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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
June 2015
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Cover Image: 

UK Election Results Protect Trident

June 2015

By Jefferson Morley

The victory of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party in the United Kingdom’s May 8 parliamentary election will protect the country’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent from disarmament advocates hoping to curb or eliminate it, analysts say.

The Conservatives, committed to modernizing the country’s nuclear force, won an absolute majority of the 650-seat House of Commons, meaning Cameron’s government will not have to govern in coalition with the Liberal Democratic party. Liberal Democrats, who lost 49 seats, have called for scaling back the proposed replacement of the four Vanguard-class subs, which are armed with Trident missiles carrying a total of 120 nuclear warheads. (The submarines are also sometimes called Tridents.)

The Labour Party lost 24 seats, crushing leader Ed Miliband’s hopes of coming to power in coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP, committed to nuclear disarmament, gained 50 seats, but will have no role in the ­government.

Parliament will make a final decision on modernizing the Vanguard-class fleet in 2016, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.

“The issues of contention may be how many boats are to be replaced,” said John MacDonald, director of the Scottish Global Forum and a nuclear disarmament advocate, in a May 20 e-mail. While Conservatives are committed to a “like-for-like replacement,” in which four new submarines would replace the current four, Labour officials “have been making noises” about replacing the current fleet with three or perhaps two submarines, he said.

“The SNP will not be able to impact the Vanguard replacement decision,” MacDonald said.

Andrea Berger, analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, said in a May 21 e-mail that the new Conservative majority government “makes it a near certainty that the UK will move forward with a new class of [nuclear-armed submarine], consisting of four boats, to be deployed continuously at-sea.” At the same time, she said, SNP electoral gains “make it likely that the government will find it difficult to take that decision without at least a yelling match.”

The victory of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party in the United Kingdom’s May 8 parliamentary election will protect the country’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent from disarmament advocates hoping to curb or eliminate it...

Cost Estimate for MOX Plant Jumps

June 2015

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. government will need to spend at least $47.5 billion to complete the construction of and operate a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, according to an independent assessment made public last month.

That figure represents a jump of 89 percent from the $29 billion that the Energy Department estimated last year for the project.

The MOX facility is designed to turn surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into fuel for 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.

The new report, which was completed in April, was prepared for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department, by the Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center based in California. The fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress last December directed the NNSA to commission an independent review of the costs and schedule for two options for disposing of excess weapons-grade plutonium: fabricating the plutonium into MOX fuel for use in a reactor or down-blending it with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository.

The $47.5 billion “to-go” cost assumes $500 million in annual funding for the MOX project, or roughly $150 million above what Congress appropriated for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 and the administration requested for 2016. (See ACT, March 2015.) At this spending rate, the MOX facility would begin operating in 2044 and complete operations in 2059, according to the report.

The Aerospace Corporation also estimated the remaining project cost if the annual funding rate were $375 million, much closer to current funding levels. At this level, the facility would not begin operating until 2100 and cost approximately $110 billion to complete, the report said.

Neither cost estimate includes the roughly $4 billion that has already been spent on the project.

The completion cost of the down-blending option was estimated at $17.2 billion, with an expected program completion date of 2029.

Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for Shaw Areva MOX Services, the main contractor in charge of building the MOX facility, ­disputed the Aerospace Corporation’s estimates.

“By our calculations, it will take an additional $3.3 billion to complete the project, and it will be done in 5-9 years, depending on the amount of annual funding appropriations,” he said in an April 22 statement.

The U.S. government will need to spend at least $47.5 billion to complete the construction of and operate a MOX fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, according to an independent assessment made public last month.

Central Asian NWFZ Treaty Sent to Senate

June 2015

By Joseph Rodgers

President Barack Obama on April 27 submitted to the Senate the protocol to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia. In the protocol, the United States and the four other recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom) pledge not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against countries within the zone.

The treaty, which entered into force on March 21, 2009, prohibits Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan from researching, developing, or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons technology. Each Central Asian party also agreed to ban nuclear weapons testing within its borders.

In a letter that was part of the submittal, Obama said the protocol’s entry into force “would require no changes in U.S. law, policy, or practice.” In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that the submittal represents “the latest step demonstrating the U.S. commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and to reducing nuclear dangers worldwide.”

The submittal came as the parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) were meeting in New York for a four-week-long review conference. Meehan said that the “United States will continue to aggressively pursue practical measures to advance all of the NPT’s fundamental pillars, [namely] disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear technology.”

Two other nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties are awaiting Senate action. In 2011 the White House submitted the treaties establishing zones in Africa and the South Pacific.

The protocol for the Central Asian zone was ratified by China, France, and the United Kingdom last year. In March of this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted the protocol to the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

Russia has expressed doubt that the U.S. Senate will ratify the Central Asian protocol. At a Duma meeting on April 10, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said, “[W]e are concerned and alarmed about the situation around great difficulties that the documents in the sphere of ensuring security and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons are facing when passing through the Senate,” according to TASS, a government-owned news agency in Russia.

President Barack Obama on April 27 submitted to the Senate the protocol to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia.

NPT Conference Fails to Reach Consensus

June 2015

By Daryl G. Kimball and Kingston Reif

Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations on April 27, the first day of the four-week-long event. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)The 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference ended on May 22 without agreement on a final document as key states-parties could not bridge differences over the process for convening a conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and clashed over the pace of the nuclear-weapon states’ disarmament efforts.

After nearly four weeks of at times acrimonious negotiations on a text designed to review the 1968 treaty and set benchmarks for future progress, Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, the conference president, presented a consolidated draft final document for possible adoption by consensus on the final day of the meeting.

But the representatives of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced late in the day on May 22 that the three countries could not support the formula presented in the document for pursuing a conference to discuss the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.

“We were prepared to endorse consensus on all the other parts of the draft final document addressing the three pillars of the treaty—disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” said Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. But the language on the Middle Eastern zone was “incompatible with our long-standing policies,” she said (see, "Mideast Zone Plan Stymies NPT Meeting").

Disarmament Clash

Even if the issue of the conference on the WMD-free zone could have been resolved, differences on the disarmament issue may have led one or more states to block consensus.

Under Article VI of the treaty, the parties are to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” At the last review conference, in 2010, the parties agreed to a final document that contained an “action plan” on disarmament.

The draft 2015 final conference document was sharply criticized by many non-nuclear-weapon states for failing to include new commitments and time-specific benchmarks designed to accelerate progress on that plan.

In a closing statement delivered on behalf of 49 states, Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, said “there is a wide divide” on disarmament between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, “a reality gap, a credibility gap, a confidence gap, and a moral gap.”

As part of the 2010 plan, the five countries that the NPT recognizes as nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States—pledged “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” including reductions in “all types of nuclear weapons” and entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). (See ACT, June 2010.)

Since the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) entered into force in February 2011, however, further progress on disarmament has stalled in large part due to the severe downturn in U.S.-Russian relations. There has also been no visible action toward CTBT ratification by China, the United States, and other key countries.

The draft final document included noncommittal language regarding the pursuit of further nuclear weapons reductions between Russia and the United States beyond New START. The United States reiterated at the conference its willingness to negotiate further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third below the New START level. But Russia argued that it has already reduced its arsenal to a minimum level and that U.S. policies, such as the development of a global missile defense system, are preventing further progress. (See ACT, May 2015.)

The draft document “encourage[d]” the two sides “to commence negotiations at an early date to achieve greater reductions in their stockpiles of nuclear weapons with a view to concluding such negotiations as soon as possible.”

Several non-nuclear-weapon states also pressed for action on the 2010 commitment to “promptly engage…to reduce the risk of accidental use of nuclear weapons,” including action to eliminate “prompt launch” nuclear postures. But the United States insisted that it had already taken all reasonable steps in this regard.

With the five nuclear-weapon states unwilling to make further disarmament commitments, frustration among many delegations grew as the conference wore on.

In a May 13 statement, Abdul Minty, deputy director-general of the South African Department of Foreign Affairs, asked, “When will we ever get disarmament?” South Africa, a key member of the Non-Aligned Movement, is the only NPT party to have given up its nuclear weapons.

In a May 18 statement, Kmentt expressed concern that successive drafts of the document were “getting weakened overall, in the face of an overwhelming majority calling for a strengthened document with clear obligations, concrete commitments, and timelines.”

Humanitarian Initiative Gains

In an effort to push the nuclear-armed states to accelerate the pace of progress on disarmament, a group of 159 countries endorsed a statement delivered by Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz on April 28 citing the findings of three international conferences held since March 2013 on the impact of nuclear weapons use, the most recent of which was in Vienna last December. (See ACT, January/February 2015.) “The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, cannot be adequately addressed,” said the statement.

France and some of the other nuclear-weapon states were unmoved. France’s representative to the conference, Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel, the French ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said on May 11 that the risks of the accidental use of nuclear weapons are overstated and that no new information on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use had been uncovered for decades.

In a May 26 e-mail, Kmentt said it was “quite shocking” that some of the nuclear-weapon states viewed the humanitarian initiative “as a [public relations] exercise.” The divide between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states “has become significantly wider due to this response,” he said.

Nonetheless, the draft final document included more references to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use than the 2010 document did.

In addition, as the conference drew to a close, a growing number of states endorsed a document known as the “Humanitarian Pledge,” which emerged from the Vienna conference in December. By the end of the review conference, 107 countries had joined the statement, which calls on states “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

But the next steps for the humanitarian initiative are uncertain, as even supporters of the initiative differ on what constitutes urgent and effective actions to fulfill the NPT’s Article VI disarmament goals.

When asked about the future of the humanitarian impact initiative at a May 14 conference hosted by the Arms Control Association in Washington, Kmentt answered, “At the moment, it’s not very clear what this is going to be.” 

One new forum for discussions on disarmament could be an “open-ended working group”—a forum in which all UN members can participate—to be established by the UN General Assembly, which was a recommendation in the draft final NPT conference document. According to the document, the purpose of the working group would be “to identify effective measures for the full implementation of Article VI of the treaty.”

Parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty failed to agree on a final document at their review conference as key states differed strongly on the Middle East and nuclear disarmament.

Mideast Zone Plan Stymies NPT Meeting

June 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry addresses the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations on April 27. During the conference, Egypt made a proposal that set deadlines for a planned conference on ridding the Middle East of nonconventional weapons. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)The United States and two of its allies said they could not support the draft final document of last month’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference because of language in the document laying out a process for convening a conference on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. But supporters of the language defended it as a reasonable attempt to ensure that a conference takes place and there is progress toward establishing the zone.

In remarks on May 22, the last day of the four-week-long conference at the United Nations, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the United States would have been prepared to endorse the rest of the draft document, covering the three so-called pillars of the treaty—disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Gottemoeller said the blame “lies squarely with those states that were unable to show any flexibility in pursuit of the convening of a Middle East conference that enshrined the principles of consensus and equality.” Canada and the United Kingdom joined the United States in objecting to the draft document because of the language dealing with the WMD-free zone.

The language in the document, which set a deadline for holding the conference, the appointment of a special representative, and consultations to establish an agenda, emerged out of intense negotiations that eventually involved Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, the conference president. The language contained elements from a proposal that Egypt had made earlier in the conference.

In his May 22 statement at the conference, Hisham Badr, Egyptian assistant foreign minister, said his government was “extremely disappointed” that consensus had been blocked. Egypt and the rest of the Arab Group were prepared to accept what was presented in the final document on the process for establishing the WMD-free zone, he said. The Arab countries cooperated “to the full” to find a compromise in the final document on a process for establishing the zone, Badr said.

In another statement at the closing of the conference, Iran’s Hamid Badinejad, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), accused the United States of blocking consensus to “to safeguard the interests of a particular nonparty of the treaty,” Israel, which he said has “endangered the peace and security of the region by developing a nuclear weapons capability.” He said that NAM states were ready to join the consensus on the proposed language for the final document despite “dissatisfactions” with sections of the text, such as the ones on the pace of disarmament.

At issue was an agreement from the 2010 review conference to hold a conference by 2012 on establishing the WMD-free zone. That conference was not held due to differences over the scope of the agenda and other issues (see ACT, December 2012), prompting countries in the region to call for a new process to establish the zone.

The proposed zone would cover the 27 Arab League countries, Iran, and Israel. All of the countries except Israel are parties to the NPT and participated in the review conference. Israel attended as an observer.
The draft final document called for the UN secretary-general to convene a conference by March 1, 2016, aimed at “launching a continuous process of negotiating and concluding a legally binding treaty” that establishes a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

The document called for the secretary-general to appoint by July 1 a special representative to facilitate the process. The facilitator would work with the secretary-general, as well as Russia, the UK, and the United States, to consult with the states in the region on the agenda for the conference.

Under the language in the draft document, if an agenda for the conference were agreed before the March deadline, the secretary-general would have to convene the conference within 45 days of agreement on the agenda.

Gottemoeller, citing Egypt in particular, decried the insistence on “unrealistic and unworkable conditions,” including the imposition of “an arbitrary deadline.”

An Egyptian official said in a May 23 e-mail that the U.S. objection is “unjustifiable” and that, “without deadlines, no progress will be made.” The official said that “Israel will continue to refuse to compromise” on the issue of the conference agenda, which will delay progress on the zone.

In a May 23 statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the United States for refusing to accept the draft language that would “single out Israel” and ignore its security interests.

In a May 4 statement at the NPT conference, Badr said the 2010 mandate for the current facilitator, Finnish diplomat Jaakko Laajava, “has elapsed” and a “fresh approach” is necessary. Since the 2012 postponement, Laajava has held five consultations with countries in the region as part of an effort to reach consensus on the conference agenda.

In his statement, Badr said the UN secretary-general should convene the conference within 180 days of the adoption of a final document at the NPT review conference.

The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom said they could not support language in the NPT review conference’s draft final document setting a deadline and other requirements for a conference on ridding the Middle East of nonconventional...

Iran, P5+1 Make Progress on Nuclear Text

June 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at New York University on April 29. (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)Iran and six world powers have drafted a final text for a nuclear deal, but still need to come to terms over some passages, an Iranian negotiator said last month.

Speaking to reporters after a May 12 meeting with EU deputy negotiator Helga Schmid in Vienna, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said the two sides have reached agreement on significant portions of the final text, but differences remain in “certain paragraphs.”

In a May 22 e-mail, an EU official also said that the two sides had made progress on the final text.
Iran and the six-country group, known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), aim to complete a comprehensive nuclear deal by June 30. (See ACT, December 2014.) On April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, the parties announced an agreement on the broad parameters of the pact. (See ACT, May 2015.)

Since the April breakthrough, Iran and the P5+1 have continued to work on the draft of the final text. The most recent meeting among all seven countries at the level of political directors took place May 15 in Vienna. Araqchi and Schmid also met May 20-22 in the Austrian capital.

Negotiators have been meeting at the technical level in New York and Vienna over the past month.
After the May 15 meeting, Araqchi told reporters he was hopeful the text could be finalized by June 30.

Renewed Sanctions

One of the areas of a deal that has generated significant discussion over the past several weeks is the reimposition of sanctions if Iran is found to be in violation of an agreement.
An Israeli official said in a May 20 interview that Israel has “serious concerns about the ability of the United States and others to reimpose sanctions in the event of a breach.”

He said it would be difficult to “put the genie back in the bottle” after companies began to establish economic ties with Iran and that renewed sanctions are ineffectual in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons if it abandons the deal.

Richard Nephew, former principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the U.S. State Department, said on May 14 that the renewal of sanctions is not intended to stop Iran from breaking out of the deal and openly pursuing nuclear weapons. In the event of an Iranian breakout, the United States will not respond with sanctions, but will be “in a place in which military force is going to have to be considered,” he said at the Arms Control Association annual meeting.

Nephew, now director of the Program on Economic Statecraft, Sanctions, and Energy Markets at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said the “bigger issue is differentiating” between material breaches of the deal and technical violations.

A minimum of 12 months before Iran can break out of its commitments under the deal provides plenty of time “to go down the sanctions path and escalate pressure on the regime in a very serious way,” Nephew said, if Iran were taking actions in the “middle space” between technical violations, such as a valve in the wrong position, and breakout.

According to a White House summary of the April 2 parameters, when the deal is implemented, Iran will be at least 12 months away from producing enough nuclear material for one bomb for at least a decade.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on April 29 that procedures will also be in place and will be implemented if the United States does not live up to its commitments.

Zarif, speaking at a New America Foundation event in New York, said that due to a lack of trust between the sides, the deal will have a “reciprocal procedure” that will allow each side to “revert back” to certain activities if one party is “not living up to its commitments” and the issue cannot be resolved.

Iran, IAEA Meet

Between his meetings with Schmid, Araqchi met with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is headquartered in Vienna.

The IAEA is conducting talks with Iran on implementation of the November 2013 framework agreement to allow agency inspectors to investigate unresolved IAEA concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, including alleged past activities related to nuclear weapons development. (See ACT, December 2013.)

After nine months of cooperation, the IAEA probe stalled last August when Iran failed to meet a deadline to provide information about two activities that could be related to nuclear weapons development. (See ACT, October 2014.) An IAEA team traveled to Tehran in April to continue talks on how to move forward with the investigation.

One of the controversies surrounding the IAEA inquiry has to do with access to military sites where the agency says that some of the alleged activities may have taken place and access to sites in the future if additional allegations emerge.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said as recently as May 20 that “no permission” will be given to inspect military facilities.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told the Associated Press on May 12 that, under an additional protocol, the agency can request access to a military site when it has reason to do so.

An additional protocol gives inspectors expanded access to nuclear facilities and allows some access to sites if there is evidence that illicit nuclear activities have taken place. Iran voluntarily implemented its additional protocol between 2003 and 2006. Tehran has agreed to ratify its protocol as part of the final deal, which would make the commitment permanent.

The IAEA request for access to Iranian military sites is similar to requests the agency has made to “many other countries from time to time,” Amano said.

Colin Kahl, national security adviser to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, said at the Arms Control Association meeting that the U.S. understanding of Iran’s additional protocol is that it would allow IAEA access to military sites if the agency suspected “weaponization-related activities.”

Iran and six world powers have agreed on major portions of a final nuclear deal, an Iranian negotiator said last month.

Bill Allowing Vote on Iran Deal Approved

June 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), center, brings down the gavel to begin an April 14 meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to mark up legislation giving Congress a vote on a nuclear agreement that the United States and five other countries are negotiating with Iran. Corker, who chairs the committee, is flanked by Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), left, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the panel’s ranking member. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)Congress passed legislation last month giving lawmakers an opportunity to vote on a comprehensive nuclear agreement that the United States and its partners are negotiating with Iran. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law May 22.

The White House had objected to an earlier version of the bill, but spokesman Eric Schultz said at a May 15 press briefing that the revised version represents a “reasonable and acceptable compromise.”

The United States and five other world powers—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—aim to finalize the deal with Iran by June 30 (see, "Iran, P5+1 Make Progress on Nuclear Text").

The Senate passed the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015 by a vote of 98-1 on May 7. The House of Representatives passed the same legislation 400-25 on May 14.

Votes against the bill came primarily from Republicans, such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) who asserted on May 7 that the bill is not strong enough. He said the Iran deal should be submitted as a treaty, which would require approval by two-thirds of the Senate, rather than as an executive agreement, which does not require congressional approval.

Under the law, Congress will have 30 days after the administration submits the agreement to Congress to review the deal and have the option of holding a vote to approve or disapprove it. The administration may waive sanctions imposed by executive order; other sanctions are in legislation passed by Congress and require a vote in that body to be terminated. The law prohibits the administration from suspending these congressional sanctions for 30 days while the agreement is reviewed.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on May 14 that passage of the legislation will give Congress the opportunity to “stop a bad deal” with Iran.

Obama originally threatened to veto the bill, but dropped his objection to the legislation when Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the primary author of the bill, reached a compromise with the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), that removed some of the provisions to which the White House had objected. (See ACT, May 2015.)

The changes also led a number of Democrats who originally had opposed the bill to vote in favor of its passage. They said they supported the bill as long as it was not amended in a way that would damage the negotiations.

Republicans in the House and Senate attempted to amend the legislation to impose additional conditions for sanctions to be waived, such as presidential certifications that Iran is not supporting terrorism. None of these amendments passed, and many were blocked from consideration on the floor of both chambers.

Implications of a Vote

If Congress votes to approve the deal or takes no action, implementation of the agreement begins under the schedule that the pact will set.

If Congress votes to disapprove the nuclear deal, Obama is likely to veto the resolution of disapproval within the 12-day period mandated by the law.

According to the law, sanctions remain suspended for 10 days after a veto, giving Congress time to attempt to override the veto. An override would require a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

Recent action in the House makes it seem unlikely that Congress could override Obama’s veto in the event of a vote of disapproval. On May 7, 150 House Democrats sent Obama a letter expressing support for the Iran negotiations. The 150 signers represent more than one-third of the House’s 435 members.

The letter expresses support for allowing the U.S. negotiating team the “space and time necessary” to finalize a nuclear deal. The letter said that if the United States were to “cause the collapse” of negotiations, a nuclear-armed Iran would be more likely and the sanctions regime would unravel.

One of the authors of the letter, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Texas), said in a May 7 press release that the letter shows “significant” congressional support for “negotiating a strong, verifiable, final agreement.” The other authors were Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and David Price (N.C.).

Iran’s Parliament Acts

Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, is working on its own legislation giving the members of parliament a voice on the nuclear deal.

Ariane Tabatabai, a visiting professor at Georgetown University teaching a course on Iran and its nuclear program, said in a May 19 e-mail that the Majlis is “closely watching and mirroring congressional actions on the Iran talks.”

Tabatabai said the Majlis bill calls for “fixing certain ‘requirements’ for the negotiations” that are in the April 2 agreement. These fixes include requiring sanctions to be lifted simultaneously with Iranian actions mandated by the agreement, reducing the duration of limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity to five years, and reducing the monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency so that access to military sites such as Parchin, a site that the agency requested to visit, will not be permitted.

Iran and the six world powers agreed in April to the parameters of a final deal. Under that agreement, Iran would limit its uranium-enrichment capacity for 10 years and accept monitoring and verification that would allow some access to military sites.

Tabatabai said a vote on the bill is likely in the next few weeks but that she doubts it will derail the process and affect the talks. She noted that there is some support for the negotiations within the Majlis. Although the bill will add some pressure to the Iranian negotiators to ensure the deal meets certain conditions, the legislation is more about the “Majlis flexing its muscles,” she said.

Congress passed legislation giving lawmakers the opportunity to vote on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran.

Obama Bolsters Gulf Allies Wary of Iran

June 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Two interceptors from the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system are launched in a test on September 10, 2013. The United States has signed agreements to sell the system to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.  (U.S. Missile Defense Agency)President Barack Obama pledged on May 14 to expedite arms sales to Persian Gulf monarchies concerned about a possible international agreement to curb but not eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.

The United States seeks to “improve security cooperation, especially on fast-tracking arms transfers, as well as on counter-terrorism, maritime security, cybersecurity, and ballistic missile defense,” declared a joint statement issued after Obama and three U.S. cabinet secretaries met at the Camp David presidential retreat with top officials from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the six countries that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

In return, GCC officials signed on to the statement endorsing Obama’s view that a “verifiable deal that fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is in the security interests of GCC member states as well as the United States and the international community.”

GCC leaders have publicly worried that a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers will embolden Iran, the region’s most populous country and patron of Shiite minority communities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. With GCC countries already fighting Iranian-backed forces in Yemen, the Gulf officials sought and received assurances that Washington will support them against Iran.

The May 14 statement declared that the United States and the GCC “will work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region” and called on Iran “to engage the region according to the principles of good neighborliness, strict non-interference in domestic affairs, and respect for territorial integrity.”

A second U.S.-GCC statement on May 14 spelled out the specific actions Washington will take. The Defense Department will establish a dedicated Foreign Military Sales procurement office with the goal of “streamlining third-party transfers, and exploring ways the United States could accelerate the acquisition and fielding of key capabilities,” the statement said. The United States also will send a military team to GCC capitals “to increase the frequency of Special Operations Forces counter-terrorism cooperation and training.”

President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (left) and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani following the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council meeting on May 14 at Camp David in Maryland. (Kevin Dietsch - Pool/Getty Images)The Gulf monarchies, concerned about the spread of democratic uprisings in the Arab Spring in 2011 and the resurgence of jihadist forces in Iraq and Syria in 2014, have been bolstering their armed forces at a rapid rate. In the past five years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have ranked among the top five countries in the world in arms imports, with a combined total of $14.5 billion in weapons purchases since 2009, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“The speeding up of existing deals could have a major impact” on the region’s military balance, William Hartung, analyst for the Center for International Policy, said in a May 15 e-mail. “Most of the tens of billions of dollars in deals that are under Foreign Military Sales agreements are still in the pipeline, and for major systems like aircraft, delivery can take years under normal circumstances.” He cited agreements with Qatar and Saudi Arabia for Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and with Qatar and the UAE for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

Anthony Cordesman, analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the White House statement would not dispel GCC concerns about the possibility of rapprochement between Tehran and Washington.

“Did the GCC get a reassuring and helpful statement from the U.S? Yes,” Cordesman said in a May 15 interview. “Did they get the kind of security guarantees about Iran that they wanted? No.”

After meeting with top officials from Persian Gulf countries, the White House announced steps to speed up arms transfers to nations concerned about a possible Iran nuclear deal.

North Korea Tests Missile for Submarine

June 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Secretary of State John Kerry (left) gestures during a joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul on May 18. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)North Korea claimed it launched a ballistic missile from a submarine last month, but some Western analysts contend that the missile was ejected from a submerged barge.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that the May 9 test was a successful “underwater test fire” of a “strategic” ballistic missile from a submarine. The missile traveled about 150 meters before crashing into the sea, the KCNA said.

North Korea is prohibited from testing ballistic missiles by several UN Security Council resolutions. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on May 11 that the United States is calling on Pyongyang to “refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region” and to take steps to fulfill its international obligations.

The KCNA did not say where the test took place, but analysts believe it was off the Sinpo South Naval Shipyard, on the eastern shore of North Korea.

Joseph Bermudez, chief analytics officer for AllSource Analysis, wrote in his May 13 analysis for 38 North, an online publication of the U.S. Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, that the test was likely an ejection test of a ballistic missile from a submerged barge. Ejection tests are designed to evaluate stabilization systems and the process of underwater launch.

Bermudez said that testing a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from a new, experimental ballistic missile submarine that North Korea had launched only eight months ago would “be at the uppermost limits of North Korean naval and ballistic missile design and development capabilities.”

A launch from a submerged barge is “more reasonable in line with assessed North Korean capabilities,” he said. Citing satellite imagery, Bermudez said such a vessel was present at the Sinpo shipyard.
 
Moving Forward

Michael Elleman, who served as a missile expert for the UN team that conducted weapons inspections in Iraq after the Persian Gulf War, said in a May 19 e-mail that the test is likely the “second step in the overall [North Korean] process of developing an SLBM capability.” The United States performed similar “pop-out” tests for the Polaris SLBM program, he said. The first step is ejecting a missile from a launch tube on the ground, Elleman said.

Elleman, who is now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said North Korea still must take a number of steps before it can reliably deploy an SLBM. A typical sequence would include additional ejection tests from a submerged barge, land-based tests of the missile, and then a full flight test of the SLBM from the barge and submarine, he said.

At a May 19 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Adm. James Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that North Korea is not as far along as its “spinmeisters would have us believe” and remains “many years away” from an SLBM capability.

Elleman said North Korea has “demonstrated a willingness to accept risks for weapons performance and reliability,” so the SLBM could be deployed sooner, but would likely have a reliability of less than 50 percent.

Elleman noted several operational obstacles to North Korean deployment of SLBMs, including developing secure communications with the submarine and establishing a command-and-control system. The latter could be difficult for the Kim Jong Un regime, Elleman said, as most dictators “do not enjoy delegating authorities,” especially with nuclear warheads involved.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on May 18 during a visit to Seoul that China and the United States are discussing imposing additional sanctions on North Korea because of “recent provocations.” Kerry said the discussions would continue in June.

Kerry said Beijing has “extraordinary leverage” over North Korea. China is North Korea’s largest trading partner.

ICBM Dispute

A launcher carrying what analysts have said is a mock-up of the North Korean KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile moves through Pyongyang on April 15, 2012, as part of a military parade marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder. (Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images)North Korea’s capability to deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering nuclear weapons also is in dispute.

North Korea claims its KN-08, or Hwasong-13, a road-mobile ballistic missile, is capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear warhead. That distance is more than 5,500 kilometers and therefore puts the KN-08 in the ICBM category.

North Korea is estimated to have six to eight plutonium-based warheads and may have additional warheads that use highly enriched uranium.

The KN-08 was first paraded in April 2012. At that time, many analysts said they believed the missile to be a mock-up. (See ACT, March 2013.) Subsequent displays of the missile have featured more-plausible design features, but there is still controversy about the extent of the missile’s development and how close the missile is to operational status. It is not known to have been flight-tested.

A May 20 story on Foreign Policy’s website quoted National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell as saying that the United States does not think that North Korea can miniaturize a warhead to put on a ballistic missile.

But Adm. William Gortney, the head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters at the Pentagon on April 7 that it is the U.S. assessment that the KN-08 is operational and North Korea could use the missile to shoot a nuclear warhead at the United States.

Elaine Bunn, deputy assistant secretary of defense of nuclear and missile defense policy, said at an April 7 event at CSIS that the “reliability of an untested KN-08 is likely to be very low.”

In the May 19 e-mail, Elleman said that if the KN-08 were deployed today, it would likely “fail more often than not” but that, for deterrence purposes, North Korea “gain[s] considerable dissuasive capacity” by deploying the missile.

North Korea claimed it launched a ballistic missile from a submarine, but some analysts contend it came from a submerged barge.

Air Force Clarifies Cruise Missile Plan

June 2015

By Kingston Reif

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks during a May 6 hearing of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee in this video image. Feinstein questioned the need for the new cruise missile that the Air Force is pursuing. (Senate Appropriations Committee)Only a portion of the 1,000 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) that the Air Force is proposing to build will be deployed with nuclear warheads, according to an Air Force official.

Arms Control Today reported last month that the Air Force is seeking about 1,000 new nuclear-capable ALCMs, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. (See ACT, May 2015.)

In a May 7 e-mail in response to the story, an Air Force official said the number of new ALCMs “to be acquired includes a large number of spare and test missiles that will be required throughout the life of the program.” The Air Force has declined to provide additional details on the planned numbers of deployed, spare, and test missiles.

“This means that the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than we plan to operationally arm and deploy in our nuclear force,” the official added.

The official said that the requirements issued by President Barack Obama for deployed ALCMs “have not increased.”

The existing ALCM can be carried by the B-52 bomber. The missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 miles, was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years. Multiple life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned long-range strike bomber.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the long-range standoff missile and the modified warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years. (See ACT, March 2015.)

The United States does not maintain any nuclear weapons loaded on its deployed heavy bombers on a day-to-day basis. Nuclear weapons for bombers are stored separately in bunkers on or near their air bases.

The Air Force currently retains 575 nuclear-capable ALCMs, down from the original production run of 1,715 missiles, which concluded in 1986. The service declined to comment on whether the existing ALCM was built with a similar ratio of deployed weapons to spare and test missiles as that proposed for the new 1,000-missile plan.

Some members of Congress continued to express skepticism about the need for any new nuclear cruise missiles.

At a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on May 6, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questioned whether the United States requires a new “cruise missile that can deliver nuclear warheads from great distances in addition to the numerous gravity bombs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and intercontinental ballistic missiles we’ve armed ourselves with.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Feinstein at the hearing that the reason for a new cruise missile “is to replace the cruise missiles that exist now…in recognition of the fact that air defenses are improving around the world and that keeping that capability to penetrate air defenses with our nuclear deterrent is an important one.”

In a May 14 interview published on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, defended the need for a new cruise missile on the grounds that “air-launched systems are inherently more stabilizing” because bombers are “slow flying” and “if a decision is made to launch the bomber force, then they can also be recalled.”

Gottemoeller added that the plan to build 1,000 new missiles “is not in my view unreasonable.”

Meanwhile, the House-passed version of the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would require the defense secretary to submit to Congress a report on the justification for the planned number of new cruise missiles, including the rationale for building the expected number of missiles and how the number of planned missiles aligns with Obama’s nuclear weapons employment guidance.

The report was proposed by Rep. Michael Quigley (D-Ill.) as an amendment to the defense bill. The amendment, which was cosponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), was approved by the full House on a voice vote.

In a May 15 press release, Quigley said his action was prompted by “new information that the Air Force is planning to procure 1,000 [long-range standoff missiles]” and would “promote a more modest and responsible nuclear weapons budget.”

A number of organizations, including the Arms Control Association, have supported efforts this year to reduce funding for the new cruise missile and associated warhead refurbishment programs.

The Air Force says that only a portion of the 1,000 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles it is proposing to build will be deployed with nuclear warheads.

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