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

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
April 2014
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
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Missile Defense Budget Holds Steady

Eric Auner

The recently unveiled budget for the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) focuses on restoring confidence in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system while keeping other aspects of the Obama administration’s ballistic missile defense plans moving forward. The administration’s missile defense budget request for fiscal year 2015 came in at $8.5 billion, including $7.5 billion for the MDA, representing a stable funding level compared to previous years despite cuts in other parts of the defense budget.

Congress appropriated $7.6 billion for the MDA for fiscal year 2014.

In the March 4 press conference announcing the budget, MDA Director Vice Adm. James Syring said that the MDA will invest approximately $100 million to “initiate the redesign” of the Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) kill vehicle, the part of the interceptor designed to seek out and destroy an incoming missile with a kinetic impact. A separate line item of around $26 million is devoted to “common kill vehicle technology,” which will be used to “breed the technologies and improvements” for the GBI kill vehicle and potentially other interceptors such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), Syring said.

The GMD system has not had a successful intercept test since 2008, and the two currently deployed versions of the GBI kill vehicle, the CE-I and CE-II, have failed to intercept targets in the three tests since then. Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said in recent remarks that the GBI system suffered from “bad engineering” due to an accelerated deployment schedule.

According to Syring, the MDA will resume intercept flight tests of the GMD system later this year.

The administration has a special interest in improving the performance of the GMD system after its decision in March of last year to cancel the SM-3 IIB interceptor, which was intended to supplement the GMD system as a means of defending U.S. territory from long-range missiles, and to deploy 14 additional interceptors in Alaska in response to concerns about the threat posed by North Korean missiles.

Syring confirmed that the MDA still plans to deploy the additional GBI missiles by 2017.

In a March 12 e-mail to Arms Control Today, George Lewis, a physicist who is a senior research associate at Cornell University’s Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, characterized the system’s current reliability as “quite low” and said that the test programs for other missile defense programs, such as Navy’s sea-based Aegis air and missile defense system, show “clearly” that the reliability of the GBI missiles “can be significantly improved.”

Lewis said, however, that the debate over the GMD system is not just about the ability of the interceptors to function as intended. “The fundamental technical dispute between GMD supporters and critics is whether or not it is even possible to build a system that can deal with possible countermeasures,” such as inflatable decoys that may be difficult to distinguish from nuclear warheads in the vacuum of space, he said. Even with a better kill vehicle and improved capabilities to discriminate between real missiles and countermeasures, “this will almost certainly remain in dispute,” he said.

Some lawmakers continue to call for the construction of an additional GMD site on the U.S. East Coast. The MDA is currently conducting an environmental impact study and evaluating a number of locations, but has not decided to move ahead with construction of the site.

The MDA is also continuing to invest in the Obama administration’s regional ballistic missile defense systems, especially the European Phased Adaptive Approach. In his March 4 remarks, Syring said the United States still plans to deploy land-based Aegis Ashore sites, which are currently under construction and which the U.S. Navy will operate, in Romania in 2015 and Poland in 2018. The budget request includes more than $700 million for Aegis-related procurement, including additional copies of existing SM-3 interceptor designs IA and IB. It also would provide $263 million specifically for development of the SM-3 IIA version.

The fiscal year 2015 budget request includes approximately $96.8 million for cooperative programs with Israel. Last year, the administration requested about the same amount, and Congress appropriated $283.8 million. Much of the spending so far has enabled Israel to buy additional batteries and interceptors for its Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which is not a ballistic missile defense system but is nevertheless funded through the MDA budget. The request designates $175 million for Israel’s procurement for the Iron Dome program, down from $220 million appropriated for fiscal year 2014. The United States is cooperatively developing and producing other systems with Israel, including the Arrow-2, Arrow-3, and David’s Sling interceptors and associated sensors and other assets.

Although the recent budget request generally represents a continuation of established policies, some in Congress have suggested that the administration should return to the George W. Bush administration’s missile defense plans in eastern Europe in reaction to Russian actions in Crimea. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a recent statement that President Barack Obama’s ballistic missile defense policies had “collapsed” and that the administration should “engage in a full re-assessment of our missile defense posture in Europe with the purpose of restoring or expanding the installations cancelled in 2009.”

The Missile Defense Agency’s budget focuses on restoring confidence in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system while keeping other aspects of U.S. missile defense plans moving forward.

UN Report: Enforce N. Korea Sanctions

Kelsey Davenport

UN member states should focus on significantly improving implementation of existing sanctions to slow North Korea’s prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs rather than passing new measures, a March 6 report to the UN Security Council recommended.

The report, written by a panel of experts authorized under UN Security Council Resolution 1874 in 2009, found that North Korea has developed “multiple and tiered circumvention techniques” to evade sanctions and continue work on the banned programs but that states have “adequate tools” to prevent Pyongyang’s illicit trafficking.

Together, Resolutions 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094 prohibit arms sales and transfers of nuclear and ballistic missile technology to North Korea, ban the sale of luxury items to Pyongyang, and give states broad authority to inspect North Korean cargo suspected of violating these measures if it passes through their territories. The mandate for the panel of experts includes assessing the effect of the sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and providing recommendations for better implementing restrictive measures on Pyongyang.

An incident last July involving a North Korean ship carrying Cuban weapons helped inform the panel’s recommendations, as it gave them “unrivalled insight” into the ways that Pyongyang circumvents sanctions, the report said.

Panama stopped the ship carrying Cuban weapons to North Korea on July 15, charging a violation of UN Security Council sanctions that prohibit transfers of arms to Pyongyang. (See ACT, September 2013.)

According to a July 16 statement by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the “obsolete defensive weaponry,” made in the Soviet Union, was being shipped to North Korea for repair.

After investigating the ship’s cargo, the panel found that the shipment violated UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting the “indirect supply, sale or transfer” of arms to North Korea. Under the resolutions, Pyongyang also is not permitted to provide “technical training, advice, services or assistance” related to the maintenance of weaponry, the panel said.

According to the report, the illegal cargo was hidden among bags of sugar and included two MiG aircraft, 15 MiG aircraft engines, components for surface-to air-missiles, ammunition, and “miscellaneous arms-related material.”

Panama acted in “full compliance with relevant resolutions” and “set a sound precedent for future interdictions,” the panel concluded.

One of the panel’s recommendations is to ask member states to verify the contents of any cargo originating from or bound for North Korea that passes through their ports or airports. The panel also requested that member states provide information on all cargo inspections, even if prohibited items are not found.

The report provided further details about additional sanctions violations, including shipments of materials that can be used for nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

One documented violation was a shipment of aluminum alloy rods from North Korea to Myanmar. Under the Security Council resolutions, North Korea is prohibited from exporting this type of aluminum alloy because of its uses in nuclear programs.

Japan seized the rods from a ship it inspected in August 2012 along with documents indicating that the rods had been shipped from North Korea via China. In January 2014, China provided the panel with confirmation that the rods originated in North Korea and were being sent to Myanmar, the report said.

In November 2012, when the seizure was made public, the Myanmar government denied knowledge of a deal with North Korea to obtain the rods and said that the country had no nuclear ambitions. (See ACT, December 2012.)

The panel said it has requested further information from Myanmar about the shipment.

The panel also released findings from its examination of the debris from North Korea’s space launch in December 2012. The launch took place at North Korea’s Sohae launch facility in the northwestern region of the country and used a three-stage, liquid-fueled rocket, the Unha-3, as the satellite launch vehicle. (See ACT, January/February 2013.) South Korea recovered debris from the rocket that fell into the ocean.

According to the report, the panel’s analysis of the debris found materials that could be traced back to China, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the former Soviet Union. Four countries provided information to the panel about the materials, nearly all of which are not sanctioned items, the report said.

The panel concluded that the acquisition of these materials indicates the limits of North Korea’s “industrial production capabilities” and its ability to “assemble complex systems” to obtain necessary components and continue its illicit programs.

North Korea is prohibited from launching satellites under Resolution 1718, passed in 2006, and Resolution 1874, passed in 2009, because the technology of a space-launch vehicle can be used in the development of ballistic missiles.

The report requested that the states that had yet to do so provide information about the foreign-origin materials used in the Unha-3 satellite launch.

UN member states should focus on improving implementation of existing sanctions on North Korea rather than passing new measures, a report to the UN Security Council said.

MOX Fuel Plant to Be Mothballed

Daniel Horner

The Energy Department announced last month that it has decided to mothball the facility that has been the centerpiece of its effort to get rid of plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program as the department reviews other options for that task.

In public comments by department officials and in budget documents for fiscal year 2015, the department said it was putting the facility into “cold standby,” meaning that work on the structure will be scaled back to activities such as protecting the facility and its equipment from the elements and keeping the site secure. Those activities would preserve the facility for some potential future use.

The facility is under construction by an Energy Department contractor at the department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. It is designed to turn the plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides—for use in nuclear power reactors.

Under an agreement that Russia and the United States signed in 2000, each country is required to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium. In the United States, that mission is the responsibility of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous unit of the Energy Department.

The NNSA budget request for fiscal year 2015 would provide $196 million for construction of the MOX fuel fabrication plant and another $25 million for other associated costs, down from $344 million and $40 million appropriated for the current fiscal year. Spending for Fissile Materials Disposition, the section of the NNSA budget that includes those expenditures, would drop from $526 million to $311 million.

During a March 4 conference call with reporters, Anne Harrington, NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, said the ongoing analysis of plutonium disposition options had not eliminated the current approach as an option. But keeping that approach would require the facility’s total life-cycle costs to decrease considerably, she said. Those costs are now estimated to be about $30 billion, according to the Energy Department.

Last year, the department said it was slowing down construction of the plant while it considered alternatives. (See ACT, May 2013.) The South Carolina congressional delegation, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), argued for an approach that would focus on trimming the costs of the MOX fuel fabrication plant.

Graham harshly criticized the budget request for the MOX fuel program, calling it “irresponsible and reckless.”

In its budget justification document, the Energy Department said that “the MOX fuel approach is not viable within available resources.” Its analysis has determined that this approach “is significantly more expensive than anticipated, even with consideration of potential contract restructuring and other improvements that have been made” to the project, the department said.

The estimated construction costs of the project have drifted upward over its lifetime. Under the most recent revision, made about two years ago, the projection is $7.7 billion, an increase of more than 50 percent over the previous estimate.

Harrington said the analysis of the alternatives to the MOX fuel approach would likely take another 12 to 18 months. She said the team was looking at other options for irradiating the plutonium in a reactor and options involving direct disposal of the material without first irradiating it in a reactor.

Work in Russia

With regard to the Russian work on plutonium disposition, the NNSA budget document said there had been “significant progress.” The United States is to provide some money to the Russian effort, but the assistance is tied to the completion of negotiations on a document setting out milestones for the Russian work. The NNSA budget document said that a contract is expected to be awarded during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The money for that assistance would come from unspent funds from previous years, the document said. The NNSA did not request any new funds for Russian plutonium disposition for fiscal year 2015.

The Obama administration prepared the budget request before the current crisis over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which the United States and other countries have declared illegal. It is not clear what effect, if any, the crisis will have on cooperation on plutonium disposition.

In a March 30 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a former Russian official said his impression was that the events in Ukraine would not affect the process. But once the United States decides what method of plutonium disposition it will use, the two sides might need to modify the 2000 agreement, he said.

Energy Department officials have repeatedly said they are committed to fulfilling the agreement.

Overall Drop

Due to in large part to the drop in the budget request for Fissile Materials Disposition, overall NNSA spending would decline by almost $400 million from the fiscal year 2014 appropriation. The request for the coming fiscal year is $1.6 billion.

Funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) would drop from $442 million in fiscal year 2014 to $333 million. The GTRI focuses on reducing the threat posed by vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials by better protecting them or reducing their quantities. According to the NNSA budget document, a major reason for the requested reduction is that President Barack Obama’s four-year initiative to secure the most vulnerable nuclear material by the end of 2013 “was successfully completed.” NNSA officials have said that the funding for the four-year effort was “front-loaded” into its earlier years.

The GTRI encompasses most of the work closely associated with the nuclear security summits, a process that Obama launched in conjunction with the four-year effort.

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, funding for International Material Protection and Cooperation would drop from a fiscal year 2014 appropriation of $420 million to $305 million for fiscal year 2015. Spending for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation R&D, which is responsible for research and development dealing with technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations, would fall to $361 million from its $399 million fiscal year 2014 appropriation.

The only part of the NNSA nonproliferation budget that would rise in fiscal year 2015 is Nonproliferation and International Security, whose portfolio includes nuclear safeguards and security. The request is $141 million, compared to the $129 million appropriation for the current fiscal year.

The Energy Department announced that it has decided to mothball the facility that has been the centerpiece of its effort to get rid of surplus U.S. weapons plutonium.

States Commit to Nuclear Rules at Summit

Kelsey Davenport

Thirty-five countries last month launched an initiative that they said bolsters their commitment to implementing existing international guidelines on nuclear security, in part by incorporating the “fundamentals” of the voluntary guidelines into binding national rules.

The initiative was announced at the March 24-25 nuclear security summit in The Hague, the third in the series of biennial meetings.

In a March 25 press conference in The Hague announcing the initiative, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the initiative is the “closest thing we have to international standards for nuclear security.”

The new initiative, called “Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation,” was sponsored by the hosts of the three summits—the Netherlands, South Korea, and the United States—ahead of the March summit and was open to all 53 participating countries to join. (See ACT, March 2014, Web Extra.)

According to the document outlining the initiative’s commitments, the aim is to “demonstrate progress made in improving nuclear security worldwide.” These recommendations could serve “as a role model” for transparent behavior worldwide, the document said.

The initiative commits participating states to meet or exceed recommendations on nuclear security outlined in a series of documents published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

At the March 25 press conference, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said that the initiative has two objectives: to “eliminate weak links” in the nuclear security and to “build confidence in nuclear security internationally.” By taking part in the initiative, the 35 countries have demonstrated their commitment to “continuous improvement,” he said.

The initiative’s roster includes all of the European and North American participants, as well as a range of others, such as Algeria, Israel, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam.

The 35 states pledged to conduct self-assessments; host periodic peer reviews, including IAEA reviews by the International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS); and implement the recommendations identified during the review process. This will allow them to “continue to improve the effectiveness of their nuclear security regimes and operators’ systems,” the document 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 country’s measures to protect nuclear materials and associated facilities. IPPAS missions can focus on a specific facility or review national practices.

The initiative requires states to ensure that the management and personnel responsible for nuclear security are “demonstrably competent” and includes a list of optional activities that states can take to further improve their nuclear security.

In a March 25 interview, Kenneth Brill, a former U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said that the initiative was a “useful step forward” for several reasons. It is important that states are agreeing on guidelines to follow for nuclear security and “implicitly recognizing international responsibility” for nuclear security. He also cited the commitment to voluntary peer reviews as a significant new development.

But there is “still a long way to go,” Brill said, adding that he would have liked to have seen China, India, Pakistan, and Russia sign join the initiative because India and Pakistan have growing stockpiles of fissile materials and China and Russia need to demonstrate leadership as recognized nuclear-weapon states with large stockpiles of materials.

In 2016, when the United States hosts the next summit, President Barack Obama must seize on the progress made at this summit and “take it to a new level,” Brill said.

Nuclear security must be “sustainable” and have “agreed-on mechanisms for going forward in the coming years,” he said. This includes legally binding nuclear security regulations and “mechanisms to assist states that need help in meeting them,” Brill said.

Array of Actions

The consensus communiqué issued by the summit’s 53 participants laid out a number of actions for states to take to improve nuclear security, but the recommendations are nonbinding.

States were encouraged to ratify the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The convention, which entered into force in 1987, sets security standards for nuclear material in transit. The 2005 amendment would expand the scope of the physical protection measures to cover material in storage.

An additional 26 ratifications are necessary to reach the 98 necessary for bringing the amendment into force. The United States and South Korea are among the 17 summit participants that have not yet completed ratification.

Although entry into force of the 2005 amendment will set binding legal standards for nuclear materials in storage, “two key gaps” will remain, Jonathan Herbach, a researcher in nuclear security and arms control law at Utrecht University’s Centre for Conflict and Security Law, said in a March 24 interview. He said the amendment covers only part of the world’s stockpiles of nuclear material because military materials are not included. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 85 percent of the world’s nuclear materials are military stockpiles.

The 2005 amendment also does not address radiological sources. These sources, he said, are “more easily obtainable” and require “less technical expertise to use in an explosive device” than nuclear materials.

The CPPNM also does not provide a mechanism for expansion to cover additional areas, such as military materials, he said.

The communiqué identified voluntary measures that countries could take to demonstrate to the international community that they are implementing sound nuclear security practices without compromising national security. These measures, also known as assurances, include “publishing information about national laws, regulations and organisational structures,” the communiqué said. The measures in the communiqué also include “further developing training of personnel involved in nuclear security by setting up and stimulating participation in training courses and applying domestic certification schemes,” as well as exchanging information on good practices.

One of these voluntary measures is to invite the IPPAS reviews, but there are concerns by experts and summit participants that the IAEA may not have the capacity to handle an increased volume of IPPAS missions.

Bart Dal, former national coordinator for nuclear security and safeguards in the Netherlands, said in a March 24 interview that the size of the IAEA budget and staff is “just one” of the factors that needs to be considered. Dal, who has participated as an expert on IPPAS missions, said that countries need to “continue training experts in physical protection” for the teams that carry out these missions.

IPPAS teams are comprised of experts from member countries.

Implementing the recommendations from IPPAS missions is voluntary, but there is “no example of a country that did not follow up on the recommendations” in all of the missions that have taken place, Dal said.

Materials Removed

The communiqué encouraged states to take actions to minimize their stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and keep stockpiles of plutonium “to a minimum level.”

Several countries announced progress on eliminating weapons-usable materials and pledged to continue efforts to reduce their stockpiles of those materials. Currently, 25 countries possess HEU or separated plutonium, 21 of which participate in the summit process.

Two of those countries, Japan and the United States, announced in a March 24 joint statement that the United States would take back more than 700 kilograms of HEU and plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly facility in Japan. In the United States, the HEU will be down-blended into low-enriched uranium and used for civilian purposes, the joint statement said. The plutonium will be “prepared for final disposition” in the United States, the announcement said.

In other announcements at last month’s summit, Belgium and Italy each issued a joint statement with the United States saying it had completed the return of HEU and plutonium to the United States, fulfilling pledges made at the 2012 summit in Seoul. The United States will secure the materials and dispose of them, the statements said.

Italy, in an effort that also involved the IAEA and the United Kingdom, returned about 20 kilograms of HEU and plutonium. The cooperation included the “development of novel packaging configurations for the consolidation of plutonium materials within Italy, and the training and certification of personnel for specialized packaging operations” in Italy, according to the U.S.-Italian joint statement. The statement also said that the two countries would work together to eliminate additional stockpiles of these materials from Italy.

The U.S.-Belgian statement did not specify the amount of HEU that Belgium returned, saying only that it was “significant.” The two countries will work together to dispose of more material, their joint statement said.

Canada also announced on March 24 that it had returned about 45 kilograms of HEU to the United States.

At the summit, 13 countries issued a joint statement proclaiming themselves free of HEU. The majority of the countries have eliminated their stockpiles since Obama began the effort to secure nuclear materials in 2009. The list of countries includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Vietnam, all of which got rid of their stockpiles in 2013.

After 2016

It is unclear if the summit process will continue beyond the summit that the United States will host in 2016. U.S. officials have said in the past that the summit process was never meant to be a permanent institution.

In a March 25 statement, Irma Arguello, president of the Argentina-based NPSGlobal Foundation, said that, at the 2016 summit, “leaders must lay the foundation for an efficient, adaptable, inclusive, and harmonized nuclear security system” that can become “the enduring legacy of the process.”

In the Hague communiqué, countries agreed that their representatives will “continue to participate in different international forums dealing with nuclear security” because “continuous efforts” are needed to strengthen international nuclear security. The document recognized that the IAEA will play the “leading role” in the coordination of these efforts, but did not rule out future summits or indicate any successor organization.

Kelsey Davenport’s reporting from The Hague was supported by a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America.

Thirty-five countries launched an initiative that they said bolsters their commitment to implementing existing international guidelines on nuclear security.

Gottemoeller Confirmed by Senate

Tom Z. Collina

In the face of accusations that the administration had withheld information from Congress on possible Russian violations of an arms treaty, the Senate on March 6 voted to confirm President Barack Obama’s choice to be his top arms control official.

Rose Gottemoeller, first nominated in September 2012 to replace Ellen Tauscher as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, had been serving as acting undersecretary and as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance. She was the main U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which the Senate approved in December 2010.

The Senate approved Gottemoeller’s nomination by a nearly party-line vote, 58-42, with the support of 50 Democrats, six Republicans, and two independents. Three Democrats and 39 Republicans were opposed.

The Republicans voting for Gottemoeller were Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). The Democrats opposing her were Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and John Walsh (Mont.).

After being approved twice by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, once last October and again in February, Gottemoeller’s nomination was held up by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others over concerns that the administration had dragged its feet in informing them about Russia’s possible violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (See ACT, March 2014.)

In a Feb. 28 statement, Rubio and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and James Risch (R-Idaho) accused Gottemoeller of “failing to quickly pursue evidence of Russia’s [non]compliance with multiple arms control agreements and her delay in making the Senate aware of these violations.”

The three senators also said they were “frustrated” that the administration did not make a written commitment that “any future U.S. nuclear reductions would be carried out only through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate” and not by unilateral or other means that did not involve a treaty, such as reciprocal reductions carried out by the United States and Russia in 1991.

At Gottemoeller’s confirmation hearing Sept. 26, Rubio pressed her on the issue of unilateral cuts. Gottemoeller replied that the administration had already begun to pursue an arms control treaty with Russia, a process she described as “a difficult slog.” She said that “unilateral reductions are not on the table,” but did not rule them out in the future. (See ACT, November 2013.)

The administration is still seeking Senate confirmation of other senior officials for positions dealing with nuclear weapons policy, including Adam Scheinman, currently senior adviser to the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, to be special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation; Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, to take Gottemoeller’s assistant secretary position; Frank Klotz, former commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, to be head of the National Nuclear Security Administration; and Brian McKeon, staff director of the National Security Council, to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.

These nominees have been approved by the relevant Senate committees except for McKeon, who was grilled on the INF Treaty issue during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25. Because he was one of the administration’s main liaisons with the Senate during the New START ratification debate in December 2010, some senators asked him why the issue was not brought to their attention at that time.

McKeon testified that U.S. intelligence agencies might have “flagged” the possible INF Treaty violation “literally the day before” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on New START on Sept. 16, 2010. “I believe...that the [intelligence community] and the executive branch were committed to providing timely information about potential concerns,” McKeon said.

McKeon, blaming bureaucracy for the delay, said that “[o]ne of the great joys of working in the executive branch as opposed to the legislative branch is you get to coordinate your letters with about 50 people. And the clearance process took longer than I would have liked.”

Not satisfied with that response, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote a March 6 letter asking Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) not to approve McKeon until he provides additional information on the issue.

Ayotte and Wicker wrote that they were “convinced” that “the administration did not inform the Senate, as was its obligation, of a potential material breach of one arms control treaty while asking for the ratification of another.”

Despite concerns that the Obama administration had withheld information on possible Russian treaty violations, the Senate voted in March to confirm Rose Gottemoeller as Obama’s top arms control official.

Syria Steps Up Removal of Chemicals

Daniel Horner

Syria has picked up the pace in removing its chemical weapons materials for overseas destruction and has sent about half of its stockpile out of the country, according to figures in a March 20 press release from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Syria had been under broad international pressure to speed up the effort. By the end of February, it had made four shipments, removing about 5 percent of its so-called Priority 1 chemicals and about 20 percent of the Priority 2 chemicals. Citing those figures, Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, had accused Syria of “continu[ing] to drag its feet.” (See ACT, March 2014.)

Under a schedule set last November by the OPCW Executive Council, the Priority 1 materials were supposed to leave the country by Dec. 31. All other materials that are part of the overseas destruction program were to leave by Feb. 5. The rest of the approximately 1,300 metric tons of chemical agents that Syria declared is to be destroyed within the country.

The removal dates were set with an eye to a June 30 deadline for destruction of the chemical agents, which was established last September by the Executive Council and the UN Security Council. (See ACT, October 2013.)

According to the OPCW press release, more than one-third of the Priority 1 chemicals and more than 80 percent of the Priority 2 chemicals have been removed. Among the removed Priority 1 chemicals was all of the sulfur mustard that Syria had declared. It accounted for only about 20 metric tons, but, as the OPCW press release noted, it was the only unitary chemical warfare agent in Syria’s declared arsenal. That means it was the only element of the arsenal that did not have to be combined with other chemical components to be weapons usable.

The quickened pace of chemical removal came as Syria agreed in early March to a timetable that would bring all of the chemicals out of the country by late April.

Commenting on the March series of shipments, Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of the joint mission of the OPCW and the United Nations to oversee the Syrian chemical removal and destruction effort, said in a March 20 statement that the joint mission “welcomes the momentum attained and encourages the Syrian Arab Republic to sustain the current pace.”

Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, also noted the removal of half of the Syrian chemicals, but said “that’s not good enough.” The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “has all the equipment it needs and has run out of excuses,” Countryman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 26.

Syria is responsible for collecting the chemicals from sites across the country and bringing them to its Mediterranean port of Latakia. From there, an international convoy takes them away from Syria. Most of the Priority 1 chemicals eventually will be transferred to the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. vessel carrying two mobile units that will neutralize the chemicals while the ship is in international waters.

The rest of the Priority 1 chemicals are to be incinerated at a facility in the United Kingdom. The Priority 2 chemicals are to be destroyed at facilities in Finland and the United States under contracts that the OPCW awarded in February.

With regard to the schedule for destruction, Countryman said, “The international community continues to work toward the June 30 target date for the complete elimination of the program. While Syrian delays have placed that timeline in some danger, we continue to believe that [it] remain[s] achievable.”

The developments in Syria have taken place against the backdrop of the crisis in Ukraine, which has pitted Russia against the United States and Europe. Because Russia, as a major ally of Syria, has a key role in the chemical disarmament effort, some observers have wondered about the effect of the Ukraine crisis on the removal and destruction operation in Syria.

In response to a question on that point at a March 20 briefing, a senior Obama administration official said that Russia is “deeply invested” in the Syria project because of “Russia’s own interest in seeing these weapons destroyed.”

A Russian official seemed to confirm that view in a March 31 e-mail to Arms Control Today. “As regards Russia’s position on elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, it remains without change: we actively contribute in various forms towards its early conclusion,” the official said. Russia’s involvement “is not a bargaining chip” in the country’s relationship with the United States and NATO, “but a practical manifestation of [Russia’s] support for Syria and multilateral institutions such as the OPCW and the UN,” he said.

The plan for Syrian chemical disarmament is based on a framework agreement negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last September.

Syria has picked up the pace in removing its chemical weapons materials for overseas destruction and has sent about half of its stockpile out of the country, according to figures in a March 20 press release from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Arms Checks Unaffected by Ukraine Crisis

Daryl G. Kimball

Although the widening confrontation over the political future of the Crimean peninsula and other parts of the former Soviet Union has ruptured already-strained relations between Moscow and the West and put at risk the implementation of some nuclear risk-reduction initiatives and agreements, Russia is not planning to stop allowing the on-site inspections required under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), Russian officials said last month.

To protest Russia’s actions to take control of Crimea, the seven non-Russian members of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries have suspended Russia’s membership in the group. As part of that decision, the seven countries—Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—changed the location of their planned June summit from Sochi to Brussels. The Russian actions in Crimea have disrupted planning for the activities of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, which the G-8 launched in 2002.

Less than a week into the crisis, on March 8, unnamed Russian Defense Ministry officials told RIA Novosti and other Russian media outlets that Moscow was prepared to suspend receiving inspection teams as required under New START because “groundless threats to Russia from the U.S. and NATO regarding its Ukrainian policy are considered by us as an unfriendly gesture and allow us to declare a force majeure.”

According to the protocol to New START, the only basis for the cancellation of inspections is “circumstances brought about by force majeure,” an unexpected event that is beyond the control of the inspected party.

Antony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said on NBC’s Meet the Press on March 9 that ceasing inspections as required by New START would be “a serious development.”

On March 12, however, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told reporters in Moscow that Russia did not plan to suspend inspections under New START and other treaties due to tensions over Ukraine. “We intend to continue to fulfill [our] international obligations and to continue the practice of voluntary transparency in the extent to which it will respond to our interests,” Antonov said. “This applies fully to the START Treaty and the Vienna Document 2011,” he said. The Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures is a politically binding agreement that allows for information exchanges and visits designed to increase openness and transparency with regard to military activities in the participating states.

In a March 14 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official reinforced Antonov’s statement, saying that “inspection activities in Russia continue in [a] regular and unhindered way.” He cited a Feb. 25-March 1 New START inspection at one of the Russian bases for intercontinental ballistic missiles and Russia’s green light for a Ukrainian aircraft to overfly Russian territory as part of an observation mission under the Open Skies Treaty.

New START allows the United States and Russia to conduct as many as 18 on-site inspections annually, with the tally starting on Feb. 5 of each year. In the current period, the two sides have conducted one inspection apiece; more are planned. As of March 14, each side had conducted 56 inspections under New START since 2011. An inspection in the United States and another in Russia were completed in late March, according to U.S. government sources.

Russia’s willingness to meet its New START obligations may be tested in the coming weeks as Western governments impose increasingly tough sanctions on key Russian officials and commercial entities in response to Russia’s ongoing military occupation and March 18 annexation of Crimea.

The current crisis erupted after weeks of political unrest and protests in Kiev over the decision by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych to reject a proposed Ukrainian-EU association agreement opposed by Moscow. Following the violent crackdown on protests and the abrupt departure of Yanukovych on Feb. 21, opposition parliamentary leaders and some former Yanukovych supporters moved to form an interim government.

Days later, Russian troops took control of Crimea. On March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia’s actions were taken at the request of Yanukovych and ethnic Russians in Ukraine concerned about the new leadership in Kiev. On March 16, over the protests of the acting government in Kiev, the UN Security Council, and Western governments, the Crimean regional government held a hastily arranged referendum on joining Russia, and on March 18, Russia declared the annexation of Crimea.

The United States, the UK, and Ukraine have called the actions a blatant violation of international law and the security assurances established in the 1994 Budapest memorandum, in which Russia, the UK, and the United States pledged to “refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” Those security assurances were a key factor leading to Ukraine’s decision to remove the sizable nuclear weapons arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union, join the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and become a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear-weapon state.

But in his March 14 e-mail, the Russian Foreign Ministry official said that “the security assurances were given to the legitimate government of Ukraine but not to the forces that came to power following the coup d’etat” in Kiev.

Ukrainian officials vehemently disagree with that interpretation of the Budapest memorandum. On March 3, Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, told an emergency session of the Security Council that Russia is “obliged to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. In this regard, I want to underline that, by this aggression, the Russian Federation is undermining the NPT regime.”

Addressing representatives from 53 countries at the nuclear security summit in The Hague on March 24, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “the credibility of the assurances given to Ukraine in the Budapest memorandum of 1994 has been seriously undermined by recent events.”

“The implications are profound, both for regional security and the integrity of the nuclear nonproliferation regime,” he said. But he added, “This should not serve as an excuse to pursue nuclear weapons, which will only increase insecurity and isolation.”

On March 25, the United States and Ukraine issued a joint statement at the nuclear security summit pledging ongoing cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and security. In the statement, the United States condemned “Russia’s failure to abide by its commitments” under the Budapest memorandum.

Russia’s “unilateral military actions in Ukraine undermine the foundation of the global security architecture and endanger European peace and security,” the joint statement charged.

U.S. Nuclear Arms Spending Set to Rise

Tom Z. Collina

Despite pressure to reduce military budgets, the Obama administration is planning to increase spending significantly to modernize nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and to maintain nuclear warheads in the decades ahead, according to budget documents released in March.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified before the House Armed Services Committee on March 6 that “tough, tough choices are coming” if the Pentagon is forced to make deep spending cuts as required by law. The services are considering cutting 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers and retiring an aircraft carrier, among other money-saving steps.

But the Pentagon is not proposing to scale back its highest-priority nuclear modernization programs. The Pentagon’s proposed $496 billion budget for fiscal year 2015, released March 4, would “preserve all three legs of the nuclear triad,” Hagel said, and includes hefty down payments for new delivery systems. The nuclear warhead programs, overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous unit of the Energy Department, also would get a budget increase. The administration would pay for these increases in part by cuts to some lower-priority programs.

Submarines, Bombers, and Missiles

The Defense Department is just beginning a decades-long effort to modernize the triad of long-range nuclear delivery systems, which includes submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles. These programs are in the early stages of development and will see major cost growth as they move into the production phase over the next 10 to 20 years.

The highest-priority and most costly program is the Navy’s plan to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class strategic submarines with 12 new subs, called the SSBN(X). Under the administration’s request, the program would receive $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2015, an increase of $190 million, or 11 percent, over the fiscal year 2014 appropriation. The 12-sub fleet would cost about $100 billion to produce, with the first boat entering service in 2031. To afford the SSBN(X), the Navy is seeking an infusion of $60 billion over 15 years from outside its budget. It is not clear where this money will be found. (See ACT, October 2013.)

The Air Force is seeking to build as many as 100 new strategic bombers under a program that would get $914 million in fiscal year 2015, an increase of $554 million, or 150 percent, from the fiscal year 2014 appropriation. The Air Force plans to spend $11.4 billion on the program over the next five years, and the fleet would cost up to $80 billion to build.

The Air Force also wants a new air-launched cruise missile and possibly a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The program to develop the cruise missile, which would be carried by the new bomber, is one area where funding would be reduced. It would get $5 million in fiscal year 2015, the same amount that Congress provided in 2014, but the start of hardware development was delayed from 2015 to 2018, which would push it into the next administration. Because of the delay, the projected spending for the next five years has dropped sharply, from $1 billion to $221 million.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on March 5 that the Defense Department deferred the cruise missile program last December “due to concerns over [the NNSA’s] funding profile for the associated warhead” and the need to address other funding priorities such as the tail kit assembly for the B61 gravity bomb.

The Air Force is building a new tail kit for the refurbished B61, which would make the bomb more accurate. The Air Force is requesting $198 million for the tail kit, a five-fold increase of $165 million over fiscal year 2014. The tail kit will cost an estimated $1.1 billion to build.

The Air Force is still deciding what to do about its aging Minuteman III ICBMs. A decision is expected in June whether to extend the life of the current missile or replace it with a new one, either silo based or mobile. A recent RAND Corp. study recommended upgrading the current missile, which it found to be “a relatively inexpensive way to retain current ICBM capabilities.” The study authors said that a new missile would not be needed unless new military requirements emerged that were “beyond what an incrementally modernized Minuteman III can offer.”

Warheads Get a Boost

Nuclear warhead maintenance and infrastructure, funded by the NNSA, would receive $8.3 billion in fiscal year 2015, which is $534 million, or 6.9 percent, above the fiscal year 2014 appropriation. The NNSA plans to spend $45.7 billion on nuclear weapons over the next five years, an average of more than $9 billion per year.

The NNSA weapons budget would increase spending to rebuild the B61 gravity bomb, but cut funding for other projects.

The B61 life extension program (LEP) would refurbish about 400 of the gravity bombs that are used on long-range bombers in the United States and tactical fighter aircraft in Europe. The program would be funded at $643 million for fiscal year 2015, an increase of $106 million, or 20 percent, over fiscal year 2014.

Cost overruns have made the program controversial in the Senate, which last year provided only two-thirds of what the administration requested. But the fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, passed in January after House-Senate negotiations, provided the full amount. (See ACT, March 2014.) The fiscal year 2015 budget request delays first production of the rebuilt bomb by one year, from 2019 to 2020. The program would receive $3.4 billion over the next five years and cost a total of $8-10 billion to build.

The nuclear weapons budget would zero out initial funding for a new program to rebuild four other warhead types in the arsenal. Called the “3+2” plan, this program would develop “interoperable” warheads that could be used on more than one delivery system, at an estimated cost of about $14 billion per warhead type over 25 years. (See ACT, September 2013.)

The first interoperable warhead, called the IW-1, would have replaced the land-based W78 and sea-based W88 warheads and would have been used on ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. But the proposed budget provides no money for this program, which is receiving $38 million in fiscal year 2014, and no money for the next five years. According to the NNSA, the IW-1 would have cost $14 billion to produce.

Similarly, the NNSA has delayed developing a $12 billion warhead for the Air Force’s new cruise missile by three years. Although this warhead would get just $9 million in fiscal year 2015, the program to build it is projected to ramp up and receive $482 million over the next five years.

The NNSA has not yet decided which warhead to use on the new cruise missile. In November 2013, according to NNSA budget documents, the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint NNSA-Pentagon working group, “eliminated the B61 as an option” to be the cruise missile warhead and is now developing variations of the W80 and W84 “for further consideration.” The W80 is used on the current air-launched cruise missile, slated for retirement in 2030, and the W84 was used on the ground-launched cruise missile, which was removed from Europe under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The ground-launched missiles were dismantled, but the warheads were stored.

Arms Control After the Ukraine Crisis

Daryl G. Kimball

The global nuclear disarmament and risk reduction enterprise is at a crossroads as U.S.-Russian relations have reached perhaps their lowest point in more than a quarter century. Nevertheless, it remains in U.S. and Russian interests to implement existing nuclear risk reduction agreements and pursue practical, low-risk steps to lower tensions. Present circumstances demand new approaches to resolve stubborn challenges to deeper nuclear cuts and the establishment of a new framework to address Euro-Atlantic security issues.

Even before the recent political turmoil in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s extralegal occupation and annexation of Crimea, relations between Moscow and Washington were chilly. Despite U.S. adjustments to its missile defense plans in Europe that eliminate any threat to Russian strategic missiles, Putin rebuffed U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposal last June to reduce U.S. and Russian strategic stockpiles by one-third below the ceilings set by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Moving forward will be difficult, but doing nothing is not an option. Through earlier crises during and after the Cold War, U.S. and Russian leaders pursued effective arms control and disarmament initiatives that increased mutual security and significantly reduced the nuclear danger. Much has been achieved, albeit too slowly, but there is far more to be done.

As the world’s non-nuclear-weapon states persuasively argue, U.S. and Russian stockpiles still far exceed any plausible deterrence requirements, and the use of just a few nuclear weapons by any country would have catastrophic global consequences. As the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference approaches, pressure to accelerate action on disarmament will only grow.

For now, neither Russia nor the United States wants to scrap the existing arms control regime, including New START and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which provide greater predictability and stability in an otherwise strained bilateral relationship. A return to a period of unconstrained strategic nuclear competition would not only deepen the distrust and increase dangers for both sides, but also would undermine the NPT. Scrapping the existing nuclear risk reduction measures would do nothing to protect Ukraine from further Russian aggression or reassure nervous NATO allies.

Unfortunately, the profound tensions over Ukraine delay the possibility of any formal, bilateral talks on nuclear arms reductions and missile defense. In light of these realities, Obama and other key leaders must explore alternative options to reduce global nuclear dangers and defuse U.S.-Russian strategic tensions.

Accelerate New START reductions. As a 2012 report by the U.S. secretary of state’s International Security Advisory Board suggests, with New START verification tools in place, further nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty. Obama, the report suggests, could announce he will accelerate the pace of reductions under New START. As long as Russia remains below New START limits, he could also move U.S. force levels well below the treaty’s ceiling of 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 strategic launchers, to 1,100 warheads and 500 launchers. Such an initiative could induce Moscow to build down rather than build up to U.S. strategic force levels, which currently exceed Russia’s by more than 275 deployed strategic launchers.

Cap the arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states. Continued progress in cutting bloated U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, which still comprise more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear stockpiles, is possible and necessary, but other countries must do their part. As a first step, other nuclear-armed states, beginning with China, should pledge not to increase the overall size of their growing nuclear weapons and missile stockpiles as long as U.S. and Russian reductions continue. Such an effort must involve states outside the NPT, specifically India and Pakistan, which continue to expand their stocks of nuclear weapons material and their holdings of nuclear weapons.

Ban certain nuclear delivery systems. In 2007 the United States and Russia together called for the globalization of the INF Treaty, which bans ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, in part to curb missile buildups by China, India, Pakistan, and others. Today, the United States and Russia could renew and expand the concept by seeking a global phaseout of all nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

The United States no longer has nuclear-armed ground- or sea-launched cruise missiles and does not need new cruise missiles to maintain the bomber leg of the nuclear triad. This would allow both states to forgo expensive modernization programs for nuclear-armed cruise missiles and help to head off dangerous nuclear escalation elsewhere around the globe.

As Obama said last year, “[S]o long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe. Complacency is not in the character of great nations.” In the coming months and years, creative, bold approaches will be needed to overcome old and new obstacles to the long-running effort to reduce nuclear dangers.

The global nuclear disarmament and risk reduction enterprise is at a crossroads as U.S.-Russian relations have reached perhaps their lowest point in more than a quarter century. Nevertheless, it remains in U.S. and Russian interests to implement existing nuclear risk reduction agreements and pursue practical, low-risk steps to lower tensions. Present circumstances demand new approaches to resolve stubborn challenges to deeper nuclear cuts and the establishment of a new framework to address Euro-Atlantic security issues.


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