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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
January/February 2016
Edition Date: 
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Cover Image: 

IAEA Finds Iran Did Weapons Work

January/February 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, shown above in a November 2013 photo, welcomed a recent report by the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear program. (Photo credit: Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images)Iran pursued a nuclear weapons program prior to 2003, but did not divert nuclear material from its civilian nuclear program as part of its weaponization efforts, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported last month, leading the organization’s governing body to close the investigation into Iran’s past nuclear weapons activities.

The Dec. 2 IAEA report found that although Tehran’s organized nuclear weapons program ended in 2003, some activities continued through 2009. Nevertheless, the agency said, it found “no credible indications” that nuclear material was diverted to the weapons program or that any undeclared activities have taken place since 2009.

In an annex to its November 2011 quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities, the IAEA had laid out 12 areas of concern that could be relevant for a nuclear weapons program, but the agency made little progress investigating its concerns until it reached an agreement with Tehran last July 14 to complete the probe. Between July and October, Iran provided the agency with information and with access to individuals and sites as part of the IAEA investigation.

The IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors met on Dec. 15 to consider the Dec. 2 report. The board passed a resolution by a unanimous vote that closed the investigation into the past weapons work.

In a statement to the board released after the vote, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said the agency’s finding that Iran has not diverted nuclear material “clearly shows that Iran’s nuclear programme has always been for peaceful purposes.”

Najafi said that Iran “disagreed” with some of the agency’s findings. The “scientific studies of dual-use technologies have always been for peaceful civilian or conventional military uses” rather than nuclear weapons work, he said.

The report found that some of the activities that Iran claimed were for conventional military or peaceful purposes, such as the testing of certain types of explosive detonators, had “characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device,” but noted that the detonators have applications that are not related to nuclear explosives.

In several cases, the agency also said Tehran was not fully forthcoming with information in response to its questions.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Dec. 15 that he welcomed the resolution and that closing the investigation will “in no way preclude the IAEA from investigating if there is reason to believe Iran is pursuing any covert nuclear activities in the future.”

The Dec. 15 resolution said Iran should “cooperate fully and in a timely manner” with the IAEA through implementation of its safeguards, including by providing the agency with access to sites in Iran.

Román Oyarzun Marchesi of Spain, chair of the UN Security Council committee on Iran sanctions, briefs the council on December 15, 2015. (Photo credit: Evan Schneider/UN)The board asked the agency to continue to report quarterly on Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the nuclear deal reached between Tehran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

As part of the July nuclear deal, Iran agreed to implement and eventually ratify an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The protocol gives IAEA inspectors expanded access to information and sites in Iran.

Iran also agreed to continuous monitoring at some of its nuclear facilities, including its uranium mines and mills and centrifuge production workshops.

The Dec. 15 resolution requested that the IAEA director-general report to the board and the UN Security Council if any concerns about Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement arise.

Kerry said that the “focus now appropriately moves toward full implementation” of the nuclear deal and “its enhanced verification and transparency regime.”

Next Steps

In October, more than a month before the IAEA report, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran would not complete some of its obligations under the nuclear deal with the P5+1 until after the IAEA board closed the investigation on Iran’s past work related to nuclear weapons development.

The day after the board resolution terminating the probe, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told reporters that Iran was ready to ship out its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU), about nine metric tons, to Russia.

Iranian officials confirmed that the LEU was shipped from the port city of Bushehr on Dec. 28. Kerry said in a Dec. 28 statement that removal of the LEU from Iran is significant and “more than triples” the time it would take for Tehran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade for one bomb. Prior to the removal, he said the time was about two to three months.

Under the deal with the P5+1, Iran committed to reduce its stockpile of uranium enriched to reactor-grade levels, less than 5 percent uranium-235, to 300 kilograms.

In return for the LEU, Iran will receive natural uranium from Russia. Salehi said Iran would receive 140 metric tons of uranium yellowcake from Russia in return for the LEU. Russia already has shipped 137 metric tons to Iran, Salehi said in his Dec. 16 comments.

Also contingent on the conclusion of the IAEA’s investigation, according to Khamenei, is the removal of the core of the Arak reactor.

Iran committed to remove and disable the core of the reactor under the nuclear deal with the P5+1. The six-country group is to work with Iran to modify the reactor and construct a new core that will produce significantly less weapons-grade plutonium than the original design.

Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted Iranian officials on Jan. 11 as saying that work on removing the core had begun.

He has stated on several occasions that Iran can complete all of its commitments under the nuclear deal, including removal of the reactor core, by mid-January.

Another Missile Test

Despite the progress on the nuclear deal, Iran and the United States are still at odds over Iran’s recent missile activities.

Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile on Nov. 21, likely violating UN Security Council Resolution 1929 for the second time since October, when Iran tested its Emad missile. (See ACT, November 2015.)

That resolution, adopted in June 2010, prohibits Iran from undertaking “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.” Under a widely accepted definition, ballistic missiles are considered nuclear capable if they can carry a 500-kilogram payload over a distance of 300 kilometers.

The UN Security Council panel charged with overseeing sanctions on Iran found on Dec. 15 that the Emad test violated Resolution 1929.

The missile tested in November is reported to be a Ghadr-110, a liquid-fueled missile with a range of about 2,000 kilometers. The Ghadr-110 and the Emad are variants of Iran’s Shahab-3 ballistic missile.

In a Dec. 17 letter to President Barack Obama, 21 Senate Democrats, including a number of senators who support the nuclear deal, called on the president “to take action unilaterally, or in coordination with our European allies” in response to the missile tests. Without action from the United States or the UN Security Council, “Iran’s leaders will certainly also question the willingness of the international community to respond to violations” of the nuclear deal, the letter said.

A separate Dec. 17 letter to Obama from 35 Senate Republicans called on him to keep the sanctions on Iran in place.

Iran is not prohibited from testing ballistic missiles under the nuclear agreement with the P5+1. When the agreement is fully implemented, Resolution 1929 will be replaced by Security Council Resolution 2231.

That resolution, unanimously passed by the Security Council on July 20, endorses the nuclear deal and calls on Iran “not to develop or test ballistic missiles that are designed to be capable” of delivering nuclear warheads. 

The [IAEA]’s finding that Iran had a nuclear weapons program until 2003 was endorsed by the agency’s board, which also closed the investigation into past weaponization work. 

U.S. Broadens Response on INF Treaty

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, the State Department’s Rose Gottemoeller, left, and the Defense Department’s Brian McKeon testify on December 1, 2015, at a hearing in the House of Representatives on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Photo credit: C-SPAN)After reviewing a range of military options to respond to Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Obama administration appears to have decided to pursue a broader approach that goes beyond its specific concerns about Moscow’s noncompliance with the treaty.

In testimony at a Dec. 1 hearing held jointly by House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs subcommittees, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said that “Russia is not violating the INF Treaty in isolation from its overall aggressive behavior; therefore we concluded that our responses cannot focus solely on the INF Treaty.”

“Accordingly,” he added, “we are developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions and are committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.”

Reiterating the public assessment that it first made in July 2014, the State Department said last June 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, July/August 2015.)

Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Dec. 1 statement that the allegations are “groundless” and the United States has “not provided any proof” that Russia is “allegedly producing and deploying” banned missiles.

Defense and State department officials have said they do not believe Russia has deployed the prohibited missile.

At a December 2014 hearing held by the same House subcommittees as the recent hearing, McKeon said the Pentagon had conducted a military assessment of the threat “if Russia were to deploy” an INF Treaty-range GLCM “in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region.” That assessment prompted a review of three kinds of response capabilities to ensure that Russia did not gain a significant military advantage from its alleged violation: “active defenses” to enhance the defense of locations the noncompliant GLCMs could reach, “counterforce capabilities” to actually attack these missiles, and “countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.”

McKeon did not provide details on the options, but did say that they were being discussed with allies and that some “would be compliant with the INF Treaty” but others “would not be.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29, 2015, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said the Obama administration was still in the midst of “negotiating” how to respond to the treaty breach but that if Russia fielded a noncompliant system, he would “expect” the United States to pursue one of the three categories of INF Treaty-focused options McKeon outlined.

At the Dec. 1 hearing, however, McKeon did not mention these options. Instead, he listed a number of broader steps that the United States already is undertaking and plans to undertake to bolster the defense of Europe in the face of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, along with heightened nuclear saber rattling that has included more nuclear exercises.

McKeon’s list included expanding bilateral and multilateral military exercises with European allies, positioning military equipment in central and eastern Europe, improving air defense systems in Europe, modernizing U.S. nuclear forces, and focusing on new threats to Europe, such as Russian cyberattacks.

He said that as the administration evaluates “the changed strategic environment in Europe, we are factoring Russia’s increased cruise missile capabilities, including its INF [Treaty] violation, into our planning.”

Puzzling Move

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, testified alongside McKeon at the Dec. 1 hearing and said the administration is “puzzled as to why” Russia thinks it needs a noncompliant GLCM since the targets in range of the new missile could be covered by Moscow’s strategic nuclear forces. Gottemoeller also noted that the Russians have been developing new air- and sea-launched cruise missiles, which are not prohibited by the INF Treaty.

McKeon said the prohibited missile program would create new military threats to the United States and its allies, but did not elaborate, citing classification restrictions.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House strategic forces subcommittee, expressed displeasure with the apparent change in the administration’s approach. He said the specific response options prepared “a year ago for consideration are now going to…just blend in” to the broader response to other challenges posed by Russia. As a result, there will be “no action on the violation of the INF Treaty,” he said.

McKeon said Russian officials would take notice of the broader military capabilities in which the United States is investing and “start to understand” that their treaty noncompliance “is not making them any more secure.” If Russia continues in its noncompliance, he said, “we can always assess whether to take other measures.” McKeon did not specify what those other measures might be or if they would come from the three response categories the administration had originally been considering.

Gottemoeller said that the U.S. “announcement of Russia’s violation…has imposed significant costs on Russia” and prevented Moscow from developing the system “unconstrained.”

She added that the administration continues to “consider economic measures with regard to the INF [Treaty].”

Policy Shift?

One European analyst said McKeon’s testimony marked a clear shift away from the administration’s previous focus on a response that was specific to the treaty and represents “a significant political decision.” In a Dec. 28 email to Arms Control Today, Jacek Durkalec, nonproliferation and arms control project manager at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said the change is “understandable” because many of the options for U.S. responses “would be relevant for deterrence and defense” of NATO even if Russia returned to compliance, especially defense against different kinds of Russian cruise missile threats. He added that the new framing of the response would also avoid the risk of contentious debate within NATO about how to respond to the violation.

Soviet inspectors and their U.S. escorts stand among dismantled U.S. Pershing II missiles at an unidentified site on January 14, 1989, as part of the regime of destruction and inspections under the INF Treaty. (Photo credit: MSGT Jose Lopez Jr./Defense Department)But he expressed concern that the lack of clear and specific response could call into question the resolve of the United States to respond to arms control violations. Furthermore, he said, Russia might now have little incentive to return to compliance with the INF Treaty because the overall U.S. efforts to strengthen the defense of Europe will be made irrespective of Russia’s compliance status.

In a Dec. 23 interview, Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, said the approach described by McKeon did not necessarily reflect a shift in strategy and seemed to fit in the “countervailing” category of response options that McKeon first outlined in 2014. Pifer also said the approach gives the next administration the ability to pursue additional responses that are specific to the INF Treaty “down the road” if it so chooses.

In a Dec. 15 email, a Republican Senate staffer said, “Treating the INF Treaty violation as part of Russia’s larger pattern of behavior is fine – as long [as] US actions truly address the strategic implications of the violation.” According to the staffer, this “requires the US to adjust its nuclear posture to take into account the new reality of Russia’s increasing reliance on nuclear weapons, particularly cruise missiles.”

The fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Barack Obama on Nov. 25, calls for a plan for the development of the three kinds of response capabilities the administration said it had planned to pursue to counter Russia’s new GLCM program and requires the Defense Department to make a recommendation on a response capability. (See ACT, November 2015.)

McKeon said the Defense Department will complete the report required by the bill. 

The Obama administration appears to have decided to pursue a response to Russia’s alleged violation of the [INF] Treaty that goes beyond Washington’s specific concerns about treaty noncompliance. 

New Cruise Missile Capability Debated

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

A B-52H bomber releases an unarmed AGM-86B air-launched cruise missile during a test run at the Utah Test and Training Range on September 22, 2014. (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Roidan Carlson/U.S. Air Force)The United States is planning to purchase a new fleet of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) that will be far more advanced than the ones they are slated to replace, according to members of Congress and other sources, raising questions about the plan’s consistency with a pledge made by the Obama administration not to provide nuclear weapons with new capabilities.

The development of the new missile also has sparked a debate about whether it could be more “usable” than the existing ALCM, thereby lowering the threshold for when the United States might consider using nuclear weapons.

In a Dec. 15 letter to President Barack Obama urging him to cancel the new cruise missile, also known as the long-range standoff weapon, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and seven other senators wrote that the “proposed…missile is a significantly altered version” of the existing ALCM.

The letter did not say what specific capabilities the new missile would provide, but claimed the proposal contradicts the policy statement from the 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report” that efforts to sustain U.S. nuclear weapons “will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

“Indeed,” the senators added, “this new cruise missile appears to be designed specifically for improved nuclear war-fighting capabilities.”

The White House disputed the contention that the new ALCM contradicts administration policy. In a Dec. 23 email to Arms Control Today, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said that U.S. nuclear modernization efforts are “consistent with the President’s strategy laid out in Prague [in a 2009 speech] and in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.”

The Defense Department elaborated in a Jan. 5 email. The new missile “will use a refurbished version of the current ALCM warhead” that “will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers. Rather, by developing the new weapons system, the United States “will preserve existing military capability in the face of evolving threats,” Sowers said.

The NPR Report’s prohibition on the development of new military missions and capabilities specifically refers to improvements to nuclear warheads, not their delivery systems.

Nuclear-armed ALCMs are part of the U.S. nuclear triad of strategic delivery systems consisting of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers, which can carry ALCMs and gravity bombs. ALCMs, which are currently carried by the B-52H long-range bomber, are standoff weapons that can attack targets at distances beyond the range of air defense systems.

The Air Force’s lone remaining ALCM variant is the AGM-86B, up to 20 of which can be carried by a B-52H bomber. Multiple life-extension programs have kept the missile, which was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years, in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030.

Current Air Force plans call for the procurement of about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. (See ACT, June 2015.) Government and think tank estimates suggest that the total cost of building the new missile and refurbishing the associated warhead would be about $25 billion over 20 years. 

New Capabilities Sought

Although the Defense Department has declined to comment publicly on the capabilities of the new ALCM, the limited information the department has released, as well as information from several other sources, points to a missile that will have new capabilities.

In a Feb. 25, 2015, request for information to contractors on the desired performance of the new missile’s engine, the Air Force said it was seeking potential improvements in the performance of the current engine technology, including a possible supersonic option, which would allow the missile to fly at a velocity of at least 768 miles per hour. The current ALCM can travel at a speed of approximately 550 miles per hour.

Pentagon officials also have said that the new fleet of cruise missiles will be compatible with not only the B-52H, but also the B-2 and planned long-range strike bombers. It is not clear if deploying the missile on the more advanced B-2 and long-range strike aircraft would allow those planes to hit targets that the B-52H could not reliably reach.

Advocates of the new missile argue that it provides a continuing ability to quickly add missiles to bombers. They note that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty does not cap the number of weapons that can be carried on each bomber.

The Air Force told Arms Control Today last May that, despite the current plan to roughly double the size of the ALCM fleet, the requirements for nuclear-armed cruise missiles “have not increased.”

A source who has been briefed on the new ALCM program disputed the need for such a large missile procurement, saying in an interview that, “in exchange for” a more reliable and capable missile, the department “should maintain a smaller hedge.”

The source said the technical characteristics of the new missile are still being defined because the program is still in the early development stage but that the goal is to increase the range and accuracy of the missile. The source said another goal is to incorporate the latest stealth features, making the missile much more difficult for adversary air defense systems to detect.

Such features would comport with the Defense Department’s primary rationale for the new missile, namely to ensure that the bomber leg of the triad can strike targets in the face of increasingly sophisticated adversary air defenses. The department has expressed concern that the current ALCM is losing its ability to continue to penetrate these defenses in addition to becoming increasingly unreliable.

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), shown above in a March 2015 photo, organized a letter to President Barack Obama opposing a new cruise missile. (Photo credit: Paul Marotta/Getty Images)In response to questions submitted by lawmakers after a Feb. 26, 2015, hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Brian McKeon, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said maintenance of the existing ALCM “is becoming increasingly difficult, and its reliability in the next decade is not assured even with substantial investment.”

The source who had been briefed on the program said that, due to the reliability concerns, the ALCM is currently “not part of the planning scenarios for nuclear use.” He added that the missile could be maintained for the next five years but, “after that, it’s almost a dud.”

Some former officials and experts say it should not be surprising that the new cruise missile will be more advanced than the existing ALCM.

In a December email exchange with Arms Control Today, Al Mauroni and Mel Deaile of the Air Force Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies said they would expect the Defense Department “to improve military capabilities over past, aging weapon systems that continue to be fielded well beyond their originally-designed service life.” Mauroni and Deaile added that their comments did not necessarily reflect official U.S. positions.

Regarding the proposed life extension program for the ALCM warhead, known as the W80-4, the source who has been briefed said a goal of that program is to permit “greater flexibility in actually picking” the desired yield. The ALCM warhead is believed have a built-in option to allow detonation at lower or higher yields.

According to the source, increasing the accuracy of the missile allows for more flexibility in the warhead yield, thus enhancing the overall capability of the weapons system.

The source criticized the Obama administration for claiming the new missile program is consistent with the NPR Report. Focusing narrowly on whether the warhead’s nuclear explosive package is a new design, the source said, “allows the military to increase or change capabilities” in other areas of the weapons system “while shielding [itself] behind the narrow letter” of the report “and avoiding public debate.”

Lowering the Threshold

The source said the briefings made it clear that the Pentagon is envisioning potential uses for the new cruise missile that go beyond “the original mission space” of the ALCM.

For example, the source said that, in the event of a major conflict with China, the Pentagon has talked about using the new missile to destroy Chinese air defenses as a warning to Beijing against escalating the conflict further.

In testimony to the strategic forces subcommittee on April 15, 2015, Robert Scher, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, said an additional rationale for the new ALCM is to preserve the president’s ability to respond “to a limited or large-scale failure of deterrence,” but did not provide details.

In a Dec. 14 statement to Arms Control Today, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a member of the strategic forces panel, said claims that the new cruise missile will provide the president with more flexible response options “accept that a nuclear conflict could be controlled through the deliberate use of nuclear force.”

He said he disagreed with that approach because “[t]here is no such thing as a limited nuclear war.”

A Senate Republican staffer offered a different view in a Dec. 15 email. In developing the new missile, the United States should be prepared to match “Russia’s new emphasis” on the use of tactical nuclear weapons “to de-escalate a potential conflict” and “force developments by other nuclear powers,” the staffer said.

In a Dec. 17 interview, a different congressional staffer said it is not yet clear what features the new cruise missile and associated warhead will have, but expressed concern that the Defense and Energy departments will choose features that make the weapons system “more usable,” thus blurring the line between nuclear and conventional weapons.

Others dispute the notion that a more capable nuclear weapon increases the likelihood of its use. Retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler, former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in a Dec. 15 email that the new cruise missile will not lower the nuclear threshold because “the height of the nuclear threshold isn’t directly related to the so-called ‘usability’ of the weapons.”

Kehler, who is an affiliate of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said U.S. “planners have to balance US policy regarding ‘new’ nuclear capabilities against the realities of weapon design and the evolution of technology and the threat.”

He added, “I believe we can strike the right balance while still meeting the intent of the [president’s] policy.”


Correction: The original version of this article mischaracterized the party affiliation of one the signers of the letter organized by Sen. Ed Markey. The signers were Markey, six other Democratic senators, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats.

The United States is planning to purchase a new fleet of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles that will be far more advanced than the missiles they are slated to replace.

Hill Denies Money for Submarine Fund

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

An Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia on February 6, 2013. (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/U.S. Navy)Congress in December declined to provide funding for a special budget account it created in 2014 to pay for a dozen new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines amid ongoing concerns about the high cost of the boats and a debate about whether the fund would save money.

Lawmakers also voted to withhold 75 percent of the Army’s budget request for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) after part of the blimp-borne radar system crashed in northeastern Pennsylvania on Oct. 28.

Those provisions were part of the fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, which passed the House and the Senate on Dec. 18. Fiscal year 2016 started on Oct. 1, 2015, and runs until Sept. 30.

Navy officials have repeatedly warned that the service’s projected long-term budget is not large enough to accommodate the program to build the new submarines, known as the Ohio-class replacement program, and meet its needs for conventional ships. (See ACT, October 2013.) The Navy estimates that the 12 planned boats, which are slated to be purchased between 2021 and 2035 and replace the existing fleet of 14 Ohio-class subs, will cost $139 billion to develop and build.

In an attempt to address the Navy’s concerns, the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act created the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, a separate budget account outside the Navy’s regular shipbuilding account that would provide a mechanism for the Navy to buy the new boats without reducing funding for its other shipbuilding programs. The authorization bill for the current fiscal year, which President Barack Obama signed on Nov. 25, expands the purview of the fund and provides the Navy with special acquisition authorities, such as the ability to buy components for multiple boats in a single bulk purchase, which supporters say could reduce the cost of the new submarines.

But critics, including Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, maintain that the fund is a gimmick because extra monies will have to be found somewhere in the Pentagon’s budget with or without the fund. The critics also argue that Congress can authorize more-efficient acquisition practices in the absence of a separate account.

The actual transfer of money to the fund has to be approved by lawmakers through the appropriations process. The House defense appropriations subcommittee, which has been critical of the fund, attempted to prohibit the transfer of fiscal year 2016 monies to the account. But the full House overruled the subcommittee ban, which the full Appropriations Committee had accepted, in approving two amendments to the defense appropriations bill that removed the prohibition and made $3.5 billion available for transfer. The Senate Appropriations Committee version of the bill did not authorize the transfer of money to the fund.

The final omnibus bill reflects the Senate position and does not approve money for the fund.

The omnibus bill also takes a hard line on the JLENS program, slashing $30 million from the budget request of $40.6 million due to “test schedule delays.” In the Oct. 28 incident, one of the two tethered blimps that make up the current test deployment of the system detached from its mooring station near Baltimore, dragging 6,700 feet of cable for three hours before finally coming to rest. (See ACT, December 2015.) The system is designed to detect and track objects such as cruise missiles and other airborne threats.

In a December email exchange with Arms Control Today, Maj. Beth Smith, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said an Army investigation to determine the cause of the incident is “still ongoing” and could take 90 days to complete. A decision about whether to continue the planned three-year test of the system’s capability to contribute to cruise missile defense “will be made following the investigation’s conclusion,” she added.

In a Jan. 5 email to Arms Control Today, an aide to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), vice chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, said that “after more than $2.7 billion invested in the program, continuing criticism of its reliability, and the near-tragedy in October when the aerostat broke free from its tether,” the omnibus bill “does not support continuation” of the test of the system in fiscal year 2016.

Signed by Obama on Dec. 18, the omnibus appropriations bill is a $1.1 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government operating. The bill was made possible by an Oct. 26 agreement between the White House and key congressional leaders on new spending levels for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

Nuclear Modernization

The omnibus bill largely supported the Obama administration’s proposed funding hike for programs to sustain and to rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, March 2015.)

The bill includes the requested amount of $1.4 billion for the Navy’s Ohio-class replacement program, an increase of $100 million above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation, and $75.2 million for the Air Force’s effort to develop a replacement for Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), an increase of $68.3 million over last year’s appropriation.

The Pentagon’s Frank Kendall speaks at the Farnborough air show in the United Kingdom on July 14, 2014. (Photo credit: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)The bill also provides the requested amount of $8.9 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an increase of $667 million, or 8 percent, above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation. The appropriation for weapons activities includes $195 million to begin refurbishing the existing nuclear air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) warhead, an increase of $186 million above last year’s appropriation of $9.4 million.

The omnibus bill provides $16.1 million for the Air Force’s program to develop a new nuclear ALCM to deliver the refurbished warhead, a 56 percent reduction below the request of $36.6 million, and $736 million for the program to build up to 100 new long-range strategic bombers, a 41 percent reduction below the request of $1.3 billion. These reductions reflect schedule delays that decreased the budget requirements for both programs in fiscal year 2016 below the levels that were originally anticipated.

In addition, the bill includes a policy provision prohibiting the use of fiscal year 2016 funds “to reduce or to prepare to reduce” the number of deployed and nondeployed U.S. strategic nuclear delivery systems below the levels the Pentagon has said it will retain as it adjusts its forces to meet the requirements of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the treaty’s implementation deadline of 2018. (See ACT, May 2014.)

Missile Defense Gets Increase

The omnibus bill provides $15 million in unrequested funding “to expedite the construction and deployment of urgently needed missile defense assets in various locations within the Continental United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.”

The bill does not specify whether this money can be used to begin building a third missile defense interceptor site on the U.S. East Coast to augment existing defenses in Alaska and California against a limited ICBM attack.

The House version of the fiscal year 2016 military construction appropriations bill included $30 million to begin early planning and design activities for a third site. The Senate version of the bill did not include this funding.

In a Dec. 23 email, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) spokesman Richard Lehner said the agency is currently “assessing” its options for spending the additional $15 million. He added that “no construction [is] planned for an East Coast site” as there has been “no decision to construct a site.”

The Defense Department announced in January 2014 that it would conduct environmental impact studies for four possible missile defense sites in the eastern United States, as directed by Congress. (See ACT, March 2014.) Lehner said these studies are scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2016.

Overall, the omnibus bill provides approximately $8.1 billion for the MDA, an increase of $175 million above the administration request.

MOX and the Alternative

Lawmakers provided the NNSA with a small amount of money to begin work on an alternative to the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The MOX fuel program is designed to turn surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into fuel for power reactors.

Of the $345 million the administration requested for construction of the MOX fuel plant, the omnibus bill provides $340 million for construction and $5 million to begin early planning and design activities for the “dilute and dispose” approach, which would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository. The bill prohibits the NNSA from actually diluting plutonium.

The language on the MOX fuel plant represents the latest round of a long-running battle over the best way to handle the surplus weapons plutonium.

The omnibus bill includes $1.7 billion for the NNSA’s fissile material security and nonproliferation efforts, the same as the budget request and an increase of $90.7 million, or 5.6 percent, above the fiscal year 2015 appropriation

Congress in December declined to fund a special account to pay for a dozen new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines amid ongoing concerns about the high cost of the boats...

BWC Parties Prepare for Review Meeting

January/February 2016

By Daniel Horner

Delegates to the week-long meeting of states-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva attend a session on December 14, 2015, the conference’s opening day. (Photo credit: Eric Bridiers/U.S. Mission Geneva)A December meeting on controlling the spread of biological weapons left several country representatives and independent observers expressing low expectations for a major conference later this year while noting that the recent meeting had achieved some important but minimal goals.

Participants in the annual meeting of states-parties to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in Geneva agreed to a final document, a result that reportedly was uncertain until the end of the Dec. 14-18 gathering. The parties also set the dates for the upcoming BWC review conference and its preparatory meetings.

BWC review conferences take place at five-year intervals.

This year’s review conference is scheduled for Nov. 7-25, with preparatory meetings for “up to two days” April 26-27 and then Aug. 8-12, all in Geneva. The participants also named György Molnár of Hungary as president of the review conference and chairman of the preparatory committee.

According to the representatives and observers, settling on the amount of time was difficult as many countries argued for two weeks of preparation to increase the chances that the November review conference would be productive.

The United States was one of the countries advocating the longer preparation period. In a Dec. 23 interview, a State Department official who attended the December meeting said the final report, although “not quite what we wanted,” was “positive” in that it represents an increase over the four days allotted to the 2011 review conference’s preparations.

The only real opposition to having two full weeks of preparatory meetings at the December meeting was from Cuba and Iran, which were able to gain some sympathy from smaller countries with the argument that they could not devote the additional time and money to send delegations for the longer preparatory meetings, he said.

In a statement on the conference’s first day, Robert Wood, the U.S. special representative for BWC issues, lamented that, “every December [at the annual meetings of BWC parties], we adopt a report that consists mostly of recycled material and broad generalities.” The parties “need to do better” and “do not have to revert to old habits,” he said.

But the State Department official said the conference had met only the “minimal requirements” of Wood’s exhortation. The conference report is “unambitious,” he said, noting that, for many of the BWC’s substantive points, it says only that the parties agree on “the value” of certain issues and approaches without giving direction on a specific course.

Making a similar point in his analysis of the conference, Richard Guthrie, who monitored the meeting for the website CBW Events, cited a sentence from the final report’s discussion of science and technology issues: “States Parties recognized the value of continuing discussions on science and technology developments relevant to the Convention in light of various proposals made by States Parties.” According to Guthrie, “Earlier draft iterations had included references to the need for a dedicated [science and technology] review process; these had been lost in the negotiating process.”

Competing Proposals

A number of delegations offered suggestions for improving the process. The United States submitted a list of proposals that were part of what it called a “realistic agenda” for the upcoming review conference. These included increasing the authority of the annual meetings to make decisions rather than leaving virtually all substantive decisions to the review conferences and strengthening the Implementation Support Unit, the three-person secretariat that provides institutional support to BWC parties.

Similar proposals on those issues were offered at the 2011 review conference, but were not adopted. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

Armenia, Belarus, China, and Russia submitted a document proposing “a legally binding instrument” covering issues such as “the incorporation of existing and potentially further enhanced confidence building and transparency measures, as appropriate, into the [BWC] regime”; measures for addressing relevant developments in science and technology; measures for assistance and protection, based on the treaty’s Article VII, to treaty parties in fending off biological weapons attacks; and measures for strengthening peaceful cooperation under Article X.

Notably absent from the proposal was any provision on verification, which has been a focus of Russian efforts in the past.

Emergency personnel participating in a drill led by the Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force in New York City on September 22, 2012, attend to a mock victim. (Photo credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)The BWC, unlike the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, does not have an international organization to verify that parties are complying with the treaty. Talks on a verification mechanism collapsed in 2001 after the Bush administration rejected a draft protocol. The Obama administration has said that effective verification under the treaty is impossible and has made clear that it will not seek to revive the talks on a compliance protocol.

In a Dec. 24 email to Arms Control Today, a Russian official who attended the Geneva meeting said that “Russia remains committed to a multilaterally negotiated verification mechanism for the BWC.” He cited a statement last October to the UN General Assembly First Committee by the so-called BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

But recognizing the differing views among BWC parties on verification, the current proposal was drafted to be “as comprehensive as politically possible at this moment” and “is feasible from a practical standpoint,” he said. He characterized the proposal as “a third way” that “may bridge a divide between the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] and the Western group,” two of the key blocs at the BWC conference and other international meetings.

“Removing verification from our negotiations proposal was a difficult choice to make[,] but we did it in the hope of achieving a very [much] needed breakthrough,” the Russian official said.

In spite of some significant differences in approach, “[t]here is a very good degree of convergence between Russia’s initiative and the US concept paper,” he said. Russia recognizes that its initiative cannot bear fruit “without getting Washington on board,” and “I presume they realise the same is true the other way round.” He added, “We continue talking to each other so that the common ground can be identified.”

The U.S. official said he accepted that “some things” in the Russian-led proposal are “worth attention” but not by means of a legally binding mechanism.

Conference Dynamics

A negative aspect of the meeting was the contentious “political dynamics” between different blocs of countries, the U.S. official said. Disagreements in such meetings often fall along “North-South” lines—that is, between affluent countries and developing countries, particularly those in the NAM. At this meeting, the official said, there also was a strong “East-West” element, citing sharply anti-U.S. statements from Russia.

Nevertheless, as the official noted, there were some areas of agreement between blocs. India and the United States jointly issued a working paper on strengthening the implementation of Article III, which bans transfers or other assistance for biological weapons programs. The U.S. official also approvingly cited a South African paper, issued during the BWC experts meeting last August, on assistance under Article VII. India and South Africa are NAM members.

Overall, the U.S. official said, it is “hard to be overly optimistic” about the upcoming review conference in light of the rifts between blocs. Because the conference makes decisions by consensus, “any naysayer can prevent almost anything,” he said.

In his assessment, Guthrie said the difficulty that the participants at the Geneva meeting had in reaching agreement on “a weak document does not bode well for the Review Conference, in which many more significant issues will be at play.”

The Russian official acknowledged the “tensions in the BWC among states and groups of states,” but noted that such disagreements are not unique to that treaty. He said he has “high hopes” for the review conference, which “will be a very rare opportunity to give a fresh start to the process of strengthening of a very important but neglected treaty.”

He added, “This is a main reason why we have come up with our initiative and invest a lot of effort into promoting it.”

Syrian Chemical Arms Still Seen as Issue

January/February 2016

By Daniel Horner

A tent inside the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. vessel, is illuminated in this January 2014 photo. The tent contains the two units of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System that were used to neutralize Syrian chemical weapons agents. (Photo credit: C. Todd Lopez/Department of Defense)Participants in a meeting on chemical weapons late last year expressed ongoing and in some cases increasing concern about the information that Syria has provided on the remnants of its chemical weapons program.

Since Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 2013 and declared 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons agents, there have been doubts about the completeness of the declaration. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body responsible for implementing the CWC, in April 2014 established a Declaration Assessment Team to “clarify anomalies and discrepancies that have arisen with Syria’s initial declaration.”

In his statement to the Nov. 30-Dec. 4 meeting, the annual gathering of CWC parties in The Hague, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said the team’s most recent report had “identif[ied] several outstanding issues.” The assessment team’s reports are not public.

In a statement on behalf of the European Union, Jacek Bylica, the EU’s special envoy for disarmament and nonproliferation, described the team’s findings as “alarming.”

Mallory Stewart, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy, noted in her statement to the conference that Üzümcü is to report to OPCW members before the scheduled March 15-18 meeting of the group’s Executive Council. She said the United States “will carefully review” his report and “consider the next steps that may need to be taken.”

In a Dec. 23 interview, Paul Walker, director of environmental security and sustainability with Green Cross International, said that although there was no agenda item on Syria at the conference, there was considerable discussion in side meetings on the question of whether Syria was being “sufficiently transparent.”

He said there were “loads” of questions and concerns dealing with issues such as the origin of Syria’s chemicals, the quantities of chemical weapons material produced, the types of delivery systems used, and the program for testing the various elements of the chemical arsenal. Walker, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, attended the meeting in The Hague.

In a Dec. 28 interview, a U.S. official said there is “growing concern and frustration” that so little has been resolved since the assessment team started its work and, “in fact, new issues have been uncovered.”

As an example, he cited the detection of traces of precursor chemicals for nerve agents at the Scientific Studies and Research Center near Damascus, a facility that Syria has not declared as part of its chemical weapons program. When the issue emerged a year ago, Syria said it would investigate, but nothing has come of that, the official said.

A more serious issue, he said, is the question of Syria’s sulfur mustard, of which Syria declared about 20 metric tons. According to several accounts, Syria claimed that it had destroyed much larger quantities of the chemical prior to its CWC declaration but did not provide documentation to support the claim.

Although “not on the same level” as the sulfur mustard issue, questions such as the one about the research center are “symptomatic” of “Syrian stonewalling,” the official said.

He said there is “no expectation” that Syria “will suddenly clarify all these discrepancies.” Damascus is more likely to make “token gestures,” and the Executive Council will have to decide how to respond, he said.

Syria’s failure to be forthcoming has “real security implications” because it raises the possibility that Syria could re-establish a chemical weapons program in the future or currently has a “smaller hidden capability,” the official said.

Most of Syria’s declared chemical weapons agents were shipped out of the country for destruction, while the rest were destroyed in Syria. The most dangerous chemicals were neutralized aboard the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. vessel. (See ACT, September 2014.) The toxic waste products from the neutralization were then taken to facilities in Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States for a second stage of destruction.

In a Jan. 4 press release, the OPCW announced that the last of the Syrian material, 75 cylinders of hydrogen fluoride, had been destroyed by Veolia Environmental Services Technical Solutions. The company incinerated the material at its facility in Port Arthur, Texas.

In the OPCW release, Üzümcü said, “This process closes an important chapter in the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapon programme as we continue efforts to clarify Syria’s declaration and address ongoing use of toxic chemicals as weapons in that country.”

The findings of an OPCW investigative unit have supported allegations that chlorine was used as a weapon against rebel areas in the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Participants in a meeting on chemical weapons late last year expressed ongoing and in some cases increasing concern about the information that Syria has provided on the remnants of its chemical weapons program.

North Korea and Nuclear Testing

January/February 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

North Korea’s fourth nuclear weapons test explosion is yet another startling reminder of the necessity of fresh thinking, stronger global leadership, and new approaches to prevent further nuclear proliferation and nuclear testing in the 21st century.

The Vienna-based Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) measured the blast as slightly less powerful than North Korea’s 2013 detonation, which had a yield with a TNT equivalent of six to 10 kilotons. Nonetheless, with every successive underground nuclear test, North Korea’s nuclear scientists undoubtedly learn more about how to design smaller warheads that can be delivered by missiles.

Randy Bell, director of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Data Centre speaks at a press briefing in Vienna on January 6. (Photo credit: CTBTO)

Like previous North Korean nuclear tests, this one will prompt UN Security Council action against Pyongyang. This time, however, there must be tougher penalties.

Unfortunately, China, which is North Korea’s only significant trading partner, so far has been unwilling or unable to enforce fully the existing sanctions and has resisted tougher measures. That approach must change.

Washington’s diplomatic posture must shift as well. For too long, U.S. and North Korean diplomats have haggled over the conditions for resuming nuclear talks, with Washington insisting that Pyongyang recommit to its broken 2005 denuclearization pledge.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang has used the time to amass larger amounts of fissile material, test more-sophisticated bombs, and develop longer-range ballistic missiles. Today, it likely has 10 to 16 nuclear weapons. By the end of the decade, it could have more than 50.

The long-term U.S. goal should continue to be North Korea’s verifiable denuclearization and the normalization of relations. But realism demands that talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program resume soon, with the near-term goal of halting further nuclear testing, missile testing, fissile material production, and the possible transfer of nuclear material.

North Korea’s test is more than a regional proliferation challenge. It has been condemned by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini “as a threat to international peace and security” and by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “a grave contravention of the international norm against nuclear testing” established by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

North Korea, which is not a party to the treaty, is the only state to have conducted nuclear test explosions since 1998. The world’s other nuclear-armed states have either signed the CTBT or, in the case of India and Pakistan, declared testing moratoriums.

Pyongyang’s Jan. 6 blast is an uncomfortable reminder that 20 years after the conclusion of the CTBT, the door to further nuclear testing remains ajar. Formal entry into force has been delayed by the failure of seven other states—China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States—to ratify the treaty.

Worse still, several states are actively pursuing new or modernized nuclear weapons. If the treaty remains in limbo for many more years, one or more nuclear-capable states may try openly or surreptitiously to conduct a nuclear test. Russia, for example, supports the CTBT, but has shown contempt for compliance with other arms control treaties. President Vladimir Putin has ordered his defense laboratories to rebuild and upgrade Russia’s vast strategic nuclear arsenal. The plan apparently includes a reckless program to develop a new, long-range nuclear-armed torpedo designed to strike harbors and cities.

Weeks before the North Korean test, at a special conference on the CTBT at the United Nations on Sept. 29, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, Erlan Idrissov, warned that “business as usual” efforts will not suffice. CTBT supporters need a “more aggressive approach,” he said.

The de facto norm against testing cannot be taken for granted. Responsible states can do more to reinforce it pending CTBT entry into force. To do so, they should consider a new, high-level diplomatic effort to encourage key states such as Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan to condemn North Korea’s test, reaffirm their support for the global testing moratorium, and promptly consider the CTBT.

In addition, they could pursue the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure calling on all states to refrain from testing, declaring that nuclear testing would trigger proliferation and undermine international peace and security, and recommending that the treaty’s Provisional Technical Secretariat and Preparatory Commission, including the International Monitoring System, be considered permanent institutions because of their critical role in detecting and deterring nuclear testing.

Such an initiative, like Resolution 1887, which was approved in 2009, while not legally binding, would have tremendous political value in reinforcing the global norm against testing in the years ahead. It would also help guard against the danger of treaty fatigue, including the slow erosion of support for the CTBTO and its global network of 337 sensors, which is now 90 percent complete.

If North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain unchecked and if key states do not renew the global push to ban all nuclear testing, the threat posed by North Korean nuclear testing will only grow. So will the potential for nuclear tests by other states. Now is the time for more-energetic action. 

North Korea’s fourth nuclear weapons test explosion is yet another startling reminder of the necessity of fresh thinking, stronger global leadership, and...

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