efforts through the six-party process to denuclearize North Korea and prevent it from proliferating nuclear weapons-related technology and missiles?

Obama: As president, I will work from the very beginning of my term in office to reduce nuclear dangers in Northeast Asia. I will continue to pursue the kind of direct and aggressive diplomacy with North Korea that can yield results, while not ceding our leverage in negotiations unless it is clear that North Korea is living up to its obligations. North Korea will be offered a stark choice: if it verifiably eliminates its nuclear weapons programs and does not engage in any proliferation activities whatsoever, it will receive meaningful economic, political, and security benefits. If North Korea refuses, it will face a bleak future of political and economic isolation. The objective must be clear: the complete and verifiable elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, which only expanded while we refused to talk.

Pyongyang’s recent nuclear declaration was a step forward, but there will be many more steps to take in the days ahead. I will aggressively follow up to ensure a complete, accurate, and verifiable accounting of North Korea’s past plutonium production; confirm its prior uranium-enrichment activities; and get answers to disturbing questions about its proliferation activities with other countries, including Syria. As my administration moves forward, I will also work with our friends and allies in the region to assure that the six-party process addresses all issues on the agenda, including that of abductees.

ACT: The current administration has stated that it is committed to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Although the United States has worked to impose a variety of sanctions on Iran and has offered to negotiate an incentives package along with the other permanent members of the Security Council and Germany if Tehran suspends enrichment, Iran continues to expand its nuclear capabilities. What steps would you take to address Iran’s nuclear program?

Obama: The Iranian nuclear threat is growing. Last fall’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) confirmed that Iran has engaged in nuclear weapons design activities, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns that it continues to enrich uranium using more sophisticated technology. Together these activities could soon put Iran in the position of building nuclear weapons. That must not happen. And I will do everything I can as president to prevent it from happening.

My goals are clear: Iran must come clean on its past and present nuclear activities, and it must suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. To get there, I will prepare for and engage in direct talks with Tehran to test its intentions. I strongly support tougher action by the UN Security Council, as well as steps by our friends and partners in Europe and Asia to impose additional economic costs on Tehran beyond those that can be agreed to at the United Nations. A united diplomatic front with the P5+1 [5]directly calling on the Iranians to end any nuclear weapons activities will, in turn, maximize international pressure and remind Iran’s people that it is their government that is choosing to isolate them from the world. It will also send Iran a clear message: live up to your obligations now; by waiting, you will only face greater isolation. A credibly military option must also be kept on the table.

We still have time to address the Iranian nuclear issue diplomatically, but we need to use that time wisely. While we have stood on the sidelines until recently, Iran has defiantly expanded its nuclear program. I call on Iran not to wait for a new administration to reach agreement on the nuclear issue. Such an outcome is possible if we pursue the kind of tough, sustained, and unconditional diplomacy—backed by tough sanctions—that I have long supported and that the NIE concluded can prove effective in dissuading Tehran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

ACT: It has been 10 years since India and Pakistan each conducted a series of nuclear tests. Since that time, South Asia has witnessed a buildup of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, armed conflict and risks of nuclear escalation, and a nuclear technology smuggling network that aided the nuclear weapons programs of other countries. How will you work to reduce the risks posed by India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals and programs?

Obama: The Bush administration’s policies toward both India and Pakistan have allowed grave nuclear risks to grow in South Asia since the 1998 nuclear tests. I will work to reduce the region’s nuclear dangers in a number of ways.

First, I will expand the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) from its current focus on stopping illicit nuclear shipments to eradicating nuclear black market networks, like the remnants of the Abdul Qadeer Khan organization. Second, the best way to reduce nuclear risks in South Asia is to reduce incentives to test and deploy new nuclear weapons. My two amendments in the Hyde Act [6] sought to accomplish these goals. Just as I will work with the U.S. Senate to secure ratification of the CTBT at the earliest practical date, I will prioritize diplomatic efforts with India and Pakistan to encourage them to move beyond their moratorium on nuclear testing toward the ratification of the treaty. Third, I will continue my work begun in the Senate to secure all dangerous weapons and materials against terrorist threats worldwide, including in South Asia. Fourth, I will encourage India and Pakistan to collaborate with IAEA experts to maximize security at nuclear power plants and related facilities. Fifth, and finally, I will continue support of ongoing Indian and Pakistani efforts to resolve the Kashmir problem in order to address the political roots of the arms race between India and Pakistan.

ACT: There are several international initiatives under consideration or in place to reduce the threats posed by conventional weapons that take the lives of noncombatants, including a limit or ban on cluster munitions use, a global arms trade treaty to better regulate weapons transfers, and the Ottawa Convention against anti-personnel landmines. What steps, if any, should be taken to limit conventional arms dangers?

Obama: In general, I strongly support international initiatives to limit harm to civilians caused by conventional weapons. In the Senate, I worked with Senator Lugar to pass legislation securing conventional weapons like shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, anti-personnel landmines, and other small arms; co-sponsored legislation introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) prohibiting future procurement of victim-activated landmines; and voted for an amendment offered by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Leahy prohibiting the use or transfer of cluster munitions absent rules of engagement ensuring they would not be employed near concentrations of civilians.

As president, I will help lead the way on these issues. Our military has legitimate concerns on these issues, and I look forward to consulting closely with leadership at the Department of Defense as we shape policies on these key issues. At the same time, I recognize that our forces have been moving away from using cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines ourselves, and these trends can be accelerated with targeted investments in innovative technologies. We also have a strong national security interest in preventing the illegal trade in small arms, including rocket launchers sought by terrorists and other extremists. I will regain our leadership on these issues by joining our allies in negotiations and honoring U.S. commitments to seek alternatives to landmines, while also ensuring that our service members have the tools that they need to do the dangerous missions that we ask them to perform.

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ADDITIONAL EXPLANATIONS

Additional clarification is provided below by Arms Control Today. These comments were not provided by the candidate and should not be considered part of his official statement.

1. While the McCain campaign expressed its willingness to provide answers to the same questions, the Republican presidential nominee’s staff ultimately did not provide Arms Control Today with answers to the survey questions.

2. George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15; George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13.

3. The UN Security Council in April 2004 unanimously adopted Resolution 1540, which requires all countries to implement a variety of domestic measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring unconventional weapons, their means of deliveries, and related materials.The UN Security Council committee charged with monitoring, facilitating, and promoting national efforts to comply with the resolution had its mandate extended for two years by Resolution 1673 in 2006 and for three years by Resolution 1810 in 2008.

4. Formally the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), the May 2002 Moscow Treaty commits the United States and Russia to reduce their operationally deployed strategic nuclear forces to a level of 1,700 to 2,200 nuclear warheads apiece by December 31, 2012. The treaty’s warhead limit expires at the end of that same day.

5. The P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany. They have engaged Iran in negotiations on its nuclear programs.

6. Signed by President George W. Bush into law December 18, 2006, the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 sets the conditions for the United States to resume civil nuclear commerce with India for the first time since such trade was cut off roughly three decades ago.

 

Arms Control Today (ACT) posed a series of detailed questions on arms control and nonproliferation issues to the major presidential nominees.

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