"[The Arms Control Association is an] 'exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size.'" 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
July/August 2015
Edition Date: 
Thursday, July 9, 2015
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Air Force Drafts Plan for Follow-On ICBM

July/August 2015

Updated: July 8, 2015

By Kingston Reif

U.S. Air Force airmen install a cable raceway on an intercontinental ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 3, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder/RELEASED)An initial Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system calls for procuring 642 missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed, multiple sources told Arms Control Today in recent months. The remaining missiles would be used for flight tests and as spares to support the program’s anticipated 50-year lifespan, the sources said.

If the U.S. government moves ahead with the proposal, it will have a capability extending into the 2070s to deploy 400 ICBMs, the number that the United States will have in 2018 under the terms of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

To meet the treaty limits, the Defense Department has said it will reduce the U.S. arsenal from its current level—447 deployed missiles as of September 2014—while retaining 50 nondeployed missile launchers.

During interviews in May and June, the sources said the preliminary acquisition cost estimate for the Minuteman III replacement system—an option studied under the Pentagon’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program—is $62.3 billion, which covers a 30-year period between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2044.

In a subsequent e-mail exchange, Air Force representatives confirmed the estimated cost and the number of planned missiles to be purchased and deployed.

The $62.3 billion cost estimate was first reported on June 5 by Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor. The newsletter quoted Ed Gulick, an Air Force spokesman, as saying the draft estimate was completed in February by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s ICBM System Program Office and that it includes $48.5 billion for the missiles, $6.9 billion for command and control systems, and $6.9 billion to renovate the launch control centers and launch facilities.

In a June 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Gulick said that the cost estimate is in “then-year dollars,” meaning it includes inflationary increases expected to occur in the program over the 30-year time horizon of the estimate.

Options Studied

Last summer, the Air Force conducted an analysis of alternatives to sustain the ICBM force beyond the anticipated end of the Minuteman III’s service life in 2030.

Gulick said the analysis initially examined five options, but after discussions with senior officials in the defense secretary’s office, the analysis narrowed its focus to three alternatives: a “baseline” option that would extend the life of the Minuteman III through 2075, a “replacement system capitalizing” on the existing Minuteman III silo infrastructure, and a “hybrid” option that would “mix” the existing Minuteman III silo infrastructure with new road-mobile ICBMs.

A request for information issued by the Air Force on Jan. 23 seeking information and feedback from defense industry companies said the United States “is preparing to acquire a replacement for” the Minuteman III system “that replaces the entire flight system” and “retains the silo basing modes.”

Maj. Melissa Milner, one of the Air Force representatives, said in a June 19 e-mail that the current program cost estimate of $62.3 billion is “focused on a replacement system that reflects a missile similar in size to the Minuteman III.” The Air Force has not provided a public cost estimate for the other options.

Milner did not indicate whether the GBSD missile would have a completely new design or would incorporate significant design features from the Minuteman III.

Deployment of the replacement missile system is scheduled to begin in 2027. 

In remarks at a June 16 event in Washington, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said the United States cannot “continue to sustain” the Minuteman III.

Questions Raised

One former government official said the cost estimate for the replacement system suggested a new ICBM, an approach that he questioned.

It’s “hard to believe” the Pentagon would choose to design and build a new missile because there is no military need to do so, retired Col. Mark Cancian, who recently left the U.S. Office of Management and Budget after seven years as director of its force structure and management division, said in June 15 interview.

Cancian, now a senior adviser in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that there is “no way the Air Force can afford” a new fleet of ICBMs given the cost of plans to modernize other elements of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, such as building new ballistic missile submarines and long-range bombers.

A 2014 report by the RAND Corp. on the future of the ICBM force found that “any new ICBM alternative will very likely cost almost two times—and perhaps even three times—more than incremental modernization of the current Minuteman III system.”

The GBSD program is slated to face a key acquisition milestone early next year, when the defense secretary’s office will decide whether the program should proceed to the next stage of the acquisition process. This stage includes maturing the technology, refining requirements, and finalizing cost estimates for the program.

In the lead-up to this decision point, known as a milestone A decision, the Defense Department is reviewing the acquisition strategy for the program.

Cancian said that although the Air Force may be evaluating a new missile, this approach is not yet a formal Air Force plan or recommendation. “A lot could change” when the program “comes up for decision and has to compete with other programs,” he said.

ICBMs make up the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems, which also consists of submarine-launched missiles and long-range bombers. Long-range bombers can carry air-launched cruise missiles and gravity bombs.

In a speech in Berlin on June 19, 2013, President Barack Obama said he would seek to reduce the numbers of U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. (Photo by Mathias Krohn/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The deployed Minuteman III missiles are dispersed in underground silos at three U.S. bases: Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Each missile is deployed with one nuclear warhead.

The Minuteman III, which has a range of more than 8,000 miles, was first fielded in 1970 with a planned service life of 10 years. Production of the missile ended in 1977. A total of 794 missiles were acquired at a cost of $41.4 billion, as measured in fiscal year 2012 dollars, according to the RAND report.

Several multibillion-dollar life extension programs have kept the Minuteman III in service for more than 40 years. Nearly the entire missile has been refurbished, including the propellant and guidance and propulsion systems.

President Barack Obama determined in 2013 that the United States could reduce “deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” but he conditioned further reductions on negotiations with Russia.

Greg Weaver, principal director for nuclear and missile defense policy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told Inside the Air Force on Feb. 20 that given the uncertain prospects for a future arms control agreement with Russia after New START expires in 2021, the GBSD program “is budgeted based on the current policy” and “arms control limits.”

Weaver added that the approach could change if Russia and the United States agreed to further nuclear weapons reductions at some point in the future.

An initial Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile calls for procuring 
642 missiles.

Cluster Munitions Use in Yemen Reported

July/August 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Pictured above are remnants of an air-dropped cluster munition and unexploded BLU-97 submunitions found in northern Yemen on May 23, according to Human Rights Watch.(© 2015 Basset al-Sharafi)Reports of cluster munitions use in the conflict in Yemen remain under investigation, according to the U.S. State Department. 

Two cluster munitions attacks in Yemen injured seven people, six of them civilians, according to a May 31 report by Human Rights Watch. The attacks took place in areas held by Houthi insurgents, whose ouster of the Yemeni government triggered a military campaign by a coalition of armed forces led by neighboring Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.

“We take all such allegations seriously and we’re continuing our review of the claims made in this report,” a State Department official said in a June 19 e-mail. Asked if the U.S. government had communicated these concerns to Saudi Arabia, the official said the United States “remain[s] in close coordination” with the Saudis “on a wide range of issues.”

In a June 8 e-mail, Ole Solvang, an investigator for Human Rights Watch, emphasized that the fighting in Yemen made it difficult to determine who was responsible for the use of cluster munitions. Although the group has “a very incomplete picture,” what it has seen “is quite worrying,” Solvang said. Human Rights Watch has documented the use of three types of cluster munitions, he said. 

U.S.-made cluster munitions, containing BLU-97 submunitions, were used in at least two attacks on May 23, according to reports cited by Human Rights Watch.

On the basis of photographs, the group identified one of the weapons used in an April 29 attack near the Saudi border as a type of ground-fired cluster munition containing “ZP-39” submunitions with a distinctive red ribbon. The ZP-39’s producer and the delivery system used are not publicly known, according to Human Rights Watch.

On April 27, aircraft of the Saudi-led coalition dropped a U.S.-made cluster munition, the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, on a village south of the Houthi stronghold of Saada, said Human Rights Watch, citing the reports it had received.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen, like the United States, are not signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, the international treaty banning the weapons. The treaty has been ratified by 92 countries and signed by 24 more.

Reports of cluster munitions use in the conflict in Yemen remain under investigation, according to the U.S. State Department. 

IAEA Studies Syrian Reactor Conversion

July/August 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, participates in a press conference at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on June 8. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is studying Syria’s request for assistance in converting its research reactor to run on low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel and shipping its highly enriched uranium (HEU) out of the country, the agency’s head announced last month.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told reporters at the agency’s quarterly board meeting on June 8 that Syria submitted the request for assistance earlier this year. 

Syria operates a Miniature Neutron Source Reactor near Damascus for research purposes. The reactor runs on about 1 kilogram of HEU. According to the IAEA, about 25 kilograms of HEU are necessary for a nuclear weapon. 

Construction on the Chinese-designed reactor began in 1991, and the reactor begain operations in 1996. China has been cooperating with the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois on developing an alternative fuel source to convert the miniature reactors that China built in Ghana, Nigeria, and ­Syria. 

In October 2010, Argonne and the China Institute for Atomic Energy signed an agreement to construct a test facility in China to assemble and test cores that run on LEU fuel for the reactors. 

That project is ongoing, and none of the reactors have been converted. 

The Syrian reactor is under IAEA safeguards, but in June 2013, due to deteriorating security conditions because of the civil war in Syria, the agency suspended its physical verification of the reactor. Syria invited IAEA inspectors back in February and May 2014, but the agency said in its September 2014 report on the implementation of Syria’s safeguards agreement that the agency cannot send inspectors into the country because of the security situation. 

In that report, the IAEA said it continues to monitor the reactor using satellite imagery.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told reporters at the agency’s quarterly board meeting on June 8 that Syria submitted the request for assistance earlier this year. 

Kazakhstan Approved as Fuel Bank Site

July/August 2015

By Daniel Horner

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors on June 11 voted to approve an agreement with Kazakhstan under which the Central Asian country would host a nuclear fuel bank that the agency is planning to establish, the IAEA announced in a statement after the vote.

The board also approved a transport agreement with Russia for the low-enriched uranium (LEU) that the bank would hold. The bank would be located at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in northeastern Kazakhstan.

The bank will house up to 90 metric tons of LEU, enough material to fuel a light-water reactor with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts electric, according to the IAEA. 

The board authorized the establishment of the bank in December 2010. (See ACT, January/February 2011.) In 2011, Kazakhstan officially offered to host the bank. Since then, Kazakhstan and the agency “have been working on technical details” and negotiating the necessary agreements, the IAEA said in its June 11 release. Kazakhstan will operate the bank, but the IAEA will own and control it, the release said.

In a memo issued in January 2010, the IAEA Secretariat said the bank is “designed to be used rarely.” As in other versions of the fuel bank concept, developed by individual countries, the IAEA fuel bank is intended to be a “last resort” in case of a disruption in the international fuel market. As it has previously, the agency emphasized in the press release that the fuel bank “must not distort the commercial market.”

The initial impetus for the IAEA fuel bank came from the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative, which in 2006 pledged $50 million for the bank on the condition that other sources provide $100 million. Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and the European Union combined to supply the necessary funds. 

The NTI hailed the recent vote by the IAEA board. In a June 11 press release, NTI Co-Chairman Sam Nunn said the bank gives countries an alternative to pursuing uranium-enrichment programs.

The U.S. State Department’s press office said on June 12 that the IAEA fuel bank would support U.S. nonproliferation policies “by reducing incentives for the spread of sensitive technologies to new countries.” The statement commended Kazakhstan for the leadership it showed by offering to host the bank.

Some of the early versions of fuel bank proposals required countries to forgo indigenous enrichment programs in order to be eligible to receive material from a fuel bank, an approach that led to objections from many of the potential developing-country recipients. The IAEA has repeatedly stressed that it is not taking such an approach. The existence of the fuel bank “does not affect the rights of IAEA Member States to develop their own nuclear fuel cycle facilities,” the agency’s press release says.

July/August 2015 Books of Note

Nuclear Weapons and International Security: Collected Essays
Ramesh Thakur, Routledge Global Security Studies, 2015, 240 pp. 

The essays collected in Nuclear Weapons and International Security allow the reader to follow the thinking of nuclear and peace studies scholar Ramesh Thakur from the late Cold War years to the present day. In several of the essays, Thakur writes compelling and rigorous analyses of the Indian nuclear program, covering issues such as India’s regional security environment and “[t]he inconsequential gains and lasting insecurities of India’s nuclear weaponization.” He identifies as an Indian expatriate, but in an interesting footnote, he vigorously contests the notion that his name implies any bias in India’s favor. In another section, he examines nuclear-weapon-free zones, the state of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and potential solutions for “global governance disconnects” that hinder the growth of an effective global nuclear security regime. Thakur argues that the NPT’s central bargains are “under strain” and that the treaty suffers from “congenital defects, built-in flaws, ripening contradictions and increasing fragility.” He maintains that an emphasis on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use may be the best way “to generate political momentum for the nuclear disarmament cause.” Thakur concludes that progress on NPT Article VI disarmament obligations is essential and calls for a nuclear weapons convention that will achieve “verified destruction of all nuclear stockpiles within our lifetime.”—NATHANIEL SANS

Cyber War Versus Cyber Realities
Brandon Valerino and Ryan C. Maness, Oxford University Press, 2015, 266 pp.

Cyber War Versus Cyber Realities attempts to uncover “the realities and dynamics of state-to-state cyber conflict” through quantitative analysis. Authors Brandon Valerino and Ryan C. Maness, professors who study the issue of cyberconflicts, present evidence that suggests “restraint” is the current norm for state behavior in cyberspace and predict that this will continue to be the case well into the future. Valerino and Maness cast their evidence as a counterargument to the “cyber hype” that often makes headlines today, namely, that large-scale cyberconflicts capable of destroying a state’s critical infrastructure are inevitable. The authors point to “restraint mechanisms” such as the risk of potential harm to civilians, the possibility for a cyberattack to hit unintended targets, and the potential for technology behind cyberweapons, once used, to become widely available as the main reasons why states do not engage in high-stakes cyberconflict. International systems that further emphasize restraint in cyberspace will begin to emerge, Valerino and Maness say. They argue that to stop the worst-case scenarios from taking place in cyberspace, policymakers need to understand and frame the current state of cyberspace activities based on the realities of the actual threats. “Overstating the threat is dangerous because the response could then end up being the actual cause of more conflict,” the authors write. They maintain that if states believe “fear-based hype” and develop offensive cyberweapons in the belief that they will deter future attacks, “cyberspace is doomed.”—TIMOTHY FARNSWORTH

BOOK REVIEW: Playing Offense and Defense on Biological Weapons

July/August 2015

Reviewed by Kavita M. Berger

Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Organization for Weapons Development
By Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, Cornell University Press, 2014, 240 pp.

American Biodefense: How Dangerous Ideas About Biological Weapons Shape National Security
By Frank L. Smith III, Cornell University Press, 2014, 208 pp.

Scientific advancement in any field depends on five primary factors: the purpose of the science; the quality of the science; knowledgeable researchers; organizational structure, culture, and dynamics; and external influences. The interplay among these factors often determines the overall success of a scientific initiative. 

For example, in the early 2000s, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) established regional academic consortia to conduct research on biodefense and emerging infectious diseases. The goals of this initiative were to better understand the dynamics between humans and particularly harmful pathogens and to develop or inform the development of medical countermeasures. Although scientists learned a lot about pathogens and their effects in humans, very few vaccines, drugs, or diagnostic tools were developed by consortia members. The members were subjected to increasing regulatory restrictions, which increased the administrative and financial burdens and the political dissatisfaction with the lack of progress toward vaccine and drug development. 

In 2014 the NIH ended this program on biodefense and emerging infectious disease and created new Centers of Excellence for Translational Research that drew on the established consortia but focused more on translating scientific knowledge to development of vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic tools. In this example, regulatory environment, political influences, and scientific purpose may have been the primary determinants of the program’s fate.

Two new books build on this idea that several factors influence scientific progress, whether for peaceful or destructive purposes. In Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Organization for Weapons Development, Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley argues for nuanced assessments of potential biological weapons threats based on a more complete understanding of the challenges that faced the Soviet and U.S. offensive biological weapons programs. The second book, American Biodefense: How Dangerous Ideas About Biological Weapons Shape National Security by Frank L. Smith III, argues that the U.S. military biodefense effort was doomed from the outset because it was inappropriately placed under the control of units that focus on chemical defense despite “evidence” of the Soviet Union’s offensive biological weapons capabilities.

Readers of these and other books on the U.S. and Soviet offensive and defensive biological weapons programs should keep in mind that much of the current knowledge about these programs emerged after 1991. Very little was known between 1972, when the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was opened for signature, and 1989, when the first Soviet biological weapons scientist defected to the United Kingdom. Recognizing this chronology is critical to understanding whether and how the United States perceived the threat of biological weapons after it ended its offensive program in 1969 and signed the BWC in 1972.

In Barriers to Bioweapons, Ben Ouagrham-Gormley pieces together a picture of the U.S. and Soviet offensive biological weapons programs through a literature review and interviews of former biological weapons scientists from the two countries. She argues that the combination of internal and external factors created a scientific environment that either permitted knowledge transfer and creativity—an essential attribute for overcoming technical problems and developing new, effective products—or promoted compartmentalized knowledge and very little creativity. She associates the former environment with the pre-1969 U.S. offensive biological weapons program and the latter with the post-1972 Soviet offensive biological weapons program. She concludes by advocating for a new threat assessment process that incorporates an evaluation of internal and external factors of potential biological weapons programs.

Ben Ouagrham-Gormley describes internal organizational factors—such as explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge (knowledge that cannot be transferred through written or verbal communication), and approaches for transferring both types of knowledge between scientists and institutions—to provide the reader with a clear picture of how different institutions in the Soviet Union and the United States operated and how these differences contributed to or hindered scientific progress. She recounts interviews with former Soviet biological weapons scientists who described instances of falsification and fabrication of results to prevent punishment for lack of scientific progress. One former facility director described his role in preventing higher political influences from adversely affecting research at his facility and in promoting an open environment where scientists could interact with one another, solve technical problems creatively and collectively, and communicate with foreign scientists. Still other scientists described doing what they were told to do despite knowing that the directives were unrealistic or not technically feasible.

In general, many of the biological weapons facilities of the Soviet Union did not enable the transfer of tacit knowledge among scientists within or between institutions. Governmental leaders created this barrier primarily to ensure secrecy of the program. In certain instances where specialized knowledge was required, a small group of scientists was permitted to assist in achieving the goal, whether it was the development of specific types of biological weapons or the scaling up of production of certain biological weapons.

Unlike the Soviet experience, the U.S. offensive program promoted scientific progress and transfer of tacit knowledge by encouraging interaction among scientists within and outside the biological weapons institutions and fostering creative and critical thinking by those scientists. They had opportunities to interact with their colleagues within their own institutions, with scientists in other military institutions in the United States and among its allies, and with researchers in academia and the private sector. Ben Ouagrham-Gormley attributes this permissive environment to the era in which the U.S. program existed and biological weapons were not restricted—that is, after World War II and before the signing of the BWC, which categorically banned all offensive biological weapons development, production, and stockpiling.

Ben Ouagrham-Gormley continues her assessment by describing various external factors that further counteracted or supported the internal structures of biological weapons institutions in the Soviet Union and the United States. These external factors included political interference, funding, change in mission or movement of people, and need for secrecy. She describes significant political interference by Soviet leaders. Her interviewees described the practice of placing KGB agents in their facilities to inform political leaders of the progress made toward development of biological weapons.

Ben Ouagrham-Gormley also describes the high levels of investment made in building the facilities and supporting the research and development efforts of the Soviet program. In the United States, the role that biological weapons might play in military operations was highly debated, which contributed to high-level military and political disagreements about the utility of biological weapons. Ben Ouagrham-Gormley attributes some of these disagreements to poor communication between scientists and policymakers.

Ben Ouagrham-Gormley considers the “heterogeneous engineer” a critical part of a biological weapons program. This individual would be able to integrate basic and applied research and development to enhance the translation of basic research into weapons development. She states that such individuals often were missing in U.S. offensive biological weapons facilities, whereas they were present in Soviet facilities. This situation suggests that the Soviet Union’s offensive biological weapons program was intensely focused on product development even though its scientific environment did not foster creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. 

In American Biodefense, Smith explains his views about the lack of scientific progress in military biodefense in the United States. He uses open-source information and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to help provide a picture of U.S. biodefense efforts, and he extrapolates military and political intent from these documents. Yet, he does not corroborate his findings with military and political experts from the 1950s through the 1980s. His interviewees are contemporary biodefense experts who could describe the intent of current programs but may not know about the rationale for decision-making several decades ago. In addition, the book includes some technical statements that, in the absence of further supporting evidence, seem surprising. For example, Smith describes biosurveillance tools from the mid-1990s that supposedly have better response times than the ones in current use. 

Based on his assessment of the biological weapons threat during the Cold War, Smith argues that the United States did not adequately support biodefense efforts. Throughout the book, he states that the placement of the U.S. biodefense program under the Chemical Corps—a part of the Army that was tasked in the 1940s with defending against chemical and biological weapons—doomed the mission to failure because chemical defense and biological defense are fundamentally different.[1] He argues that placing the U.S. military biodefense program in the “chemical frame” contributed to the lack of scientific progress by preventing the most appropriate expertise from being applied to the problem. To support his argument, he highlights differences between chemicals and pathogens, stating the scientists with experience and knowledge of chemistry do not have the requisite knowledge of pathogens. He attributes this mismatch to a conflation of chemistry and biology and a fundamental lack of understanding of the biodefense problem by military leaders. 

Although some characteristics of chemical and biological weapons are different—for example, the sensitivity of biological agents to heat and the ability of contagious pathogens to propagate naturally—the differences between chemistry and biology are rapidly shrinking. During the past 10 to 15 years especially, new scientific advances have produced a convergence of chemistry and biology that has led to the development of new or enhanced methods, tools, and processes for peaceful purposes. Examples include bioprocessing of chemicals, synthetic biology, and bioprinting. Some of these tools are being used to develop new measures to counter biological threats, such as the J. Craig Venter Institute’s development of a new platform technology—a technology that enables the development of several products—for influenza vaccines using synthetic biology.

In another part of the book, Smith states that the United States had evidence of the Soviet offensive biological weapons program throughout the Cold War. This premise, however, is inconsistent with other historical assessments. According to The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History by Milton Leitenberg and Raymond A. Zilinskas, the United States had very little knowledge of the Soviet weapons program prior to 1989. Although some information existed, not enough was known to provide a detailed picture of the existence and scale of the Soviet program. Other biodefense experts have suggested that the Soviet Union’s role in the BWC could have signaled its commitment to upholding the treaty. (The Soviet Union was one of three depositary countries along with the UK and the United States.) 

The different accounts and the dearth of open-source information about the degree to which Washington knew about Moscow’s program from the 1970s and 1980s does not support Smith’s statement that “the United States was aware of the Soviet [biological weapons] program throughout the Cold War.” To support his claim, he cites documents and communications from the 1950s and 1960s and U.S. intelligence assessments of the 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk as an accidental release of anthrax from a Soviet biological weapons facility. Yet, he does not describe the broader debate that took place in the early 1980s, which cast doubt on the accuracy of the intelligence assessments. Focusing on some but not all relevant information can lead to a misunderstanding of the rationale for investment in, support for, and organization of certain defensive efforts undertaken by the United States during the height of the Cold War. 

Also missing from Smith’s evaluation is a robust discussion of the role and prominence of other military organizations that contributed to surveillance of unusual outbreaks and biodefense research, including the Air Force Institute of Pathology and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). Although the history of USAMRIID is described in the book, Smith’s focus on biodefense being placed in the “chemical frame” suggests he considers USAMRIID and other agencies with relevant expertise to be a very minor part of the former U.S. military biodefense complex.

In sharp contrast to his views about military biodefense, Smith writes favorably about recent U.S. investments in civilian biodefense. He contrasts the knowledge base and roles of various civilian agencies involved in biodefense with those of the military. Although he is correct that civilian agencies have the requisite knowledge and expertise to study pathogens and to develop vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic tools, few of these agencies have the explicit mission of biodefense, a point that Smith does not address. For example, biodefense research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is grouped with emerging infectious diseases because the overwhelming majority of outbreaks are of natural origin. 

The modern history of offensive biological weapons and biodefense is complex, and scientific progress in these areas depends on several organizational and external factors as described in the books reviewed here. In her book, Ben Ouagrham-Gormley tries to unpack and individually evaluate the relative influence that these factors had on the success of the U.S. and Soviet biological weapons programs. In doing so, she presents an interesting picture of the prevailing scientific environments in which offensive biological weapons research was conducted in the two countries. From this evaluation, she recommends looking at the internal and external influences on the environment in which research is conducted to assess potential biological threats.

Smith takes a more academic approach to evaluating the rationale for biodefense investment by the U.S. military throughout the Cold War and by civilian agencies in recent years. He tries to argue that viewing biodefense through the lens of defense against chemical weapons was detrimental to the success of U.S. military biodefense efforts. In doing so, however, he provides partial information that may result in misunderstanding of the rationale for biodefense investments and decisions.

Kavita M. Berger is a scientist at Gryphon Scientific working on biological security projects. Prior to joining Gryphon earlier this year, she spent nine years at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where she led projects on biological security, emerging biotechnologies, and other issues. She received her Ph.D. in genetics from Emory University and conducted postdoctoral research on the preclinical development of HIV and smallpox vaccines. 


1. Today the Chemical Corps’ mission includes radiological and nuclear defense in addition to chemical and biological defense. For more information on the corps’ history, see Fort Leonard Wood, “The U.S. Army Chemical Corps History,” n.d., http://www.wood.army.mil/newweb/chemhistory.html

Iran, P5+1 Close to Nuclear Deal

July/August 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (third from right) speaks to reporters during a break in talks with the U.S. delegation, headed by Secretary of State John Kerry (third from left) in Vienna on July 3.  At Kerry’s left is Helga Schmid, deputy foreign policy chief for the European Union. (State Department Photo)Iran and six world powers are close to concluding a comprehensive nuclear agreement and expect to complete a final deal in the first part of July, according to officials from both sides. 

Last November, Iran and the six powers, known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), set a deadline of June 30 for completing the final agreement. But on that day, they extended the deadline by seven days because officials said they needed more time to work out solutions on sanctions and inspections.

The international community is concerned that Iran could use its nuclear program to develop weapons, while Iran maintains that the program is entirely peaceful. 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Sergey Ryabkov said on July 2 he was confident a deal could be reached by the July 7 deadline. In separate comments the same day, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also told ­reporters that negotiations are “moving forward” and that he is hopeful for a deal. 

In April, Iran and the P5+1 agreed on a broad set of parameters to guide the final deal. (See ACT, May 2015.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on July 2 that to maintain momentum toward a deal, the P5+1 foreign ministers would continue to travel to Vienna.

Over the last week of June and the first days of July, the foreign ministers from all seven countries were in Vienna at various points. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived on June 26; the State Department said he would remain in Vienna through July 7. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz traveled with Kerry to the talks. 

On June 30, President Barack Obama said he was hopeful that there would be an agreement and that the parameters agreed to in April “if implemented effectively and codified properly, would, in fact, achieve my goal, which is Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Abbas Araqchi said on June 26 that significant progress had been made drafting the main text and technical annexes. 

Remaining Gaps

The last weeks of the negotiations have focused on areas where details were not fully spelled out in the April 2 parameters document, according to an official from a European country at the talks. He said that efforts over the past several months have focused on “clarifying these ambiguities” and resolving other issues.

According to officials on both sides, some of the remaining gaps leading into the June talks related to UN sanctions relief and questions regarding the investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the past possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

The European official said one of the most difficult areas to resolve concerned the reimposition, or “snapback,” of UN Security Council sanctions in the event of an Iranian violation of the final agreement.

Finding a mechanism to put sanctions back in place has been difficult, he said, because of “procedural differences” among the P5+1 countries.

In his July 2 comments, Ryabkov said that the negotiators were still drafting language for a UN Security Council resolution to codify the Iran deal. Officials have said in the past that a Security Council resolution will endorse a final deal. This resolution may outline how a subsequent resolution can put sanctions back into place. China and Russia were “concerned about putting sanctions back in place without a vote” and opposed any automatic reimposition, the European official said, while other countries were concerned that a restoration of sanctions could be blocked by a veto that is “politically motivated and not based on an assessment of Iran’s violation.” As permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia could veto a resolution.

Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, said in a June 26 conference call that the mechanism to put UN sanctions back in place would be to use the veto to reimpose restrictions. Rosenberg, now at the Center for a New American Security, said that, under this mechanism, vetoing a resolution that calls for the continuation of sanctions relief at the Security Council would put the sanctions back into place.

IAEA Access

Resolution of the IAEA investigation into past Iranian activities that might have been related to the development of nuclear weapons was another issue under discussion during the last round of negotiations.

As part of the April 2 parameters, Iran agreed take steps to resolve IAEA concerns about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. A senior Obama administration official told reporters on June 29 that the P5+1 has tried to “ensure that [this issue] is addressed and that the IAEA is able to issue a report as it has taken on as its institutional responsibility.”

A seal placed by the International Atomic Energy Agency on the connections between cascades at the Natanz uranium-enrichment plant in Iran is shown in this photo from January 20, 2014, the day that an interim deal between Iran and six world powers went into effect. (Photo by Kazem Ghane/AFP/Getty Images)In November 2013, Iran and the IAEA reached a framework agreement to allow agency inspectors to investigate unresolved IAEA concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, including the alleged weaponization activities. That probe stalled in August 2014 after nine months of cooperation.

Iran failed to meet a deadline to provide information about two activities that could be related to nuclear weapons development, but has since resumed some cooperation. Tehran provided the IAEA with information on one of the two issues in May.

Most recently, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano traveled to Tehran on July 1 to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. Iranian press reports quoted Shamkhani as saying on July 2 that Iran is ready to continue cooperation with the IAEA to “resolve the remaining issues.” 

In comments to the media after he returned to Vienna on July 4, Amano said a report on the weaponization activities could be completed “by the end of the year” if Iran cooperates with the agency’s investigation. Iranian officials expressed concern in the past that the IAEA’s investigation might continue indefinitely. 

Concerns about any future illicit activities would be addressed under Iran’s additional protocol. An additional protocol to a country’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA gives inspectors expanded access to nuclear facilities in that country 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.

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 and that the agency has done this in the past. 

Some members of the U.S. Congress have called for “anytime, anywhere” access to Iranian sites to ensure that there are no covert nuclear activities taking place. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made that point in a June 15 letter to Obama. 

In his June 29 comments, the senior administration official said that, under an agreement, if the IAEA “believes that it needs access and has a reason for that access, then we have a process to ensure that that access is given” but that the purpose of verification is not to gain access to every military site because that is “not appropriate.”

Iran and six world powers expect to complete a final nuclear deal by the first part of July, according to officials from both sides.

Russia Still Violating INF Treaty, U.S. Says

July/August 2015

By Kingston Reif

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work testifies at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 25. He said the United States would not allow Russia “to gain a significant military advantage through [its] violation of an arms control treaty.” (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)Russia remains in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to an annual State Department report released on June 5.

The report, which surveys compliance with arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament commitments by the United States and other countries, reiterated the finding, first announced in the 2014 version of the report, that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, September 2014.)

The new analysis says the Obama administration had noted concern about Russia’s compliance “in earlier, classified versions” of the report but did not publish a formal noncompliance determination until 2014.

The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, marked the first time the two superpowers agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty eliminated almost 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, most of them Russian.

The U.S. government has raised its concerns about Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty on multiple occasions over the past two years. Moscow continues to deny that it has violated the agreement.

As in the 2014 report, this year’s report did not specify the type of Russian cruise missile in question, the number of tests conducted, or the location of the tests.

Some media reports have focused on Russia’s R-500 Iskander-K short-range cruise missile as the missile that precipitated the U.S. allegation. That system uses a road-mobile launcher, similar to the Iskander-M, which is a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile.

But in a June 23 interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the R-500 is not the missile that the United States has “determined is in violation” of the treaty. She added that the U.S. government is “confident that the Russian government is aware of the missile to which we are referring.”

The 2015 report contains two paragraphs not in last year’s report that highlight treaty provisions stating that “if a launcher has been tested for launching a GLCM” or “contained or launched a particular type of GLCM,” then “all launchers of that type shall be considered to be launchers of that type of GLCM.”

In a June 7 posting on the blog Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, Pavel Podvig, an affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said that these additions “seem to support” his theory “that the violation is a technicality” involving tests of a long-range sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) from a mobile GLCM launcher.

The testing of a SLCM from a mobile launcher would constitute a violation of the treaty, Podvig argues, because the treaty requires that any missile that is not a GLCM covered by the treaty should be test-launched from a fixed land-based launcher used solely for test purposes and distinguishable from GLCM launchers.

A Congressional Research Service report on Russia’s compliance with the INF Treaty, released on June 2, questioned the SLCM explanation, stating it “seems imperfect.” 

“U.S. officials have repeatedly referred to the violation as a test of a ground-launched cruise missile, lending less credence to the view that the United States might have misidentified tests of a sea-launched missile,” the report says.

In a June 11 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry described the allegation in the State Department report as “completely false.” 

The statement reiterated Russian concerns about U.S. military activities that “are based on a very loose interpretation of the INF Treaty provisions,” such as “plans to deploy the vertical missile launch systems . . . at missile defense bases in Romania and Poland,” use of “target missiles with characteristics similar to those of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles” in missile defense tests, and the manufacture of armed drones that “fall under the INF Treaty definition of ground-based cruise missiles.” According to Moscow, those actions constitute violations of the treaty.

Gottemoeller disputed these counterallegations, stating that the “United States remains in compliance with the INF Treaty.” 

In testimony at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 25, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work reiterated that the United States “will not allow the Russian Federation to gain a significant military advantage through [its] violation of an arms control treaty.”

He said the Defense Department is “developing and analyzing response options” for President Barack Obama and will consult with its allies on the options. 

Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said in December 2014 that the range of military response options under consideration includes “active defenses to counter” INF-range GLCMs, “counterforce capabilities” to prevent attacks from these missiles, “and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” (See ACT, January/February 2015.)

Russia remains in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, according to a State Department report.

Obama Signs Nuclear Security Legislation

July/August 2015

By Kingston Reif

Participants attend a session of the 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington on April 13, 2010. At the summit, the United States pledged to accelerate efforts to complete its ratification of two nuclear security treaties. (Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)President Barack Obama on June 2 signed legislation to implement two treaties that strengthen global efforts to prevent and counter nuclear terrorism, five years after he first submitted draft legislation to Congress. 

The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on May 14 and the Senate on June 2, updates the U.S. criminal code to bring the United States into compliance with the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. 

In a June 4 statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said the passage of the legislation  was “yet another indication that the United States is committed on a bipartisan basis to eliminating the greatest threat to global security: nuclear terrorism.” 

The 2005 amendment to the CPPNM expands the original treaty to require parties not only to protect nuclear material in international transit, but also to protect nuclear facilities and nuclear material that is in domestic storage, use, or transit. 

The anti-terrorism convention establishes a framework to strengthen cooperation among countries in combating nuclear terrorism and provides details on how offenders and illicit materials should be handled by states when seized.

The George W. Bush administration submitted the treaties to the Senate in September 2007, and the Senate overwhelmingly approved them in September 2008. But the agreements require all states-parties to establish specific criminal offenses in areas such as the possession and use of radioactive material, nuclear smuggling, and sabotage of nuclear facilities. This required Congress to pass legislation to update the U.S. criminal code.

The Obama administration first submitted a proposal for the implementing legislation to Congress for approval in March 2010, a month before pledging at the first nuclear security summit to accelerate efforts to complete ratification. 

The new law also includes implementing language for two protocols to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

The House passed implementing legislation for the four treaties in 2012 and again in 2013, but the Senate failed to do so, largely because of a dispute between Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, over whether the Justice Department should be able to pursue the death penalty for a lethal act of nuclear terrorism and seek legal authority for wiretaps to investigate the new crimes created by the legislation. (See ACT, November 2012.

House Judiciary Committee members had negotiated with the administration to remove the controversial measures prior to passing their own version of the legislation. The House bills established a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a maximum fine of $2 million for an “act of nuclear terrorism” resulting in death.

This year, frustrated by the deadlock in the Senate, the House Judiciary Committee attached the implementing language for the treaties to its version of the USA Freedom Act, which passed the full House on May 14 by a vote of 338–88. That act modifies several provisions of the Patriot Act, including the collection of telecommunication metadata. 

The Senate passed the act on the afternoon of June 2 by a vote of 67–32. Obama signed the bill that night. 

At the March 2012 nuclear security summit in Seoul, the participants pledged to seek the entry into force of the CPPNM amendment by the March 2014 summit in The Hague. The amendment’s entry into force requires ratification by two-thirds of the parties to the CPPNM. Of the treaty’s 152 parties, 84—short of the needed 101—had approved the amendment by February 2015, according to the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the depositary for the treaty and the amendment. 

The anti-terrorism convention, which entered into force in 2007, has been signed by 115 states and ratified by 99. 

Kerry noted that the ratification would fulfill the commitment the United States originally made in 2010.

“We call on all countries who share our commitment to preventing nuclear terrorism to join and fully implement these treaties,” he added.

President Barack Obama on June 2 signed legislation to implement two treaties that strengthen global efforts to prevent and counter nuclear terrorism. 

S. Korea, U.S. Sign Civil Nuclear Pact

July/August 2015

By Daniel Horner

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (left) and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz sign an agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation in Washington on June 15.(U.S. Department of Energy)South Korea and the United States on June 15 signed an agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation after years of talks that had been bedeviled by the need to square U.S. nonproliferation policy with South Korean aspirations to develop its nuclear fuel cycle and be recognized as an equal nuclear partner.

One bone of contention has been the issue of whether the United States would provide so-called advance consent for South Korean sensitive nuclear activities that fall under the agreement. The pact provides such consent for relatively noncontroversial activities, but not for uranium enrichment or for pyroprocessing, a spent fuel treatment process that South Korea is pursuing and that Washington considers to be a form of reprocessing.

Through an ongoing, joint fuel-cycle study and a high-level bilateral commission that is established by the agreement and two supplementary documents, the new accord “contains pathways” toward a “possible” U.S. decision “to grant advance consent to [South Korea] to enrich or pyroprocess U.S.-obligated nuclear material,” according to the agreement’s Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement (NPAS). The NPAS, which is required under U.S. law, is one of the documents that accompanied the text of the agreement in a package that President Barack Obama sent to Congress on June 16.

Under the 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements must include language saying that the partner country may not undertake activities such as uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing under the agreement unless Washington first consents to those activities.

In the agreements with Japan, Euratom, and India, the United States provided consent for the life of the agreement. Under a proposed agreement that is now before Congress, China would receive similar consent. South Korea was seeking a similar arrangement.

In 2011, South Korea and the United States began a joint study on pyroprocessing, which is due to be completed in 2021. Once the study is finished, the two sides “shall consult with a view to identifying appropriate options for the management and disposition of spent fuel subject to the Agreement and for further development or demonstration of relevant technologies,” according to the new agreement. The consultations are to take place “as promptly as possible so that nuclear energy programs of either Party would not be unduly hampered” and are to be under the auspices of the high-level commission. That body is to be headed by the U.S. deputy secretary of energy and the South Korean vice minister of foreign affairs. 

The agreement lists the criteria that the study is to use in assessing pyroprocessing—technical feasibility, economic viability, and nonproliferation acceptability. The two countries also must agree that the technology “does not significantly increase the risk of proliferation and ensures timely detection and early warning of diversion.”

In addition, the two sides have to agree that pursuing pyroprocessing “avoids the buildup of stocks of group actinides in excess of an amount that is reasonably needed.” The term “actinides” refers to a series of metallic elements in the periodic table, some of which are potentially usable as nuclear explosives.

A former U.S. official who worked on nuclear cooperation agreements said the last provision does not appear in other pacts and reflects the current U.S. policy on limiting the amount of separated plutonium. U.S. officials “don’t want to see another Japan happen,” he said in a July 3 interview, referring to Japan’s accumulation of separated plutonium well in excess of the country’s ability to use the material in its nuclear reactors.

Pyroprocessing differs from conventional reprocessing because the plutonium separated from spent fuel by pyroprocessing remains mixed with other actinides. South Korean officials have argued that this difference makes pyroprocessing more proliferation resistant than traditional reprocessing.

The NPAS notes that the United States treats pyroprocessing as a proliferation-sensitive technology and says that the United States believes that the Nuclear Suppliers Group also should do that.

That document acknowledges that the determination of whether a technology significantly increases the risk of proliferation is “subjective” and says that the proposed agreement gives the secretary of energy the “latitude” to make that determination, as required by the Atomic Energy Act.

The agreement makes clear that the potentially proliferation-sensitive activities can proceed only through mutual consent, but a former congressional staffer expressed concern that U.S. officials ultimately would accede to the South Korean requests. “For years, I’ve watched Americans forget that it’s through mutual consent. Friends are often harder to say no to” than enemies, he said in a June 30 interview.

In a July 2 interview, a congressional analyst said the structure of the agreement is “intended to allow each side to spin it positively.” The United States can say it did not give advance consent to pyroprocessing, and South Korea can say that the pact does not foreclose that possibility “forever,” he said.

He noted that the agreement’s duration is 20 years, with provision for a five-year extension. That time frame would allow the Koreans to revisit the contested issues relatively soon if they are not satisfied with the pace of progress, he said. U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements generally have had terms of at least 30 years, some of which allow for an unlimited number of five-year extensions. The shorter time frame in the new agreement was at the insistence of the South Koreans, the analyst said.

The former U.S. official agreed that the new accord represents a compromise by both sides. He added that the establishment of the high-level commission indicates “how seriously [the United States is] addressing” the South Korean concerns.

The new agreement replaces one that was due to expire last year but was extended for two years. Officials from the two countries initialed the new pact in April. (See ACT, May 2015.)

The June 16 submittal to Congress starts a countdown of 90 days of so-called continuous session. The agreement can enter into force if Congress does not block it during that time. Congress also can vote to add conditions to the agreement.

After years of talks, South Korea and the United States signed an agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation.


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