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June 2, 2022
April 2016
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Getting What We Need With North Korea

April 2016

By Leon V. Sigal

While Washington’s chattering classes were all atwitter about North Korean nuclear testing and rocket launching and China’s backing for UN sanctions against Pyongyang in recent months, U.S. diplomats were tiptoeing to the negotiating table.

Any chance of a nuclear deal with North Korea depends on giving top priority to stopping the North’s arming even if that means having Pyongyang keep the handful of weapons it has for the foreseeable future. Success will also require probing Kim Jong Un’s seriousness about ending enmity, starting with a peace process on the Korean peninsula.

The revelation that Washington was willing to talk to Pyongyang without preconditions was a surprise to those who had not been tracking the evolution of U.S. policy closely. The Department of State confirmed that the United States held talks in New York last fall and rejected a proposal to begin negotiating a peace treaty. “To be clear, it was the North Koreans who proposed discussing a peace treaty,” department spokesman John Kirby said on February 21. “We carefully considered their proposal, and made clear that denuclearization had to be part of any such discussion. The North rejected our response.”1

Intriguingly, the revelation came on the eve of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Washington. Four days earlier, while signaling China’s support for UN sanctions, Wang had made a more negotiable proposal of his own: “As chair country for the six-party talks, China proposes talks toward both achieving denuclearization and replacing the armistice agreement with a peace treaty.” The proposal, Wang said, was intended to “find a way back to dialogue quickly.”2

Wang’s proposal was consistent with the September 19, 2005, six-party joint statement, which called for “the directly related parties” to “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.”3 Those parties included the three countries with forces on the peninsula—North Korea, South Korea, and the United States—and China. They, along with Japan and Russia, agreed in six-party talks in September 2005 on the aim of “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” to be negotiated in parallel with a peace process in Korea and bilateral U.S.-North Korean and Japanese-North Korean talks on political and economic normalization.

Wang’s initiative was also a way to bridge the gap between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea has long sought a peace treaty. Its position hardened, however, after Washington, backed by Seoul and Tokyo, demanded preconditions—“pre-steps” in diplomatic parlance—to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization before talks could begin. In response, Pyongyang began insisting that a peace treaty had to precede any denuclearization.

The Chinese proposal is a testament that sanctions are unlikely to curb North Korean nuclear and missile programs and that negotiation, however difficult, is the only realistic way forward. So is Washington’s newfound openness to talks with Pyongyang.

Many in Washington and Seoul, however, still contend that negotiation is pointless if North Korea remains unwilling to give up the handful of crude nuclear weapons it has. That premise ignores the potential danger that an unbounded weapons program in North Korea poses to U.S. and allied security.

It also ignores the possibility that Pyongyang may be willing to suspend its nuclear and missile programs if its security concerns are satisfied. That was the gist of its January 9, 2015, offer of “temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned” if the United States “temporarily suspends joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year.”4

Like most opening bids, it was unacceptable. Instead of probing it further, however, Washington rejected it out of hand—within hours—and publicly denounced it as an “implicit threat.”5 That was a mistake Washington would not repeat in the fall.

Unofficial contacts later that January indicated that Pyongyang was prepared to suspend not just nuclear testing, but also missile and satellite launches and fissile material production. In return, the North was willing to accept a toning-down of the scale and scope of U.S.-South Korean exercises instead of the cancellation it had sought. This underscored the need for reciprocal steps to improve both sides’ security.

Those contacts might have opened the way to talks at that time, but the initiative was squelched in Washington. Instead, U.S. officials continued to insist Pyongyang had to take unilateral steps to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearizing and ruled out reciprocity by Washington. Their stance was based on the flawed premise that the North alone had failed to live up to past agreements.6 As Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, put it on February 4, “North Korea does not have the right to bargain, to trade or ask for a pay-off in return for abiding by international law.”7 This crime-and-punishment approach, however warranted by North Korean flouting of international law, has never stopped North Korea from arming in the past, and it is unrealistic to think it would work now.

Tiptoeing Toward Talks

Last September 18, U.S. negotiator Sung Kim dropped Washington’s preconditions for talks while still insisting that the agenda would be pre-steps North Korea would have to take to reassure Washington before formal negotiations could begin. “When we conveyed to Pyongyang that we are open to dialogue to discuss how we can resume credible and meaningful negotiations, of course we meant it. It was not an empty promise. We are willing to talk to them,” Kim said. “And frankly for me, whether that discussion takes place in Pyongyang, or some other place, is not important. I think what’s important is for us to be able to sit down with them and hear directly from them that they are committed to denuclearization and that if and when the six-party talks resume, they will work with us in meaningful and credible negotiations towards verifiable denuclearization.”8 In short, Washington would sit down with Pyongyang without preconditions in order to discuss U.S.  preconditions for negotiations. That opened the door to contacts with the North Koreans in the New York channel in November.

In a November 3 interview, North Korean Foreign Ministry official Jong Tong Hak hinted at what the North might be proposing behind the scenes in New York. He said a permanent peace settlement on the Korean peninsula first required a North Korean-U.S. “peace agreement,” perhaps a declaration committing the sides to negotiate peace. That was an advance. It was accompanied by a step backward from previous North Korean positions: “If the American government is serious about respecting the sovereignty of the DPRK [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and ending its ongoing hostile policy against the DPRK then it can be solved very easily between the two sides.”9 The apparent exclusion of South Korea made that proposal a nonstarter even if the North had been ready to suspend its nuclear and missile programs.

Sung Kim reiterated the U.S. position on November 10. “I think for us it’s pretty straightforward: If [the North Koreans are] willing to talk about the nuclear issue and how we can move towards meaningful productive credible negotiations, [the United States would be] happy to meet with them anytime, anywhere,” he said. He went on to respond to Jong obliquely: “It’s not that we have no interest in seeking a permanent peace regime, peace mechanism or peace treaty. But I think they have the order wrong. Before we can get to a peace mechanism to replace the armistice, I think we need to make significant progress on the central issue of denuclearization.”10 The armistice agreement, signed in July 1953, established a cease-fire in the Korean War “until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.”11 That has yet to happen.

The Obama administration deserves praise for agreeing to meet in New York to explore what the North Koreans had in mind and not to reject a peace process out of hand. Disappointingly, North Korea proved unready to discuss denuclearization, which is stymieing talks for now.

The Limits of Sanctions

North Korea’s January 6 nuclear test and February 7 satellite launch spurred more-stringent sanctions at the UN Security Council and in Washington. Even worse, the sanctions revived dreams of a North Korean collapse in Seoul, dreams that jeopardize a peace process.

Sanctions might have helped bring Iran around to negotiating, but North Korea is no Iran. It is far more autarkic and less dependent on trade with the rest of the world. It has no big-ticket items such as oil that require access to the global banking system to transact business.

An offer to ease sanctions may be of some utility in negotiations with Pyongyang, as it was with Tehran. The latest sanctions will squeeze Pyongyang but not enough to compel it to knuckle under and accept Washington’s preconditions for negotiating. If anything, Pyongyang’s nuclear advances have enhanced its leverage and given it greater confidence to proceed with negotiations on its own terms.

Wang and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged as much in their February 23 joint press conference announcing their agreement to move ahead on sanctions and negotiations. “China would like to emphasize that the Security Council resolution cannot provide a fundamental solution to the Korean nuclear issue. To really do that, we need to return to the track of dialogue and negotiation. And the secretary and I discussed this many times, and we agree on this,” Wang said. Kerry echoed him, saying that the goal “is not to be in a series of cycling, repetitive punishments. That doesn’t lead anywhere. The goal is to try to get Kim Jong Un and the DPRK to recognize that…it can rejoin the community of nations, it can actually ultimately have a peace agreement with the United States of America that resolves the unresolved issues of the Korean peninsula, if it will come to the table and negotiate the denuclearization.”12 Once again, news reports focused on China’s willingness to endorse sanctions without paying attention to the U.S. commitment to negotiations.

Kirby, the State Department spokesman, improved that formulation on March 3: “We haven’t ruled out the possibility that there could sort of be some sort of parallel process here. But—and this is not a small ‘but’—there has to be denuclearization on the peninsula and work through the six-party process to get there.”13

Many in Washington may question whether Beijing will enforce UN-mandated sanctions. By the same token, many in Beijing may wonder whether Washington will keep its commitment to negotiate.

Focus on the Urgent

North Korea’s January 6 nuclear test, its fourth, was nothing to disparage. Even if it was neither a hydrogen bomb nor a boosted energy device, the test likely advanced Pyongyang’s effort to develop a compact nuclear warhead that it can deliver by missile.

That is not all. The North has restarted its reactor at Yongbyon, which is working fitfully to generate more plutonium. It also is moving to complete a new reactor and has expanded its uranium-enrichment capacity. It has paraded two new longer-range missiles, the Musudan and KN-08, which it has yet to test-launch, and it is developing its first solid-fueled missile, the short-range Toksa.

That makes stopping the North’s nuclear and missile programs a matter of urgency. Doing so should take priority over eliminating the handful of nuclear weapons Pyongyang already has, however desirable that may be. Such a negotiating approach is also more likely to bear fruit, given Kim Jong Un’s goals.

What Is in It for Kim?

For nearly three decades, Pyongyang has sought to reconcile—end enmity—with Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo or, in the words of the 1994 Agreed Framework, “move toward full political and economic normalization.”14 To that end, it was prepared to suspend its weapons program or ramp it up if the other parties thwarted the reconciliation effort. Although North Korea’s nuclear and missile brinkmanship is well understood, it is often forgotten that, from 1991 to 2003, North Korea reprocessed no fissile material and conducted very few test launches of medium- or long-range missiles. It suspended its weapons programs again from 2007 to early 2009.

U.S. negotiators need to probe whether an end to enmity remains Kim Jong Un’s aim. He is not motivated by economic desperation, as many in Seoul and Washington believe. On the contrary, his economy has been growing over the past decade. Yet, he has publicly staked his rule on improving his people’s standard of living, unlike his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il. To deliver on his pledge, he needs to divert investment from military production to civilian goods.

That was the basis of his so-called byungjin, or “strategic line on carrying out economic construction and building nuclear armed forces simultaneously under the prevailing situation,”15 meaning as long as U.S. “hostile policy” persists.

To curb military spending, Kim needs a calm international environment. Failing that, he will strengthen his deterrent, reducing the need for greater spending on conventional forces—a Korean version of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s bigger bang for the buck.

Pushback from the military on the budget may explain what prompted him to have his defense minister executed last spring.16 It may also account for Kim Jong Un’s exaggerated claims about testing an “H-bomb” in January. By crediting the party and the government, not the National Defense Commission, for the test, he was putting the military in its place.17 The role that nuclear weapons play in putting a cap on defense spending was explicit in his March 9 claim of a “miniaturized” warhead deliverable by missile, which he called “a firm guarantee for making a breakthrough in the drive for economic construction and improving the people’s standard of living on the basis of the powerful nuclear war deterrent.”18

If Kim Jong Un still wants a fundamentally transformed relationship with his enemies or a calmer international climate in order to improve economic conditions in his country, a peace process is his way forward.

Probing for Peace

Testing whether North Korea means what it says about a peace process is also in the security interests of the United States and its allies, especially now that North Korea has nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s March 2010 sinking of a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, in retaliation for the fatal November 2009 South Korean shooting up of a North Korean naval vessel in the contested waters of the West (Yellow) Sea showed that steps taken by each side to bolster deterrence can cause armed clashes. So did North Korea’s November 2010 artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island in reprisal for South Korea’s live-fire exercise. A peace process could reduce the risk of such clashes.

Negotiating a peace treaty is a formidable task. To be politically meaningful, it would require normalization of diplomatic, social, and economic relations and rectification of land and sea borders, whether those borders are temporary, pending unification, or permanent. To be militarily meaningful, it would require changes in force postures and war plans that pose excessive risks of unintended war on each side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. That would mean, above all, redeployment of the North’s forward-deployed artillery and short-range missiles to the rear, putting Seoul out of range. Yet, to the extent Pyongyang would see that redeployment as weakening its deterrent against attack, it might be more determined to keep its nuclear arms.

A peace treaty is unlikely without a more amicable political environment. One way to nurture that environment is a peace process, using a series of interim peace agreements as stepping stones to a treaty. Such agreements, with South Korea and the United States as signatories, would constitute token acknowledgment of Pyongyang’s sovereignty. In return, North Korea would have to take a reciprocal step by disabling and then dismantling its nuclear and missile production facilities.

A first step could be a “peace declaration.” Signed by North Korea, South Korea, and the United States and perhaps China, Japan, and Russia, such a document would declare an end to enmity by reiterating the language of the October 12, 2000, U.S.-North Korean joint communiqué stating that “neither government would have hostile intent toward the other” and confirming “the commitment of both governments to make every effort in the future to build a new relationship free from past enmity.” It could also commit the three parties to commence a peace process culminating in the signing of a peace treaty. The declaration could be issued at a meeting of the six foreign ministers.

A second step long sought by Pyongyang is the establishment of a “peace mechanism” to replace the Military Armistice Commission set up to monitor the cease-fire at the end of the Korean War. This peace mechanism could serve as a venue for resolving disputes such as the 1994 North Korea downing of a U.S. reconnaissance helicopter that strayed across the DMZ or the 1996 incursion by a North Korean spy submarine that ran aground in South Korean waters while dropping off agents. The peace mechanism would include the United States and the two Koreas.

The peace mechanism also could serve as the venue for negotiating a series of agreements on specific confidence-building measures, whether between the North and South, between the North and the United States, or among all three parties. A joint fishing area in the West Sea, as agreed in principle in the October 2007 North-South summit meeting, is one. Naval confidence-building measures such as “rules of the road” and a navy-to-navy hotline are also worth pursuing.

Lacking satellite reconnaissance, North Korea has conducted surveillance by infiltrating agents into the South. An “open skies” agreement allowing reconnaissance flights across the DMZ by both sides might reduce that risk. In October 2000, Kim Jong Il offered to end exports, production, and deployment of medium- and longer-range missiles. In return, he wanted the United States to launch North Korean satellites, along with other compensation. A more far-reaching arrangement might be to set up a joint North-South watch center that could download real-time data from U.S. or Japanese reconnaissance satellites. It is unclear how much such confidence-building measures will reduce the risk of inadvertent war, but they would provide political reassurance of an end to enmity.

A Starting Point

Before the sides can get to a peace process, they need to take steps to rebuild some trust. For Washington, that means verifiable suspension of all of North Korea’s nuclear tests, missile and satellite launches, and fissile material production. For Pyongyang, that means an easing of what it calls U.S. “hostile policy,” starting with a toning-down of joint military exercises, partial relaxation of sanctions, and some commitment to initiating a peace process. Such reciprocal steps could lead to resumption of parallel negotiations among the six parties as envisioned in their September 2005 joint statement.

If the two sides can avoid deadly clashes triggered by the current joint military exercises, they may get back to exploring the only realistic off-ramp from the current impasse: reciprocal steps to open the way to negotiations that would address denuclearization and a peace process in Korea. That, however, would require a change of heart in Pyongyang, Seoul, and Washington. As the Rolling Stones put it, “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes, well you just might find/You get what you need.” 


1.   “U.S. Rejected Peace Talks Before Last Nuclear Test,” Reuters, February 21, 2016.

2.   Lee Je-hun, “Could Wang’s Two-Track Proposal Lead to a Breakthrough?” Hankyoreh, February 19, 2016.

3.   U.S. Department of State, “Six-Party Talks, Beijing, China,” n.d., http://www.state.gov/p/eap/regional/c15455.htm (text of the joint statement of the fourth round of six-party talks on September 19, 2005).

4.   Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), KCNA Report, January 10, 2015, www.kcna.co.jp/item2015/201501/news10/20150110-12ee.htm.

5.   Marie Harf, transcript of U.S. Department of State daily briefing, January 12, 2015, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2015/01/235866.htm.

6.   On the history of reneging by various parties, see Leon V. Sigal, “How to Bring North Korea Back Into the NPT,” in Nuclear Proliferation and International Order, ed. Olaf Njolstad (London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 65-82.

7.   “US: No Sign Yet NKorea Serious on Nuke Talks,” Associated Press, February 4, 2015.

8.   Chang Jae-soon and Roh Hyo-dong, “U.S. Nuclear Envoy Willing to Hold Talks With N. Korea in Pyongyang,” Yonhap, September 19, 2015.

9.   “N. Korea Accuses U.S. of ‘Nuclear Blackmail,’” Associated Press, November 4, 2015.

10.   Chang Jae-soon, “Amb. Sung Kim: U.S. ‘Happy to Meet’ With N. Korean ‘Anytime, Anywhere,’” Yonhap, November 11, 2015.

11.   Armistice Agreement for the Restoration of the South Korean State, North Korea-U.S., July 27, 1953, 4 U.S.T. 234.

12.   U.S. Department of State, remarks of Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Washington, DC, February 23, 2016, http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2016/02/253164.htm.

13.    John Kirby, transcript of U.S. Department of State daily briefing, March 3, 2016, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/03/253948.htm.

14.   Bureau of Arms Control, U.S. Department of State, “Agreed Framework Between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” October 21, 1994, http://2001-2009.state.gov/t/ac/rls/or/2004/31009.htm.

15.   KCNA, “Report on Plenary Meeting of WPK Central Committee,” March 31, 2013, www.kcna.co.jp/item/201303/news31/20130331-24ee.htm.

16.   “N. Korean Ex-Army Chief ‘Locked Horns With Technocrats,’” Chosun Ilbo, May 15, 2015, http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2015/05/15/2015051500971.html.

17.   KCNA, “DPRK Proves Successful in H-Bomb Test,” January 6, 2016, www.kcna.co.jp/2016/201601/news06/20160106-12ee.htm; KCNA, “WPK Central Committee Issues Order to Conduct First H-Bomb Test,” January 6, 2016, www.kcna.co.jp/item/2016/201601/news06/20160106-11ee.htm.

18.   KCNA, “Kim Jong-un Guides Work for Mounting Nuclear Warheads on Ballistic Rockets,” March 9, 2016, http://www.kcna.kp/kcna.user.special.getArticlePage.kcmsf;jsessionid=823D154834DB0E5032E668C39EDE74B3.

Leon V. Sigal is director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York and author of Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy With North Korea (1998). A portion of this article draws from a piece that appeared in the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability’s NAPSNet Policy Forum.

The only realistic way out of the impasse over the North Korean nuclear program is reciprocal steps to open the way to negotiations that would address denuclearization in parallel with a peace process in Korea.

A Proliferation Plateau May Offer Unique Opportunities

April 2016

By Leonard S. Spector

Has the spread of nuclear weapons to new countries reached a plateau? That is how things appear in early 2016 on the basis of publicly available information.

If North Korea is treated as a nuclear-weapon possessor state, for which the opportunity to prevent proliferation has passed and whose capabilities must be addressed through deterrence and containment, and if Iran’s nuclear potential has been capped for the coming decade at a point well short of nuclear weapons possession, then, using publicly available sources, it is not possible at this moment to identify additional states aspiring to acquire nuclear arms and taking concrete steps to achieve this goal.

This would be very good news, but if horizontal proliferation may be stabilizing, overall nuclear dangers are far from going on holiday, with arsenals growing in China, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and possibly Israel and tensions growing in a number of potential nuclear hot spots.

A Plateau…

A look back at the history of nuclear proliferation reveals that the apparent absence of new aspirants is quite unusual and may be unique. In the early 2000s, for example, Iran, Iraq, and Libya were widely believed to have aspirations for nuclear weapons. Later revelations would indicate that these assessments were correct. Throughout the 1990s, North Korea would also have been on the list of perceived aspirants.

Nonetheless, if one works through the current list of states that are seen as most likely to be the next proliferators given their strategic environments, none appears to be taking steps in this direction, and all have good reason not to do so.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are often named in this context as states ready to respond in kind to the Iranian nuclear challenge. Yet, each of them faces obstacles.

Egypt remains in some political disarray, and its current nuclear program is very limited. Even if a deal signed with Russia in 2015 for Egypt’s first nuclear power plant progresses, it will be a decade or more before the facility comes online. No plans have been announced for the construction of domestic uranium-enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing facilities, which would provide the capability to produce weapons-usable nuclear material, and there have been no published reports of Egyptian advances in this direction.

Saudi Arabia has only the most rudimentary nuclear infrastructure and has yet to sign a contract for a nuclear power reactor. Analysts often note that, in 2009, King Abdullah warned that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, “we will get nuclear weapons”; other Saudi officials subsequently made statements to similar effect.1 Yet, these are widely believed to have been rhetorical declarations seeking to add urgency to U.S. and international efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions rather than announcements marking the launch of a nuclear weapons program.

Turkey was to begin construction of its first nuclear power plant, supplied by Russia, this year, but Ankara’s downing of a Russian warplane near the Turkish border with Syria in late November 2015 has put this project on hold.2 Construction of a French-supplied nuclear power plant is scheduled to begin in 2017.3 Turkey has not indicated any intention to engage in enrichment or reprocessing activities, and no evidence has surfaced suggesting it is moving in this direction or taking other steps toward nuclear weapons development.

With the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 states (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) now freezing Iran’s nuclear program at a reduced level for the next decade, possible Egyptian, Saudi, and Turkish, motivations to pursue indigenous nuclear deterrents have presumably eased. Another factor reducing such motivations is that all three have close security ties with the United States, with Turkey being a member of NATO. Such security relationships provide a robust alternative to the development of an indigenous nuclear deterrent and would be at risk if any of these states were perceived to be taking steps in that direction.

It should also be added that all three are non-nuclear-weapon-state parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), under which they have formally renounced nuclear weapons and agreed to place all nuclear materials and related facilities under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure they are not being used for such weapons. Any violation would entail significant diplomatic costs, as well as the risk of sanctions.

For Japan and South Korea, the context is quite different from that of the three Middle Eastern states, but the bottom line is the same. The two East Asian countries have sizable, advanced civilian nuclear programs, and Japan has stocks of separated plutonium sufficient for a substantial nuclear arsenal. Moreover, both confront nuclear-armed antagonists, namely North Korea and China. The very immediacy of this threat, however, militates against Tokyo or Seoul launching a nuclear weapons program. With Japan lacking effective delivery systems and South Korea lacking fissile material, they cannot hope to meet the threat from the nearby nuclear-armed states by means of indigenous nuclear deterrents for at least five years and quite possibly longer.4 Thus, the only effective counter in these circumstances is reliance on the United States through their respective mutual defense treaties.5

A further factor restraining these countries is that both are non-nuclear-weapon-state parties to the NPT. Were they to disregard the treaty, they would face strong diplomatic interventions by the United States and other like-minded governments. In addition, the two states would certainly anticipate a confrontational response from China and North Korea to any steps toward nuclearization. The Japanese government also would face substantial popular opposition to going down the nuclear weapons path, given the country’s history.6

...Or Steep Challenges Ahead?

As encouraging as this picture seems, history also shows that the efforts of aspiring states to advance nuclear programs often remain secret for some time.

  • In the early 2000s, Syria’s effort to develop a clandestine plutonium-production reactor with the help of North Korea was apparently not known even to Western intelligence services, which first learned of the facility in 2007. The facility was not publicly revealed until early 2008.
  • Iran’s secret construction of the Natanz enrichment plant and the Arak reactor were not revealed until 2002 although they were probably known to U.S. intelligence officials well before that time. Iran’s subsequent construction of the Fordow enrichment plant, which began sometime before June 2007, may not have been confirmed by U.S. intelligence officials until shortly before it was publicly exposed in September 2009.
  • North Korea’s development of a uranium-enrichment facility was not confirmed even in U.S. intelligence circles until 2002, apparently well after construction began.
  • Saddam Hussein’s massive effort to develop a nuclear weapons infrastructure in Iraq in the 1980s eluded detection until exposed by uniquely intrusive inspections imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Thus, it is all too possible that surprises lie ahead that will cut short the momentary respite from proliferation pressures.             

Today, such a surprise might be the product of a number of emerging technological advances that could significantly lower the barriers to the development of nuclear arms and create new incentives for states to pursue such weapons. In particular, additive manufacturing—the extremely precise and rapid printing of machine parts, such as those needed for uranium-enrichment centrifuges and missile engines—and the use of lasers to enrich uranium may create new pathways to more-rapid development of nuclear weapons and the systems necessary for their delivery.

It may only be a few years, if that, before additive manufacturing is widely adopted. Although laser enrichment has not been commercialized, it may be adapted before long for enriching uranium on the smaller scale needed for a nuclear weapons program. Because of the small footprint of facilities employing these technologies, states could believe that they would be able to maintain the secrecy of their programs until they had achieved their objectives.

Potential political developments could also truncate the pause in horizontal proliferation. A further drift toward dictatorship or a possible military coup in Turkey, for example, could increase the interest of Turkish leaders in a nuclear weapons capability. Increased instability accompanied by heightened nationalism might create such a trend in Egypt. A further rightward drift in Japan or South Korea could create added support for nuclear arming. One cannot rule out the possibility that Iran will abrogate its nuclear deal with the P5+1 and sprint toward a nuclear arsenal. The future activities of powerful, territory-controlling nonstate actors, including the Islamic State, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, and others must also be borne in mind.

Thus, although the technical and political stars appear to have aligned to create a pause in the pursuit of nuclear arms by additional parties for the moment, that alignment is likely to be fragile and could be disrupted by future technological or political developments.

Other Nuclear Risks Not Fading

If horizontal proliferation may be leveling off, the risk of confrontation involving nuclear-armed states appears to be growing. With grim regularity, North Korea has been testing new capabilities, including more-powerful types of nuclear weapons, longer-range missiles, and submarine-launched systems. It also has been building up the number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal, which could easily reach 50 in a few years.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has declared that her country will respond in kind to any further militarized provocation from the North, while new UN Security Council sanctions and expanded U.S.-South Korean military exercises risk triggering just such a provocation from Pyongyang. The stage therefore is set for a confrontation with serious potential for escalation.

China’s modernization of its nuclear arsenal will improve its capabilities for striking the United States. Its militarization of islands in the South China Sea, coupled with assertive U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation cruises in contested nearby waters provides another emerging source of confrontation between nuclear-armed parties.

In Europe, Russia is modernizing its nuclear arsenal apace, although total numbers of deployed warheads are constrained by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Russia has repeatedly brandished its nuclear capabilities—through statements by President Vladimir Putin that have been taken by most observers as threats to escalate to the nuclear level if the West interferes in Moscow’s seizures of former Soviet territory—and through multiple military exercises threatening the Baltic states and other members of NATO. As NATO responds by intensifying air patrols in the Baltic states and increasing its presence there with expanded troop rotations, yet another locus for a possible nuclear confrontation has emerged.

Finally, in South Asia, mismatched Indian and Pakistani strategic doctrines are creating another potential nuclear flashpoint. India has made clear it will respond with force if it experiences another major terrorist attack on the scale of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai in which it sees Pakistan’s handiwork. New Delhi appears to be confident that, by declaring it has only limited war aims, Pakistan will have no cause to respond with nuclear arms. For its part, Pakistan is prepared to employ such weapons to repel any incursion of Indian forces into Pakistani territory. Given the uncertainty over where Pakistani government control over terrorist groups begins and ends, the situation is rife with escalatory dangers.7

Exploiting the Pause

The tensions just described underscore the importance of sustaining and reinforcing the current lull in horizontal proliferation by strengthening U.S. and international nonproliferation tools to forestall the efforts of the next would-be nuclear-armed state, should one begin to emerge. Building on the nuclear deal that is now constraining Iran and on other initiatives, it might be possible to buttress nonproliferation efforts by the following measures.8

Reinforce the role of the UN Security Council in enforcing nonproliferation norms by lowering the threshold for council involvement in cases of incipient proliferation. The threat of Security Council sanctions should be immediately invoked, for example, when the council receives confirmation of the secret construction of a sensitive fuel-cycle facility in an NPT non-nuclear-weapon state, and the council should remain ready to act until it is satisfied that the threat posed by such a facility has been effectively mitigated. The same mechanism should be employed if a number of states acting together formally complains to the council that the nuclear export controls of the group’s members are being repeatedly violated by another UN state.9 China, Germany, Japan, the United States, and a number of other countries might have raised such a complaint over Iran’s repeated abuse of their nuclear controls during the past decade. It should not be necessary to await a nuclear detonation or the formal determination of noncompliance with an IAEA safeguards agreement to trigger council involvement.

Build on the one-year early-warning benchmark in the Iran nuclear deal to help limit enrichment and reprocessing. Various measures in the Iran nuclear deal are intended to lengthen to one year the time that would be required for Iran to produce nuclear weapons through misuse of its uranium-enrichment capability. Concerned states should work toward making this one-year early-warning standard an additional de facto requirement for approving transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology. International support for the one-year early-warning benchmark in the Iranian case should also be used to underscore the dangers of enrichment and reprocessing more generally, as a counter to arguments that all states are entitled to pursue such technologies without restriction.

Take steps toward making the powerful inspection tools adopted in the Iran nuclear deal a new standard for nuclear transparency. Various measures in the Iran nuclear deal are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear arms by diverting nuclear materials from declared facilities or by building clandestine facilities. Steps such as monitoring uranium mines and the output of the mills that refine uranium ore should be promoted as essential components of standard IAEA inspection arrangements.

Refine and publicize the innovative economic sanctions tools used to bring Iran to the bargaining table and the additional innovations in the newly adopted Security Council sanctions against North Korea. Widespread appreciation of the impact of these tools can create a powerful deterrent against further proliferation.

Work to make illicit trafficking in nuclear goods an international crime, so as to establish universal jurisdiction and remove obstacles to the prosecution of malefactors. The difficulty in pursuing such traffickers was evident in the many failed attempts to prosecute members of the nuclear commodity smuggling network led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. It was also highlighted more recently when, in parallel with formal implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, the United States terminated Interpol Red Notices against 14 parties for illegally assisting the Iranian nuclear or missile programs.10 Washington publicly justified the terminations in part by declaring that pursuing efforts to arrest the individuals in question had little chance of success.

Bring tools used by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to combat money laundering and financing of proliferation-related activities to international technology control institutions. Mutual assessments, sometimes known as “peer reviews,” and public shaming should be introduced at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to encourage more-effective implementation of the group’s technology control rules by member states. This tool is used to considerable effect at the 36-member FATF to enforce member-state compliance with that group’s anti-money laundering and anti-proliferation-financing standards.11 The approach should also be used more widely by the committee overseeing implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540. That resolution requires all states to implement controls, including export controls, over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related goods. The committee has experimented with peer reviews, supporting such a mutual assessment of implementation of Resolution 1540 by Croatia and Poland in 2013.12 The 1540 Committee should use this tool more widely. In addition, the committee currently lists state compliance with the resolution’s requirements on a vast and difficult-to-navigate set of matrices. A step that would greatly encourage compliance would be to assign states an overall status, such as “largely compliant,” “somewhat compliant,” “noncompliant, but progressing,” and “noncompliant.” If this does not find favor at the committee, a nongovernmental organization might make such assessments and issue an annual report, similar to the Nuclear Security Index issued by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.  The NSG and the 1540 Committee also should consider issuing public statements regarding implementation of nuclear export controls, such as those that the FATF issues. The FATF public statements identify states that have particularly weak controls on money laundering and urge FATF members to take precautionary measures in their dealings with such states. The NSG and the 1540 Committee could issue similar statements identifying states that have particularly weak controls over WMD goods and urging other UN members to be wary of dealing with them.

Implement strategies, including international exchanges, for addressing new technological developments that could facilitate proliferation in coming years. Many concerned states are surely undertaking such analyses already. Internationalizing such work could broaden attention to this issue. One model for international exchanges might be through periodic meetings of technical experts on the margins of the NPT review conferences and Preparatory Committee meetings or under the auspices of the NSG.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to illustrate a range of initiatives that, in most cases, have gained a measure of international support in addressing the Iranian nuclear program or in settings that do not involve nuclear weapons.

Now is the time to seize the opportunity to buttress nonproliferation tools against an uncertain future. Despite the proliferation breather, this is no moment to relax.


1.   Chemi Shalev, “Dennis Ross: Saudi King Vowed to Obtain Nuclear Bomb After Iran,” Ha’aretz, May 30, 2012.

2.    World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in Turkey,” October 2015, http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-t-z/turkey.aspx; “Russia Halts Work in Turkey’s First Nuclear Power Plant After Spat—Officials,” Reuters, December 9, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/mideast-crisis-turkey-russia-nuclear-idUSL8N13Y2WB20151209.

3.   World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in Turkey.”

4.   Japan has a substantial and advanced space launch capability, with a number of systems that could be converted to nuclear-capable intermediate- and longer-range missiles. Nonetheless, it would require considerable time to make such conversions; refine warhead designs, fusing, and separation; manufacture sufficient numbers to stock a deterrent arsenal; and develop mobile or silo basing systems. Federation of American Scientists, “Missile Program,” June 1, 2012, http://fas.org/nuke/guide/japan/missile/.

5.   In mid-July 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acted to reinforce his country’s links to Washington, gaining the approval of Japan’s lower house of parliament to authorize the use of Japanese military forces abroad in cases when Japan is attacked or when a close ally is attacked and the result threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to its people. Jonathan Soble, “Japan Moves to Allow Military Combat for First Time in 70 Years,” The New York Times, July 16, 2015.

6.   Tokyo or Seoul may take steps to reduce the time that would be needed to develop nuclear arms without getting so close as to antagonize adversaries and allies, but any such an “edging” strategy will likely remain quite cautious and limited.

7.   Reductions in U.S., UK, and French nuclear arsenals and somewhat less fraught relations between Iran and Israel in the wake of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reflect more reassuring trends.

8.   Other specialists have offered additional recommendations to build on the Iran nuclear deal. See Alexander Glaser et al., “Building on the Iran Deal: Steps Toward a Middle Eastern Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone,” Arms Control Today, December 2015.

9.   UN Security Council Resolution 1540 declares in its preamble that trafficking in such nuclear goods poses a threat to international peace and security, the highest level of Security Council concern and one that serves as the standard for the imposition of sanctions under the UN Charter.

10.   An Interpol Red Notice is a request made to all Interpol countries for assistance in executing a member state’s arrest warrant for certain persons.

11.   All members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group are also members of the Financial Action Task Force or its affiliated bodies and should be familiar with the mutual assessment tool.

12.   “Joint Report of Croatia and Poland on the Bilateral Peer Review of Implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004),” n.d., http://www.un.org/en/sc/1540/pdf/Croatia-Poland%20Letter%20re%20effective%20practices%202014.pdf.

Leonard S. Spector leads the Washington office of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. From 1997 to 2001, he served as assistant deputy administrator for arms control and nonproliferation at the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

The spread of nuclear weapons appears to have reached a plateau, but that pause is likely to be fragile. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to buttress nonproliferation tools against an uncertain future.

BOOK REVIEW: The Future of Nuclear Weapons

April 2016

Reviewed by Jan Lodal

The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century
By Brad Roberts, Stanford Security Studies, 2015, 352 pp.

My Journey at the Nuclear Brink
William J. Perry, Stanford Security Studies, 2015, 258 pp.

In the 25 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War, the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has faded from the headlines. Now, Brad Roberts and William J. Perry have written two important books pleading for our re-engagement with nuclear matters. Both are motivated to a significant degree by the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has embarked on a buildup of Russia’s nuclear capability, ending two decades of post-Cold War cooperative and negotiated nuclear reductions. Russian officials have asserted that their nuclear weapons are necessary to offset the conventional military strength of NATO and the United States, implying that this strength poses a direct threat and that, in a conflict, they are prepared to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

This comes just as the usable lifetime of the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal is reaching its limits. With the need for an ongoing deterrent to Russian nuclear forces re-emerging, a serious effort to refurbish and even upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal is underway. The Cold War nuclear arms race seems to be resuming only eight years after the hope and excitement generated by President Barack Obama’s stirring speech and declaration in Prague: “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

In one sense, wider re-engagement with nuclear issues is a welcome development; it brings an end to growing complacency. Too many have forgotten or, if young enough, have never learned that nuclear weapons remain the most immediate existential threat to civilization. Roughly 10,000 nuclear weapons remain in military inventories worldwide, and 5,000 more are in storage. Even though these numbers are down by 70 percent or more from Cold War peaks, they are still huge. Some studies have argued that as few as 100 nuclear detonations could trigger nuclear winter, and a few hundred could destroy all the world’s major cities.  

The potential scenarios for nuclear catastrophe are uncountable. Perry describes one of the most frightening: If a terrorist organization were to gain control of just a single one of these 15,000 weapons, put it in an SUV or small van, and set it off halfway between the White House and the Capitol on a day when the president and Congress were present, the world would be changed forever. Even a “small” Hiroshima-sized weapon would destroy the White House and Capitol Hill, probably including the Supreme Court, along with the headquarters of most government departments. The federal government would be completely decapitated; its reconstitution would be drawn out and chaotic at best.

Arguing for a Robust Force

Roberts comes to the question of what to do about U.S. nuclear weapons after a long career of analyzing nuclear weapons programs, policy, posture, and plans. His book, The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century, covers the nuts and bolts of the nuclear issue. It provides an important contribution to understanding how government policy and programs actually have been constructed.

Roberts largely telegraphs his conclusions in the introduction to his book. He asserts that the United States “is entering a period of renewed debate about nuclear deterrence,” with the debate led by two “camps,” each with “fixed positions.” One camp “recoils from the horror of nuclear war” and demands unilateral U.S. steps toward nuclear disarmament. The other camp “accepts nuclear weapons as necessary and useful” and advocates retention and modernization of the nuclear arsenal. Roberts asserts that these two camps are generally contemptuous of the views of each other, leading to gridlock in Congress and disagreement within the “analytic community” on how to proceed.

Using an approach long followed by analysts, Roberts asserts his preference for the middle option—a “balanced approach” set between these two extremes. The essence of his recommendation is to implement fully the Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, in which he played an important role. He would set aside as unrealistic the goal of nuclear abolition in favor of “working to create the conditions that would allow the United States and other states with nuclear weapons to take additional steps in the future to reduce the role and number of such weapons.” In other words, Roberts supports arms control, but only in the future when “conditions allow.” He very much wants to drop dreams of nuclear disarmament, which in his view have led to dangerous complacency about the safety, effectiveness, and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. To end the complacency, he calls for the United States to modernize and strengthen its nuclear forces along the lines that the Obama administration has proposed to Congress.

Roberts’ book is a thorough and carefully argued case for maintaining a robust U.S. nuclear force indefinitely into the future. His rationale starts with a proposition not disputed by Obama or even those who have supported the goal of eventual nuclear disarmament: so long as other states retain nuclear weapons, the United States must maintain a robust nuclear deterrent to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used. But Roberts goes further: he supports missions for nuclear weapons that go beyond that of preventing the use of nuclear weapons by others.

Roberts defines three “zones of deterrence” through which nuclear-related challenges might pass: a “gray zone” of coercion and provocation, a “red zone” in which combat is underway but the adversary attempts to keep its actions beneath the U.S. nuclear response threshold, and a “black and white zone” involving nuclear attack against U.S. assets, allies, or forces. Deterrence should work in all three zones. He also hypothesizes a “theory of victory” held by each potential adversary. He believes that a major aspect of U.S. strategy should be to ensure that each theory of victory can be effectively countered, even when doing so would require standing ready to use nuclear weapons as war-fighting instruments.

Roberts then turns to the nuclear-related security problems that he sees challenging the United States. He first analyzes two “new problems”—the emergence of nuclear-armed regional challenges, principally North Korea, and Putin’s Russia. He also analyzes four long-standing security issues: the evolving relationship with China, extended deterrence in Europe and Asia, strategic stability, and nuclear assurance.

Roberts’ first new-problem discussion focuses on Iran and North Korea, although he also sees some role for nuclear deterrence in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. His writing dates to 2014, so one can assume that the situation in the latter three countries has now changed to the point that nuclear issues are no longer terribly relevant. Much the same is true with regard to his discussion of how to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran. That leaves North Korea as the new problem—something that has been high on the list of U.S. concerns since President Bill Clinton’s first term, so it is new only in the sense that it emerged after the Cold War. To deter North Korean threats in the gray zone or even the red zone, Roberts proposes a combination of robust conventional forces, ballistic missile defense, and flexible nuclear forces relevant to the region. There is little mention of diplomacy beyond maintaining alliances, and there is no mention of arms control.

Roberts implies that U.S. nuclear forces need to be the sum of what is required to separately deter or respond to each possible regional threat, plus what is needed to deter or respond to China and Russia. But long-standing U.S. government analysis has been that the force needed to deal with non-Russian threats is a “lesser included case” of what is needed to deal with Russia. In other words, the size of the U.S. nuclear force is determined entirely by the need to deter a potentially hostile Russia, not by the other problems Roberts cites. If the United States has enough for Russia, it does not need more for Roberts’ other problems, nor does it need more-flexible forces to fight nuclear wars.

The Putin Factor

With regard to Russia, Roberts asserts that 2014 was a “fundamental turning point” in U.S.-Russian relations. There is no question that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and de facto invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region, blatantly disregarding its multiple commitments to respect existing borders, marked a significant turn for the worse. Yet, the relationship had been deteriorating steadily under Putin, except perhaps for his four years as prime minister when there was a partial thaw under the “tandem” leadership with President Dmitry Medvedev. During this period, Russia and the United States concluded the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which froze but did not significantly reduce strategic nuclear force numbers and left tactical and reserve weapons uncontrolled.

Roberts believes that Russia’s leadership feels genuinely threatened by NATO expansion, modest missile defenses oriented toward Iran, and the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Steven Lee Myers in his definitive book, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin, details the ways in which Putin has been motivated largely by a desire for power and wealth. Putin has sought to control every aspect of Russian government, news outlets, and major business. To do so, he needed all the public support he could get. So he has used the age-old tactic of scaring his citizens about an external enemy, in this case NATO led by the United States, to consolidate his power. This became more feasible as oil revenues enriched his kleptocracy and bloated Russia’s defense budget. Complaints about the “threat” of NATO or the United States were largely concocted for his domestic political reasons. This does not fit Roberts’ zones of deterrence model.

Back to the Cold War

Roberts’ approach is similar in many aspects to the “flexible response” strategy initiated by President John Kennedy. This strategy was a reaction to President Dwight Eisenhower’s strategy of “massive retaliation,” which was no longer credible after the Soviet Union developed a strategic missile and bomber force comparable to that of the United States. Yet, Roberts seems to forget that the main purpose of “flexible response,” which envisioned the United States being the first to use tactical battlefield nuclear weapons, was to deter a Soviet tank army invasion of Western Europe. Soviet control of the Warsaw Pact and its massive armored force meant that the West would have had a difficult time building an adequate deterrent consisting only of conventional weapons.

The Cold War strategy of using nuclear weapons to offset a conventional disadvantage was high risk even then, adopted only because it was the best of many bad options. Fortunately, there no longer is a Soviet invasion force requiring nuclear threats to deter its use. High-tech U.S. and European conventional forces, based on precision-guided munitions and dominant surveillance and communications, could defeat any Russian invasion or, for that matter, a conventional military threat to the United States or its allies anywhere in the world. So the only remaining purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by others.

Roberts’ book does not deal with a critical capability now missing from the U.S. nuclear force—the capability to assure that there will be no “prompt launch.” Present systems and war plans envision the possibility of the president having to make a decision to launch nuclear weapons under attack in a very short time frame. There have been many calls to de-alert U.S. nuclear weapons systems, which would automatically remove the capability for prompt launch. In many cases, however, keeping systems on alert is important to ensure their survivability. What the United States needs instead is a national command system that will better protect the safety of the president and his successors to be sure any decision to use nuclear weapons can be made deliberately.

A Very Different Perspective

Perry’s book, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, is also an analysis of the nuclear challenge but from a very different perspective—that of a lifetime of insider involvement culminating at the very highest level as secretary of defense. Perry does not retrace the intricacies of nuclear strategy and doctrine. Rather, his book is devoted to explaining his urgent concern that although nuclear weapons remain the primary existential threat to humankind, the public’s focus, particularly that of young leaders, has moved elsewhere. He calls the book a “selective memoir” because its focus is the “nuclear brink” on which he believes the world remains perched, not his career as a whole.

Perry’s book has five important chapters on other aspects of his fascinating and rich career: the Bosnian war and his role in bringing it to an end, Haiti and other efforts to build a new mutual defense relationship with Latin America, the challenges of creating an efficient weapons development and procurement system, improving the life of military families, and his experience as a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley at the outset of the digital age. But the remaining 20 chapters focus on nuclear subjects.

Perry begins with a fascinating personal description of the defining moment of the early Cold War and of his career’s focus on nuclear war: the Cuban missile crisis. He had been exposed to the horrors of modern warfare as a young soldier posted to Okinawa just after allied bombs had destroyed the main cities there. But he had to confront the reality of possible nuclear war only many years later when he was serving as a young assistant to the chief intelligence officer in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Perry and one or two other young experts prepared the daily briefings on the status of the Soviet missiles in Cuba for Kennedy and his top advisers. The crisis management team was meeting nearly around the clock trying to figure out how to remove the nuclear threat from Cuba without triggering a catastrophic nuclear war. Each day, Perry thought war was imminent and that it might be his last day on earth. The knee-jerk reaction of the senior military officer present, General Curtis LeMay, was to start bombing the missiles in Cuba immediately, which probably would have triggered their launch against U.S. cities and an all-out nuclear exchange killing hundreds of millions. But LeMay was overruled by Kennedy, leaving room for the brilliant diplomacy, backed up by a naval blockade, that ended the crisis peacefully. A nuclear catastrophe was narrowly averted, and Perry learned that the only way to avoid nuclear war was to use a combination of military strength and smart diplomacy.

Soon afterward, Perry was to play a major role in developing the intelligence systems that allowed the United States to understand the growth of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. In the Carter administration, he became the Department of Defense’s chief technology officer, leading the development of stealth and other systems that increased the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent force. He eloquently describes these efforts and how they helped to keep the peace. Finally, in the Clinton administration, Perry assumed what is perhaps the world’s most important position of responsibility for nuclear matters, U.S. defense secretary.

In that role, Perry accumulated even more intense experience with the challenge of avoiding nuclear war as second to the president in command of U.S. nuclear weapons. Any order to launch nuclear weapons, including the massive attacks that made up the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), would have to pass through him. He thus became intimately aware of how fragile the edifice of “mutual assured destruction” was and how catastrophic a failure of deterrence would be.

As a result, Perry immediately took advantage of the new relationship with Russia emerging after the breakup of the Soviet Union. One of his first steps, ably assisted by the current defense secretary, Ash Carter, was to take personal responsibility for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program with Russia. Perry adds new details to the history of this path-breaking effort. The CTR program led to the dismantlement of nuclear systems in the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine and provided significant other assistance to Russia in dismantling the Cold War nuclear infrastructure it no longer needed. Cooperative disarmament such as this has not existed before or since.

Perry also documents the unprecedented military cooperation between Russia and NATO that peaked in the Bosnia peacekeeping mission. This cooperation was so deep that a Russian battalion participated in the Bosnia peacekeeping force under the overall command of a U.S. general. During Perry’s years as secretary, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a formal cooperation agreement with NATO that remains in effect (although little used). Again, Perry took home the lesson that military programs had to be complemented by capable diplomacy to manage the nuclear threat.

To document that nongovernmental efforts can play an important diplomatic role, Perry offers a fascinating account of how he continued his “journey at the nuclear brink” even after he left office. He resumed a position at Stanford University and passed up a comfortable retirement to travel the world, with several trips to Russia, to mentor next-generation leaders and to advocate for continued reductions in nuclear forces worldwide.

These efforts reached something of a peak when he joined three other distinguished statesmen to write the op-ed “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” in the January 4, 2007, Wall Street Journal. This article took the arms control and nuclear policy community by storm. The four men—Perry, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.)—argued that a serious effort should be made to eliminate all nuclear weapons from the earth. Nuclear deterrence would have to be maintained during the process, but the risk to mankind of these weapons was too great to keep them indefinitely.

The four authors became known as the “Gang of Four.” They had come to their conclusion after years of responsibility for U.S. nuclear forces and policy at the highest level. In their initial op-ed and in subsequent articles and speeches, they argued that any use of nuclear weapons would trigger massive, unacceptable changes in the world, even if the first detonation did not lead to escalation. The states that emerged from the catastrophe would very likely band together to disarm any state or terrorist group that might still retain nuclear weapons or the capability to make them, no matter what the price in collateral damage. The cost of the dragnet would be huge, probably involving more war, an end to individual liberties, and perhaps even an end to the system of sovereign states that forms the basis of world governance. Reconstruction could take decades or perhaps never be possible because of residual radiation.

Perry emphasizes the importance of maintaining close working relations with Russia because significant reductions in the vast number of active nuclear weapons still remaining in the world are not possible without this cooperation. He attributes the current breakdown in relations with Russia in no small measure to mistakes made by successive U.S. presidents. While he was defense secretary, he argued for a slower and smaller expansion of NATO. He also disagreed with President George W. Bush’s decision to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in order to deploy ABMs in central Europe directed at Iran, which then led Russia to renounce START II with its extensive verification procedures and ban on multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles. Perry saw these actions as unnecessary provocations and not worth stifling the growing U.S.-Russian cooperation that had led to dramatic reductions in nuclear arsenals.

Perry argues that it would be a terrible mistake to give up on nuclear diplomacy with Russia, but he does not directly address the challenge of making progress with Putin in power and his nuclear buildup underway. Perry’s implicit solution is to remain patient and not respond with a nuclear buildup in the United States, realizing that the aging but very powerful U.S. force will remain an adequate deterrent.  Over time, Russia will accept that NATO, limited missile defenses, and U.S. military actions against terrorists are not a threat and will return to cooperation. This probably will require a change in Russian leadership; Putin seems pleased at the success he has had using foreign threats to stoke nationalistic political support for his authoritarian regime.

Prospects for Reductions

Since the early days of the Cold War, calculations have shown that 400 nuclear weapons detonated on Russian targets could destroy Russia’s military and its economy. Accounting for alert rates and other failures, perhaps 1,000 weapons might be needed to guarantee that 400 hit their targets. Today’s deployed U.S. force is more than twice this size, implying that it should be reduced, rather than modernized and expanded in capability, as Roberts prefers. Yet, it always has been politically difficult to move away from nuclear parity with Russia, even if there is no military or strategic need for a nuclear force of the same numerical size as Russia’s.

Thus, further U.S.-Russian bilateral arms control reductions are likely to be the only path away from the nuclear brink. Notwithstanding Putin’s bellicosity, this is not as hopeless as one might think. An economically challenged Russia, with its energy revenues severely reduced, its businesses sanctioned, and its industry falling further behind the rest of the world, might just find it in its interest to resume nuclear cooperation with the United States. This would not usher in “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” but it would be a start in that direction.

Jan Lodal is a distinguished fellow and former president of the Atlantic Council. He has served in senior positions at the Department of Defense and the National Security Council, where he had major responsibilities for arms control and other defense-related matters. He is the author of more than 50 articles and The Price of Dominance: The New Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Challenge to American Leadership (2001).

Reviewer Jan Lodal contrasts the very different perspectives on nuclear arms articulated in two new books...

ICJ Hears Nuclear Disarmament Case

April 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague began hearing arguments March 7 in a case brought against nuclear-armed India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which contends that the UK has failed to meet disarmament obligations under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and NPT nonsignatories India and Pakistan have breached nuclear disarmament obligations established under customary international law.

The action by the island republic, which was a U.S. protectorate until 1986, represents the most significant international legal challenge on nuclear weapons since the ICJ issued an advisory opinion on the “the legality of threat of or use of nuclear weapons” in 1996. It also reflects the growing frustration of many non-nuclear-weapon states over what they see as the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.

The Marshall Islands, whose land and people were severely affected by 67 U.S. atmospheric nuclear tests conducted there from 1946 to 1958, is petitioning the ICJ to declare the three states in breach of their nuclear disarmament obligations and order them to initiate negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

In its 1996 advisory opinion, the ICJ judged that the threat and use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal, but added that it could not decide whether this illegality applied “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” Three judges dissented from that ruling, arguing that nuclear weapons were illegal in all circumstances. In its 1996 opinion, the ICJ also concluded unanimously that the disarmament obligation is not limited to NPT parties.

In court arguments, India, Pakistan and the UK separately argued that the Marshall Islands case was without merit and that they were committed to achieving nuclear disarmament. India in particular emphasized its votes in favor of nuclear disarmament at the UN General Assembly.

The Indian government “believes that given our consistent and principled position on the NPT, to which India is not a party to, NPT provisions cannot be extended to India as a legal obligation,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in a March 7 statement.

On the same day that the nuclear disarmament case opened at the ICJ, India conducted a test of its new, nuclear-capable K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Tony de Brum, a representative of the Marshall Islands in the case and the former foreign minister, charged at the ICJ on March 15 that by “proudly and rapidly enhancing and diversifying” its nuclear arsenal, India’s “conduct is the opposite of satisfying a legal obligation to negotiate in good faith nuclear disarmament.”

In April 2014, the Marshall Islands filed formal applications in the ICJ instituting proceedings against all nine of the world’s nuclear-armed states. But only India, Pakistan, and the UK accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the court and appeared in The Hague to argue their side in the case. The other nuclear-armed states were invited to respond, but China declined and the others did not respond.

The ICJ is expected to issue separate rulings on the jurisdiction and admissibility of each case later this year. If the court rules in favor of the Marshall Islands, the process will move to the merits phase. If the court rules against the plaintiffs, the case will be over.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague began hearing arguments March 7 in a case brought against nuclear-armed India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom by the Republic of the Marshall Islands...

Plutonium Moved in Run-Up to Summit

April 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Japanese plutonium is being shipped to the United States for secure storage and disposition ahead of a fourth summit of more than 50 world leaders to address the security of nuclear materials.

In a joint statement with the United States at the 2014 nuclear security summit in The Hague, Japan committed to removing approximately 331 kilograms of separated plutonium from its Fast Critical Assembly facility, which is used for nuclear research.

The fourth summit will be held March 31-April 1 in Washington. The summits are part of a 2009 initiative by President Barack Obama to secure and minimize the quantities of weapons-usable nuclear materials in civilian use. The first two summits were held in 2010 in Washington and 2012 in Seoul.

The plutonium from Japan is being transported to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina on two UK-flagged ships, the Pacific Egret and the Pacific Heron.

The U.S.-Japanese statement at the 2014 summit said the separated plutonium would be sent to a secure facility in the United States and “be prepared for final disposition.”

It is unclear how the United States will dispose of the material. The plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly originated in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The shipment of separated plutonium is just a fraction of Japan’s total stockpile of that material. Japan declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency in August 2015 that as of December 2014, it had 10.8 metric tons of separated plutonium stored domestically and an additional 37 metric tons stored abroad. But most of the material from the Fast Critical Assembly is of an isotopic composition that makes it particularly well suited for use in weapons.

The U.S.-Japanese statement also called for the removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the Fast Critical Assembly. U.S. and Japanese officials did not respond to requests for information on the status of that material.

In another summit-related development, a shipment of separated plutonium from Switzerland arrived in the United States last month. The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced on March 3 that that country’s entire remaining stockpile of separated plutonium, approximately 20 kilograms, was removed from the Paul Scherrer Institute, where it had been stored since the 1960s. The plutonium was reprocessed from research reactor fuel rods.

The material will be stored at the Savannah River Site.

Switzerland shipped the last of its HEU to the United States in September.

Japanese plutonium is being shipped to the United States for secure storage and disposition ahead of a fourth summit of more than 50 world leaders to address the security of nuclear materials.

OPCW Pressing Syria on Declaration Gaps

April 2016

By Daniel Horner

The policymaking body of the international organization that oversaw the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons expressed concern last month about problems with Syria’s formal accounting of its chemical stockpile and urged resolution of the problems in the next few months.

In a March 23 decision document, the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) cited a report to the council by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü. The report has not been publicly released, but the council document described it as saying that the OPCW Technical Secretariat “is unable at present to verify fully that the declaration and related submissions of the Syrian Arab Republic are accurate and complete.”

Countries are required to submit a declaration of their stockpiles when they join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria did in 2013. Questions about the declaration emerged almost immediately and have persisted since then.

At a meeting in Washington last month, a U.S. official said the council action and the request for the Üzümcü report on which the decision was based were part of a U.S. initiative stemming from a feeling that the issue required higher-level political attention. Under the resolution, Üzümcü is to meet with Syrian officials and report back to the council before its next meeting, scheduled for July 12-15.

Üzümcü’s meetings are to proceed in parallel with those of an OPCW unit known as the Declaration Assessment Team, which has had primary responsibility for probing the Syrian accounting and had made 15 visits to the country as of late March.

In a March 15 statement to the council on behalf of the European Union, Pieter van Donkersgoed of the Netherlands said the list of unresolved questions “has been increasing during the last two years and is still growing.” Among the issues he cited as examples were “the fate of the 2000 aerial bombs [designed to carry chemical agents] that Syria claims to have converted” into conventional weapons and the discovery by the Declaration Assessment Team of “traces of chemicals directly linked” to the production of the nerve agents sarin, VX, and soman.

The policymaking body of the international organization that oversaw the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons expressed concern last month...

States Adopt New North Korea Sanctions

April 2016

By Elizabeth Philipp

The UN Security Council on March 2 unanimously adopted a resolution imposing new and broader sanctions aimed at stemming advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and its arms trade with other states.

Resolution 2270, prompted by Pyongyang’s nuclear test on Jan. 6 and launch of a satellite using ballistic missile technology on Feb. 7, is the fifth resolution passed by the council on North Korea and nonproliferation since 2006.

The new resolution is “the strongest message” that the Security Council has delivered to North Korea since Pyongyang decided to abandon the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Román Oyarzun Marchesi, Spanish ambassador to the United Nations and chair of the council’s specialized sanctions committee on North Korea, said during a March 2 press briefing.

North Korea announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003, an action that NPT members have not officially recognized.

Oyarzun highlighted a “number of new elements” in the resolution, including a ban on the export of aviation fuel to North Korea, a requirement that states expel North Korean representatives engaged in activities prohibited by previous Security Council resolutions on North Korea, a requirement that states inspect all North Korean goods transiting their territories, “severe restrictions” on North Korea’s ability to operate a fleet of foreign-flagged vessels, a ban on the export of specialized minerals, and “unprecedented” provisions on banking.

The resolution closes gaps in the arms embargo imposed by the earlier resolutions, he said. It also blocks North Korea’s access to its assets in other countries, imposes a travel ban on more than two dozen new entities and individuals, and names 31 specific vessels subject to the asset freeze.

Enforcing the Resolution

States have begun to enforce the new nonproliferation measures, specifically the requirement of states to inspect all cargo within their territory traveling to or from North Korea by land, air, or sea to ensure that no items are transferred in violation of Security Council resolutions.

In a March 5 story, the Associated Press quoted Charles Jose, spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, as saying that his government will impound a North Korean ship, the MV Jin Teng. The cargo ship is listed in an annex to the new resolution as being owned by a sanctioned North Korean company. Under the resolution, the Philippines is required to inspect the vessel for illicit goods and repatriate the North Korean crew. Through an official at the Philippine embassy in Washington, Jose told Arms Control Today in a March 20 email that “the Philippines continues to hold [the] MV Jing Teng” and that Philippine authorities “found nothing suspicious or irregular” when they inspected the ship’s cargo. The Philippines subsequently released the ship, according to a March 24 Reuters report.

In a March 21 press release, the Security Council announced that four ships listed in the annex, including the Jin Teng, are no longer considered “economic resources controlled or operated by [the sanctioned North Korean company] and therefore not subject to the asset freeze.”

North Korea Sanctions Flawed, UN Panel Says

A UN panel has determined that “there are serious questions about the efficacy of the current United Nations sanctions regime” against North Korea and that Pyongyang’s illicit nuclear and missile activities are “facilitated by [member states’] low level of implementation of Security Council resolutions.”

The panel report, which was released Feb. 24, describes North Korea’s disregard for the council’s past demands, finding “no indications that the country intends to abandon” its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It cites Pyongyang’s advancements during the period covered by the report, from February of last year to this February, including launches of short-range and submarine-launched ballistic missiles and a nuclear test in January.

The multinational panel of experts was established in 2009 and has issued reports nearly annually since then.

Despite existing financial sanctions that aim to limit its access to the international financial system, North Korea “continues to gain access to and exploit” the system by using aliases and a network of front companies, among other measures of deception, the panel said. Transactions that circumvented financial sanctions directly contributed to North Korea’s ability to launch a rocket in December 2012, the report says. According to the Security Council, the space launch violated previous resolutions because it used ballistic missile technology.

North Korea also “remains actively engaged in the trade of arms and related materiel,” according to the report. Pyongyang has attempted to ship various arms-related equipment to Egypt and Syria in recent years, as well as engage in other banned activity with states in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the report says.

The report includes several recommendations for the Security Council, including encouraging member states to fulfill obligations to report on their sanctions enforcement activities and demanding that the states prevent the training of North Korean scientists in sensitive fields that “could contribute” to the country’s prohibited programs. The panel also suggests several corporation names and aliases to be added to the list of entities and individuals subject to financial sanctions.

Security Council Resolution 2270, adopted on March 2, appears to respond to several of the key issues that the report raises.—ELIZABETH PHILIPP

    National Sanctions

    Individual states have ramped up sanctions against North Korea in light of the country’s nuclear and missile tests. Japan, South Korea, and the United States have stated an intent to undertake new national nonproliferation measures against North Korea.

    On March 16, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting certain financial transactions with Pyongyang and freezing U.S.-based North Korean assets. The order fills legal gaps in U.S. implementation of Resolution 2270 and the new sanctions adopted by the United States on Feb. 18.

    The South Korean Ministry of Unification announced new national sanctions on North Korea on March 8. South Korea will expand targeted financial sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for the development of nonconventional weapons and “strengthen control over shipping related to North Korea,” according to a statement made by Lee Suk-joon, minister of government policy coordination, on behalf of several government agencies. Seoul also promised to “fully implement existing sanctions” by “strengthening on-the-spot crackdowns and control” over shipments between North and South Korea. On Feb. 10, Seoul announced the unilateral closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint venture between the two Koreas. Pyongyang and Seoul have suspended activity at Kaesong amid tensions in the past. South Korea has enforced “comprehensive sanctions” against North Korea since 2010, according to the ministry statement.

    Japan said in a Feb. 10 statement that it also has undertaken “measures of its own” against North Korea. The new sanctions against Pyongyang are aimed at taking “the most effective approach toward the comprehensive resolution of outstanding issues of concern, such as the…nuclear, and missile issues,” Japan said. The sanctions include restrictions on the movement of persons between North Korea and Japan, a ban on large cash transfers from Japan to North Korea, and a ban on entry to Japanese ports of all North Korean-flagged vessels “including those for humanitarian purposes.” Japan also declared an asset freeze on additional entities and individuals.

    China, however, denounced national sanctions on North Korea. In a statement on March 17, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang stated that “China never approves unilateral sanctions by any country” and that “unilateral sanctions taken by any country must not affect and harm the legitimate rights and interests of China.”

    The Chinese government prefers to operate under the “cover of UN Security Council resolutions” rather than enacting national sanctions, China expert Jonathan Pollack of the Brookings Institution said in a March 22 interview, although China is “seriously intent” on implementing the resolution.

    In recent weeks, North Korea has continued to issue threats, including some against the United States, through the state-run Korean Central News Agency. It has also made claims that it has miniaturized a nuclear device and made progress toward developing a re-entry vehicle, two steps required for a deployable, long-range nuclear-armed missile. The South Korean Defense Ministry discounted Pyongyang’s claim to have mastered the technology for building a re-entry vehicle, but acknowledged that North Korea “may have made significant strides” toward a miniaturized nuclear device, according to a March 18 report from Seoul’s Yonhap News Agency.

    A recent UN Security Council resolution imposes new and broader restrictions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test and space launch.

    China Backs Peace Talks for North Korea

    April 2016

    By Elizabeth Philipp

    China is proposing that key countries work on “parallel tracks” to address North Korea’s desire for a peace treaty and the international community’s concerns about Pyongyang’s nuclear program, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last month.

    In comments at a March 8 press conference in Beijing, he said that “denuclearization is the firm goal of the international community, while replacing the armistice is a legitimate concern” of North Korea. The 1953 armistice established a cease-fire in the Korean War, which divided the peninsula, but the conflict never formally concluded with a peace treaty.

    Wang said that the issues of denuclearization and the peace treaty “can be negotiated in parallel, implemented in steps, and resolved with reference to each other” and that China is “open to any and all initiatives that can help bring the nuclear issue on the peninsula back to the negotiating table.” North Korea has frequently called for the conclusion of a peace treaty through statements in its state-run media.

    Wang delivered a similar message about the two-track approach in earlier joint remarks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Feb. 23 in Washington. Wang said China “hope[s] that, in the near future, there will be an opportunity emerging for the resumption of the peace talks, of the six-party talks.” Those talks, which sought the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, were held from 2003, when North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to 2009, when Pyongyang abandoned the talks.

    Wang acknowledged that “certain parties have different views” on his two-track proposal. He apparently was referring to the United States, which maintains that denuclearization is its first priority.

    At a March 3 press briefing, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that “nothing is going to change about [the U.S.] belief that first and foremost there has to be denuclearization.” Washington has not “ruled out the possibility that there could sort of be some sort of parallel process here. But—and this is not a small ‘but’—there has to be denuclearization on the peninsula and work through the six-party process to get there,” he said.

    Sung Kim, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, reinforced the position in a March 8 interview with Seoul’s Yonhap News Agency, saying that his country’s “number one priority goal” of denuclearization “has not changed at all.”

    At the Feb. 23 press conference, Kerry did not reciprocate Wang’s endorsement of a parallel process. Kerry reported on the details of his meeting with Wang, stating that the two discussed ways to deepen cooperation on bringing North Korea “back to the table for the purpose of the six-party talks and particularly discussions about denuclearization.”

    The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that North Korea and the United States had been preparing for peace treaty negotiations via exchanges at the United Nations. In a Feb. 21 story, the paper reported that, in the days before Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test, “the Obama administration secretly agreed to talks to try to formally end the Korean War, dropping a longstanding condition that Pyongyang first take steps to curtail its nuclear arsenal.” The subsequent nuclear test killed the diplomatic effort, the report said.

    Kirby rebutted some of the article’s key points in an email to Reuters the same day. He said that “it was the North Koreans who proposed discussing a peace treaty.” He stated that Washington “carefully considered” the proposal but insisted that “denuclearization had to be part of any such discussion.” Ultimately, North Korea rejected the U.S. response, he said.

    The U.S. response to the North Korean proposal “was consistent with our longstanding focus on denuclearization,” Kirby said.

    China is proposing “parallel tracks” to address North Korea’s desire for a peace treaty and the international community’s concerns about Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

    India’s Submarine Completes Tests

    April 2016

    By Kelsey Davenport

    India’s ballistic missile submarine completed its sea trials in late February and is ready to be commissioned, an Indian official said last month.

    In an interview with Arms Control Today, the official confirmed reports that the submarine, the INS Arihant, had successfully completed deep-sea and weapons drills, which were the last remaining tests.

    The official did not elaborate on what was included in the Arihant tests, but generally these tests could include testing the submarine’s equipment and systems at maximum depths and its ability to surface quickly. In the March 19 interview, he said that the commissioning could take place within the next month.

    The official said that India’s navy will operate the submarine but it will be under the control of the Nuclear Command Authority.

    India’s nuclear weapons are under civilian control, with the prime minister acting as chair of the authority, which is responsible for all operational and command decisions regarding India’s nuclear warheads.

    India is estimated to have between 110 and 120 nuclear warheads, with enough fissile material for up to an additional 60 weapons. India is believed to keep its nuclear warheads stored separately from its delivery systems. That will not be possible for deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

    India, whose submarine program dates back to 1984, started work on the Arihant in 2009. The submarine’s nuclear reactor went critical in August 2013, and the submarine began its sea trials in December 2014. (See ACT, November 2015.)

    The Arihant-class submarine is designed to carry 12 K-15 SLBMs or four K-4 ballistic missiles.

    The K-15 is a two-stage ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead an estimated 700 kilometers. India announced the “successful development” of the K-15 in July 2012. (See ACT, September 2012.)

    The K-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear payload 3,000 to 3,500 kilometers. That range puts Pakistan and most of China within range if India launches the K-4 from the northern Indian Ocean.

    The K-4 is believed to require additional testing before it is ready for deployment.

    The New Indian Express reported that India conducted a test of the K-4 on March 7. According to the story, the missile was launched from an undersea platform in the Bay of Bengal.

    Commissioning of the Arihant will complete India’s nuclear triad, meaning that the country will be able to deliver nuclear warheads from bombers, land-based ballistic missiles, and submarines.

    India is working on extending the range and increasing the accuracy of its land-based ballistic missiles.

    On March 5, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said it would test its Agni-5 ballistic missile from a canister around March 15. As Arms Control Today went to press, the launch had not taken place.

    The Agni-5 is a three-stage, solid-fueled ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload over a distance of more than 5,500 kilometers, the threshold for an intercontinental ballistic missile. It is the longest-range missile under development in India.

    Launching from a canister makes the missile more mobile. India successfully tested the Agni-5 from a canister in January 2015. (See ACT, March 2015.) At the time of that test, officials said that the missile was close to deployment. Officials subsequently hinted that future tests might include multiple warheads that could be independently targeted. The Agni-5 was first tested in April 2012.

    India’s ballistic missile submarine successfully completed sea trials in February, putting India on the verge of having a nuclear triad. 

    Iran’s Missile Tests Raise Concerns

    April 2016

    By Kelsey Davenport

    Iran tested two ballistic missiles last month, raising calls in the United States for new national and international sanctions on the country.

    On March 9, Iran launched two different variations of the Qadr medium-range ballistic missile as part of a military drill from a site in the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran. One of the missiles, the Qadr-F, has a range of 2,000 kilometers; the other, the Qadr-H, has a range of 1,700 kilometers, according to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

    The calls by U.S. officials and members of Congress for additional sanctions stem from concerns that the missile tests run contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls on Iran not to develop or test ballistic missiles that are “designed to be nuclear capable.”

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on March 15 that the launches were permitted under the resolution because the missiles tested were not designed to be capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Zarif, in an address at the Australian National University, said that Resolution 2231 does not call on Iran “not to test ballistic missiles, or ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads.”

    The international community generally defines a ballistic missile as being nuclear capable if it can carry a 500-kilogram payload a distance of 300 kilometers.

    Passed last July, Resolution 2231 endorses the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) earlier in July and terminates past Security Council resolutions on Iran’s nuclear program, including Resolution 1929. (See ACT, September 2015.) Resolution 1929, which prohibited Iran from developing and launching missiles that were “capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” was terminated on Jan. 16, when the nuclear deal was formally implemented. Resolution 2231 came into effect that day.

    Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on March 14 that she raised the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile tests being inconsistent with Resolution 2231 at a Security Council meeting that day. In remarks to press after the meeting, Power said the missiles were “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” and called the launches destabilizing and provocative.

    Power said Iran’s reaction merits a response from the Security Council.

    Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, took a different view, saying that Iran’s tests did not violate Resolution 2231 because the resolution only “call[s] upon” Iran to abide by the restriction. Churkin said that “you cannot violate a call.” The earlier resolution said that Iran “shall not” undertake any activity related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

    Members of the U.S. Congress are also considering national sanctions against Iran.

    One of the sanctions bills introduced in response to the ballistic missile tests was sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on March 17 and co-sponsored by 11 other Republican senators. It includes new sanctions against individuals involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and entities that own 25 percent or more of Iran’s key ballistic missile organizations.

    Ayotte said in a March 17 press release that she led efforts on the Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016 because “the potential danger to our homeland, as well as the urgent threat to our forward deployed troops and our allies like Israel, is only growing.”

    Israel is in range of the ballistic missiles that Tehran tested on March 9. But Iran would need a ballistic missile with a range of more than 9,000 kilometers to target the United States. Iran has never tested or displayed a long-range ballistic missile.

    Iranian officials have said that Tehran would limit its missiles to a range of 2,300 kilometers. (See ACT, March 2016.)

    Democrats also are raising concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile tests. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a March 18 statement that “recent events in Iran underscore the need for a statutory framework to respond to Iran’s ballistic missile tests.”

    Cardin said he is working on bipartisan sanctions legislation that will respond to Iran’s repeated ballistic missile launches.

    Controversy over the potential nuclear capability of two ballistic missiles tested by Iran last month prompted calls for new U.S. and UN sanctions on Tehran.


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