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Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
June 2, 2022
March 2014
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
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U.S. Set to Co-Sponsor New Nuclear Security Initiative

This article is an ACT Web Extra. It was posted on March 14, 2014, and does not appear in the print or PDF version of the March 2014 Arms Control Today.

Kelsey Davenport

A new initiative to be launched at this month’s nuclear security summit in The Hague will commit participating states to the “highest standards” of nuclear security, the White House’s top official for countering weapons of mass destruction said in a March 6 interview.

The initiative will demonstrate the importance of adherence to nuclear security best practices and international guidelines, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, special assistant to the president and White House coordinator for defense policy, countering weapons of mass destruction, and arms control, said in the interview.

The initiative, sponsored by the Netherlands, South Korea, and the United States, will be opened for states to join at the March 24-25 summit. This will be the third summit to be convened since President Barack Obama in 2009 announced an effort to lock down all vulnerable nuclear material.

Although the text of the initiative has not been made public, it reportedly will commit states to implement international guidelines for nuclear security, including those published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Sherwood-Randall said the United States expects progress in three key areas at the summit: further commitments to dispose of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, efforts to strengthen the global “nuclear security architecture,” and “assurances,” or voluntary actions that states can take to demonstrate to the international community that they are maintaining high standards for nuclear security without disclosing sensitive information. Issue specialists use the term “architecture” to refer to the combination of elements dealing with nuclear security: institutions and organizations, legal instruments, evolving norms and best practices, and assurances.

At the summit, states will announce actions that will generate further progress in these key areas, Sherwood-Randall said.

Ensuring that the IAEA “has the resources it requires” and strengthening other international organizations, such as Interpol and the World Institute for Nuclear Security, are necessary elements for building up the nuclear security architecture, Sherwood-Randall said. She said that the summit process is contributing to strengthening the role of the IAEA and other multilateral organizations in nuclear security. For example, the summit process has helped make the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism a “durable international institution,” she said.

Progress in these areas will contribute to building a global nuclear security “scaffolding” so that the summits are no longer necessary and improving nuclear security is a “self-sustaining” process, Sherwood-Randall said. The United States decided to host a fourth summit in 2016 because this “job is not done,” she said.

One of the additional benefits of the summit process is that it has created a “global network of experts” who work on nuclear security across the governments of the 53 participating countries, she said.

The network of experts allows for “ongoing dialogue” and interaction among countries, she said, noting that this has led to “expanded bilateral cooperation.”

Interactive Summit

Sherwood-Randall said that the Dutch have done an “extraordinary job” preparing for the 2014 summit and have put forward “bold ideas” for the meeting. The Netherlands has planned a policy exercise in which the national leaders attending the meeting have to respond to various scenarios of a nuclear security crisis.

Like the past two summits, this one will produce a communiqué endorsed by the 53 participating states. States are also expected to make additional national commitments and sign on to joint statements, which are multilateral commitments to improve areas of nuclear security.

These multilateral commitments began at the 2012 Seoul summit, where states were able to sign on to 13 joint statements. The trilateral Dutch-South Korean-U.S. initiative will be just one of many new joint statements, also known as gift baskets, that will be announced at the summit.

Several states already have announced that they will present new joint statements at the 2014 summit or build on statements made in 2012. The Netherlands committed to leading a new joint statement on nuclear forensics that will be announced in The Hague, while the United Kingdom intends to keep working on its 2012 joint statement on nuclear information security, according to UK officials.

Participating countries were encouraged to prepare video messages to outline the progress made on nuclear security and goals for further improvement. On the second day of the summit, a session just for the leaders will focus on the future of the summit process.

There is no decision yet as to whether the process will continue after the 2016 summit. Obama administration officials have said in the past the summit process is not intended to be permanent and that no single institution is intended to take on the work of the summits. (See ACT, September 2013.)

U.S. Commitments

States are expected to pledge to eliminate stocks of U.S.-origin nuclear materials at the Dutch summit, and the United States will accept the HEU and plutonium for disposition, Sherwood-Randall said.

Since Obama initiated the summit process in 2009, 12 countries have eliminated their stockpiles of weapons-usable materials. According to a recent report released by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), 25 countries still have at least 1 kilogram of weapons-usable material. Of those 25 countries, 21 participate in the nuclear security summit process.

Australia, Belgium, and Italy have already pledged to return excess HEU or plutonium to the United States, but have not yet completed the disposition. It has been reported that, at this month’s summit, Japan will announce its intention to ship several hundred kilograms of plutonium back to the United States.

At the summit, the United States will announce further upgrades to the physical security of its nuclear facilities, Sherwood-Randall said. Referring to a 2012 break-in at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, she said that strengthening physical security is an “ongoing process” for all countries and that the United States is discussing with its counterparts the lessons that were learned from this incident.

While the focus of the first two summits was on civilian materials and facilities, some countries, including the Netherlands, would like to see the summit process expanded to more formally include the protection of military materials and the elimination of excess materials. According to the NTI, military materials comprise about 85 percent of the world’s nuclear stockpiles. It is unclear to what extent military materials will be addressed at the upcoming summit.

Sherwood-Randall said that the United States also would announce further actions to be taken with other countries in a variety of areas, including strengthening the security of radioactive sources, converting HEU-fueled research reactors to run on low-enriched uranium fuel, and enhancing detection to prevent the smuggling of nuclear materials.

2010 Commitments

The United States recently fulfilled a commitment it made at the 2010 summit when the IAEA completed a review of the physical protection measures at a U.S. nuclear facility.

Such reviews, conducted by the IAEA International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS), are a way to demonstrate that countries are willing to receive “constructive criticism” and take steps to improve performance, Sherwood-Randall said.

At the request of an IAEA member state, an IPPAS mission can assist the country in strengthening its national nuclear security regime by providing advice on implementing international guidelines and IAEA nuclear security guidance and by conducting reviews of the protection of nuclear materials and associated facilities. IPPAS missions can focus on a specific facility or review national practices.

The two-week IPPAS mission in the United States, which was completed last October, reviewed the physical protection systems at the Center for Neutron Research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland.

According to an Oct. 11 IAEA press release, the IPPAS mission resulted in “a recommendation and some suggestions for the continuing improvement of nuclear security overall.” The team identified best practices at the facility and concluded that U.S. nuclear security practices in the civil nuclear sector are “robust,” the release said.

These missions are an example of the assurances concept that the Obama administration hopes will be advanced at The Hague summit, Sherwood-Randall said. It is important for the United States to set an example for IPPAS missions because there is a “spectrum” of what countries are willing to open up for inspection, she said.

There is no mechanism that tracks whether countries follow through on the recommendations from the IPPAS missions. But Sherwood-Randall said countries that requested missions are working to implement the recommendations.

At a December meeting in Paris, participants at the first international seminar on IPPAS missions reached a similar conclusion, a French official said in a March 7 interview. He said that states have “an incentive to take action on recommendations” once they have completed an IPPAS review because requesting a peer review “shows an openness to suggestions for improvement.” But he added that there are ways to improve the effectiveness of the IPPAS mission process and encourage greater implementation of the IPPAS recommendations and suggestions.

Follow-up IPPAS missions should receive more emphasis, he said, adding that these missions can “assess the implementation of prior recommendations” and “reinforce positive progress.”

One of the recommendations from the Paris meeting was that the IAEA should produce a “guide of good practices” observed during IPPAS missions, he said. This will allow other states to “perform self-assessments in some areas and improve their own practices,” he added. States might release some of the findings from the IPPAS missions that do not compromise national security, he said. This transparency would “provide evidence to the international community that a state has good nuclear material security,” he said.

IPPAS findings are confidential, but some states, including the Netherlands, have chosen to release some of the findings from the IPPAS teams.

South Korea, host of the 2012 summit, recently hosted an IPPAS mission, which reviewed the country’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radioactive materials, its security measures for the transport of these materials, and physical protection measures at two reactors, according to a March 7 IAEA press release. The IAEA said that its team identified “good practices” and made recommendations for “continuous improvement.”

The South Korean IPPAS mission was the 62nd mission conducted by the IAEA since the service was first offered in 1995. Forty countries have received IPPAS missions to date, according to the IAEA.

Armenia, a nuclear security summit participant, announced that it has invited an IPPAS mission to be conducted this year, and additional countries are expected to announce requests for IPPAS reviews at the summit.

Treaties Not Ratified

One commitment from the 2010 summit that the United States has not met is its pledge to complete ratification of two key legal instruments.

One of these is the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The original treaty, which entered into force in 1987, sets security standards for nuclear material in transit. When in force, the amendment will expand the scope of the physical protection measures to cover material in storage.

Officials from other countries have called on the United States to take action on the 2005 amendment. (See ACT, March 2014.) Sherwood-Randall said that Washington does need to pass the implementing legislation that will allow the United States to complete the ratification process. The House of Representatives passed the legislation last June, but there has been no movement in the Senate.

No Promised Land: The Shared Legacy of the Castle Bravo Nuclear Test

April L. Brown

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Castle Bravo nuclear detonation in the Marshall Islands. The U.S. military conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Pacific Proving Grounds from 1946 to 1958. The Castle Bravo test, conducted on March 1, 1954, at Bikini Atoll, was 1,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb.

The explosion sent irradiated coral dust throughout the atolls. Neighboring atoll populations, who were neither informed of the tests nor relocated prior to the detonation, today continue to experience health issues, cultural upheaval, and physical dislocation due to the environmental degradation produced by the test and the effects of climate change. The Bravo detonation remains the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States.[1] Although the United States tested an additional 55 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, Castle Bravo is the most notorious due to its impact, primarily on the people of the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands, two chains of 29 low-lying coral atolls situated north of the equator between Hawaii and Australia, were occupied by the U.S. military during World War II and in 1947 became a UN trust territory administered by the United States. Prior to the U.S. control, the islands, whose first inhabitants likely arrived on the atolls some 4,000 years ago, were claimed by Spain in 1494 and administered by Germany from 1885 until the outbreak of World War I. At that time, Japan began seizing German possessions until it took formal control under the League of Nations charter in 1920.

Initially, many Marshallese welcomed the new governance as the Japanese worked to build up an infrastructure, including schools, and to increase economic trade. With the outbreak of World War II, the Japanese military took over administration and began fortifying several of the atolls. When the fighting in the Pacific intensified in 1942, the Marshallese suffered as the Japanese military began to brutalize the population as food sources became scarce.[2] In February 1944, U.S. Marine and Army forces invaded Japanese strongholds on Kwajalein and Enewetak atolls and turned both into U.S. military bases, the former being the Army’s largest air base in Micronesia.[3] After months of intense fighting in the Pacific theater, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese industrial cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Attracted by its remote location, sparse population, and nearby U.S. military bases, the United States made plans to test its most powerful weapons in the Marshall Islands. U.S. Navy Commodore Ben Wyatt, with cameras rolling, met with Bikini Atoll inhabitants and their leader to “ask” for use of their atoll “for the good of mankind.” Wyatt came to the island on a Sunday after church services and, at one point, likened the Bikinians to the children of Israel who had been saved by their enemies and led to the Promised Land. With the leader’s response that “everything is in God’s hands,” the cameras cut, and the military began preparations to relocate the 167 Bikinian people to another island.[4]

Realistically, the Bikinians had no choice. A month prior to the filmed exchange, U.S. President Harry Truman had already approved Bikini Atoll as the test site for Operation Crossroads, a series of two tests in 1946 designed to study the effects of nuclear weapons. With no understanding of atomic weapons, radiation, or the likelihood of permanent displacement, the Bikinians acquiesced and were relocated to Rongerik Atoll, an uninhabited island 125 miles to the east where they lacked sustainable food and potable water supplies.

The two atomic tests were Able, an airdrop test conducted on June 30, and Baker, an underwater detonation that took place on July 24. The Navy placed 95 vessels, including aircraft carriers and destroyers, in Bikini Atoll’s lagoon, and hundreds of animals were strapped to the decks to monitor the blast’s effects. Thousands of U.S. soldiers were positioned on naval ships outside the blast zone and then brought in to survey the damage, retrieve the irradiated animals, and decontaminate the vessels that were exposed to high levels of radiation.[5]

The U.S. military took pains to impress on the international community the point that the tests were of a scientific nature and not saber rattling. A large contingent of international observers and journalists was on hand to witness the tests, and thousands of cameras captured the spectacular events. The tests overshadowed the U.S. military’s movement of Marshallese populations to different islands to prevent their contamination by radiation. These islands rarely held the food or water supplies necessary to sustain their temporary populations.

In 1947, a year after the two Crossroads detonations, the United Nations awarded trusteeship of the Marshall Islands to the United States. Part of the U.S. charge was to “protect the inhabitants against the loss of their lands and resources” and to “protect the health of the inhabitants.”[6] Once operations in the Pacific Proving Grounds switched from military to U.S. civilian control in 1947 under the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a new cloud of secrecy shrouded future tests. The AEC ramped up testing to create increasingly powerful weapons. Its next three series of tests—Operation Sandstone in 1948, Operation Greenhouse in 1951, and Operation Ivy in 1952—detonated fission and thermonuclear weapons over Enewetak Atoll. The last test in the Ivy series, Mike, was the first hydrogen bomb; it had a yield of 10.4-12.0 megatons.

Impact of the Bravo Test

The Castle test series, begun in 1954, was intended to test lithium deuteride as a thermonuclear fusion fuel. Islanders had been relocated prior to early tests, but the Bravo test was conducted secretly with no relocations beforehand. Winds that were noted as favorable by weather forecasters three days prior to the blast were deemed unfavorable six hours before the test. Still, Major General Percy Clarkson, the head of the military team responsible for carrying out the testing, ordered the detonation to proceed as planned despite the likelihood that winds would carry the fallout over inhabited atolls.

At 15 megatons, the Bravo shot created a mushroom cloud that rose as high as 130,000 feet and spread over an area more than 25 miles in diameter in less than 10 minutes.[7] Detonated over Bikini Atoll, the explosion vaporized three islands. The nuclear fallout, made up of crushed coral, water, and radioactive particles, rained down over inhabited atolls. Witnesses described watching the sun rise in the west the morning of the detonation and were fascinated by the red and orange colors that lit up the sky. They then described their terror as the shock wave hit. Hours later, the Marshallese described the falling “snow” and how unsuspecting children played in the fallout and women rubbed it in their hair.[8] The residents of Rongelap and Ailinginae atolls bore the brunt of the radioactive fallout.

According to Rongelapese magistrate John Anjain, two Americans arrived on the island by plane and hastily inspected the damage to the atoll on the afternoon of March 2, the day after the blast, but left without warning anyone of the danger posed by the radioactivity.[9] The U.S. military arrived on the morning of March 3 to evacuate the residents, who were already suffering from radiation poisoning.

The U.S. military evacuated other populations on Rongerik and Ailinginae atolls. Weathermen stationed on Rongerik Atoll were instructed on March 2 to stay inside their metal-lined bunkers until they could be evacuated later that day. Marshallese residents received no such warnings. The Marshallese inhabitants of Rongerik Atoll were not evacuated until March 4.

The Bravo event itself might have remained unknown to the U.S. public at the time if it were not for a Japanese fishing vessel, the Daigo Fukuryū Maru (Lucky Dragon) and its 23 crewmen who were caught inside the contamination zone. Panic spread throughout Japan that the contaminated tuna brought aboard the vessel had entered the market.[10]

A report submitted by the AEC to the U.S. representative on the UN Trusteeship Council on June 9, 1954, downplayed the impact of the Bravo test by emphasizing that there would be no long-term effects on the native Marshallese from Bravo contamination, based on medical estimates. The report said the evacuated Rongelapese appeared happy and content and were provided with better housing on Majuro Atoll than on their home island.[11] The report estimated that the displaced population would be returned to Rongelap Atoll within six months to a year. In reality, the Rongelapese in particular had been exposed to near-lethal doses of radiation. A calculation of the radiation intake of the population shows that Rongelapese adults likely were exposed to internal doses of ionizing radiation of 60-300 rem. Doses at that level typically cause many kinds of physiological damage. According to the study, five to 10 rem can alter blood chemistry and cause genetic damage, while 400 rem would likely kill 50 percent of the exposed population.[12]

The Rongelapese quickly became test subjects of a U.S. government-sponsored program, Project 4.1, entitled “The Study of Response of Human Beings Exposed to Significant Beta and Gamma Radiation Due to Fallout from High Yield Weapons.” The team conducting the study did not ask the Marshallese for their consent or even explain to them that a study was being conducted, which caused even more confusion as Marshallese were shuttled between the islands and testing facilities in the United States. The Marshallese were told they were being treated for their various illnesses, but rarely was a translator present to explain what tests were being conducted or for what purpose. Marshallese were given pills to take with no accompanying explanation as to why they were supposed to take them.

The impact of radiation was evidenced by Marshallese who were returned to their atolls as well as atoll populations that the AEC considered to be unaffected by the Bravo test. Exposed women gave birth to severely deformed babies, some with abnormally large heads and translucent skin, none of whom survived more than a number of days. Not knowing the cause of their illnesses, the Marshallese sickened by radiation were often ostracized and suffered psychological trauma.

As the U.S. nuclear testing continued in the Marshall Islands through 1958, displaced Marshallese, particularly those from Bikini and Enewetak atolls, suffered from malnutrition and sometimes starvation as the islands on which they were placed could not sustain the population. In 1957 the AEC returned the Rongelapese to their atoll, where they remained for nearly 30 years despite pleas to the United States to remove them because of the prevalence of disease. In the decades following the testing, the Marshallese suffered high rates of growth abnormalities in children and other birth defects. Thyroid tumors, especially among Rongelapese women, have resulted in numerous surgeries, which affected their abilities to speak and sing, the latter of which serves as an important aspect of Marshallese culture.[13]

Political and Legal Steps

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After the Bravo test, the U.S. government provided cash payments and established trust funds for the Enewetakese, Bikinians, and Rongelapese for radiation exposure. In the 1970s, the United States began cleaning up Enewetak Atoll in an attempt to make it habitable. Studies by the U.S. government deemed Bikini Atoll too radioactive to inhabit although the United States had encouraged resettlement years earlier.

As litigation, mostly instigated by Bikinians, continued in the U.S. court system, the majority of the Marshallese people voted to establish a new political relationship with the United States. The Republic of the Marshall Islands was established in 1979. In 1986 the Compact of Free Association between the republic and the United States was signed into law, ending the trusteeship arrangement and ushering in a new period of political independence. The compact allows Marshallese citizens to enter, work in, and go to school in the United States and gives the United States the responsibility for the islands’ defense. An affiliated agreement gives the United States full and continued control over military facilities on Kwajalein Atoll to conduct military maneuvers. One section of the compact provides for continued medical care of the remaining 176 Marshallese directly affected by the Bravo detonation.

Section 177 of the compact provided for a separate agreement to deal with settlement issues. The agreement called for the establishment of a $150 million trust fund set up by the U.S. government in exchange for the dismissal of all pending court cases and a pledge not to pursue any future litigation. It also established the National Claims Tribunal to hear Marshallese cases of personal injury and damages to or loss of property. Due to the number of claims, the $45 million provided by the United States to the tribunal has mostly been spent and is considered by the Marshallese to be insufficient.

The U.S. government narrowly defines the affected atolls as Bikini, Enewetak, Utrik, and Rongelap and affected individuals as those who were on the four atolls during the testing period, failing to take into account the frequent movement of Marshallese between atolls or the lingering effects of radiation. This is an obvious point of consternation of the many Marshallese who live on atolls other than the designated four and believe their atolls were similarly affected by U.S. nuclear testing but go unrecognized.

The “changed circumstances” provision in the compact allows for the Marshall Islands to petition the U.S. Congress for additional financial assistance if they can provide proof there were additional damages to property and injuries from the testing program unknown during the time of the compact negotiations and in excess of the original $150 million provided. Years later, the Marshallese believed they had their evidence.[14]

During the administration of President Bill Clinton, congressional pressure to declassify AEC documents related to domestic nuclear testing increased. Prompted by a series of newspaper articles alleging that U.S. citizens had been injected with plutonium without their consent, Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary declassified thousands of documents, many of which dealt with testing in the Pacific Proving Grounds, under the “Openness Initiative.” In 1994, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, held a hearing to review the information contained in the AEC documents.

One of the documents that elicited an outcry and potentially provided the Marshallese with official evidence of damage and injury was a 1973 U.S. government report stating that fallout from the Bravo test possibly affected 13 atolls, including Ailinginae, Kwajalein, Wotho and Wotje and that subsequent explosions may have hit some of the same areas. Miller charged the United States with having “deliberately kept that information from the Marshallese,” which he argued, “clearly constitutes a cover-up.”[15]

Based on this new information, in 2000 the Marshall Islands formally submitted a petition invoking changed circumstances, as allowed by the compact. Following the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government took on a more defensive posture with regard to government openness. Many of the documents that were not already reclassified in the backlash to O’Leary’s massive declassification project were taken off the shelves at the National Archives and Records Administration.[16] In 2005 the Bush administration formally denied the petition submitted by the Marshall Islands as lacking adequate proof.

More recently, Marshallese officials have sought to make the United Nations take responsibility for its part in allowing the United States to conduct nuclear testing while serving as a UN trustee and assist in pressuring the United States to provide adequate compensation. In September 2012, Calin Georgescu, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and toxic waste, encouraged the United States to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of the Marshall Islands affected by the nuclear testing. He said the U.S. government should provide “full funding for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal to award adequate compensation for past and future claims” and health care to those residing in the United States.[17]

Today, nuclear issues remain at the center of the complex geopolitical relationship between the United States and the Marshall Islands. The Marshallese on the islands suffer from health issues, including high cancer rates and the highest rate of diabetes in the world, and high unemployment.[18]

The Marshallese who have relocated to the United States continue to struggle as well. Due to economic pressures to find work and their lack of proficiency with English, few within the Marshallese community pursue higher education. Like the Marshallese that have remained in the islands, the U.S. community suffers from high rates of diabetes and cancer, and it lacks adequate access to medical resources.

Because of limited information about the nuclear tests, few within the United States are aware of the challenges facing this diasporic community. The Marshallese themselves are conflicted. They appreciate the opportunities provided to them by the United States, but cannot understand how their closest ally can deny the obvious effects of nuclear testing on their population in areas such as health issues and loss of land, which contributes to a loss of cultural identity. While reflecting in 1978 on Wyatt’s religious appeal to the Bikinians to allow the United States the use of their island for testing, Bikinian representative Tomaki Juda said, “[W]e are sadly more akin to the Children of Israel when they left Egypt and wandered through the desert for 40 years. We left Bikini and have wandered through the ocean for 32 years and we will never return to our Promised Land.”[19]


April L. Brown is co-founder and executive director of the Marshallese Educational Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in northwest Arkansas. She is a professor of history and director of the honors program at Northwest Arkansas Community College.





1. Citing a February 23, 1954, memorandum contained in U.S. documents hand-delivered to the Marshall Islands in 2013, Marshall Islands Journal editor Giff Johnson argues that U.S. officials had planned for a 12- to 20-megaton blast and that claims that the 15-megaton blast exceeded expectations therefore were false. Giff Johnson, Don’t Ever Whisper; Darlene Keju: Pacific Health Pioneer, Champion for Nuclear Survivors, (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), pp. 370-371.

2. Holly Barker, Bravo for the Marshallese: Regaining Control in a Post-Nuclear, Post-Colonial World, 2nd ed. (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2013), p. 18.

3. Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1994), pp. 42-43.

4. The U.S. government invited journalists and Hollywood film crews to Bikini Atoll to record the exchange. See Barker, Bravo for the Marshallese, p. 20. Newsreel footage and the various takes may be viewed in the documentary films The Atomic Café, directed by Pierce Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Kevin Rafferty from 1982, and Radio Bikini, directed by Robert Stone from 1987. For information and photographs related to the nuclear testing there, see http://www.bikiniatoll.com/.

5. Barker, Bravo for the Marshallese, pp. 20-21.

6. Legal Information System of the Federated States of Micronesia, “Trusteeship Agreement for the Former Japanese Mandated Islands,” n.d., art. 6, nos. 2 and 3, http://www.fsmlaw.org/miscdocs/trustshipagree.htm. The agreement was approved by the UN Security Council on April 2, 1947, and ratified by the U.S. Congress on July 18, 1947.

7. Barker, Bravo for the Marshallese, p. 23.

8. Jessica A. Schwartz, “A ‘Voice to Sing’: Rongelapese Musical Activism and the Production of Nuclear Knowledge,” Music and Politics, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Winter 2012).

9. Barbara Rose Johnston and Holly Barker, The Rongelap Report: Consequential Damages of Nuclear War (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2008), p. 12.

10. Ten days after the March 1 blast, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission reported that 28 Americans and 236 natives of the Marshall Islands “were unexpectedly exposed to some radiation” but had not suffered burns and were in good health. “Fishermen Burned in Bikini Test Blast,” Associated Press, March 16, 1954. Press reports of the sailors’ illnesses and the irradiated fish generated pressure on the U.S. government to pay $2 million in damages to the Japanese government in 1955.

11. “The General Manager, Atomic Energy Commission (Nichols) to the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Key),” June 9, 1954, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, United Nations Affairs, Vol. III (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1983), pp. 1491-1494.

12. Johnson and Barker, Rongelap Report, p. 97 (citing Hans Behling, John Mauro, and Kathleen Behling, “Reassessment of Acute Radiation Doses Associated With BRAVO Fallout: Report to the RMI Nuclear Claims Tribunal” [McLean, VA: S. Cohen and Associates, 2000]).

13. Barker, Bravo for the Marshallese, pp. 45-46; Schwartz, “A ‘Voice to Sing.’”

14. For a detailed examination of the Compact of Free Association, the section 177 agreement, and the “changed circumstances” petition submitted by the Marshall Islands to Congress in 2000, see Barker, Bravo for the Marshallese, pp. 34-39, 111-116. For the original compact, see http://www.fsmlaw.org/compact/. For the 2003 amended version, see http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-108publ188/html/PLAW-108publ188.htm.

15. Gary Lee, “Postwar Pacific Fallout Wider Than Thought; New Data Show Radiation Spread Beyond Limited Area,” The Washington Post, February 24, 1994.

16. Scott Shane, “U.S. Reclassifies Many Documents in Secret Review,” The New York Times, February 21, 2006; Scott Shane, “National Archives Pact Let CIA Withdraw Public Documents,” The New York Times, April 18, 2006.

17. UN General Assembly, A/HRC/21/48/Add.1, September 3, 2012.

18. Steven Simon et al., “Radiation Doses and Cancer Risks in the Marshall Islands Associated With Exposure to Radioactive Fallout From Bikini and Enewetak Nuclear Weapons Tests: Summary,” Health Physics, Vol. 99, No. 2 (August 2010): 105-123.

19. Juda was speaking to members of a House Appropriations subcommittee during a hearing to discuss the U.S. government’s recent findings that radiation levels were much higher on Bikini Atoll than it had previously claimed. Bikinians living on Kili Island had been asking the U.S. government to relocate their kinsmen for years due to the unsafe living conditions there. Walter Pincus, “Bikinians Must Quit Island for at Least 30 Years, Hill Told,” The Washington Post, May 23, 1978.

The March 1, 1954, Castle Bravo detonation is the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. It had a devastating effect on the Marshall Islands, and its impact continues today.

Nuclear Modernization in an Age of Austerity

Amy F. Woolf

When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke about U.S. nuclear forces at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in early January, he emphasized two key points. First, he declared that the United States was “going to invest in the modernization we need to invest in to keep that deterrent stronger than it’s ever been.”

He then added that “we’re going to continue to require every element of our nuclear deterrent in the triad.”[1] His audience at the Wyoming base might have heard a welcome, if unexceptional, commitment to the future of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, but there could have been more to the secretary’s comments. In this period of fiscal constraints and declining defense budgets, many in in the wider policy community are voicing doubts about the ability of the United not only to maintain all three legs of the nuclear triad, but also to replace each leg with new missiles, bombers, and submarines.

Although the current debate over the future composition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal often is framed in fiscal terms, it is more about the future need for and role of nuclear weapons than it is about how much money the U.S. government is going to spend on them. Critics of the current plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear force structure argue that the investments are excessive because nuclear weapons are less relevant to U.S. national security in the 21st century than they were in the past. Supporters argue that this investment is necessary because nuclear weapons continue to play a critical role in U.S. national security. Regardless, if defense budgets continue to decline in the coming decades, the country may face difficult and possibly illogical trade-offs as it pays for the rising cost of nuclear modernization.

The United States deploys strategic nuclear warheads on three types of delivery vehicles: long-range, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), long-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and long-range heavy bombers based in the United States. Each of the delivery systems in the U.S. nuclear force is aging, and all could reach the end of their service lives in the next 30 years. The warheads that these systems would deliver also are more than 25 years old and contain aging components that may raise questions about their reliability in the future.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force are pursuing programs to modernize and replace all U.S. nuclear delivery systems—the submarines, missiles, and bombers—while the Department of Energy plans to refurbish the nuclear warheads carried by those delivery systems. Hagel has acknowledged that pursuing these modernization programs in an age of austerity “would require setting priorities and minding the budget,” but he failed to mention how much money this might cost or to acknowledge any of the difficult choices the Pentagon and nation might face.

These programs represent a commitment to rebuild and recapitalize the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal so that the country can retain a triad like the one it has today for another 50 years. This long-term plan seems ready to proceed regardless of whether the fiscal environment will support it and the security environment will require it.

Supporting the Triad

The United States has deployed its strategic nuclear warheads on three types of delivery systems since the early 1960s. Although bureaucratic politics and interservice competition for budget share played a role in shaping the U.S. force and creating the triad, each leg brought strengths and weaknesses into the U.S. nuclear deterrent during the Cold War. Taken together, the three legs were thought to complicate Soviet attack planning by ensuring that after absorbing a Soviet first strike, the United States would have a surviving arsenal large enough to retaliate with devastating force.

The United States continued to maintain the triad as it reduced the numbers of its nuclear weapons in the 1990s. In discussions about the triad, the Department of Defense often cited the deterrent value of the synergy among the three legs, but also emphasized that this force structure provided a hedge against unexpected problems in any single delivery system. This characteristic grew in importance as the United States retired many of the different types of warheads and missiles it had deployed over the years.

Although today’s security threats differ from those of the Cold War, supporters argue that the legs of the triad still have complementary capabilities that can contribute to a stable and robust deterrent. Moreover, they contend, by maintaining diversity across the force, each leg can still serve as a hedge against technical problems that may arise in the other legs. Others, however, argue that this synergy and diversity is no longer necessary, as the United States could deter emerging and potential threats with fewer types and numbers of nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration has cited both synergy and diversity as reasons to support the triad. In the 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report,” it noted that ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and the missiles they carry “represent the most survivable leg of the U.S. nuclear Triad…. Single-warhead ICBMs contribute to stability, and like SLBMs are not vulnerable to air defenses. Unlike ICBMs and SLBMs, bombers can be visibly deployed forward, as a signal in crisis to strengthen deterrence of potential adversaries and assurance of allies and partners.” The NPR Report also emphasized that the retention of “sufficient force structure in each leg” would allow the United States “the ability to hedge effectively by shifting weight from one Triad leg to another if necessary due to unexpected technological problems or operational vulnerabilities.”[2]

The analysis in the NPR Report shaped the negotiations on the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). As a result, the treaty was crafted so that the United States could retain its triad while reducing its deployed forces to the treaty’s limit of 1,550 warheads. In a follow-on study completed in mid-2013, the Obama administration decided that the United States could meet its nuclear targeting requirements with one-third fewer warheads, a point the White House emphasized in a June 2013 summary of the study’s results.[3] Even if it implements this reduction, however, the United States would likely continue to deploy a triad. The report to Congress summarizing the study stated that “retaining all three legs of the triad will best maintain strategic stability at reasonable cost, while hedging against technical problems or vulnerabilities.”[4]

Hence, it appears that the administration’s commitment to the triad is unwavering. Many in Congress also have pledged their support. In the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress specified that the Pentagon could not spend any money provided for fiscal year 2014 to “reduce, convert, or decommission any strategic delivery system if such reduction, conversion, or decommissioning would eliminate a leg of the nuclear triad.”[5]

Current Forces and Modernization

Current U.S. forces and the planned modernization efforts for each of the three legs of the triad are summarized below.[6]

Ballistic missile submarines. The Ohio-class (Trident) SSBNs first entered the Navy’s fleet in 1981, with the last of 18 submarines beginning service in 1997. The Navy has converted four submarines to carry cruise missiles, and two are usually in overhaul, so the Navy operates 12 submarines equipped with Trident-2 (D-5) nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Seven are based at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state, and five are based at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. The Navy will retain 12 operational submarines under New START, although it will reduce the number of launchers on each from 24 to 20. These submarines can remain in service for 42 years, so they will begin to retire in 2027.

The Navy is designing a new class of SSBNs to replace the aging Ohio-class boats. It had initially planned to begin deployment in 2029, but it delayed the program by two years in the fiscal year 2013 budget. As a result, the number of SSBNs in the fleet will decline to 10 for most of the 2030s. With an expected 40-year life span, these submarines would remain in the U.S. fleet through the 2075-2080 time frame. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the acquisition program for the new SSBN could cost $97-102 billion, with $10-15 billion for research and development (R&D) and $87 billion for the procurement of 12 submarines.[7]

Aircraft and cruise missiles. The Air Force currently has 20 B-2 bombers and 76 B-52 bombers. It plans to keep a maximum of 60 bombers under New START. The B-2 bombers are based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri while the B-52s are located at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. The B-2 bombers first entered the fleet in 1997; the Air Force expects them to remain active until 2034 or later. The B-2 bomber can carry B61 and B83 nuclear bombs. The B-52 bomber first entered service in 1961 and is expected to remain in the fleet through 2040. The B-52 bombers can carry nuclear or conventional cruise missiles and several other conventional weapons.

The Air Force has initiated a life extension program (LEP) for the nuclear-armed cruise missile and plans to sustain this system through 2030. It is also pursuing the development of an advanced, long-range, standoff cruise missile that will replace the existing cruise missile after 2030. Although the Air Force has not released data on the total cost of this system, current budget documents indicate that it will spend $1 billion on R&D through 2018.

The Air Force also plans to develop a new bomber, primarily to conduct long-range conventional missions in areas where adversaries are expected to operate sophisticated air defense systems. The Air Force plans to procure 80-100 bombers, with the first expected to enter service around 2025 at an estimated procurement cost of $550 million for each bomber, and to equip the bomber with nuclear weapons as B-52 and B-2 bombers retire from the fleet.

Land-based ballistic missiles. The Air Force first deployed Minuteman III ICBMs in 1970. It currently deploys 450 of these missiles, with 150 missiles at each of three bases, in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Under New START, the Air Force will likely retain 400-420 ICBMs at those three bases, with each missile carrying a single warhead. The Air Force has recently upgraded the missiles so that they can remain in service through 2030 and is studying options for a follow-on missile for deployment after 2030. If it decides to buy a new missile, procurement could begin in the mid-2020s and would overlap with the Navy’s new SSBN program and the Air Force’s new heavy bomber program. As an alternative, the Air Force could decide to continue to invest in programs that would sustain and maintain the existing Minuteman III ICBMs.

Warhead Modernization

The United States currently has seven different types of nuclear warheads in its active stockpile. These include two types of warheads for land-based missiles, two for sea-based missiles, two for air-dropped bombs, and one for air-delivered cruise missiles. The Energy Department has indicated that it is likely to retire the B83 bomb in the mid-2020s, but the rest of the warheads will need to undergo LEPs to remain in the force into the future. The LEP for the W76 SLBM warhead is nearing completion, while the program for the B61 bomb is just beginning.

That program will replace aging components and add a guided tail kit to improve the accuracy of the B61. It has proven controversial in recent years, in part because its costs have escalated. The Energy Department plans to modify around 400 bombs at a cost of around $11 billion over the next 10 years.

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This is just one piece of a life extension and warhead modification effort that could total $60 billion over 25 years. Moreover, as the Energy Department pursues these LEPs, it plans to consolidate the warhead stockpile by creating warheads that can operate on land- or sea-based missiles. After implementing this plan, the United States would have five types of warheads instead of the current seven, with three types of warheads for ICBMs and SLBMs and two types for bombers—the B61 gravity bomb and a cruise missile warhead.

The Cost of Nuclear Weapons

There is no single, authoritative estimate of the amount of money that the United States will spend to operate and maintain the current force of nuclear warheads and delivery systems or to complete all the planned modernization programs. In 2010, when the Obama administration first outlined its plan, it estimated that the Defense and Energy departments would spend around $210 billion between 2010 and 2020 (in 2010 dollars), but this did not include most of the costs of modernizing the arsenal because those fell outside the time frame. In December 2013, the CBO calculated that the United States would spend approximately $241 billion on a similar set of activities between 2014 and 2023; it added $56 billion for command, control, and communications systems and $59 billion to cover anticipated cost growth in planned programs.[8] Around $89 billion of the CBO’s $355 billion total would go to the modernization programs, but, as with the administration’s estimate, this does not include the modernization costs that would occur after 2023. Nevertheless, the CBO noted that annual spending on nuclear weapons would rise from $18 billion in 2014 to an average of $29 billion from 2021 to 2023 and that spending was “likely to continue to grow after 2023 as production begins on replacement systems.”

In a briefing prepared in May 2013, the Air Force estimated that the investments in nuclear modernization programs would peak between 2025 and 2035 at approximately $30 billion per year.[9] In January, a study published by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimated that the United States would spend nearly $1 trillion over the next 30 years, or an average of more than $30 billion per year, to maintain and modernize the triad.[10] Hence, it seems that although each of these studies used different methodologies, they all conclude that the United States may spend at least $30 billion per year to fund its program for maintaining and replacing nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

After the release of the CBO study, some analysts referred to the spending identified in the report as “astronomical” and “bloated” and argued that the United States could cut the programs to reduce the costs without undermining U.S. security. Others argued that the investment identified by CBO was “negligible” because nuclear weapons are essential for U.S. national security.[11] These authors reached different conclusions about whether United States can afford its nuclear weapons programs because they hold different views about the value of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy. They differ in their assessments of the numbers and types of nuclear weapons the United States will need to deter its adversaries and assure its allies of its commitment to their security. Yet, even those who place a high value on nuclear weapons ought to ask whether the United States can afford to allocate nearly $1 trillion to nuclear weapons modernization over the next few decades.

Modernization and Austerity

In late 2011, less than a year after the Obama administration outlined its plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear enterprise, Congress passed the Budget Control Act. Under this law, the budgets projected for the Pentagon would be $60-90 billion lower per year than those expected before the law’s passage. In other words, the Pentagon could have nearly $1 trillion less to spend over the 10 years covered by the nuclear modernization plans outlined in 2010.

This reduction will cut into force structure and operations across the U.S. military. Yet, the Air Force and Navy still plan to pursue nuclear modernization programs that will increase spending from today’s $18 billion to more than $30 billion per year. If these plans do not change, they could force unpleasant trade-offs and illogical outcomes. For example, Navy officials have stated that the Navy will have to forgo 32 new ships in the next 30 years to pay for 12 new ballistic missile submarines and stay within the current shipbuilding budget. Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge, the director of the Navy’s Undersea Warfare Division, suggested that the Navy could solve this dilemma if the other services contributed $4 billion per year to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget for 15 years.

Without this added funding, the Navy might end up with fewer submarines, leaving it unable to meet the requirements established by the current nuclear weapons employment guidance. In other words, if the Army and Air Force do not reduce their forces to help pay for the next generation of ballistic missile submarines, budget reductions could force the United States to alter its nuclear posture regardless of its professed plans and policies.

The Air Force might face similar dilemmas because it plans to purchase a new bomber, a new cruise missile for that bomber, and a new land-based ballistic missile, all at around the same time. If it cannot afford two new missiles and it sets its priorities on maintaining the land-based leg of the triad, then the Air Force may cancel the new cruise missile. Without the cruise missile, the B61 bomb would be the only weapon keeping bombers in the triad. Yet, the rising cost of the LEP for the B61 bomb might undermine support for that program. With neither a new cruise missile nor a modified B61 bomb to carry, the bombers would have no role to play in the nuclear mission. Conversely, if the Air Force buys the cruise missile and the Energy Department refurbishes the B61 bomb, the Air Force may not be able to afford new land-based missiles. It could continue to replace aging parts on its existing ICBMs, but eventually the land-based leg of the triad may be beyond repair. In either case, budget constraints would force the U.S. triad to become a dyad, regardless of any stated commitment to sustain all three legs.

It seems unlikely that spending on nuclear weapons will grow at a rate needed to support the full scope of the modernization plans. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine increased Pentagon spending on nuclear weapons at the expense of conventional forces and capabilities. Thus, the services can stay their course until budget realities force irrational changes in their plans, or they can change their plans so that the outcome is affordable and consistent with U.S. national security needs. This latter option, however, could require a restructuring of U.S. nuclear policy and a reconsideration of the future nuclear force. In other words, the United States will need to think now about altering the role of nuclear weapons in its security strategy so that it can afford the force that it needs in the future. A key part of that determination is whether the United States really needs a nuclear triad in 2075 that resembles the triad that existed in 1995 and, if it does, whether it is willing to sacrifice conventional military capability to buy that force.

Amy F. Woolf is a specialist in nuclear weapons policy at the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the CRS or the Library of Congress.


1. David Alexander, “U.S. Needs Modern Nuclear Deterrent Despite High Price Tag--Hagel,” Reuters, January 9, 2014.

2. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, pp. 21-22, http://www.defense.gov/npr/docs/2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf.

3. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Fact Sheet: Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy of the United States,” June 19, 2013.

4. The Obama administration has indicated that it would prefer to cooperate with Russia in negotiating this new limit. See U.S. Department of Defense, “Report on Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy of the United States,” June 19, 2013, http://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=739304.

5. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, Pub. L. No. 113-66, sec. 1055 (2013).

6. For a more detailed discussion of the modernization plans, along with alternatives that might reduce the costs, see Amy F. Woolf, “Modernizing the Triad on a Tight Budget,Arms Control Today, January/February 2012.

7. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2014 Shipbuilding Plan,” October 2013, p. 24, http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44655.

8. CBO, “Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2014 to 2023,” December 2013, http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/12-19-2013-NuclearForces.pdf.

9. Presentation of Lieutenant General James M. Kowalski, May 7, 2013, http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/nukes/nuclearweapons/AFGSC-CommandBrief-May2013.pdf.

10. Jon B. Wolfsthal, Jeffrey Lewis, and Marc Quint, “The Trillion Dollar Triad,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, January 2014, http://cns.miis.edu/opapers/pdfs/140107_trillion_dollar_nuclear_triad.pdf.

11. See Joseph Cirincione, “Are New Nuclear Weapons Affordable?” The Huffington Post, December 20, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-cirincione/are-new-nuclear-weapons-a_b_4482042.html; Tom Z. Collina, “Trimming the Bloated Nuclear Weapons Budget,” Arms Control Association, January 2014, http://www.armscontrol.org/issuebriefs/Trimming-the-Bloated-Nuclear-Weapons-Budget; Michaela Dodge, “Americans Spend More on Pets Than on Nuclear Weapons,” Heritage Foundation, January 14, 2014, http://blog.heritage.org/2014/01/14/americans-spend-pets-nuclear-weapons/.

Although the current debate over the future composition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal often is framed in fiscal terms, it is more about the future need for and role of nuclear weapons than about how much money the United States is going to spend on them.

Promoting Restraint: Updated Rules for U.S. Arms Transfer Policy

Rachel Stohl

On January 15, 2014, the United States released a document describing its new policy governing transfers of conventional weapons. The policy revision was long overdue, as the new publicly released document, Presidential Policy Directive 27 (PPD-27),[1] replaced a classified directive that came out in 1995.[2]

The world has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Until the release of the new policy document, however, the United States had been using policy guidance rooted in the geopolitical challenges created by the fall of the Soviet Union in making its arms transfer decisions and in outlining policy priorities and approaches to the global arms trade. According to a White House summary, a multi-year interval review of U.S. arms export policy “concluded that the 1995 conventional arms transfer policy was effective but needed to be updated to address 21st century national security and foreign policy objectives.”[3]

Thus, the new U.S. policy more accurately reflects the reality of U.S. arms transfers today. The Obama administration began its review when it came into office, but U.S. officials have said the impetus to finish the review came from events during the Arab Spring, when canisters of tear gas emblazoned with “Made in the USA” dominated pictures of the uprisings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Questions surrounding U.S. arms sales to Egypt and other Arab countries led to increased scrutiny over the process of determining whether to transfer conventional arms and whether arms sales in fact led to U.S. influence over the recipient.

Some critics maintain that the new policy was released in order to justify recent U.S. arms sales that have come under fire and the overall surge in U.S. arms sales during the Obama presidency, reaching a high of nearly $63 billion in new foreign military sales agreements alone in 2012.[4] The White House dismissed that criticism, stating that U.S. arms transfer policy “continues to be guided by two fundamental tenets: to support transfers that meet the legitimate security requirements of our allies and partners in support of our national security and foreign policy interests; and to promote restraint, both by the United States and other suppliers, in transfers of weapon systems that may be destabilizing or dangerous to international peace and security.”[5] Regardless of the rationale, the new policy better represents the current realities of the global arms trade.

The new arms transfer policy states the goals of U.S. conventional arms transfer policy, outlines the process and criteria that guide U.S. arms transfer decisions, clarifies the ways in which U.S. policy on conventional arms transfer supports arms control and arms transfer restraint, and explains how the United States supports responsible arms transfers around the globe.

Of particular note is that the policy “highlights the importance the United States places on key factors such as respect for human rights, international stability, homeland security, counter-terrorism, combatting transnational organized crime, and supporting non-proliferation.” This framework sets the tone for the new policy and differentiates it from the 1995 policy, which was more focused on “transfers of weapons systems that may be destabilizing or dangerous to international peace.”[6]

Unpacking PPD-27

PPD-27 reflects the “decisive role” that conventional weapons have had on armed conflict and the legitimate role of such weapons in carrying out defense and security policy. Yet, the policy recognizes the ways in which conventional arms transfers can have negative impacts, often unintended. The acknowledgment of the detailed ways in which conventional arms can be used to undermine U.S. security represents a new policy paradigm for U.S. arms transfers. The directive specifies how these transfers may “exacerbate international tensions, foster instability, inflict substantial damage, enable transnational organized crime, and be used to violate human rights.”[7]

PPD-27 has three distinct features. First, it reflects the contemporary context and transnational threats that guide U.S. arms transfers. Second, it reflects the way that the United States works with its allies as well as the U.S. interest in burden sharing. Third, the policy reflects long-standing U.S. law (the Arms Export Control Act, for example) and practices (such as interagency reviews) and is consistent with existing U.S. legal authorities.

The U.S. approach is enunciated in the second paragraph of PPD-27, which says that U.S. policy “supports transfers that meet legitimate security requirements of our allies and partners in support of our national security and foreign policy interests. At the same time, the policy promotes restraint, both by the United States and other suppliers, in transfers of weapons systems that may be destabilizing or dangerous to international peace and security.”[8] This dual purpose—to facilitate transfers and to promote restraint—is reiterated within the sections on U.S. goals and on the process and criteria for determining arms transfers.

According to the White House summary, the policy “highlights the President’s commitment to continued U.S. leadership in responsible and transparent conventional arms transfers.”[9] The approach to transparency is significant. The policy reflects a desire by the United States, the world’s largest arms exporter,[10] to find a balance between arms control and capacity building for U.S. partners and allies to support U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. While the 1995 policy focused on transfers of new weapons and upgrades of old weapons systems, reflecting the needs of new allies after the fall of the Soviet Union, PPD-27 covers arms and the “provision of related services and the transfer of technical data related to arms.” The 1995 policy referred to such services and data only generally, but PPD-27 cites them explicitly. Technology transfers and the development of new technologies are an integral part of the arms trade of the 21st century. Including these kinds of transfers in PPD-27 accurately reflects the current state of the arms trade and ensures the relevance of the policy in the future.

PPD-27 has 10 clear goals that enunciate the ways in which arms transfers serve U.S. national security and foreign policy goals. Eight of the 10 goals are represented in some form in the 1995 policy. These range from “supporting democratic governance” to “preventing proliferation.” The 2014 policy elaborates on these concepts and provides more explanation and context, but also adds two new goals to the foreign policy and security aims: “[p]romoting cooperative counterterrorism, critical infrastructure protection, and other homeland security priorities” and “[c]ombating transnational organized crime and related threats to national security.”

The addition of these two goals highlights the ways in which the world has changed since 1995 and the new U.S. policy priorities that have arisen in response to the September 11 attacks. Instead of focusing on the Cold War paradigm of “us versus them,” the new policy better addresses the threats faced by the United States today, particularly transnational challenges and complex relationships with allies and partners. It provides a more flexible framework for the use of arms transfers to bolster the U.S. defense industrial base or to promote global governance, depending on the particular sale or situation. In addition, the policy endorses the pursuit of weapons technology superiority not only for the United States, but also for its allies and partners. The policy reflects the reality of U.S. use of arms sales in the global context, such as to support particular regimes and reward governments that have supported U.S. interests.

The policy explains that, in the United States, those making arms transfer decisions take a variety of factors into consideration and weigh those factors in deciding whether a transfer should go forward. The explanation for this balancing act in the 2014 policy closely mirrors the 1995 policy with one exception: it also includes the issue of whether the transfer will “serve to facilitate human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law.”

The policy then lists 13 specific criteria that the United States will take into account when making arms transfer decisions. These criteria lay out how potential arms transfers are evaluated. One criterion does not outweigh another, and each transfer is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

These criteria apply to the “transfer of defense articles, related technical data and defense services through direct commercial sales, government-to-government transfers, transfers of arms pursuant to U.S. assistance programs, approvals for the retransfer of arms, changes of end-use, and upgrades.” In other words, the process and the criteria apply to all transfers of U.S. arms under the jurisdiction of any government agency.

As with the goals of PPD-27, the content of the criteria is largely the same as in the 1995 version, with some cosmetic changes and expanded explanation of the criteria themselves, but there are two new criteria in PPD-27. The first is “the risk that significant change in the political or security situation of the recipient country could lead to inappropriate end-use or transfer of defense articles.”

The second new criterion is “the likelihood that the recipient would use the arms to commit human rights abuses or serious violations of international humanitarian law, retransfer the arms to those who would commit human rights abuses or serious violations of international humanitarian law, or identify the United States with human rights abuses or serious violations of international humanitarian law.” These new criteria reflect the challenges faced by the United States during the Arab Spring when U.S.-origin weapons were suddenly being used in ways they were not intended. More notably, the criteria elevate human rights and humanitarian law concerns to a position of prominence not seen in U.S. policy before. Although existing U.S. law prevents the sale of arms that would perpetuate gross and consistent violations of human rights, PPD-27 puts the protection of human rights and the lives of innocent people alongside criteria such as shared defense interests, the availability of comparable systems from foreign suppliers, and the impact of the transfer on the defense industrial base.

One of the most striking things about the new policy is the emphasis on restraint for U.S. arms transfers and the promotion of restraint globally. Several new aspects have been added to the approach to U.S. restraint. When the 1995 policy was released, no one knew what the post-Cold War framework for export controls would look like. Although the 1995 policy encouraged the creation of a framework to succeed the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), a group of Western governments that managed lists of weapons embargoed for Soviet-bloc countries, the policy focused predominantly on support for initiatives of regional organizations such as the Organization of American States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. PPD-27 has a brief reference to regional initiatives for transparency and includes significant reference to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies—COCOM’s successor—which promotes transparency, consultation, and restraint.

In the most notable departure from the 1995 policy in this area, PPD-27 announces an absolute prohibition of certain U.S. arms transfers. Under the new policy, “the United States will not authorize any transfer if it has actual knowledge at the time of authorization that the transferred arms will be used to commit: genocide; crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949; serious violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949; attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians who are legally protected from attack or other war crimes as defined in 18 U.S.C. 2441,” the section of U.S. law that defines war crimes. This prohibition reflects a commitment to ensuring that U.S. arms are not knowingly provided to the world’s worst despots and human rights abusers.

The policy goes even further and specifically lists ways in which the United States can “exercise unilateral restraint” with regard to certain arms exports. Although such a statement existed in the past, PPD-27 provides the most comprehensive listing of these conditions and for the first time includes restraint “where the transfer of weapons raises concerns about undermining international peace and security, serious violations of human rights law, including serious acts of gender-based violence and serious acts of violence against women and children, serious violations of international humanitarian law, terrorism, transnational organized crime, or indiscriminate use.”

The final section of PPD-27 explains how the U.S. government will provide support for the export of U.S. arms. In addition to explaining the nuts and bolts of U.S. government support for potential weapons transfers, including overseas marketing efforts, participation in international air and trade exhibitions, and promotion of “important” U.S. transfers, the policy stresses the importance of security cooperation with allies and partners.

A focus on streamlined security cooperation is a new aspect of U.S. conventional arms transfer policy. PPD-27 says that the U.S. government “will take all available steps to hasten the ultimate provision of conventional arms and security assistance.” Such an approach is likely a response to criticism by the defense industry that license applications to close allies and partners often take too long to approve. Also, it reflects the U.S. emphasis on interoperability and burden sharing that has become more prevalent in the aftermath of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Real-World Impact

The new policy provides the opportunity for increased scrutiny over U.S. arms transfer decisions. Yet, within two weeks of the policy announcement, news reports revealed that the United States had begun arming “moderate” Syrian rebels in the south of the war-ravaged country. One can legitimately ask what human rights safeguards can be guaranteed when dealing with an insurgent force in a civil war in which both sides are known to have committed atrocities. Critics of the new policy maintain that the prohibitions allow too much ambiguity and allow national security interests to trump human rights.

Similarly, at the end of January, Congress approved the lease and sale of Apache helicopters to Iraq, a deal worth $4.8 billion,[11] after the Obama administration provided assurances to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who had opposed the sale due to human rights and national security concerns. As in the Syria case, critics wonder if the new policy will do anything to mitigate the risks of U.S. sales to parties in a civil war.

Over the last decade, U.S. national security concerns often have carried greater weight in arms sales decisions than comprehensive human rights considerations, and arms sales go forward with the knowledge that innocent civilians will likely pay the price. Although the policy was released in response to events surrounding the Arab Spring, it is unclear if the new policy will have a real-world impact on arms flowing to parties engaged in ongoing crises today and in the future. The United States has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to restraint when it considers arms sales to countries that are emerging from or in the midst of civil war or political uncertainty.

Future decisions on arms sales to Egypt will provide such a test case. In October 2013, the United States halted further sales of Apache helicopters to Egypt pending democratic reforms. In deciding whether to make future arms sales to Egypt or resume previously suspended sales, U.S. policymakers can weigh the Egyptian government’s fulfillment of democratic governance principles, such as the adoption of a constitution, the holding of a presidential election, and protection of human rights.

Global Norm Building

PPD-27 reaches beyond what the United States does domestically and tries to set an example for the rest of the world. In essence, the policy sets global norms—standards of behavior that other states accept and follow. The Obama administration came to office with a view that global partnerships were important and needed to be pursued, a very different approach from the Bush administration. Establishing global standards that fit U.S. priorities is a win-win situation for the United States, as the United States can fulfill its national priorities at the same time it strengthens the rules for other governments. That perspective is evident in PPD-27, which has, as its basic premise, support for legitimate security needs of U.S. allies in ways that promote U.S. national security and foreign policy priorities and encouragement of global arms transfer restraint.

The policy singles out certain multilateral forums, such as the Wassenaar Arrangement and the UN Register of Conventional Arms, and encourages other states to participate in regional and multilateral export control and transparency efforts. One global agreement, however, is conspicuously absent from the text of the policy document: the new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). In its section on restraint in arms transfers, PPD-27 borrows heavily from the ATT and uses some text from the treaty almost verbatim, but never refers by name to the ATT, which Secretary of State John Kerry signed in September 2013.

PPD-27 overtly includes the concepts and obligations from that treaty. Domestic political sensitivities, manifested in the widespread opposition to the ATT in the U.S. Senate, are likely behind the omission of any explicit reference to the treaty.

Although the inclusion of these concepts is most important, the exclusion of a reference to the ATT is a missed opportunity to demonstrate global leadership on promoting implementation of the ATT globally. It also potentially confuses international partners that are major treaty supporters about the U.S. commitment to the ATT because governments would assume that the United States, as a treaty signatory, would promote the ATT around the world, demonstrate treaty implementation, and move toward ratification. The United States will have to reassure allies that it remains committed to the treaty’s full implementation and universalization, even if it is domestically impossible to ratify the ATT. Still, PPD-27 should help the development of the growing international consensus that arms transfers should not put innocent civilians at risk. The adoption of these concepts—namely, that restraint is an important starting point for arms transfer decisions—demonstrates global norm building within the policy.

What Is Next?

PPD-27 is intended to take the guesswork out of the arms transfer decision process. The White House said that “[t]he new policy provides greater clarity and transparency with respect to U.S. goals for arms transfers and the criteria used to make arms transfer decisions. More specifically, it highlights the importance the United State places on key factors such as respect for human rights, international stability, homeland security, counter-terrorism, combatting transitional organized crime, and supporting nonproliferation.” Yet, that does not rule out the possibility of ill-advised transfers made in the name of national security, nor does it mean that arms sales will be guaranteed if they meet all the criteria outlined in the policy.

Moreover, questions about how the new policy intersects with the current export control reform process have been raised. Although the administration has stated that PPD-27 is consistent with the export control reform process, that process is still in the early stages of its implementation. Therefore, the true impact of the process on arms transfer decisions will not be evident in the short term. Only time will tell if the U.S. government will be willing to refuse to export newly license-free items that have potential human rights concerns.

It took 19 years, three presidents, a major shift in world powers, and a new paradigm for U.S. national security and foreign policy to update U.S. conventional arms transfer policy. PPD-27 is written in a way that allows it to maintain its relevance for many years to come. Although critics are skeptical that PPD-27 will change anything about the way the United States participates in the global arms trade, the commitment to adhere to the principles and values as laid out in PPD-27 may go a long way to establishing new global arms trade norms.



Rachel Stohl is a senior associate with the Managing Across Boundaries Initiative at the Stimson Center. She was the expert adviser to the United Nations on the negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty and is co-author of The International Arms Trade (2009). She is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.




1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Presidential Policy Directive—United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy,” January 15, 2014, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/15/presidential-policy-directive-united-states-conventional-arms-transfer-p (hereinafter PPD-27).

2. For a description of the 1995 directive, see Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Statement by the White House Press Secretary on Conventional Arms Transfer Policy,” February 17, 1995, http://clinton6.nara.gov/1995/02/1995-02-17-press-secretary-on-conventional-arms-transfer-policy.html (hereinafter 1995 statement on conventional arms transfer policy).

3. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Fact Sheet: U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy,” January 15, 2014, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/15/factsheet-us-conventional-arms-transfer-policy (hereinafter 2014 conventional arms transfer policy fact sheet).

4. U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), “Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales and Other Security Cooperation Historical Facts as of September 30, 2012,” n.d., p. 2, http://www.dsca.mil/sites/default/files/historical_facts_book_-_30_sep_2012.pdf.

5. 2014 conventional arms transfer policy fact sheet.

6. 1995 statement on conventional arms transfer policy.

7. PPD-27.

8. Ibid.

9. 2014 conventional arms transfer policy fact sheet.

10. Paul Holtom et al., “International Arms Transfers,” in SIPRI Yearbook 2013: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 241-247.

11. DSCA, “Iraq-AH-64E Apache Longbow Attack Helicopters,” January 27, 2014, http://www.dsca.mil/sites/default/files/mas/iraq_13-18.pdf.

The new U.S. policy on conventional arms transfers retains many elements from the previous policy, but better reflects the current threats faced by the United States and promotes U.S. and global restraint in arms transfers.

The Case for Zero Enrichment in Iran

Michael Singh

In the debate over sanctions on Iran—their role in bringing Tehran to the negotiating table and their proper place in U.S. diplomatic strategy in the future—scant attention has been paid to a major shift in the negotiating position of the P5+1, the group of six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that is negotiating with Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program.

No longer is the P5+1 demanding that Iran halt uranium enrichment. Indeed, in the November 24 first-step nuclear accord, the Joint Plan of Action,[1] the P5+1 all but concedes that Iran will be permitted to enrich in perpetuity. In separate comments that have quickly become conventional wisdom among Iran analysts, U.S. negotiators now characterize their previous position that Iran should halt enrichment as “maximalist.”[2] Although undoubtedly expedient, this shift away from a zero-enrichment negotiating position is misguided and unnecessary.[3]

The U.S. shift away from zero enrichment to limited enrichment represents a significant diplomatic victory for Iran. For the last decade, the position of the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK) and then the P5+1 had been that Iran must “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development.” This position was enshrined as an Iranian obligation in a series of UN Security Council resolutions.[4] Iran, however, asserted a “right to enrich” and refused to halt enrichment after resuming it when nuclear talks with the European Union broke down in 2005. This difference formed the core of the confrontation that subsequently developed between Iran and the allies.

Beginning in 2005, the United States, the EU, and others imposed onerous sanctions on Iran, effectively cutting the country off from the global financial system and sharply curtailing its oil revenues and other forms of trade. Nevertheless, it was not Iran but the P5+1 that flinched first. In October 2009, the allies proposed a fuel swap, under which Iran would ship low-enriched uranium out of the country in exchange for fuel plates for its Tehran Research Reactor, which uses uranium enriched to a higher level to produce medical isotopes. The proposal did not explicitly recognize Iran’s claimed right to enrich, but seemed to implicitly accept that Iran would continue enriching uranium to a low level of 5 percent or less. The November 24 joint plan represents the culmination of this shift.

Iran, which is a net exporter of fossil fuels and electricity, has insisted that it desires enrichment solely for peaceful purposes. The text of the joint plan indicates that Iran will be permitted a “mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs.” The notion that Iran has any practical need for enrichment, however, is a dubious one.

Iran is blessed with abundant resources of oil and natural gas, so much so that it was one of the world’s leading exporters of these fuels before the recent sanctions.[5] It provided refined fuel to domestic consumers at deeply subsidized rates, making Iranian per capita consumption of gasoline among the highest in the world.[6] Even if one puts this aside and accepts Tehran’s argument that it wants to diversify its energy supply for environmental and other reasons, enriching uranium makes little sense. Because importing fuel is much more economical, very few non-nuclear-weapon states enrich their own uranium.

Iran may claim that it does not want to import reactor fuel—although this is precisely what it does for the Bushehr reactor—so that it can ensure a secure supply. Because Iran has minimal uranium reserves, however, it would remain dependent on imports of natural uranium. Indeed, Iran’s two reported uranium mines together annually produce insufficient uranium for even a single 1,000-megawatt reactor.[7] As former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker and former Secretary of Defense William Perry recently observed, “Iran can never become self-sufficient” in its nuclear energy program.[8] Iran’s energy security would be far better served by reducing its reliance on imports of refined petroleum and natural gas and lowering domestic consumption.

A common argument is that Iran must retain an enrichment capability because the Iranian people demand it, or because Iran, having made a major investment in enrichment, needs to save face.[9] Although a recent poll indicated that 96 percent of Iranians believe that “maintaining the right to advance a nuclear program is worth the price being paid in economic sanctions and international isolation,” only 6 percent agreed that “continuing our nuclear enrichment program” is one of the top concerns they want the Iranian government to address.[10] Of far greater priority are issues such as economic recovery and increased employment. This suggests that the Iranian people would be open to compromises that provide economic relief while preserving Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program without specifically permitting enrichment.

In short, Iran has no “practical need” for uranium enrichment, unless its actual desire is to build or preserve the option to build a nuclear weapon. Indeed, the Iranian government has not even convinced its own people that its intentions are peaceful. The poll cited above finds that 55 percent of Iranians believe that Iran “has ambitions to produce nuclear weapons.”[11]

One might argue that even if Iran has no practical need for enrichment, the P5+1 shift from zero to limited enrichment is expedient because it eases the way to a diplomatic agreement while incurring little cost to the P5+1. This neglects the serious downsides of permitting enrichment in Iran.

First and foremost, allowing Iran to enrich complicates the task of verifying that Iran is not diverting ostensibly safeguarded material to a parallel, covert nuclear weapons program. If Iran is permitted to enrich, by implication it also will be permitted to mine, convert, and stockpile uranium. In addition, it will be permitted to manufacture centrifuges and possibly import centrifuge components and related materials. Under the joint plan, Iran is even permitted to continue to research and test advanced centrifuges. Such work could significantly shorten Iran’s breakout time if it abrogated the nuclear agreement or that agreement expired.

Verifying nondiversion at every point along this supply chain is a formidable task. If Iran were to agree to forgo enrichment entirely and instead import its reactor fuel, however, any of the above activities, if detected, would serve as an early warning of possible clandestine nuclear activities.

Allowing Iran to enrich raises questions about broader U.S. policy on enrichment. Washington has sought to contain the spread of this technology, given its dual-use nature. The United States held out as a “gold standard” the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement it signed with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2009, whereby the latter voluntarily agreed to forgo enrichment and reprocessing.[12] This was meant to be not only a signal to Iran, but also an effort to strengthen the nonproliferation regime globally, although the question of whether this standard should be applied universally is debated by nonproliferation experts.[13]

U.S. abandonment of its effort to require Iran to halt enrichment would not only threaten the agreement with the UAE, which, like Iran’s other regional rivals, would have an incentive to match Tehran’s capabilities, but undermine any effort to persuade countries to forgo enrichment and reprocessing, whether as the result of a legal or merely political commitment. In seeking to do so, Washington would be in the unenviable and perhaps unsustainable position of seeking to deny allies the technology it has permitted to a country that it views as an adversary and that has repeatedly violated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The likely result would be the spread of enrichment technology.

Finally, permitting Iran to enrich, especially in the context of an agreement that does not require Tehran to abandon support for terrorism or other destabilizing policies, will be seen as a defeat for Washington. At a time when U.S. influence in the Middle East is already at low ebb, the message to allies and adversaries alike would be one of diminishing U.S. will. The effect on the global nonproliferation regime would be the same: Iran will have successfully defied the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors and the UN Security Council after rejecting the legitimacy of both, sending the message that international nonproliferation obligations are malleable.

Zero enrichment is hardly a maximalist position; it entails offering Iran something it deeply needs (sanctions relief) in exchange for something it does not (enrichment). There was no tactical need for the P5+1 to walk away from zero enrichment. At a time when sanctions are having a significant impact on the Iranian economy, the P5+1 should allow the pressure of sanctions to work to full effect. Yielding on enrichment may hasten a nuclear agreement, but would threaten vital U.S. interests such as nonproliferation and regional stability.



Michael Singh is managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was senior director for Near East and North African affairs at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.



1. For the text of the joint plan, see http://eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2013/131124_03_en.pdf.

2. Wendy Sherman, “Reversing Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, October 3, 2014.

3. Other routes to development of a nuclear weapon, particularly through the use of plutonium rather than highly enriched uranium as the nuclear explosive material, are of equal concern. The joint plan, however, stipulates that Iran will not be permitted to have reprocessing capabilities, and therefore, the plutonium route is not a focus of this article.

4. For example, see UN Security Council, S/RES/1696, July 31, 2006.

5. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Iran Country Analysis Brief,” March 28, 2013, http://www.eia.gov/countries/analysisbriefs/Iran/iran.pdf.

6. See Charlie Szrom, “Structural Patronage in Iran,” American Enterprise Institute, 2010, http://www.irantracker.org/sites/default/files/pdf_upload/analysis/CTP_Structural_Patronage_Iran_Implications_Subsidies_Reform.pdf.

7. Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), “NuclearIran: Uranium Mining,” n.d., http://www.isisnucleariran.org/sites/detail/uranium-mining/. On the website Nuclearenergy.ir, Iran claims that the Saghand mine’s annual production will be 120,000 metric tons of uranium ore. See Nuclearenergy.ir, “Facilities,” n.d., http://nuclearenergy.ir/facilities/. By comparison, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimated that global production in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available, was 54,670 metric tons. ISIS, citing the IAEA, estimates that Saghand can produce 50 metric tons of uranium ore per year.

8. Siegfried Hecker and William J. Perry, “Iran’s Path to Nuclear Peace,” The New York Times, January 9, 2014.

9. See, for example, “Give Iran a Limited Right to Enrich,” Financial Times, October 20, 2013.

10. Zogby Research Services, “Iranian Attitudes,” September 2013, http://static.squarespace.com/static/52750dd3e4b08c252c723404/t/5294bfbee4b0303133d2fe5f/1385480126124/Iran%20October%202013%20FINAL.pdf.

11. Ibid.

12. For the text of the UAE agreement, see House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Arab Emirates, 111th Cong., 1st sess., H.Doc. 111-43, May 21, 2009. The term “gold standard” was first applied to the UAE agreement by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley in August 2010. See P.J. Crowley, transcript of daily press briefing, August 5, 2010, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2010/08/145750.htm.

13. Daniel Horner, “U.S. Policy on Nuclear Pacts Detailed,Arms Control Today, January/February 2014.

In the interim nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States concedes that Tehran may enrich uranium “consistent with practical needs.” But Iran has no practical civilian need for enrichment, and allowing it would be a mistake.

Crafting a Well-Rounded Nuclear Deal With Iran

George Perkovich

A final nuclear deal with Iran should meet the underlying objective of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions since 2006: “the establishment of international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”[1]

A final agreement could be codified and endorsed through a new resolution, which need not include all of the specific instrumental elements of past resolutions—for example, suspension of all uranium enrichment—if the council determines that the overall objective has been met. As the resolutions acknowledge, to be durable, such an agreement also must satisfy Iran’s interest in having a purely peaceful nuclear program free from sanctions.

The devilish challenge will be in the details. History will inform each party’s requirements. The six-country group that has been negotiating with Iran, the so-called P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), will remember that Iran secretly had, at least until 2003, what appeared to be a dedicated, multifaceted program to acquire capabilities to produce nuclear weapons. Iran still has not cooperated fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to clarify these activities and continues to expand sensitive fuel-cycle capabilities beyond any plausible civilian requirement. Iranian leaders, for their part, remember numerous episodes that reflect a U.S. determination to hasten an end to their regime.

The United States and its negotiating partners seem to have reached a general understanding regarding key components that should be included in a satisfactory deal. Iran must significantly constrain its activities related to uranium enrichment, revise plans to build a heavy-water reactor, resolve outstanding questions with the IAEA about Tehran’s past activities, and implement an additional protocol, which would strengthen and broaden the IAEA’s ability to carry out inspections in the country, and a modified version of Code 3.1 of its safeguards subsidiary arrangement, which would require Iran to provide design information as soon as decisions are made to construct a nuclear facility. The combination of these measures would help the IAEA conclude over time that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran and that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

This article highlights four measures that are considered less frequently but would help resolve the Iran crisis and prevent or redress similar crises in the future. It then suggests an initiative that competing factions in Washington should take to buttress confidence that the United States seriously seeks a diplomatic outcome.

Constraints on enrichment-related activities. The first issue pertains to the scale and character of enrichment-related activities. Negotiations thus far have established that if Iran is going to continue enriching uranium with international assent, the enrichment level must not exceed 5 percent. Thus, the more open question is the scale of enrichment, which involves the throughput capacity of the centrifuges.

Media reports suggest that the United States will pursue what is essentially a proliferation breakout criterion in limiting enrichment in Iran. As the Institute for Science and International Security has detailed, the aim would be to limit the quantity and quality of Iran’s centrifuges so that Iran’s enrichment would not exceed 3,600 separative work units per year.[2] This translates to less than 4,000 of its current-generation centrifuges, known as IR-1, or 900 of its next-generation IR-2 machines, which are under development.

A nonproliferation breakout criterion, however, overlooks important considerations. The strategic purpose of the negotiations is to affirm Iran’s commitment, restated in a November interim agreement with the P5+1, “that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.” To validate this commitment, Iran should agree to conform its nuclear program to the logic of a plausible economic development strategy rather than to the logic of nuclear weapons hedging.

Iran could manifest its peaceful intentions by pegging the scale and timing of its enrichment—beyond a small research and development (R&D)—effort to the actual requirements for fuel rods for civilian reactors that do not have foreign fuel suppliers. Because Iran’s current enrichment program exceeds such requirements, Tehran would have to scale it back significantly. Anything beyond R&D scale—for example, fueling a substitute for the Arak heavy-water reactor—would have to accord with realistic time frames for the need for fuel rods for reactors at stages of completion when fuel is normally provided in countries with purely civilian programs.

Iran’s existing power reactor at Bushehr is contractually required to be fueled by Russia for 10 years, and Russia is willing to extend the agreement. Construction of future power reactors by international suppliers or indigenous Iranian entities would take many years. Doubts about the safety and quality of fuel produced in Iran create liability and reputational imperatives for international constructors to insist on supplying fuel as part of any agreement or establishing a consortium with Iran to produce fuel of sufficient quality.

International experience indicates that indigenous production of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for reactors is decidedly uneconomical for the number of reactors that Iran could feasibly undertake to construct during the duration of a final agreement. Moreover, in the post-Fukushima world, safety considerations and public support for new nuclear plants militate in favor of nuclear cooperation with international vendors that offer state-of-the-art technology. Iran’s concerns that foreign fuel suppliers could be unreliable could be obviated by a UN Security Council endorsement of a final agreement with a specific assurance of fuel supply as long as Iran is complying with the agreement. The IAEA nuclear fuel bank could be specifically pledged as a further backup.[3]

Iran’s need for nuclear fuel for reactors under construction in the next 10 years or so could be tolerable from a breakout perspective. Requiring Iran to convert in a specified period its LEU into fuel rods designed specifically for these reactors (if there are any) would address the breakout problem insofar as Iran’s LEU would be in a form that would make conversion into highly enriched uranium more difficult, time consuming, and detectable. The additional infrastructure required to manufacture fuel and the cost of such manufacturing would add economic incentives for Iran to peg this capability to feasible requirements for the use of such fuel. Moreover, the requirement to keep the amount of fuel in line with near-term reactor needs would limit the amount of uranium hexafluoride Iran would enrich over the time of the envisioned comprehensive deal.

By structuring a final agreement around demonstrably practical requirements for a purely civilian nuclear program, this arrangement would provide a clearer test of Iran’s strategic purpose than would an approach predicated solely on breakout. Were Iran to reject such an approach or break an agreement based on it, the international community could be more readily mobilized to draw the proper conclusions about Iran’s intentions.

Irreversible safeguards. A desirable element to add to a final deal would be an Iranian commitment to put all of its nuclear facilities under irreversible safeguards.[4] Iran’s facilities currently fall under a so-called comprehensive safeguards agreement. This type of agreement, which is the standard one for nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) parties that are non-nuclear-weapon states, requires a country to place its nuclear facilities and materials under IAEA safeguards. Yet, this agreement applies only as long as Iran is party to the NPT.

Safeguards implemented under IAEA INFCIRC/66, however, apply for the “life” of given facilities and the materials derived from them even if a country withdraws from the NPT.[5] Confidence in Iran’s commitment to an exclusively peaceful nuclear program would be significantly enhanced if it applied INFCIRC/66 safeguards to all current and future facilities as a backup to the existing comprehensive safeguards agreement.

Circumscribed R&D. A final agreement should recognize that confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of a nuclear program cannot be strong if a state is conducting R&D and systems integration activities that bring it close to the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. The IAEA has long been concerned that Iran has conducted a number of such activities with “possible military dimensions.” A final agreement should require Iran to resolve these concerns. Based on past cases, this will take longer than one year, especially as Iran will be reluctant to concede having done weaponization-related work until it has confidence that a final agreement will satisfy its interests.[6]

No matter how these existing concerns are addressed, the P5+1 should obtain Iran’s commitment that henceforth it will not undertake any R&D activities oriented toward nuclear weapons. The annex of the IAEA’s November 2011 report on Iran’s nuclear program lists some of these activities, including acquisition of uranium metal and efforts to form uranium metal into a spherical shape, development and testing of multipoint explosive initiation to achieve spherical compression, and development, acquisition, and testing of neutron generators. A final agreement that specified categories of R&D and systems integration activities that are inconsistent with a purely peaceful nuclear program would simultaneously help resolve the Iranian case and prevent similar threats to international peace and security in the future.

Agreed Elements of a Final Nuclear Deal

Last November 24, Iran and six world powers reached an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program, which has caused discord between Iran and the international community for more than a decade. The agreement, known as the Joint Plan of Action, specifies initial steps the two sides are to take over a six-month period and outlines the terms of a comprehensive, long-term deal while invoking the principle that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.” The elements of the envisioned comprehensive deal include

  • agreeing on the duration of the accord;
  • reflecting the rights and obligations of all parties under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and of Iran under its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA);
  • lifting all UN Security Council, multilateral, and national sanctions on nuclear-related measures;
  • adopting mutually agreed parameters on Iran’s enrichment program for a specified time period;
  • resolving concerns about the Arak heavy-water reactor;
  • implementing monitoring and transparency measures, including Iran’s ratification and implementation of an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA;
  • cooperating on civil nuclear projects, including nuclear fuel and light-water power and research reactors;
  • and reaching agreement on research and development practices.

Adapted from “Key Features of the Iran Nuclear Deal,Arms Control Today, December 2013.

    Transparency and verification measures. The Iranian case provides a challenge and an opportunity to devise transparency and verification measures that would build international confidence that a state with ongoing fuel-cycle activities and R&D experience with possible applications for nuclear weaponization will nonetheless not produce nuclear weapons. The 1997 Model Additional Protocol was designed for less-challenging circumstances than those that are known to exist in Iran. Thus, more-extensive transparency and verification procedures will be required for some time in Iran, as in other cases where the IAEA has required additional cooperation to determine that no relevant undeclared activities were occurring. For example, if indications of R&D activities that historically have been associated with nuclear weaponization emerge in Iran, a joint commission like the one established under the interim agreement would need procedures for ascertaining the civilian purposes of such activities. Such procedures could serve as a useful model if circumstances like those in Iran arose in other states in the future.

    The foregoing are measures that Tehran could accept to bolster the international community’s confidence that “under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.” Iran also has concerns, which tend to be neglected by Western governments and experts. History makes Iranian leaders intensely skeptical that the United States will live up to its commitments. In particular, Iranian leaders doubt that they can rely on Washington to take all the steps necessary to remove pertinent sanctions on Iran at the national level and through the United Nations. Given that implementation of a final agreement would take place over several years, how can Iranians be assured that a future U.S. administration and Congress actually would lift sanctions?

    There are no easy answers to this question. Indeed, the question is not even being asked in Washington today, let alone answered. The current character of U.S. politics does not inspire confidence that bipartisan agreement could be reached and sustained to expeditiously provide sanctions relief reciprocal to Iran’s fulfillment of its part of any deal. The near future may or may not bring a more cooperative dynamic in the United States. Iran, as well as U.S. negotiating partners, will want greater clarity on Washington’s commitments. Perhaps the Obama administration and Congress, in private, could divert a fraction of the time and energy now spent debating whether to add sanctions on Iran to the more difficult challenge of figuring out how to cooperate in removing them if a final agreement is reached.

    George Perkovich is vice president for studies and director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


    1. See, for example, UN Security Council, S/2006/521, July 13, 2006.

    2. Institute for Science and International Security, “Defining Iranian Nuclear Programs in a Comprehensive Solution Under the Joint Plan of Action,” January 15, 2014, http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Elements_of_a_Comprehensive_Solution_20Jan2014_1.pdf.

    3. The low-enriched uranium fuel bank, which would be owned and managed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is intended to serve as a backup to other fuel supply mechanisms, such as the commercial fuel market and state-to-state transfers. The initiative does not diminish countries’ rights to establish or expand their own nuclear fuel production, but it does create an incentive for states to refrain from pursuing their own uranium-enrichment facilities. See IAEA, “Assurance of Supply for Nuclear Fuel,” September 4, 2012, http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/NE/NEFW/Assurance-of-Supply/iaea-leu-bank.html; Daniel Horner, “IAEA Board Approves Fuel Bank Plan,Arms Control Today, January/February 2011.

    4. I am indebted to my colleague Pierre Goldschmidt for making this recommendation.

    5. As long as Iran remains in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a facility-specific INFCIRC/66-type safeguards agreement would be subsumed by the comprehensive safeguards agreement at no cost to Iran or the IAEA. “INFCIRC” is short for “information circular,” a type of IAEA document.

    6. See Mark Hibbs, “Verification and the Iran Deal,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 7, 2014, http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/01/07/iran-iaea/gxoz.

    A final deal with Iran should constrain Tehran’s nuclear program, but also should reassure Iran that the United States would deliver on its side of any bargain.

    Congress Bans Funds for Arms Trade Pact

    Jefferson Morley

    Congress has barred the Obama administration from spending any money to implement the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was signed by Secretary of State John Kerry last September.

    The fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, signed into law by Obama on Jan. 17, says that none of the funds covered by the legislation “may be obligated or expended to implement the Arms Trade Treaty until the Senate approves a resolution of ratification for the Treaty.”

    “Congress is committed to upholding the fundamental individual rights of Americans and rejects the ATT,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a Jan. 14 statement. “We will not be bound by the treaty and we will not fund its implementation.”

    Moran and other opponents say the treaty compromises U.S. sovereignty and threatens rights guaranteed by the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

    Supporters say the ATT will regulate international trade in conventional weapons, enforce arms embargoes on rogue states, and ban the sale of weapons that might be used in human right abuses or organized crime. The treaty also calls for the establishment of national control systems to regulate trade in conventional arms, ammunition, and weapons parts. (See ACT, December 2013.)

    The treaty was approved by the UN General Assembly last April by a vote of 154-3. The only countries to vote against it were Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The treaty will enter into force when 50 states ratify it. To date, nine states have ratified it.

    The Obama administration has not announced when it will submit the ATT to the Senate, saying only that other previously signed treaties will come first.

    Congress has barred the Obama administration from spending any money to implement the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was signed by Secretary of State John Kerry last September.

    Germany Adhering to Arms Trade Treaty

    Jefferson Morley

    Germany announced in January that it had decided to apply the terms of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) provisionally in advance of formal ratification.

    In a Jan. 22 statement, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “We hope to persuade other states to follow suit, thus making the world a little bit safer.”

    Germany signed the treaty last June 3, when the pact was opened for signature. (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

    The statement specified that Germany would apply the ATT’s core provisions, Articles 6 and 7, which establish the criteria for evaluating arms export applications. Germany hopes to ratify the treaty later this year, the statement said.

    The ATT would regulate international trade in conventional weapons, from guns to tanks. It calls for the enforcement of arms embargoes and forbids the sale of weapons that could be used in genocide, in crimes against humanity, or by violent extremists or organized crime gangs. It also calls for the establishment of national control systems to regulate the trade in conventional arms, ammunition, and weapons parts.

    Germany has been a leading advocate of the ATT since the start of the negotiating process in 2006. It was the world’s third-largest arms exporter in 2012, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

    In April 2013, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the ATT. The treaty will enter into force when 50 countries have ratified it. To date, it has been signed by 116 counties and ratified by nine.

    Germany announced in January that it had decided to apply the terms of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) provisionally in advance of formal ratification.

    Activists Sentenced for Y-12 Break-in

    Timothy Farnsworth

    Three peace activists who broke into the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee were sentenced Feb. 18 to prison terms of 35 months to 62 months.

    In U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Megan Rice, an 84-year-old Catholic nun, received a sentence of two years and 11 months for her role in the break-in on July 28, 2012. The other two activists, 65-year-old Michael Walli of Washington and 58-year-old Gregory Boertje-Obed of Duluth, Minn., were each sentenced to five years and two months. All three were ordered by the court to pay $53,000 and will have three years of supervision after completing their prison time.

    The three activists were convicted last May 8 on charges of trespassing, defacing government property, and sabotage. They had pleaded not guilty. According to a 2012 article in The Denver Post, the defense lawyers for the three protesters claimed that it was only after their clients rejected a guilty plea that the prosecutors decided to charge them with the sabotage count, increasing the maximum prison term from one year to 20 years.

    According to news reports, the three activists, who call themselves “Transform Now Plowshares,” were able to breach the security fences, spill human blood, and paint biblical phrases on the facility that stores approximately 400 tons of highly enriched uranium. The protesters spent more than two hours behind the security fences before being arrested.

    The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), part of the Energy Department, is in charge of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including the Y-12 facility. After the break-in, Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman released a report outlining the security failures that allowed the break-in to happen, actions taken by the NNSA to improve security shortly after the break-in, and recommendations for further actions to better secure Y-12 and other facilities in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

    The break-in triggered sharp criticism from Congress. At a Sept. 12, 2012, hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said, “When an 82-year-old pacifist nun gets to the inner sanctum of our weapons complex, you cannot say, ‘Job well done.’” At the same hearing, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said, “The incident at Y-12 was unacceptable, and it served as an important wake-up call for our entire complex.”

    Three peace activists who broke into the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee were sentenced Feb. 18 to prison terms of 35 months to 62 months.

    Libya Finishes Destroying Mustard Agent

    Daniel Horner

    Libya has destroyed its last remaining stockpiles of sulfur mustard, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced in a Feb. 4 press release.

    With the completion of the effort, which was marked with a Feb. 4 press conference in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, Libya has destroyed the last of its declared material designated as “Category 1” under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). That category covers chemicals that pose the highest risk. The recently destroyed material was considered particularly important and sensitive because it had been loaded into munitions, which were destroyed along with the sulfur mustard.

    Under the regime of Moammar Gaddafi, Libya joined the CWC in 2004, declaring 24.7 metric tons of sulfur mustard, all of it in the form of bulk agent. It began destroying its stockpiles of sulfur mustard in October 2010 and was able to eliminate about 13.5 metric tons before a heating unit in the disposal facility broke down in February 2011. The breakdown came at about the same time as the beginning of the protests that ultimately toppled Gaddafi later that year.

    Shortly after coming to power, the new Libyan government declared additional quantities of items and material related to chemical weapons, including sulfur mustard. Unlike the previously declared stocks, the new ones were in “artillery projectiles and aerial bombs,” as the OPCW described it in the Feb. 4 release. That declaration brought the total of Category 1 material to 26.3 metric tons, according to the OPCW.

    After the disposal facility resumed operation last year, Libya completed destruction of the bulk mustard agent in May. At the Tripoli press conference, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz said the destruction of the more recently declared material was finished on Jan. 26, according to the OPCW press release.

    In comments posted on the OPCW website, Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü cited Canada, Germany, and the United States for their assistance to the Libyan effort. Representatives of those three countries joined Abdulaziz and Üzümcü at the Tripoli press conference.

    Canada provided 6 million Canadian dollars ($5.4 million) to rebuild infrastructure at the destruction site and fund various aspects of the operation, while Germany and the United States provided destruction equipment, Üzümcü said. The U.S. assistance also covered a range of other areas, including safety and security, and Washington has offered to continue providing technical assistance in destroying the remaining polymerized mustard agent in canisters, Üzümcü said. Polymerized mustard agent is toxic, but cannot be used to fill chemical weapons, he said.

    Libya has about 850 metric tons of Category 2 chemicals, about 60 percent of the declared quantity, that it still must destroy, Üzümcü said.

    Libya, along with Russia and the United States, was one of three declared possessors of chemical weapons that did not meet the CWC deadline of April 29, 2012, for destroying all of its arsenal. Syria, which now is in the process of destroying its chemical arsenal, was not a CWC party in 2012.

    At the time, Libya agreed on a schedule under which it would complete destruction of Category 2 material by 2016. (See ACT, June 2012.) Üzümcü said in his comments he was “confident” Libya could meet the schedule.

    Libya has destroyed its last remaining stockpiles of sulfur mustard, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced in a Feb. 4 press release.


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