"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
January/February 2014
Edition Date: 
Friday, January 10, 2014
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Getting to Know Thomas Pickering

Interviewed by Jefferson Morley

“Getting to Know” is an occasional series that will introduce Arms Control Today readers to interesting people active in the world of arms control.

In 2000, Thomas Pickering retired from the U.S. Foreign Service after a 40-year career that culminated in his tenure as undersecretary of state under President Bill Clinton. But “retirement” hardly describes what he has done since then. Pickering has worked as head of Boeing’s international offices for five years and has emerged as a leading voice for a negotiated settlement of the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

Arms Control Today caught up with him by phone Dec. 20. The interview was conducted by Jefferson Morley and has been edited for length and clarity.

After a long career, you retired in 2000. A lot of people would go off and play golf. Why on earth did you make it your hobby to try to solve an intractable problem like Iran’s nuclear program?

A lot of people, when they retire, look forward to a different way of life. I’ve always been interested in continuing to stay engaged.… [The] Iran [issue] began very early after I retired in the beginning of 2000. Bill Luers, who was president of the United Nations Association and a former ambassador, got very interested in Iran too and wanted [to] set up a “track two” dialogue, among experts and Iranians about the nuclear program. We began talks. They were held in places like Stockholm and Vienna. A group of us wrote for The New York Review of Books on some suggestions that came out of our discussions. We thought all the war talk of a year and a half ago was taking us in the wrong direction. Nobody was pushing back with a real assessment of what was going on.

Did you ever think you would care about arms control?

I had come into the Foreign Service in 1959 from three and a half years in naval intelligence. I was a photo interpreter. I knew a lot about the military…about ground forces, and I thought [about] marrying that background and those skills and getting into [arms control] diplomacy, which was clearly likely to be at the leading edge of our major diplomacy, particularly in the Kennedy days. I thought I could bring a little bit to the table.

What was your proudest accomplishment in arms control?

As a very junior [Foreign Service officer] in 1960-1961, I was tasked with writing a comprehensive test ban treaty. I had to clear it with the State Department and the interagency community, which was a huge task. I was working with people like Joseph Sisco, who was already an icon in American foreign policy. We did it, and we put it up to the Russians. We wound up doing a limited version of the treaty.

Do you ever get discouraged in this line of work, working with issues that persist over years or decades?

You recognize that negotiations take a long time. They require a lot of innovation. They require a lot of perseverance. They require a lot of explaining. And they require a lot of cooperation.

How do you summon the wherewithal to keep going?

If the national interest is served by this kind of an objective, which I believe it is, then it is worth continuing to flail away at it.

What was your greatest defeat or frustration in the arms control area?

I think the greatest frustration is that we have not yet been able to put in place the United States’ adherence to a comprehensive test ban treaty after all these years. I started writing [the treaty] in 1960 and 1961.

What would you say to a young person starting out in arms control today, like you were 50 years ago?

You don’t make a lot of money; don’t count on that. But you can have an enormous influence on the future of your country and on critical questions. If you work hard, you stay the course, you take the opportunities that come along...[y]ou’ll work with terrific people on a wide variety of subjects in arms and arms control. I think that diplomacy and the Foreign Service is a hugely interesting and stimulating and demanding career.

“Getting to Know” is an occasional series that will introduce Arms Control Today readers to interesting people active in the world of arms control.

How to Sustain Nuclear Security

Duyeon Kim

The biennial nuclear security summit process is entering its third round, but despite the significant progress made thus far, nuclear security still is not dramatic or “sexy” enough to sustain top-level attention and interest.

The nuclear security summits, launched by U.S. President Barack Obama, began in Washington in 2010. Before the second summit, which took place in Seoul two years later, summit fatigue already had begun to set in despite the expanded participation list and agenda at the 2012 event.

On March 24, the leaders of 53 countries, the European Union, the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Interpol will gather in The Hague to continue their discussion on ways to prevent nuclear terrorism. The challenge going into The Hague summit and the 2016 U.S. summit is finding ways to sustain the momentum and political attention they have generated at the highest levels on nuclear security issues. At the start of preparations for every meeting, the discourse still begins with, “What is nuclear security, and why does it matter?”

The recurrence of this most basic question indicates that nuclear security is still a highly specialized concept that is difficult for nonspecialists to grasp, a problem that is made more difficult by the changes every few years in the cast of leaders and their supporting “sherpas.”[1] The recurrence of the question also indicates that nuclear security is generally not regarded as urgent or compelling as the Iranian or North Korean nuclear problems. It should be.

Nuclear security is not an issue for nuclear-weapon states alone. Countries that generate nuclear power to meet their electricity needs or have research reactors are at risk of nuclear materials theft and smuggling as well as the sabotage of facilities. Adding radioactive sources—ingredients that can be used in “dirty bombs” and other means of radiological terrorism—to the assessment greatly expands the issue because they are used essentially everywhere for medical and industrial purposes.

The threat is not merely hypothetical. Between 1993 and 2012, there were 16 confirmed incidents that “involved unauthorized possession of highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium [and] some of these incidents involved attempts to steal or traffic these materials across international borders,” according to the IAEA.[2] In the past two years, there have been break-ins at a French nuclear power plant and at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.[3] With regard to radiological materials, another recent incident highlighted the need for improved security. On December 5, 2013, a missing shipment of cobalt-60, which is radioactive and can be used in a dirty bomb, was discovered abandoned after it was stolen from a truck transporting it to a storage facility in Mexico.[4]

Fortunately, the world has not yet experienced a catastrophic incident involving the security of nuclear materials that could be used by terrorists to cause mass destruction. Yet, that does not mean the coast is clear. A nuclear security failure seems to be low in probability, but its consequences would be devastating. Moreover, a nuclear incident in one country would affect its neighbors and the world.

The Hague summit comes at a pivotal and opportune time in the summit process. If done well, it can be the watershed moment for the global nuclear security regime.

Nuclear Security Summit Process

Successive summits and their priorities and future commitments have reflected the scope of the threat as it evolved over time.

The 2010 Washington summit could be described as the conceptualization summit. The central focus was the security of fissile materials, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. The convening of this summit reflected a heightened awareness of the threat of catastrophic terrorism that emerged after the September 11 terrorist attacks. It was also a recognition of nuclear weapons’ capability to cause mass destruction and an acknowledgment that nuclear terrorism is one of the most urgent security threats. Although this meeting raised the importance of nuclear security to the summit level, the threat perception varied considerably among states. Some non-nuclear-weapon states were said to have viewed the summit agenda as centered on U.S. concerns and threat perception.

Forty-seven world leaders agreed to lock down all vulnerable nuclear material in four years, a goal declared by Obama in his 2009 Prague speech. Despite marked progress since the 2010 summit, it has become increasingly clear that the four-year goal would not be completed on time.[5]

The 2012 Seoul summit could be described as the implementation summit that also proved nuclear security is a global responsibility. The hosting of the summit by South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state, was notably symbolic of the global nature of nuclear security. The Seoul summit expanded the participation list to 53 countries. The scope of the agenda also expanded to include the safety and security of nuclear facilities, and the summit placed a greater emphasis on the security of radioactive sources, not just weapons-usable material. The Seoul summit outcome was in part a reflection of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which reminded the world that malefactors or terrorist groups with access to nuclear facilities might be able to induce a Fukushima-like incident.

The evolution of national “house gifts”—voluntary national commitments—presented at the 2010 summit into multinational “gift baskets”—joint pledges by like-minded countries—at the 2012 summit is a clear reflection of the global nature of nuclear security and the multilateral effort required to secure vulnerable nuclear material.

The Seoul summit set a target date of the end of 2013, which officially concludes Obama’s four-year goal, for countries to announce specific voluntary actions designed to minimize the use of HEU in the civilian nuclear sector. This goal-oriented statement is a noteworthy achievement, considering the complexities of multilateral diplomatic negotiations. Still, it is merely an encouragement rather than a unanimous, binding commitment. The Seoul communiqué also urged states to bring into effect the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and its 2005 amendment by 2014.[6] Furthermore, the summit participants established a vision for an effective system of nuclear security governance, but did not clearly define this architecture.[7]

A July 2013 report found that, since the Seoul summit, “approximately 24 countries have enhanced the security of nuclear material and facilities; 42 countries have taken steps to improve their national nuclear governance structures; 22 have focused on countering nuclear smuggling; and 49 countries have taken specific steps to advance nuclear security culture.”[8]

The 2014 Hague summit could become the cohesion and coordination summit. The meeting represents an important opportunity to stitch the patches of the nuclear security regime closer together and define in more detail the vision of the nuclear security architecture established in 2012. The Hague summit is expected to focus on three key themes: reducing the amount of nuclear material in the world, improving the security of nuclear material and radioactive sources, and improving international cooperation.[9]

The 2016 U.S. summit could become the cementation summit. It will be a critical moment for the global nuclear security regime whose pieces either can be patched up or remain fragmented and even begin to unravel. Some have called for establishing nuclear security as the fourth pillar of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, along with the current pillars of nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful nuclear energy. The 2016 summit will be a test of whether the nuclear security work can be consolidated and normalized.

Measuring Success at The Hague

The Netherlands began its summit chairmanship by identifying six priorities:

  1. Strengthening the physical protection of fissile materials and minimizing the use of HEU.
  2. Strengthening the legal framework, as by ratifying the amended CPPNM before the 2014 summit.
  3. Strengthening the system of International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) missions, which are peer reviews carried out by the IAEA.[10]
  4. Encouraging measures that provide confidence to others of the effectiveness of a state’s nuclear security.[11]
  5. Improving the protection of high-activity radioactive sources.
  6. Strengthening the cooperation between nuclear industry and government.

It remains to be seen how much of the above list will be accomplished by the 2014 summit. The Hague communiqué, an umbrella statement endorsed by all participating leaders, is nearly complete.[12] Although summit communiqués are significant political statements, the difficulty of arriving at a 53-way consensus on every detail naturally results in weaker language. Thus, this year’s success stories are likely to be found in the gift baskets and national pledges made by summit leaders as opposed to the commitments outlined in the summit communiqué. A notable indicator would be if the gift baskets deepen nuclear security while, in combination with the communiqué, revealing a more coordinated, cohesive nuclear security architecture.

The Hague summit would have a significant success story to tell if all states were able to declare that they met the 2013 deadline for formulating plans to minimize their use of HEU while bringing into force the CPPNM and its 2005 amendment by 2014. These two goals were highlighted at the 2012 Seoul summit, but, unfortunately it appears very unlikely that they will be met. Sixteen countries that are summit participants have yet to ratify the amended convention, including the United States and South Korea, the hosts of the first two summits.[13]

Another noteworthy achievement would be a decision to address excess military stocks of plutonium and HEU. It is estimated that 85 percent of the world’s weapons-usable nuclear materials is noncivilian materials. Although it apparently has been difficult to discuss noncivilian materials in detail at previous nuclear security summits, as they are a matter of national security and sovereignty, summit participants have recognized the importance of a comprehensive nuclear security architecture. The 2010 and 2012 summit communiqués reaffirmed the “fundamental responsibility of states to maintain effective security of all nuclear materials, including nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons.” Yet, the noncivilian materials are not subject to international guidelines and best practices. For example, the CPPNM and its 2005 amendment are restricted to civilian materials although states are free to apply it to their military stockpiles.

The Hague summit needs to be more far-reaching than a four-year progress report. It should declare ways in which the fragmented nuclear security regime can become more cohesive and transparent. One way to accomplish this is to offer a nuclear security gift basket that leads to the development of a cohesive action plan of necessary initiatives.[14] The Hague meeting also needs to set the stage for the 2016 summit, which may be the final biennial nuclear security gathering of state leaders.

Bringing the Summit Home

In a June 2013 speech in Berlin, Obama announced that he would host the 2016 nuclear security summit. Doing so places pressure on Obama to declare that all vulnerable nuclear material has been secured in four years, or by then six years from the time the participants endorsed that goal at the 2010 summit. Yet, the White House so far has been unable to publicly define “vulnerable nuclear material.” It also has been unable to spell out the metrics of the four-year “goal,” which the White House soon reformulated as a four-year “effort,” apparently to suggest the administration’s acknowledgment that the job cannot be done by the end of 2013. The U.S. sherpa team needs to start its planning immediately after the Hague communiqué is adopted in March so that the 2016 summit can truly consolidate the patches of the nuclear security regime. Such plans perhaps should have started with Obama’s June Berlin speech. The to-do list ahead of the 2016 summit could include the following goals:

Clearly define the purpose of the 2016 summit, establish the end state for nuclear security, and complete pledges on time. The White House should immediately clarify the purpose of the 2016 summit, give a detailed picture of what the world would look like with secured nuclear materials, and provide the metrics it will use to measure progress toward that end state. One challenge would be how to deal with calls among some participating states for an expanded agenda, which could be a factor in ensuring full participation at the 2016 summit. As for the process, it may be practical to continue the work at a senior level through existing institutions such as the IAEA and UN while convening summits as needed. The absence of biennial summits, however, could run the risk of further diminishing the already dwindling sense of urgency for nuclear security and remove much of the political pressure for national governments to ensure that they have fulfilled their pledges.

Engage in effective communication and outreach. One aspect of the problem of sustaining high-level attention and involvement is public relations. Effective communication and outreach to policymakers and the general public need to continue with intensity. This begins with helping stakeholders, including sherpa team policymakers, nuclear industry, and nongovernmental analysts, understand the significance and urgency of nuclear security by communicating it in a manner that is easily understood. A systematic education of political elites and the public is necessary, while the use of visual effects and social networking services could be helpful tools.

Enhance transparency and peer reviews and strengthen nuclear security culture. Unlike nuclear safety, nuclear security involves state sovereignty and classified information, which have made transparency and peer reviews difficult. Yet, it is important to devise a system of measures that provides confidence to the international community that a state has an effective nuclear security system. Some states share information and best practices by publishing some information on their nuclear security arrangements while others request IAEA missions on ways to strengthen their nuclear security systems. There are limits to the effectiveness of this approach as most nuclear security information is classified and states are not obligated to follow the IPPAS recommendations.

Conduct regular status checks. If the 2016 summit serves as the final bookend to the biennial summit process, then a mechanism needs to be established to continue the nuclear security process. One way could be to hold regular meetings of separate working groups based on broad themes. For example, the IAEA could host conferences to announce recent accomplishments in nuclear security and declare future actionable commitments in the way the summits have done.[15] Perhaps the IAEA conference delegations could be led by ministers, and working groups could be led by current nuclear security summit sherpas or officials at a rank just below that level. Ministers at a July 2013 IAEA conference called on the agency “to consider organizing international conferences on nuclear security every three years.”[16]

Address military stockpiles and separated plutonium. World leaders should decide to deal with military nuclear material stockpiles. The summit process so far has not substantively addressed this topic; it has been easier to reach consensus on materials for civilian use. Because the bulk of the world’s nuclear material remains outside civilian programs, it is a realm that requires attention and confidence-building measures. A precedent exists in the U.S.-Russian cooperative threat reduction efforts; it might be worthwhile to explore a multilateral approach. Nuclear-armed states could present gift baskets that commit to revealing the extent to which the IAEA’s most recent revision of its recommendations on physical protection is being applied to noncivilian nuclear materials.[17]

Another issue is separated plutonium, which has received much less attention than HEU in its civilian form in the nuclear security summit process, although each can be used to manufacture a nuclear bomb. Steps could be taken to address existing stocks of plutonium and capabilities to produce it.[18]

Enhance accountability and establish standardized reporting mechanisms. Nuclear security may encounter increasing challenges in accountability and ensuring that states fulfill their pledged commitments, especially if 2016 is the last summit. Penalties may be viewed as one way to hold states accountable, but they might risk the essence of the summit process: its reliance on voluntary commitments and consensus agreements.

Establish a nuclear security secretariat. Information and progress reports on the various elements of nuclear security are as fragmented as the regime itself. A rough Excel spreadsheet tracking progress and the remaining tasks supposedly exists in a computer of a White House official, but where will it be stored after 2016, and who will take the initiative with enough fervor and attention to detail to ensure that all elements of the global nuclear security work are on track?

Without a centralized database—a checklist of all commitments and pledges made at every summit—and a “conductor” or dedicated staff to orchestrate global nuclear security tasks, the existing patchwork that has started to come closer together may never cohere. As a practical matter, the IAEA or UN could be the keeper of this secretariat, perhaps by reconfiguring and expanding the mandate of the IAEA’s existing nuclear security office or by newly creating the entity as part of the UN. Whatever form it takes and wherever it is housed, the secretariat will need to be adequately funded to carry out its mission.


The nuclear security summit process, which began as Obama’s project with a U.S. focus, expanded its scope at the Seoul summit to reflect the global nature of the problem and evolving world challenges. It is important to maintain this kind of adaptability while maintaining a focus on the core nuclear security priorities stipulated in the 2010 Washington agenda.

The 2010 summit was a milestone in conceptualizing nuclear security. The 2012 summit injected measures to implement the necessary tasks at hand, globalized the agenda, and set forth a vision for nuclear security governance and the global regime. The 2014 summit is a crucial opportunity to sharpen that vision and make the patchwork of the nuclear security architecture more coherent. The 2016 summit may be the final chance for world leaders to set the cement poured in The Hague and to institutionalize and normalize nuclear security so that it becomes a natural endeavor that does not need to rely on summits to inject short-term political adrenaline.

Over the past four years, the summit process has proven that nuclear security is not an isolated problem for nuclear-weapon states. It is equally urgent for non-nuclear-weapon states that use nuclear energy or use radioactive sources for medical and industrial uses.

To continue making progress in strengthening global nuclear security, the summit participants will have to overcome a number of challenges:

Ambition versus reality. Each nuclear security summit has been a struggle between those pushing for more-ambitious goals and those who argue for a focus on incremental achievements. This difference in approaches has been described as a debate between transformationalists and incrementalists.[19] The main difficulty for ambitious approaches is translating them into practical actions on the ground while agreeing on specific actions involving sovereignty issues, technical and cultural differences, and 53 different national interests. On the other hand, the risk with the incremental approach is an unclear end state, a longer process, and shallow security measures. The urgency of nuclear security makes it imperative to pursue transformational as well as incremental approaches across the board, but a practical approach may be to secure success stories on substance incrementally while aiming for transformational progress on the process and structures.

Scope of the agenda. The summit process has struggled with maintaining a limited focus on nuclear materials and facility security. Some participating states have argued for an expansion of the agenda to include other nuclear issues, such as disarmament and nonproliferation. Other forums exist for discussions on these topics. It is unclear whether the demands for an expanded agenda will continue to be made at future summits or whatever forums are established to carry on the work of nuclear security.

Momentum, political will, and interest. The summit process is useful in that it incentivizes participants to fulfill their commitments to avoid the embarrassment of having nothing to announce in front of their fellow leaders. The challenge for the future is to overcome political fatigue and maintain a sense of urgency, even in the absence of a major nuclear security incident. The political value of the summit process already began to decline ahead of the second summit; it took a nuclear disaster in Japan to draw some world leaders back to the summit process in 2012.

Funding. The nuclear security summits can produce important policies that deepen nuclear security, and various stakeholders can help build capacity for nuclear security globally. Such initiatives, however, are hollow without proper financing. Mechanisms exist to fund nuclear security programs, but funding has already been a key challenge in completing the task. One largely untapped resource is the private sector, and a public-private fund could be an effective way to implement critical nuclear security programs. [20]

Significant as they are, these challenges are not insurmountable. Nuclear security must not rest as a four-year or six-year exercise. It is important that world leaders do not lose sight of the threat that nuclear and radiological terrorism pose to the world. It is also important that leaders impart coherence and momentum to a currently fragmented process that depends too heavily on the presence of top leaders, especially if the summits end in 2016. That would be a suitable legacy of the nuclear security summits.

Duyeon Kim is senior fellow for nonproliferation and East Asia at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. She previously was a diplomacy and security correspondent for a South Korean TV news broadcaster.


1. A “sherpa” is the lead delegate of each country’s team preparing for a summit. Ahead of each summit, these delegates are in charge of setting the agenda and drafting the communiqué, which is adopted by leaders at the summit.

2. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database: Incidents of Nuclear and Other Radioactive Material Out of Regulatory Control, 2013 Fact Sheet,” n.d., http://www-ns.iaea.org/downloads/security/itdb-fact-sheet.pdf.

3. Natalie Huet and Emmanuel Jarry, “Greenpeace Activists Break Into French Nuclear Plant,” Reuters, July 15, 2013; Dan Zak, “The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” The Washington Post, September 24, 2013.

4. Gabriela Martinez and Joshua Partlow, “Stolen Cobalt-60 Found in Mexico; Thieves May Be Doomed,” The Washington Post, December 5, 2013.

5. As early as February 2011, U.S. administration officials were acknowledging that the effort would not be completed in four years. See Martin Matishak, “Global Nuclear Materials Lockdown to Take Longer Than Four Years,” Global Security Newswire, February 22, 2011, http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/global-nuclear-materials-lockdown-to-take-longer-than-four-years/. See Paul Wilke, “The Nuclear Security Summit 2014: Challenges and Opportunities,” WP1226, June 10, 2013, https://www.wiltonpark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/WP1226-Report.pdf.

6. According to the IAEA, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material is “the only international legally binding undertaking in the area of physical protection of nuclear material. It establishes measures related to the prevention, detection and punishment of offenses relating to nuclear material.” The 2005 amendment “makes it legally binding for States Parties to protect nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage as well as transport. It also provides for expanded cooperation between and among States regarding rapid measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material, mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage, and prevent and combat related offences.” See IAEA, “International Conventions and Legal Agreements: Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material,” n.d., http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Conventions/cppnm.html.

7. The term “nuclear security governance,” which was used prior to the 2012 Seoul summit, was changed to “nuclear security architecture” in the final Seoul communiqué due to controversy over the definition of “governance.” Some states apparently thought the term carried negative connotations, implying that some countries do not have good governance.

8. Michelle Cann, Kelsey Davenport, and Sarah Williams, “The Nuclear Security Summit: Progress Report,” Arms Control Association and Partnership for Global Security, July 2013, p. 5, http://uskoreainstitute.org/research/special-reports/nss2013.

9. Nuclear Security Summit 2014, https://www.nss2014.com/en.

10. IAEA, “International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS),” June 20, 2013, http://www-ns.iaea.org/security/ippas.asp.

11. These confidence-building measures are sometimes known as assurances, but it is not clear whether that term will continue to be used in the summit process.

12. The communiqué is drafted and negotiated in sherpa meetings prior to the summit. Usually, most of the substance and key points are decided on during the first sherpa meeting, sometimes during the second meeting. In the case of the 2012 summit, officials say the language was negotiated until the official release of the communiqué on the final day of the summit.

13. IAEA, “Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material: Declarations/Reservations Made Upon Expressing Consent to Be Bound and Objections Thereto,” December 4, 2013, http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Conventions/cppnm_amend_reserv.pdf.

14. Kenneth Luongo, “Improving Nuclear Security Governance Through the Nuclear Security Summits,” European Leadership Network, September 4, 2013, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/improving-nuclear-security-governance-through-the-nuclear-security-summits-_733.html.

15. Kelsey Davenport, “U.S. Says Nuclear Security Work Remains,” Arms Control Today, September 2013.

16. 2013 IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security, “Ministerial Declaration,” http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Meetings/PDFplus/2013/cn203/cn203MinisterialDeclaration.pdf.

17. According to the IAEA, INFCIRC/225/Revision 5 is the cornerstone of the physical protection regime and is “intended to provide guidance to States and their competent authorities on how to develop or enhance, implement and maintain a physical protection regime for nuclear material and nuclear facilities, through the establishment or improvement of their capabilities to implement legislative and regulatory programmes. The recommendations presented in [the document] reflect a broad consensus among IAEA Member States on the requirements which should be met for the physical protection of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities.” IAEA, “Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities (INFCIRC/225/Revision 5),” IAEA Nuclear Security Series, No. 13 (2011), http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1481_web.pdf.

18. Fissile Materials Working Group, “Policy Recommendations: Consensus Policy Recommendations to Prevent Nuclear Terror From the Fissile Materials Working Group,” October 2013, http://www.fmwg.org/8%20FMWG%20Recommendations%2010-2013.pdf.

19. William Tobey, “Planning for Success at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit” (unpublished, November 12, 2013) (copy on file with author).

20. Emma L. Belcher, “A Nuclear Security Fund,” Policy Innovation Memorandum, No. 6 (July 2011), http://i.cfr.org/content/publications/attachments/Policy_Innovation_Memo6_Belcher.pdf.

The nuclear security summits have made significant progress, but much more work remains. Leaders need to show why the issue matters, and to impart coherence and momentum to the fragmented process for improving the nuclear security regime.

Endgame for the Nuclear Security Summits

Kenneth N. Luongo

President Barack Obama surprised virtually everyone when he announced last June that the United States would host another, and probably final, nuclear security summit in 2016. In doing so, he created the opportunity to significantly improve the nuclear security regime by the end of the decade and create an enduring and signature legacy for the summit process he initiated.

The upcoming summit in The Hague in March and the subsequent summit in the United States offer an opportunity to eliminate persistent weak links in the regime and improve nuclear security governance. By linking these two events in a strategic endgame, the summit participants can significantly strengthen the existing system and create a platform for continuous nuclear security progress after the series of summits ends.

Summit Legacy to Date

The nuclear security summits have done a very good job of raising the profile of the nuclear security issue through the participation of heads of state. They have led to the accelerated removal of all weapons-grade uranium from 12 countries, a growing network of nuclear security centers of excellence for developing and disseminating best practices in nuclear security, and the updating by dozens of countries of their national nuclear safety and security laws.[1]

Beyond the consensus communiqués, the summit process also introduced “house gifts”—individual national commitments—at the 2010 summit in Washington and “gift baskets”— multilateral commitments—at the 2012 summit in Seoul.

One important hallmark of the summit process has been the growth of the scope of the nuclear security issue with each event so that it now encompasses the full spectrum of challenges. The Washington summit focused almost exclusively on fissile materials. The Seoul meeting expanded the scope to include the interface between safety and security at nuclear facilities and the protection of high-activity radioactive sources that can be used in “dirty bombs.”

In addition, beginning with the Washington summit, two satellite summits organized by nongovernmental nuclear experts and nuclear industry officials were held in advance of the governmental summit. In 2010, each event was organized in isolation. Today, collaboration has advanced to the point where the themes for the nongovernmental and industry events in the Netherlands are being coordinated and these two events will exchange speakers and participants.

The summit participants have proceeded cautiously, however, avoiding important but controversial issues. In particular, the focus of the communiqués from the 2010 and 2012 gatherings has been on what is acceptable to 53 disparate countries rather than on what needs to be done to improve global nuclear security. As a result, gaps and weak links in the nuclear security system have been allowed to persist.

What has been missing from the agenda is attention to the improvement of nuclear security governance—the rules and practices that govern how well the global community manages the civilian and military nuclear enterprise—and the cohesion, information sharing, and confidence building in the effectiveness of the nuclear security system that are necessary for its optimal functioning.

The Netherlands, with its 300-year history as the capital of international law, is the ideal location to add these important nuclear security governance issues to the summit agenda.

Governance Challenges

The current system for managing nuclear security has improved significantly over the past decade. New UN Security Council resolutions were passed; the amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), which expands the scope of required protection beyond nuclear materials in transit to include those materials in storage, has been opened for signature and ratification; and the nuclear security summits have generated new pressures for action.

Important as they are, these achievements do not address all the significant nuclear security challenges. Global experts have consistently identified four key governance improvements that still are needed.

  • The regime needs to be more cohesive, and its current components need to be universalized and maximized.
  • There needs to be greater cross-border communication of nonsensitive information for the purpose of building international confidence in the system.
  • The system requires the establishment of a peer review process similar to the one employed in the nuclear safety regime.
  • Best practices need to be disseminated. They should be allowed to be implemented in a flexible and culturally sensitive manner, but the result should be the global implementation of common security standards.

The summit participants have not adequately acknowledged these needs and have not acted to address them. A fundamental point about the current regime is that the impediments to its improvement are political, not technical, and political will is necessary to make these advances.

Two-Track Strategy for Progress

The challenges posed by the gaps and weaknesses in today’s nuclear security system can be addressed through two tracks: soft- and hard-governance approaches on a continuum over time. Soft governance includes promotion of a culture of continuous nuclear security improvement and new norm development through measures that are voluntary and not legally binding. Hard governance includes the legal mechanisms that ensure that nuclear security improvements and standards are codified, binding, and comprehensively implemented.

The goal for the international community should be the completion of the soft-governance confidence-building actions on a timetable ending in 2020. During this period, responsible states that are committed to a significantly improved nuclear security system should begin work on a framework convention, the hard-governance element of the process.

Soft governance. The security summit participants can readily tackle the issue of maximizing the current regime in The Hague if there is the will to do so. The assembled 53 countries can agree to fully implement all the nuclear security recommendations put forth by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to which not all currently adhere because these recommendations are nonbinding. They can agree to employ the review provision in the CPPNM and its amendment, which has rarely been utilized. They also can agree to refocus efforts under the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism on the prevention of nuclear terrorist acts rather than the legal response to them. Additionally, to promote regime universalization further, a simple checklist with about 50 items could be introduced to allow for easy assessment of countries’ compliance with the current conventions and IAEA recommendations.[2]

The remaining issues—the needs for regime cohesion, information sharing, and common security standards—can be raised as important new issues at The Hague summit, and the summit participants can make preparations to implement them at the U.S. summit two years later. One of the most effective approaches would be for some key countries to put forth a gift basket or similar initiative identifying steps for future improvements in nuclear security governance.

These governance objectives have been gathering support in recent years. In June 2012, the Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which includes numerous former government officials from the region, called for binding nuclear security standards, an international mechanism for reporting on nuclear security performance, and peer review of nuclear security measures.[3] At the Seoul summit, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard endorsed a nuclear security accountability framework and peer review.[4] Others, including a group comprising former U.S. Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), have called on world leaders at The Hague summit to “commit to develop a comprehensive global materials security system.”[5] In advance of the July 2013 IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security, the agency’s director-general, Yukiya Amano, wrote that it was a “no brainer” to have peer reviews of a country’s nuclear security arrangements and noted that they are being used effectively to improve nuclear safety.[6]

Hard governance. States need to be thinking beyond these important intermediate confidence-building steps and examining the value of hard-governance approaches. This includes consideration of a framework agreement on nuclear security that can supplement, not replace, existing conventions and close the security gaps.

The proposal for this type of an agreement has been criticized as potentially detracting from efforts to universalize the existing international agreements and as potentially requiring a very difficult international negotiation. These complaints, however, seem defensive and weak.

The call for universalization of the existing regime has been a key part of the nuclear security summits. Universalization also is an objective of the IAEA. A framework agreement would do nothing to undermine these existing agreements or impede countries from signing and ratifying them. Its goal is to better knit the existing commitments together and fill gaps, not incorporate or replace these agreements. In fact, the convention can simply reference the existing agreements, identify their fundamental objectives, and designate a process for addressing them. It can then rely on protocols to define specific actions for implementation. There are successful examples of this approach, including the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. In this case, the framework identified the challenge and principles, and then its protocol identified the actions that the parties would take to mitigate the impact of chlorofluorocarbon gases on the ozone layer.

Beyond the Summits

In order to effectively manage the future improvement of the nuclear security system after the summit process ends, the summit participants, countries outside the summit process, and the nongovernmental and industry communities must give serious thought to the process for determining the successor to the nuclear security summits. This is more than a bureaucratic formality. The lack of an institutional home for the summit process and its commitments has been cited as one reason for the lack of significant policy innovation at the summits. Without clarity on follow-up for and monitoring of summit commitments and a forum for making new commitments after the 2016 summit, there is a disincentive to make significant policy offers.

The innovations of the nuclear security summits—high-level participation, attention to nuclear terrorism, unilateral and multilateral commitments, acceleration of security improvements, and integration of key stakeholder groups through the satellite summit process—are important characteristics that need to be maintained. Most options for a successor to the summit process, however, are not very well suited to embrace all these innovations in one forum or organization.

For many, the IAEA seems like the most likely candidate to inherit the summit process. The agency has a number of obvious advantages. It is a widely respected international institution. It possesses the technical staff and institutional capacity to develop recommendations for nuclear security and carry out missions to assess areas for improvement. It has upgraded the status of the Office of Nuclear Security within its own bureaucracy. With its successful July conference, it demonstrated its ability to attract high-level political actors and execute a comprehensive, substantive program.

Inevitably, the IAEA is going to have a major role in managing the nuclear security issue, and it has shown that it can generate support among its member states for expanded nuclear security efforts. Yet, it has not created the channel for action beyond the consensus of its members that is an essential part of the summit process. This can potentially be remedied, but it will not be easy or quick.

Other options for carrying on the work of the nuclear security summits include transferring it to the Group of Eight, the Group of 20, or the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism or creating a new institution. Yet, all of these options have significant drawbacks, including limited membership, focuses that are different from those of the security summits, a lack of a “gift making” channel, potential opposition from members, and a limited history of involvement with the private sector or nongovernmental organizations on nuclear security.

There are three additional options. The first is that no single institution will inherit the mission of the nuclear security summits, and the mission will be disaggregated and absorbed by other existing institutions. This option almost certainly will dilute the political momentum and power that have been hallmarks of the nuclear security summits.

The second option is to create a troika of the countries that have hosted the summits and periodically call for a meeting to review the state of the issue and offer new initiatives. None of the host countries—the United States, South Korea, or the Netherlands—has yet expressed any public support for this nascent proposal.

The third option is to use the framework convention as the vehicle to maintain political pressure on governments to continue their focus on the issues and, in the process, allow for continuous improvement in the nuclear security system.

The best path forward for the nuclear security summits would be to carry forward the broad definition of nuclear security and marry that with a technical expertise track and a parallel, high-level political process that includes the pursuit of a framework convention and its subsequent protocols. This combination can maintain momentum and drive innovation. This type of an arrangement would provide an incentive for the nuclear industry and the nongovernmental community to remain involved in the issue and deepen the partnership among these key stakeholders, which is critical for future success.


The nuclear security summits have passed the halfway point and are now heading into the endgame. The legacy of the summits, however, is not yet written. They have made modest progress to date, but have lacked creativity. Most of what has been accomplished was contemplated before the summits began.

Strengthening the nuclear security governance system is a major new issue that has sufficient scope and power to continue to drive the nuclear security system on a path of continual improvement. There is no better place to begin this effort than The Hague, with its strong and long-standing connection to international law.

A nuclear security governance initiative offered at The Hague summit would outline the issues that need to be addressed and studied further. The results of these analyses can be presented in 2016 for consideration and action. This linkage between summits would create momentum and act as a springboard for the development of a cohesive soft- and hard-governance action plan.

This sequence of actions can significantly reduce and ultimately eliminate weak links in the current global nuclear security system. If summit participants follow this sequence, they will create an effective, comprehensive, and durable global nuclear security system that will be an enduring legacy of the nuclear security summits.

Kenneth N. Luongo is president and founder of the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) and the Center for a Secure Nuclear Future. He previously served as senior adviser for nonproliferation policy to Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary. He is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors. This article is based on the work of the Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group, which the PGS co-chairs with the Asan Institute for Policy Studies and the Stanley Foundation.


1. See Michelle Cann, Kelsey Davenport, and Sarah Williams, “Nuclear Security Summit: Progress Report,” Arms Control Association and Partnership for Global Security, July 2013, http://pgstest.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/nuclear_security_summit_report_2013.pdf; U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, “United States, International Partners Remove Last Remaining Weapons-Usable Highly Enriched Uranium From Hungary, Set Nuclear Security Milestone,” November 4, 2013, http://energy.gov/articles/united-states-international-partners-remove-last-remaining-weapons-usable-highly-enriched.

2. Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group, “Building International Confidence and Responsibility in Nuclear Security: Summary Report and Initial Policy Recommendations,” June 2013, http://www.nsgeg.org/NSGEG_Amman.pdf.

3. Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, “Statement on Nuclear Security,” June 13, 2012, http://a-pln.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/APLNNuclearSecurityStatement13vi12.pdf.

4. Julia Gillard, “Intervention to the Plenary of the Nuclear Security Summit, Seoul,” March 27, 2012, http://pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au/browse.php?did=18467.

5. George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Risks,” The Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2013.

6. Yukiya Amano, “Securing Nuclear Material,” Project Syndicate, June 28, 2013, http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/strengthening-the-convention-on-the-protection-of-nuclear-materials-by-yukiya-amano.

The pair of upcoming summits—in The Hague and the United States—offers an opportunity to address two related tasks: improving long-term nuclear security governance and eliminating persistent weak links in the regime.

In the Middle East, Get Rid of Chemical Weapons First

Dina Esfandiary

No substantive progress has been made toward the creation of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The only way to change this is by adopting an incremental approach to the zone: phasing weapons out by category, beginning with chemical weapons.[1]

Although some leaders and analysts oppose the idea of breaking up the task by weapons categories, the regional landscape at the moment makes this the best approach to a complete WMD-free zone in the Middle East. To build the necessary trust, parties will need to select an issue that is significant enough to be meaningful to all parties, yet provides a realistic goal. Until a few months ago, beginning with any category of weapon seemed difficult. Now, however, the Russia-brokered deal on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and Damascus’ subsequent accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), as well as the interim deal on the Iranian nuclear program, have provided a window of opportunity to revisit the idea.

The Middle East has been home to some of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons and has felt the impact of their use. Following the use of chemical arms in Syria, there is a groundswell of support in the region and the rest of the world for the elimination of this category of weapons. This presents two opportunities: first, to eliminate chemical weapons in the region and, second, to build on this to work toward a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.

The Stalled Process

The goal of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East was first proposed by Egypt in 1990 as a modification of the nuclear-weapon-free-zone resolution that Egypt and Iran had promoted at the UN General Assembly. Although the new proposal outlined a zone free of all nonconventional weapons, the emphasis continued to be on nuclear weapons, and a resolution encouraging steps toward a WMD-free zone was adopted by consensus in the context of the 1995 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference.[2] Frustrated by lack of progress toward establishing the zone, the 2010 NPT Review Conference adopted an action plan that set a date for a conference on the zone in 2012 and called for the appointment of a facilitator.[3]

The year 2012 came and went with no sign of a conference. Although the facilitator, Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava, worked tirelessly to try to put the pieces in place for a conference, the United States announced in November of that year that the conference could not be convened as scheduled.[4] In their statements at that time, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russia insisted that the conference be held in the first half of 2013, but the United States did not specify when or, indeed, whether it would take place at all.

While parties bickered over blame for the postponement, zone proponents despaired over the lack of a clear timeline to get the process on track. The process was put on hold while the conveners (Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, working with the UN secretary-general) and regional states debated the arrangements for holding preparatory consultations. Finally, last October 21-22, Laajava was able to convene a meeting in Glion, Switzerland. That meeting brought together the conveners and states in the region, including Iran and Israel, to discuss preparations for a conference, but did not lead to any breakthroughs other than scheduling future meetings. A senior Western government official highlighted what he called “minor progress” in the second Glion meeting November 25-26, saying, “For the first time in many years, Israelis and Arabs sat together and discussed security issues.”[5] Iran chose not to attend the meeting despite having said the previous year it would join a Helsinki conference.

Prior to these meetings, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy outlined an initiative on the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone at the UN General Assembly. The Egyptian initiative calls on all countries in the Middle East and the five permanent members of the Security Council to file letters to officially endorse the zone, to ratify WMD treaties that have not yet been ratified in the region[6] by the end of 2013, and to convene the 2012 conference by the end of 2013 or, “at the latest,” the spring of 2014.[7] In mid-November, the Arab League met to coordinate its position in preparation for upcoming talks on the WMD-free zone and the Helsinki conference. Member states reportedly endorsed Fahmy’s initiative unanimously. No further progress has been made.

Regional Challenges

In its November 2012 statement on the postponement, Washington said the conference could not be held because of “present conditions in the Middle East and the fact that states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions for a conference.”[8] In short, Israel had no interest in attending a gathering where it would be the center of criticism, and other regional states showed no interest in agreeing to the logistics and an agenda that would allay Israel’s concerns and give it reason to attend. In the words of William Potter, director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, “[E]verybody’s out of sync.… [I]t’s as if nobody really wants this to happen.”[9]

Given the rivalry, hostility, suspicion, and religious and sectarian tensions in the region, it is difficult to be optimistic about establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. The advent of the Arab Spring only emphasized these problems. The unanticipated changes in the region resulted in more inward-looking governments, diverting attention away from goals such as the zone. This is on top of the long-standing lack of trust among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Arabs, Israel, and Iran. The goal of establishing a WMD-free zone in the region is almost a fantasy.

Although Arab advocates believe the zone would be a confidence-building measure leading to regional peace, Israel believes it must be the culmination of a process that addresses regional tensions and conflicts. In March 2012, Israel said that it would “be willing to attend something like [the planned 2012 conference] when there is comprehensive peace in the region. Before that, we feel that this is something that is absolutely not relevant.”[10]

Israel is also unwilling to take part in the process of creating a WMD-free zone as long as Arab states continue to single it out as the only nuclear-weapon state in the region and demand unilateral disarmament. Yet, the 1995 resolution on the Middle East effectively did just that. Although it called for the establishment of a WMD-free zone, it also urged “all States of the Middle East that have not yet done so, without exception, to accede to the [NPT] as soon as possible” and to place their nuclear facilities under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.[11] This clearly targeted Israel. The 2010 NPT Review Conference went one step further and named Israel in its final document without mentioning Iran’s safeguards violations and refusal to abide by UN Security Council mandates.[12] It is not surprising that Israel insists its security concerns be addressed in negotiations on a zone.

For Arab states and Iran, the main reason to pursue a WMD-free zone is to curtail or eliminate Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal. At the same time, this is also why progress has been impossible.

Israel insists that the Helsinki conference not be held within the context of an NPT process in which it, as an NPT nonsignatory, did not participate. Arab states do not want to take the zone out of the NPT framework in part because of the timelines provided by the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document but largely because of the focus on the Israeli nuclear program. This has not worked in breaking the long-standing deadlock. Israel will not agree, at the initial stage, to sacrifice its most prized strategic asset. The only plausible way to address Arab and Iranian concerns over Israel’s nuclear program is to begin by eliminating chemical weapons from the region today, with a view to expanding the ban to other nonconventional weapons in the future.

Iran also is skeptical of the current process. Although it was a co-sponsor of the 1974 resolution calling for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, Tehran was unconvinced about extending the zone to cover all nonconventional weapons. The “comprehensive approach” would complicate the process and make the end goal more “elusive,” a former Iranian official said in 2012.[13]

Instead, Iran chose to focus on the nuclear track. That approach focuses the discussion on Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons capability, making it a pointed statement about Israel’s role in the region, but making diplomatic progress more difficult than under any other approach. In addition, expanding the scope of the WMD-free zone to cover delivery systems capable of carrying nonconventional weapons poses a problem for Iran.[14] Tehran is unlikely to give up some or all of its prized missile arsenal, which is considered too important for Iran’s defense posture.[15] Despite expressing a willingness to attend a conference on a WMD-free zone, Iran clearly has doubts as to its feasibility. As a victim of chemical weapons use during the Iran-Iraq war, however, Iran would find it politically awkward to stand in the way of a regional ban on chemical weapons.

Despite their enthusiasm for the zone, the Persian Gulf Arab states do not have the political will or influence to lead the process.[16] The six GCC countries are split by their different threat perceptions and security priorities. Their lack of personnel to devote to the process adds to their unwillingness to take a leading role after their failed attempt in 2005 to form a subregional WMD-free zone, which aimed to address the Iranian nuclear program.

Today, establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone as a whole clearly aims too high. The only feasible way to overcome the current deadlock in negotiations is through an incremental approach. Although this in itself was unlikely until a few months ago, Syria’s accession to the CWC and the recent interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program have made such an approach possible.

Road Map to a Regional Ban

Chemical weapons are devices that, according to the CWC, contain “toxic chemicals and their precursors” that cause “death or other harm.”[17] They are relatively inexpensive to produce, have significant psychological and physical effects, and are weapons of fear and disruption. Some political leaders see them as “equalizer” weapons—appealing in a region of asymmetrical military capabilities.

The Middle East has a history of chemical weapons development and is second only to Europe as a theater for their use. Egypt employed them in the 1963-1967 North Yemen civil war, and Iraq infamously used them between 1980 and 1991 against Iran and its own people. Libya did not use chemical weapons, but developed an extensive stockpile. Iraq’s program was dismantled in the 1990s, and it became party to the CWC in February 2009. Libya declared its stockpiles in 2004 and similarly joined the CWC, but by 2011, when internal violence erupted, only half of its stockpiles of mustard gas and 40 percent of its chemical precursors had been destroyed.[18] Iran has been accused of having a chemical weapons program.[19]

The Syrian case is most relevant today. As of the fall of 2013, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had the fourth-largest chemical weapons program in the world and the largest in the Middle East: 1,300 metric tons of chemical warfare agents, including different types of mustard agent and key chemical components of nerve agents such as sarin and VX, spread throughout 23 different locations.[20]

In August, video footage of an attack that occurred in the rebel-friendly area of Ghouta in eastern Damascus showed Syrian victims poisoned by asphyxiation with no apparent external wounds. A few weeks later, the United Nations confirmed that chemical weapons had been used.[21] As concerned countries pondered a response, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Assad could avoid planned U.S. military strikes only by promptly giving up his chemical weapons arsenal. This sparked an ambitious proposal from the Russians to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons capability. Although Russia and the United States had been discussing ways to address the chemical weapons threat for a while, the proposal came at the right time for U.S. President Barack Obama, who was looking to minimize U.S. military involvement in Syria. A week later, Russia and the United States agreed on the plan and its framework. After the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council and the UN Security Council endorsed the plan, the process of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons began.

The crisis in Syria highlighted the devastating impact of chemical weapons use, the difficulty in securing these weapons, and the necessity of chemical weapons disarmament. Nevertheless, in early September, convincing Assad to join the CWC still seemed unlikely. Chemical weapons were a prized military asset for Assad and a means of pursuing strategic parity with Israel, with more than 30 years of investment into their development. The Russian-U.S. deal overcame this problem by forcing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. After agreeing to adhere to it a month earlier when the U.S.-Russian plan was concluded, Syria on October 14 became the 190th state-party to the CWC.

On December 10, while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü pointed to Syria’s disarmament and called for remaining holdouts to join the convention: “There has long been no reasonable defense for not doing so—all the more now in the wake of the robust international reaction to recent use of chemical weapons.… It’s my fervent hope that this award will spur on efforts to make the Chemical Weapons Convention a truly universal norm.”

Today, Egypt and Israel are the only two states in the region not bound by the CWC. Although Israel signed the CWC in 1993, it never ratified it. The Israeli government discussed it more than once,[22] but it deferred ratification because key Arab states had not signed the treaty.

The destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal removes one of Israel’s main concerns. Last September, Israeli President Shimon Peres stated that Israel should now consider joining the CWC; other Israeli officials and analysts agreed, insisting that chemical weapons were not essential to Israeli national security. Nevertheless, the Israeli cabinet opted to maintain its ambiguous stance.[23] Past Israeli assertions that it cannot ratify the treaty because other states in the region do not recognize its existence are a poor excuse. The only country in the region that currently remains outside the treaty is Egypt, which recognizes Israel.[24]

Egypt insists that it cannot accept any more nonproliferation obligations until Israel joins the NPT. In the 1990s, following the drafting of the CWC, Egypt promoted an Arab boycott of the CWC and Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), but today it is alone in its refusal to accede to them. This makes Egypt look petulant and isolated. The failure of the linkage policy is clear, but as the founder of the movement, it is difficult for Egypt to ignore it. Following Syria’s accession, Israeli ratification could provide Egypt with an opportunity and a convenient moment to adjust its stance and overcome the unappealing prospect of being the only nonsignatory in the region, with even Assad’s Syria having signed the treaty. Along with the reputational consideration, it is in Egypt’s interest to join the CWC because pursuing the zone incrementally rather than all at once maximizes the prospects for eventually achieving a WMD-free zone. That would also mean maximizing the pressure on Israel to join such a zone.

The removal of the Syrian chemical weapons threat, coupled with a debate and willingness in sectors of the Israeli government to ratify the CWC, makes this a plausible way forward. Negotiations for the next steps in the process should be conducted behind the scenes. To build trust, it would be preferable that Israeli officials’ discussions over their country’s ratification of the CWC were conducted with the Arab states, including Egypt, and Iran. That step, however, is not strictly necessary; Israeli accession could be a unilateral measure. Once Israel signals its willingness to ratify the CWC, the region and the designated conveners of the conference on the WMD-free zone (Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) can begin negotiations with Egypt over its accession to the treaty.

Israel’s signature would give Egypt political cover to accede to the CWC while claiming at least a partial victory for its linkage policy because Israel would have eliminated one category of nonconventional weapons and joined the CWC, if not the NPT. It would also leave Cairo as the only government in the region not party to the CWC—an uninviting prospect, especially after one of the region’s most brutal dictators has joined. The horrific images from the recent use of chemical weapons by Syria have brought these weapons to the forefront of the international agenda, making their destruction an easy sell to a domestic audience.

An all-or-nothing approach by Arab states and Iran toward Israeli disarmament has not worked and, as Israel grows more wary of its security because of its unpredictable environment, is highly unlikely to work in the future. Potentially, the most effective way to change Israel’s security calculation over its nuclear arsenal is to begin building trust in the region and tackling a more achievable weapons category in order to get the process started. It would be a significant first step toward a potential zone free of all nonconventional weapons, including nuclear weapons.

Negotiations for a zone free of chemical weapons should be conducted in parallel with discussions over phasing out other nonconventional, particularly nuclear, weapons. This would reassure states that a chemical weapons-free zone in the Middle East is not the end goal, but a first step toward a regional WMD-free zone.

Although the plan for destruction of Syrian chemical weapons has removed a major cause for concern in the region and has put regional recognition of the CWC back on the table, the interim deal on the Iranian nuclear program, signed on November 24, was also a significant regional diplomatic and nonproliferation victory. The agreement, which suspends key elements of Iran’s nuclear program, has helped to generate a wave of optimism and confidence for nonproliferation negotiations in the region. If successful, the final deal could remove another cause of regional tensions, paving the way for further discussions and steps towards a region free of chemical weapons and eventually free of all nonconventional weapons.


The goal of establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is not new. It has been discussed for more than 30 years, but little progress has been made. It is clear that tackling the zone as a whole, aiming to ban all nonconventional weapons simultaneously and addressing all regional security concerns, is idealistic. The best way to build trust and start the process is to phase out weapons incrementally. In a region that has been plagued by the use of chemical weapons, banning them is the only goal that is significant enough, yet achievable enough to serve as a catalyst for a broader WMD-free zone.

Until recently, turning the idea of a WMD-free zone into functional policy was unimaginable. Yet, the recent Syrian chemical weapons deal has removed one of the major impediments to full regional acceptance of the CWC. It is vital to make the most of the slim chances of establishing a WMD-free zone by capitalizing on the momentum generated by the deals on the Iranian nuclear program and Syrian chemical weapons.

Dina Esfandiary is a research associate in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Her research focuses on nonproliferation and security in the Middle East.


1. For an earlier articulation of this idea, see Dina Esfandiary, “Building Confidence Towards a MEWMDFZ via a Chemical Weapons Ban,” EU Non-Proliferation Consortium, November 2012, http://www.nonproliferation.eu/documents/backgroundpapers/esfandiary.pdf. See also Eitan Barak, “Getting the Middle East Holdouts to Join the CWC,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 66, No. 1 (January 1, 2010).

2. 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference), “Final Document,” NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I), 1995, annex (“Resolution on the Middle East”).

3. 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (2010 NPT Review Conference), “Final Document,” NPT/CONF.2010/50 (Vol. I)*, p. 29.

4. Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “2012 Conference on a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (MEWMDFZ),” 2012/1840, November 23, 2012 (hereinafter U.S. postponement statement).

5. Senior Western government official, briefing with author, December 16, 2013.

6. For the status of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) treaties in the Middle East, see David Santoro, “Status of Non-Proliferation Treaties, Agreements, and Other Related Instruments in the Middle East,” EU Non-Proliferation Consortium, July 2011, http://www.nonproliferation.eu/documents/backgroundpapers/santoro.pdf. Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in October 2013.

7. Nabil Fahmy, address to the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, September 28, 2013, http://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/68/EG_en.pdf.

8. U.S. postponement statement.

9. Elaine M. Grossman, “Arab States Renew Call for WMD Talks, but May Drop Boycott Threat,” Global Security Newswire, April 16, 2013, http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/arab-states-renew-call-wmd-talks-may-drop-boycott-threat/.

10. “Peace Crucial to Nuke-Free Middle East, Says UN Ambassador,” The Times of Israel, March 31, 2012.

11. 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, “Final Document,” annex (“Resolution on the Middle East”).

12. 2010 NPT Review Conference, “Final Document,” p. 29.

13. Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, “A Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle East: An Iranian Perspective,” Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, June 12, 2012, http://en.merc.ir/View/tabid/98/ArticleId/432/A-Nuclear-Free-Zone-in-the-Middle-East-An-Iranian-Perspective.aspx.

14. Discussions include proposals to ban ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 150 kilometers. UN Security Council Resolution 687 required the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, including all ballistic missile with a range exceeding 150 kilometers, and considered this as a “step towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery.”

15. Nasser Hadian and Shani Hormozi, “A WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East: Iran’s Security Imperatives,” in A WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East: Regional Perspectives, ed. Paolo Foradori and Martin B Malin (November 2013), pp. 16-17, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/dp_2013-09.pdf .

16. For more on Persian Gulf state views on the zone, see Dina Esfandiary, Elham Fakhro, and Becca Wasser, “Obstacles for the Gulf States,” Arms Control Today, September 2011.

17. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction,” 1993, art. 1, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_push&docID=6357.

18. Destruction of Libya’s chemical weapons resumed in March 2013, and the planned completion date was extended to December 2016.

19. See International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), “Iran’s Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Capabilities,” February 2011, pp. 96-108.

20. For more on Syria’s WMD programs, see Michael Elleman, Dina Esfandiary, and Emile Hokayem, “Syria’s Proliferation Challenge and the European Union’s Response,” EU Non-Proliferation Consortium Non-Proliferation Papers, No. 20 (July 2012), http://www.nonproliferation.eu/documents/nonproliferationpapers/michaelellemandinaesfandiaryemilehokayem5033c66600360.pdf. On the size of the Syrian arsenal, see OPCW Executive Council, “Note by the Director-General: Progress in the Elimination of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Programme,” EC-M-34/DG.1, October 25, 2013, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_push&docID=16847.

21. UN Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, “Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013,” September 13, 2013, http://www.un.org/disarmament/content/slideshow/Secretary_General_Report_of_CW_Investigation.pdf.

22. Aluf Benn, “Israel Readies to Join Regional WMD Clean-up After Libyan, Iranian Moves,” Haaretz, January 2, 2004.

23. Barak Ravid, “Israel Opts to Stay Vague on Chemical Arms in Wake of Syria Disarmament,” Haaretz, October 31, 2013.

24. Mark Fitzpatrick, “High Time for Israel to Adhere to the Chemical Weapons Convention,” IISS Survival Editors’ Blog, September 30, 2013, http://www.iiss.org/en/politics%20and%20strategy/blogsections/2013-98d0/september-2013-62a6/high-time-8110.

The decades-long effort to rid the Middle East of nonconventional weapons has made little progress. A ban on chemical weapons is an objective that is both significant enough and realistic enough to start real movement toward the larger goal.

Trapped: NATO, Russia, and the Problem of Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Oliver Meier and Simon Lunn

Strenuous efforts are currently being made to control the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to reduce existing stockpiles of such weapons. New talks on Iran’s nuclear program have resulted in an interim agreement that could lead to a comprehensive solution of the conflict over how to better control Tehran’s nuclear efforts.

The United States and Russia are cooperating in the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, despite competing geopolitical interests in the region. Some hope this cooperation could be the long-awaited “game changer” in relations with Russia, opening the way to progress on the broader agenda of nuclear arms control and other issues.

This surge of optimism stands in sharp contrast to the pace of progress on tackling the problem of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. NATO and Russia have entrapped themselves, with each of them linking progress on nuclear arms control to steps by the other side while lacking the political will to take the process forward. The December 3-4 meeting of NATO foreign ministers and deliberations in the NATO-Russia Council did not even have nuclear arms control in Europe on its agenda, although a few member states raised the issue.

NATO does not confirm numbers, but it is believed that the United States deploys 150 to 200 gravity bombs under nuclear sharing arrangements in Europe. The alliance has declared its intention to engage Russia in a process of confidence building on tactical nuclear weapons in order to pave the way for future reductions. The allies, however, will contemplate changes to the nuclear posture only on the basis of Russian reciprocity.

Russia probably deploys around 2,000 operational tactical nuclear weapons and may have many more in reserve. Moscow insists that a dialogue on tactical nuclear weapons must be part of a broader settlement of differences over NATO’s missile defense plans and the asymmetries in conventional capabilities between Russia and NATO. Recently, Russia reportedly has raised the stakes by moving short-range Iskander missiles, which could carry nuclear warheads, toward NATO member countries. On December 19, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied press reports that the missiles have been deployed on the territory of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which is situated between NATO members Lithuania and Poland.[1]

In combination, NATO’s conditionality and Russian intransigence have created an impasse over how to deal with the nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. Almost 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the contribution of these weapons to nuclear deterrence and the core function of preventing conventional war in Europe has vanished. Nevertheless, both sides have been unwilling to take meaningful steps toward the elimination of Europe’s nuclear legacy.

In the long run, NATO’s nuclear posture is not sustainable. The hardware supporting nuclear sharing arrangements is aging. U.S. plans to modernize the B61 gravity bombs deployed in host countries Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey could potentially trigger public opposition to NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements.

The alliance, therefore, must re-evaluate the linkages involved in its nuclear weapons policy toward Russia, clarify its goals in arms control and force posture, and, more broadly, reassess the usefulness of nuclear forces associated with its deterrence posture.

At the same time, Russia would be well advised to take up NATO’s offer of discussing transparency and confidence-building measures. Russia’s rigid stance has resulted in a more united alliance. Those allies that have argued for a policy of engagement toward Russia find themselves increasingly isolated and with fewer good arguments to support their case for dialogue and cooperation. Thus, Moscow’s tough policy on tactical nuclear weapons is pushing NATO into a confrontational mode that cannot be in Moscow’s interest.

This article focuses on the state of play in NATO’s internal deliberations on the alliance’s future nuclear posture and its current efforts to engage Russia in a process of transparency and confidence-building measures in that area. Ultimately, a reciprocal agreement on reducing the number of tactical nuclear weapons and eventually eliminating them is the best way to deal with the Cold War’s dangerous and expensive legacy. In the meantime, each side can take many steps of intrinsic value to break the current political deadlock.

NATO’s Internal Debate

The promise in 2009 by Germany’s previous government to “advocate within the Alliance and with our American allies the removal of the remaining nuclear weapons from Germany”[2] triggered a debate within NATO on the role of nuclear weapons and the related issue of arms control.[3] The adoption in November 2010 of a new Strategic Concept and a subsequent May 2012 Deterrence and Defence Posture Review report managed to reconcile but not resolve the alliance’s deep-seated differences.[4]

As a result, the question of NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons and their relationship to Russia’s own weapons remains unresolved. In the 2012 posture review report, the allies confirm that NATO’s nuclear forces currently meet the criteria for an effective deterrence and defense posture.[5] Yet, the report contains several references to the possibility of further reductions in tactical nuclear weapons. Thus, the allies seek to ensure the broadest possible participation in nuclear sharing arrangements in case NATO were to decide to reduce its reliance on tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe.[6] These references not only leave open the door to further reductions, but also are testimony to the continuing pressure from some allies for such movement. The posture review report also clearly states that the alliance is prepared to reduce “its requirement” for tactical nuclear weapons only “in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia.”[7] As a result of the review, work is now under way in these areas.

Despite three years of discussions in various settings, the allies have not been able to resolve their competing views on reciprocity—what the term means or what consequences reciprocal actions by Russia may have for NATO policy. Some insist that Russia must match NATO moves directly; others say that NATO should take actions that encourage Russian reciprocity. Simply put, the alliance has not established a road map of where it wants to go and how it plans to get there.

Several structural hurdles impede agreement on a unified and practical arms control approach by the alliance and account for the slow progress in completing the tasks that the posture review assigned. NATO has been trying to increase its arms control profile and be more coherent by agreeing in May 2012 to set up the Special Advisory and Consultation Committee on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (see box). Developing policy with regard to possible reductions and reciprocal action by Russia on tactical nuclear weapons has been the committee’s main task until now.

Yet, arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation remain the prerogatives of individual members; attitudes within NATO vary considerably, depending on the issue at stake. There is a broad consensus among the 28 alliance members on NATO’s role in constraining WMD proliferation, but views on arms control and disarmament are mixed. Some members are seeking a higher profile for NATO in disarmament policy, while others believe that this is not an appropriate subject for an alliance committed to collective defense. France is generally skeptical of strengthening NATO’s role in arms control. Some central and eastern European nations also are skeptical of the potential benefits of engaging Russia on arms control.[8]

NATO and member state officials insist that the low level of ambition is the price of sustaining the intra-alliance consensus on NATO’s nuclear posture. It is unlikely that the necessary consensus to change NATO’s nuclear posture will be reached any time soon. Thus, maintaining the status quo is the default option.[9]

Confidence-Building Package

Against this difficult background, NATO began developing a package of transparency and confidence-building measures on tactical nuclear weapons for discussion with Russia, after the mandate of the new arms control committee had been adopted in February 2013.[10] After many delays, it was hoped that NATO foreign ministers at the North Atlantic Council meeting on December 3 would adopt a set of measures for subsequent discussion in the NATO-Russia Council, which met on December 4, also at the level of foreign ministers.

The new NATO committee initially considered more than a dozen specific measures. Many of these were the outcome of deliberations in its predecessor committee, which was charged under the posture review with elaborating NATO’s role in arms control.[11] Member states “scrubbed” these measures to ensure that they took full account of their concerns and interests. According to diplomatic sources, after last summer, the earlier committee’s list had been narrowed to five measures, each of which was developed in further detail in national papers from the United States or the Netherlands.

According to several sources, that short list included topics such as joint seminars, joint declarations on nuclear policy, information exchanges, joint visits at former deployment sites of tactical nuclear weapons, and cooperation to deal with the consequences of nuclear accidents and incidents. This list was far less ambitious than, for example, the nonpaper that Norway, Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands submitted in April 2011 on increasing transparency and confidence with regard to tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. That document, which had also the support of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Slovenia, suggested information exchanges about U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons, including numbers, locations, operational status, command arrangements, and level of warhead storage security. The paper also proposed voluntary notifications of movement of tactical nuclear weapons and exchange visits by military officials.[12]

The focus and purpose of some potential discussion topics on the 2013 list, such as joint seminars and joint declarations on nuclear policy, were vague, and it remained unclear what they would add to discussions on similar topics already taking place. For example, there already have been four meetings with Russia on nuclear doctrines and strategies in the NATO-Russia Council. Most recently, Russian Foreign Ministry officials actively participated in a seminar on such issues held June 26-28 in The Hague.[13] There also have been four rounds of discussion on nuclear policy among the five countries that the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), resulting in joint statements.[14]

NATO’s New Arms Control Committee

During the last four decades, NATO has set up a number of different bodies to discuss arms control matters. The most recent of these is the Special Advisory and Consultation Committee on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, whose mandate was approved in February 2013. The committee, which has been meeting primarily at the level of first secretaries of NATO missions, has a dual mandate as an advisory body on forming positions regarding NATO-Russian transparency on tactical nuclear weapons and a forum in which the United States can consult with its allies on the full range of U.S.-Russian strategic stability topics. This latter category includes bilateral negotiations with Russia on nuclear strategic forces. This role is similar to that played by the Special Consultative Group in the 1980s during the negotiations on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The new committee is assisted in its work by the High Level Group, the senior NATO body with competence in nuclear affairs, thus assuring at least in theory a link between NATO arms control policies and its force posture. The High Level Group comprises representatives from national capitals, is chaired by the United States, and reports directly to ministers. It was created in 1977 to ensure high-level attention to nuclear issues and was responsible for developing the 1979 “dual track” decision, which approved the deployment of new intermediate-range nuclear weapons by NATO while offering the Soviet Union talks about an agreement on the elimination of such weapons from all of Europe.

The North Atlantic Council also anticipated that the committee meetings would provide allies an opportunity to exchange information and national views on issues related to arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation. The dual role of the new committee and its relationship to the High Level Group are particularly important in view of the sensitive nature of nuclear policy and the unique role of NATO nuclear-weapon states in nuclear decision-making. France, which operates its nuclear forces independent of NATO, does not participate in any of the alliance bodies concerned with nuclear weapons posture, but is a member of the new arms control committee.


1. Martin A. Smith, “Reviving the Special Consultative Group: Past Experiences and Future Prospects,” NATO Watch Briefing Paper, No. 11 (July 5, 2010), http://www.natowatch.org/sites/default/files/NATO_Watch_Briefing_Paper_No.11_0.pdf.

2. See Oliver Meier, “NATO Agrees on New Arms Control Body,” Arms Control Now, February 26, 2013, http://armscontrolnow.org/2013/02/26/nato-agrees-on-new-arms-control-body.

    More-specific proposals, such as information exchanges on nuclear holdings or joint visits to former nuclear sites, proved to be too difficult to implement and controversial among NATO members. As it turned out, in some cases NATO itself is not ready to exercise the kind of transparency on tactical nuclear weapons it is demanding from Moscow. Nuclear declassification rules apparently have not been changed since the Cold War. Thus, everything related to current or past nuclear activities remains classified. Defense ministries in several NATO member states continue to oppose any changes to such policies. Even if an individual NATO member were to decide to be more open about its past or current involvement in nuclear sharing, releasing such information would need the consent of all other members of the Nuclear Planning Group.[15]

    Most experts and officials concede that the United States could easily adopt a more relaxed approach to these rules.[16] Nevertheless, partly because of these problems with transparency, the proposals on information exchange and joint visits were dropped from the list of topics to be offered to Russia ahead of the December 3 foreign ministers meeting.

    The proposal to offer a tabletop exercise and information exchanges on nuclear safety and security suffered the same fate, which was somewhat surprising. Relatively recently, both sides were involved in practical cooperation on reducing the risks from unintended or unauthorized nuclear weapons use, and despite the general cooling of NATO-Russian relations, that cooperation is generally viewed as having been mutually beneficial. From 2004 to 2007, all NATO-Russia Council members had been invited to observe four exercises, one in each of the council’s nuclear-weapon states, to practice responses to incidents and accidents involving nuclear weapons.[17]

    Offering such openness today appears unacceptable to some NATO members. These critics argue that the alliance should not endlessly pursue cooperation with Moscow, given Russia’s consistent lack of willingness to engage in a dialogue on tactical nuclear weapons. Their case was strengthened when, according to several diplomats, Russia, ahead of the December meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, declared that it was not interested in any discussion of nuclear confidence building. Whether this objection is specific to the issue of transparency on tactical nuclear weapons or reflects a more general objection to discussing such matters with non-nuclear-weapon states remains unclear.

    In any case, the 2014 work plan of the council omits all topics related to nuclear weapons policy. Meetings of nuclear experts under the auspices of the council have been put on hold.[18] Discussions could be revived, however, should both sides agree to do so, according to diplomatic sources.[19]

    As a result, the arms control committee, during a December 6 meeting, endorsed only two potential transparency and confidence-building measures to be pursued in a possible future dialogue with Moscow on tactical nuclear weapons. These would comprise unilateral and joint statements on nuclear policy and the possibility of a dialogue and reciprocal briefings on U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Once these topics have been adopted by the North Atlantic Council, allies will begin a discussion on the timing and tactics of how to take these issues forward with Russia. More-ambitious proposals remain under discussion among NATO allies. Allies also have yet to agree on what role arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation might play at NATO’s 65th anniversary summit, which is to take place September 4-5 in Newport in the United Kingdom.

    What Lies Ahead?

    Over the last few years, efforts to revive the nuclear arms control dialogue between NATO and Russia have ground to a halt. The combination of Russia’s unwillingness to engage in a dialogue on tactical nuclear weapons and the refusal of some NATO members to decouple changes in the alliance’s nuclear posture from Russian actions have resulted in complete deadlock. Vested interests in maintaining the status quo and arcane classification rules on each side further solidify the situation.

    At the same time, alliance members that were major arms control proponents have scaled back their ambitions. As always in NATO, everything depends on where the United States stands. President Barack Obama repeatedly has emphasized the importance of reducing tactical nuclear weapons and including these weapons in the next round of nuclear arms control with Russia. Speaking in Berlin last June 19, Obama promised “to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe.”[20] Yet, these words so far have not been translated into action, and U.S. leadership on the issue has been sorely lacking. It is an indication of the degree of political resistance to changes in NATO’s nuclear posture, accentuated by innate institutional conservatism, that even the meaning of “bold” has become a contentious issue among the various actors in Washington and Brussels.

    Germany remains committed to pushing for a stronger NATO role in arms control. Outgoing Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, speaking to the press on December 4 after the NATO-Russia Council meeting, called arms control and disarmament an element of NATO’s “core business.” Westerwelle said, “We set our hopes on Russia having an interest in transparency and cooperation in the area of substrategic weapons.”[21]

    The program of Germany’s new government, which does not include Westerwelle’s Free Democratic Party, encourages negotiations between the United States and Russia on the verifiable elimination of tactical nuclear weapons and promises that Berlin will “forcefully support corresponding steps by both partners.” Yet, in contrast to the previous government, which had no clear position on reciprocity, the new coalition agreement makes successful disarmament talks “the precondition for a withdrawal of the tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Germany and in Europe.”[22]

    Meanwhile, the public and parliaments in many of the countries that host nuclear weapons remain wary of the financial and security implications of maintaining and updating NATO’s current nuclear posture. The United States wants to begin deploying the B61-12 in Europe after 2020. Compared to the weapon currently deployed in Europe, this modernized version of the B61 will have not only enhanced safety and security features, but also improved targeting capabilities.[23]

    Critics ask how such a program fits with NATO’s declared intention to seek a reduction of tactical nuclear weapons. U.S. officials, however, argue that “even if the NATO Alliance struck an agreement with Russia to mutually reduce tactical nuclear weapons, [the United States] would still need to complete the B61-12 [Life Extension Program] on the current timeline,” meaning that more-precise nuclear weapons would be deployed in Europe.[24]

    In addition, if host countries want to stay involved in the operational aspects of nuclear sharing, they would have to replace or modernize dual-capable aircraft, which can deploy either conventional or nuclear weapons, over the next 10 to 15 years, and it is not clear that they are ready to do so. The Dutch parliament on November 6 passed a resolution saying that the Joint Strike Fighter, which the Netherlands is going to purchase from the United States to replace its nuclear-capable F-16, shall not be nuclear capable.[25] In practice, such resolutions are rarely binding, but the measure puts the Dutch government in a predicament and is a clear indication of the fragility of political support among several allies for NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements.

    As long as Russia refuses even to talk about steps that could help to create a better climate for including tactical nuclear weapons in arms control, it is unlikely that NATO will undertake meaningful steps to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons or change its nuclear posture in Europe. Yet, several things might be useful to help prepare the ground and initiate a dialogue on transparency and confidence-building measures on tactical nuclear weapons.

    • If NATO wants to engage Russia seriously in this type of dialogue, the allies need to create among themselves the preconditions. Unless nuclear declassification rules are made consistent with post-Cold War security requirements, calls for increased transparency by Russia will sound hollow.
    • Painful as it may be, the allies should continue their own political dialogue on the role of nuclear weapons in the alliance’s deterrence and defense posture. The posture review report fell far short of the comprehensive review for which many had hoped in terms of establishing the requirements for NATO’s future nuclear posture and the linkages among the alliance’s nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities. It continued to paper over internal differences concerning the roles of tactical nuclear weapons and arms control. Consensus was achieved only by including the condition that changes to NATO’s nuclear weapons posture would not take place unless Russia reciprocated, but without any apparent sense of what that means or what its significance is for NATO’s own requirements. As a result, the questions and doubts concerning tactical nuclear weapons that surfaced in 2009 remain to be answered, and the political debate on a sustainable deterrence and defense posture should be restarted. By bringing in additional stakeholders, including from parliaments and nongovernmental organizations, the alliance could increase the legitimacy of the outcome of such deliberations.
    • NATO should signal to Russia that it views tactical nuclear weapons as a legacy issue by indicating that these weapons no longer play a role in military planning. Current plans to modernize nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles undermine the credibility of any offer to include tactical nuclear weapons in future arms control agreements. If the alliance is serious in its goal of reducing the role of these weapons, it should declare its willingness to freeze current modernization plans, namely, the deployment of the B61-12 and certification of new aircraft for nuclear missions, in return for the opening of a dialogue on tactical nuclear weapons. Such conditional reciprocity will be open to the criticism of naïveté, but it might induce Russia to open serious discussions. One thing is clear: under current conditions, NATO’s preferred approach of direct reciprocity offers little prospect of success.
    • The alliance should kick-start a confidence-building process by offering transparency measures in which Russia might be interested. This could include an offer to open up former nuclear storage and deployment sites in new NATO member states to demonstrate that NATO is sticking to its 1997 promise not to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of such states.[26]
    • NATO could offer Russia increased cooperation in ensuring the security and safety of tactical nuclear weapons. Such an offer would make clear that these weapons are no longer usable assets, but rather a redundant security legacy. It could provide a framework for regular interaction at the expert level. In any case, working together in averting the danger of nuclear accidents and incidents would be a symbol of NATO-Russian partnership, regardless of overall relations. Not least, both sides could learn from each other how to reduce the risks associated with tactical nuclear weapons.

    Arms control cannot resolve political conflicts between NATO and Russia. It can, however, help to establish patterns of cooperation, increase transparency, and reduce mistrust by verifiably eliminating redundant and potentially insecure weapons. It is in the mutual interest of NATO member states and Russia to begin a serious dialogue about these weapons, their control, and their eventual elimination. Transparency measures are small, pragmatic steps toward that goal.



    Oliver Meier is an associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, or SWP) in Berlin. Simon Lunn, a former secretary-general of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, is a Brussels-based senior fellow with the European Leadership Network and a consultant to the Nuclear Threat Initiative.



    1. ‘Don’t Provoke Anyone’: Putin Says Iskander Missiles Not Yet Deployed Near NATO Borders,” RT, December 19, 2013, http://rt.com/news/putin-iskander-abm-deployment-489/.

    2. “Growth. Education. Unity. The Coalition Agreement Between the CDU, CSU and FDP,” October 26, 2009. http://www.cdu.de/sites/default/files/media/dokumente/091215-koalitionsvertrag-2009-2013-englisch_0.pdf.

    3. See Oliver Meier, “German Nuclear Stance Stirs Debate,” Arms Control Today, December 2009.

    4. Oliver Meier, “NATO Sticks With Nuclear Policy,” Arms Control Today, June 2012.

    5. NATO, “Deterrence and Defence Posture Review,” May 2012, para. 8, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-1D41DDB0-B87E01C8/natolive/official_texts_87597.htm.

    6. Ibid., para. 12.

    7. Ibid., para. 26.

    8. Oliver Meier, “News Analysis: NATO, Arms Control and Nonproliferation: An Alliance Divided?” Arms Control Today, April 2009.

    9. Ted Seay, “Escalation by Default? The Future of NATO Nuclear Weapons in Europe,” NATO Policy Brief, No. 2 (May 2012), http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/medialibrary/2012/05/10/e074ba2d/ELN%20NATO%20Policy%20Brief%202%20-%20Escalation%20by%20Default.pdf.

    10. Oliver Meier, “NATO Agrees on New Arms Control Body,” Arms Control Now, February 26, 2013, http://armscontrolnow.org/2013/02/26/nato-agrees-on-new-arms-control-body.

    11. Oliver Meier, “NATO Deterrence Review Gets Under Way,” Arms Control Today, October 2011.

    12. “Non-Paper Submitted by Poland, Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands on Increasing Transparency and Confidence With Regard to Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe,” April 14, 2011, http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/nukes/nuclearweapons/nato-nonpaper041411.pdf.

    13. NATO-Russia Council, “Ambassador Grushko Speaks About NRC Nuclear Seminar,” July 10, 2013, http://www.nato-russia-council.info/en/articles/20130710-nrc-nuclear-grushko-interview.

    14. Tom Z. Collina, “Nuclear Powers Urge Progress on FMCT,” Arms Control Today, May 2013.

    15. The Nuclear Planning Group is NATO’s senior body on nuclear matters. It normally meets in the context of the regular meetings of defense ministers. France is not a member of the group and does not discuss its nuclear posture in the alliance, although it does participate in consultations on NATO’s nuclear arms control policies.

    16. When the United States in 1991-1992 declared dramatic changes to NATO’s nuclear posture and promised more openness, it informed allies of the new policy, but did not consult them. See Susan J. Koch, “The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of 1991-1992,” Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction Case Study Series, No. 5 (September 2012), p. 9.

    17. NATO-Russia Council, “NRC Nuclear Safety Exercises: 10 Years 10 Stories,” November 8, 2012, http://www.nato-russia-council.info/en/articles/20121108-nrc-10-years-nuclear.

    18. The work plan is classified. For a summary, see NATO, “NATO-Russia Council Approves Ambitious Cooperation Plan for 2014,” December 4, 2013, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_105502.htm.

    19. The NATO-Russia Council has a mixed record of discussions on nuclear issues. Russia has resisted efforts to discuss tactical nuclear weapons, but nuclear weapons experts have been meeting in the context of the Defence Transparency, Strategy and Reform Working Group. Russia apparently has suspended these meetings. On the role of the NATO-Russia Council, see Simon Lunn, “The NATO-Russia Council: Its Role and Prospects,” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, November 2013, www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/medialibrary/2013/11/29/11e0c7b3/The%20NATO%20Russia%20Council%20Its%20Role%20and%20Prospects_Simon%20Lunn_November%202013.pdf.

    20. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Obama at the Brandenburg Gate—Berlin, Germany,” June 19, 2013, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/19/remarks-president-obama-brandenburg-gate-berlin-germany.

    21. Transcript of press conference by Guido Westerwelle, Brussels, December 4, 2013 (in German) (translation by author) (copy on file with author).

    22. “Deutschlands Zukunft gestalten. Koalitionsvertrag zwischen CDU, CSU und SPD. 18. Legislaturperiode [Shaping Germany’s future. Coalition agreement between the CDU, CSU and SPD for the 18th legislative period],” p. 170 (translation by author) (copy on file with author).

    23. See Hans M. Kristensen, “B61 LEP: Increasing NATO Nuclear Capability and Precision Low-Yield Strikes,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, June 15, 2011, http://blogs.fas.org/security/2011/06/b61-12/.

    24. Madelyn R. Creedon, Statement before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, October 29, 2013, p. 5, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS29/20131029/101355/HHRG-113-AS29-Wstate-CreedonM-20131029.pdf.

    25. “33 763 Toekomst van de krijgsmacht Nr. 14 [33 763 Future of the armed forces, Nr. 14],” The Hague, November 6, 2013 (resolution tabled by member Jasper van Dijk during debate).

    26. In the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, NATO states reiterated “that they have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, nor any need to change any aspect of NATO’s nuclear posture or nuclear policy—and do not foresee any future need to do so.” NATO, “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security Between NATO and the Russian Federation,” May 27, 1997, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_25468.htm.

    NATO could pull itself and Russia out of their impasse over tactical nuclear weapons by taking steps such as indicating to Russia that these weapons play no role in the alliance’s military planning.

    Libyan Uranium Stocks Flagged for IAEA

    Kelsey Davenport

    An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team planned to visit Libya in December to verify the country’s stockpile of uranium yellowcake, a UN official reported to the Security Council.

    Tarek Mitri, head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, told the Security Council on Dec. 9 that he received information from the Libyan government indicating that 6,400 barrels of uranium yellowcake are being stored at a former military facility in the south under the control of an army battalion. He said an IAEA inspection team was to visit the site in December to verify the “conditions of storage” and size of the stockpile.

    The IAEA did not respond to a request for confirmation that the visit took place. A team from the agency last visited the site in 2011.

    The announcement of the IAEA visit came a month after Russia expressed concern over the security of the Libyan yellowcake. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, told Russian news outlets Nov. 4 that he “mentioned the problem” of security for the stockpile of yellowcake during Security Council consultations and requested that the body ask Libya to take “practical steps to remedy the situation.”

    Rwanda’s ambassador to the UN, Eugene-Richard Gasana, who chairs the Security Council committee that oversees sanctions imposed on Libya, told the Security Council on Dec. 9 that a UN panel of experts concluded that the yellowcake “posed no significant security risk” because it would require “extensive processing” before it could be used for civil or weapons purposes. The panel is charged with overseeing the implementation of sanctions imposed on Libya in connection with the civil war in February 2011 under UN Security Council Resolution 1970.

    Yellowcake, which is concentrated uranium ore, represents an early step in the process of creating fuel for power reactors or nuclear weapons. Once natural uranium ore is mined, it undergoes a milling process to turn it into yellowcake, which then must be processed into a gaseous form, uranium hexafluoride, before it can be enriched.

    Under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Libya ratified in 1975, the country is prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi covertly pursued a nuclear weapons program that began in the 1970s and lasted until 2003. In December of that year, Libya agreed to dismantle its covert nuclear weapons facilities and disclose information about its other programs for nonconventional weapons. As part of that agreement, Libya released information about the importation of 2,263 metric tons of uranium yellowcake from Niger between 1978 and 1981. Of that amount, only 1,000 metric tons were declared to the IAEA.

    The remainder was for use in covert uranium-enrichment activities. Yellowcake stockpiles must be declared if a state has an additional protocol as part of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. An additional protocol expands the scope and access that the agency has to a state’s nuclear facilities.

    Although the last of Libya’s enriched uranium was removed in 2009, the stockpiles of yellowcake remained in the country.

    An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team planned to visit Libya in December to verify the country’s stockpile of uranium yellowcake, a UN official reported to the Security Council.

    Cobalt-60 Stolen, Recovered in Mexico

    Timothy Farnsworth

    Mexican authorities recovered all of the radioactive material stolen from a truck in Mexico in early December, according to Mexico’s National Commission on Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.

    The truck carrying cobalt-60, which is often used for cancer treatment, was stolen Dec. 2 in Tepojaco on its way from a hospital in Tijuana to a radioactive waste storage center, according to a Dec. 4 press release from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Mexican nuclear commission informed the IAEA that the truck was found two days later near the town of Hueypoxtla, about 23 kilometers from where it was stolen. The radioactive material was in a nearby field.

    The material, which had been removed from its protective casing, was fully recovered by Mexican authorities on Dec. 10 using a robot, according to a Dec. 12 IAEA press release. The IAEA classifies cobalt-60 as a Category 1 substance, indicating a high risk to human health if it is not managed and secured properly. According to the agency, exposure to an unshielded Category 1 source for a few minutes could be fatal. The IAEA uses a five-level scale to categorize radioactive substances, with Category 1 being the most dangerous.

    The theft attracted worldwide attention because experts say terrorist groups could use cobalt-60 and other Category 1 substances in a so-called dirty bomb. Although not having the same effect as a nuclear explosion, a bomb spreading Category 1 substances could cause mass panic, loss of life, and serious economic and environmental consequences. IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano specifically mentioned cobalt-60 and the potential use of radioactive material in dirty bombs in his March 27 opening remarks at the 2012 nuclear security summit in Seoul. The summit communiqué included recommendations on securing radiological sources. (See ACT, April 2012.)

    There have been 615 incidents of theft or loss of radioactive material from 1993 to 2012, according to a 2013 IAEA summary. The agency said theft or loss of Category 1 materials is “rare,” with none reported in 2012.

    Mexican authorities recovered all of the radioactive material stolen from a truck in Mexico in early December, according to Mexico’s National Commission on Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.

    Nuclear Arsenal Costs to Rise, CBO Says

    Tom Z. Collina

    The U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost taxpayers $355 billion over the next decade, and expenses are expected to increase into the future as the Defense Department begins a major effort to modernize the weapons, said a December report by Congress’s nonpartisan budget arm. The report raises new questions about how much the Pentagon can afford to spend on nuclear weapons as its budget faces sizable reductions.

    The report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, of the $355 billion to be spent during fiscal years 2014-2023, $152 billion would go to maintaining the current arsenal of missiles, bombers, and submarines and the nuclear warheads they carry; $89 billion would be used to modernize or replace those weapons; $56 billion would be spent on command, control, and communications for U.S. weapons and early detection of enemy missile launches; and $59 billion would go for unbudgeted cost growth. These programs will cost $23 billion in fiscal year 2014.

    In 2011, the Defense Department estimated it would spend $214 billion on the nuclear arsenal during fiscal years 2011-2020, an average of $21 billion a year.

    Because U.S. efforts to modernize the nuclear arsenal are just starting, “annual costs for nuclear forces are expected to increase,” the CBO found. For example, the report said that nuclear costs, not including command and control, would average $29 billion by 2023. That amount is 60 percent higher than the 2014 budget of $18 billion.

    Of the nuclear weapons programs, the strategic submarines will have the highest cost, $82 billion, accounting for 56 percent of the funds allocated to strategic systems; bombers would get 27 percent, and long-range missiles 17 percent. The highest single-year cost for modernization is expected in 2022, when the Navy would be paying for procurement of the first new SSBN(X) submarine and starting advanced procurement of the second.

    The CBO says that it expects modernization costs to keep growing after 2023 as new systems begin production and that most of these costs will occur after the 10-year period examined in the report. The report estimated that, from 2024 to 2030, the cost of modernization would average $15 billion per year, more than four times the 2014 number.

    The U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost taxpayers $355 billion over the next decade, and expenses are expected to increase into the future as the Defense Department begins a major effort to modernize the weapons, said a December report by Congress’s nonpartisan budget arm. The report raises new questions about how much the Pentagon can afford to spend on nuclear weapons as its budget faces sizable reductions.

    UN Bans Arms to Central African Republic

    Jefferson Morley

    The UN Security Council on Dec. 5 unanimously approved a resolution banning the sale or transfer of weapons to the Central African Republic, where sectarian militias have been engaged in escalating violence. Resolution 2127 also bans for one year the sale or transfer of ammunition, military equipment, spare parts, and technical assistance and training to any person or entity except the country’s security forces and an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission.

    The country of 5 million people has been the scene of deadly clashes between predominantly Muslim former rebels who took power last March and Christian “self-defense” groups. The violence has spread across the mineral-rich country in recent months, displacing more than 600,000 people and raising fears of a genocide like the one that occurred in Rwanda in 1994.

    In response, the French government in late November tripled the number of its soldiers in the 1,200-person AU peacekeeping mission. The U.S. government has committed $100 million to support the AU force. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made an unannounced trip to the Central African Republic on Dec. 20, saying she wanted to see the unfolding crisis for herself.

    Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch called the Security Council resolution “a crucial step,” but he said the effects of the arms embargo would be difficult to judge, adding that little is known about where the country’s armed groups obtain their weapons.

    The Central African Republic is bordered on the south by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to the east by South Sudan, which are home to a variety of heavily armed militias. “In a region with poor governance, small arms circulate easily and widely,” Bolopion said in a Dec. 20 interview.

    The UN resolution created a committee to monitor and enforce the arms embargo and called for it to report on the embargo’s effectiveness within 60 days.

    The UN Security Council on Dec. 5 unanimously approved a resolution banning the sale or transfer of weapons to the Central African Republic, where sectarian militias have been engaged in escalating violence. Resolution 2127 also bans for one year the sale or transfer of ammunition, military equipment, spare parts, and technical assistance and training to any person or entity except the country’s security forces and an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission.

    Removal of Chemicals From Syria Begins

    Daniel Horner

    The international operation to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal has successfully removed the first batches of chemical weapons agents from the country, the head of the operation said Jan. 7.

    The material left the Syrian port of Latakia on a Danish cargo vessel with an international escort, Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of the operation, said in a statement. The operation is a joint effort of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations.

    At a Jan. 7 press briefing, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki welcomed the “continued progress toward the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program” but said that “much more needs to be done.”

    The chemical weapons agents have been stored at 12 sites around the country, which has been the scene of a fierce civil war for the last three years, and must be transported to Latakia, a Mediterranean port on Syria’s northwest coast. Kaag said the material was from two sites, but did not indicate the quantity.

    China, Denmark, Norway, and Russia are providing maritime security, she said.

    Denmark and Norway are leading the convoy. In a joint Dec. 6 press release, the Danish and Norwegian governments said the removal convoy would include naval frigates and specialized cargo vessels from both countries. Denmark will lead the operation, and Norway will be deputy commander, the press statement said.

    Kaag said the Danish vessel, the Ark Futura, “will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port.”

    Syria has declared about 1,300 metric tons of chemical agents. Of that amount, slightly more than 700 metric tons are the “priority” materials, which include key chemical components of nerve agents such as VX and sarin along with a small amount of mustard agent.

    According to figures provided by the OPCW, 560 metric tons are to be destroyed aboard a U.S. ship, the MV Cape Ray. The transfer from the Danish or Norwegian ship to the U.S. ship is to take place at an Italian port. At a Jan. 2 briefing aboard the Cape Ray as it was docked in Portsmouth, Va., Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said that “exactly where and how that [handover] process will take place hasn’t been finalized yet.”

    The Cape Ray will be using a technology called the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System to neutralize the chemical weapons agents. In its application to chemical weapons, hydrolysis is a process that breaks down the chemical agent with hot water and a caustic compound such as sodium hydroxide.

    Üzümcü Accepts Nobel Peace Prize

    Calling the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) a “major triumph in the history of multilateralism,” Ahmet Üzümcü accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Dec. 10 on behalf of the international body responsible for putting the treaty into effect.

    Üzümcü, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the convention, which entered into force in 1997, showed “for the first time in the history of multilateral diplomacy…that consensus-based decision-making can yield practical, effective, and, above all, verifiable results in disarmament.”

    The OPCW has been in the spotlight since Syria announced last September that it would get rid of its chemical weapons arsenal. The OPCW and the United Nations are coordinating the destruction effort.

    Syria is the 190th and most recent country to join the CWC, and Üzümcü devoted a good part of his speech to the situation there. But he noted that six countries are not parties to the treaty, and he urged them to join.

    “No national interest can credibly outweigh either the security or economic benefits of adhering to the global chemical ban,” he said.

    Israel and Myanmar have signed the treaty, but not ratified it. Angola, Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan have not signed it.

    In comments in Oslo on Dec. 11, Üzümcü said Angola, Myanmar, and South Sudan are “very close” to joining, Agence France-Presse reported.

    The OPCW has verified the destruction of more than 80 percent of all chemical weapons declared worldwide under the CWC, Üzümcü said in his Nobel speech. The week before the speech, he reported to the annual meeting of CWC parties that the United States had destroyed 24,924 metric tons, or almost 90 percent, of its Category 1 chemical weapons, while Russia had destroyed 30,795 metric tons of such weapons. Category 1 weapons are based on chemicals and precursors that pose a “high risk to the object and purpose” of the CWC.

    The Russian and U.S. holdings represent the vast majority of chemical weapons declared under the CWC.

    The Nobel Peace Prize is accompanied by a cash award of about $1.2 million. In his speech, Üzümcü said the money would be used to “fund annual OPCW awards.”—DANIEL HORNER

      Kendall and his colleagues at the briefing repeatedly emphasized that the technology, developed by the Defense Department, is one that the United States has used to destroy the chemical weapons in its own arsenal. The version on display at Portsmouth, however, is different in that it is mobile and can be deployed on land or at sea.

      One new factor that has to be taken into account is variations in ocean conditions, known as the “sea state.” Planners have built in extra time to allow for “sea states where we can’t operate,” Kendall said.

      UK Role in Destruction

      The United Kingdom announced on Dec. 20 that it would destroy 150 metric tons of the priority chemicals. According to a press release from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the chemicals are to be shipped to a UK port and then transported “to a commercial site to be destroyed by incineration.”

      Incineration and neutralization are the two main methods of chemical weapons destruction.

      In a Jan. 6 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Defense Department spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the UK effort is “an incredible help” for the United States and the OPCW-UN joint mission as they work to ensure that the Cape Ray completes its mission “as quickly as can safely be done.”

      Another portion of the Syrian chemical holdings, as well as the liquid waste from the destruction operations on the Cape Ray, is to be handled through commercial disposal. (See ACT, December 2013.) The OPCW has issued a “call for proposals” from private firms for the disposal work with a deadline of Jan. 19. That portion constitutes about 500 metric tons, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said Jan. 8. About 120 metric tons of isopropanol will be destroyed in Syria, he said.

      Shipboard destruction of the chemical agents became a leading option as one country after another said late last year it would not undertake that task on its own territory. But the United States had begun preparing for the possibility of shipboard destruction in early 2013 and provided funding to develop the mobile hydrolysis units last year, according to the Defense Department.

      Under the timetable set by a Nov. 15 OPCW Executive Council decision document, “effective destruction” of the priority chemicals is to be completed by March 31. At the Jan. 2 briefing, Kendall said he expected the Cape Ray to leave Portsmouth “within about two weeks.”

      Kendall said the operation would comply with all relevant international and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. The Cape Ray belongs to the Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration, and “[w]e’re going to give the ship back to the Maritime Administration as clean as it was when we got it,” he said.

      Missed Deadline

      The start of the loading operation at Latakia came a week after a Dec. 31 deadline set by the OPCW Executive Council for the removal of the priority chemicals from Syria. The missed deadline was the first one since Syria announced in mid-September that it would give up its chemical weapons arsenal.

      In the run-up to the year-end deadline, leaders of the Syrian chemical disarmament operation signaled that it might not be met. In a Dec. 17 statement to the Executive Council, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said that “schedules have been disrupted by a combination of security concerns, clearance procedures in international transit and even inclement weather conditions.”

      A Dec. 28 statement by the OPCW-UN joint mission said Syria “needs to intensify its efforts” to make sure it meets its “international obligations.” In his Dec. 17 statement, Üzümcü emphasized that Syria “will be responsible for all the packing and safe transportation of chemicals until they are loaded onto maritime vessels.”

      Officials involved in the decision-making on the operation have given generally consistent accounts of the causes for the delays, emphasizing the dangers and difficulties of transporting the chemical weapons agents through a country in the midst of a civil war. Üzümcü has said such factors are “beyond the control” of Syria, the other countries, and the OPCW-UN joint mission, but urged the Syrians to “look at all possible options for risk mitigation.”

      In a Dec. 31 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Russian official said the removal route for the chemical weapons “runs in some stretches close to the Lebanon border and that is where the militants have recently intensified their forays into the Syrian territory operating from their bases in Lebanon.” Responding to Üzümcü’s comment on risk mitigation, the Russian official asked rhetorically, “How is Damascus supposed to mitigate that?”

      Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, is providing supplies such as armored trucks for the overland transport of the chemicals to Latakia.

      Last September, the United States appeared poised to launch punitive military strikes in response to the alleged use by the Syrian government of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov negotiated a deal with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry under which Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons. The OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council subsequently endorsed the plan, setting June 30 as the date by which all of Syria’s chemical weapons should be destroyed. The Executive Council later filled in intermediate dates such as the one for removing the highest-priority chemical weapons agents by Dec. 31.

      OPCW and U.S. officials have referred to the dates as “milestones” or “target dates” rather than “deadlines,” a point that U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf reiterated at briefings on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. At the latter briefing, she noted that the effort involves “trying to destroy all these weapons in the middle of a civil war” and said, “We knew this would take time, but we do need to keep seeing forward progress, and in fact, we have.”

      In the Nov. 15 decision document, which set the intermediate deadlines, the OPCW Executive Council gave Üzümcü some leeway to alter the destruction timetable. If he determines “in close consultation” with the countries involved in the destruction that “it will not be possible” to meet the timetable, “he should immediately notify the [Executive] Council, specifying the circumstances, and propose an alternative date for [the council’s] consideration and approval, with a view to completing the destruction as soon as possible,” the document says. In his Dec. 17 statement, Üzümcü said he would “keep the Council informed of the progress [of the removal operation] and…promptly communicate any problems that impact the given timelines.”

      The first batches of chemical weapons agents have left Syria on a Danish cargo ship, the official overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal said.


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