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June 2, 2022
June 2016
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Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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A New Era for Nuclear Security

June 2016

By Martin B. Malin and Nickolas Roth

The 2016 nuclear security summit was a pivotal moment for the decades-long effort to secure nuclear material around the globe. More than 50 national leaders gathered in Washington for the last of four biennial meetings that have led to significant progress in strengthening measures to reduce the risk of nuclear theft.

These summits have played a critical role in nurturing that progress by elevating the political salience of nuclear security and providing a forum for world leaders to announce new commitments, share information, and hold one another accountable for following through on promised actions. 

The international community is now entering the post-summit era, in which nuclear security will probably receive less-regular high-level political attention than it has in recent years. Yet, there is still critical work to be done to reduce the danger that nuclear weapons or the materials needed to make them could end up in the hands of a terrorist organization such as the Islamic State. Governments still do not agree on what nuclear security priorities are most pressing or how best to sustain the momentum generated by the summits. As the era of summitry recedes, will states continue improving measures to prevent nuclear theft and sabotage, or will the summits turn out to have been a high-water mark for nuclear security efforts?

Progress at the 2016 Summit

Over the course of the summit process, the participating states committed themselves to dozens of cooperative initiatives seeking to strengthen aspects of nuclear security, reduced vulnerabilities in their security systems, and pledged to continue joint efforts through multilateral groups and international institutions. The 2016 summit, held March 31-April 1 in Washington, marked progress on all of these fronts.

Like the 2010 summit in Washington, the 2012 summit in Seoul, and the 2014 summit in The Hague, this year’s meeting produced a consensus-based communiqué. At the three most recent summits, smaller groups of participants also produced a series of joint statements and group commitments, or “gift baskets.”1 At this year’s summit, all but three states participated in at least one of 18 gift baskets or nine joint statements, which covered a range of areas, including insider threats, transport security, minimization of the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), and cybersecurity.2 Among the most important outcomes of the recent summit was the establishment of a contact group, which will meet annually to discuss nuclear security. 

Some of the major accomplishments of the summit are listed below. 

Strengthening the commitment to nuclear security. China and India joined 36 states that had signed on to an important 2014 summit initiative on strengthening nuclear security implementation.3 Members of this group committed to “meet the intent” of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear security principles and recommendations, conduct self-assessments, host periodic peer reviews of their nuclear security, and ensure that “management and personnel with accountability for nuclear security are demonstrably competent,” along with several other actions. This was an important commitment for China and India, demonstrating a measure of transparency and reassurance on nuclear security. Prior to the 2016 summit, neither country had been open to participating in such initiatives although both nuclear-armed states face terrorist threats.4 

The summit process also helped to build support for a foundational and legally binding international nuclear security instrument. After more than a decade, the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) reached the required number of ratifications to enter into force in May. The amendment outlines nuclear security principles and requires states to establish rules and regulations for physical protection. It also requires a review conference five years after entry into force and, if members choose to have them, additional review conferences at intervals of at least five years.5 The amended CPPNM, now officially known as the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities, could be a helpful tool for states to hold one another accountable for maintaining physical protection and strengthening norms. 

Reducing nuclear security vulnerabilities. In addition to announcing new commitments, the summits were occasions for states to report on steps they had taken to remove or eliminate HEU or plutonium, convert reactors, improve physical protection, strengthen regulation, and contribute support to the IAEA or other international nuclear security work.

At the recent summit, Japan and the United States announced the completion of a commitment they made in 2014 to remove more than 500 kilograms of nuclear weapons-usable material from Japan.6 Argentina announced it had eliminated the last of its HEU, making it the 18th state to clean out all of its nuclear weapons-usable material since the beginning of the summit process. Indonesia declared it had eliminated all of its fresh HEU and planned to get rid of all its HEU in 2016. 

China announced the opening of its nuclear security center of excellence. Since 2010, China has worked with the United States to build the center as a hub for training, bilateral and multilateral best practice exchanges, and technology demonstration.7 The center will help China test and strengthen its own nuclear security measures and will provide a venue for cooperation with others in the region and beyond. 

The White House reported that 20 states hosted or invited peer review missions through the IAEA or from other states. Many other states announced that they had strengthened nuclear security laws or regulations, upgraded physical security, or updated the list of threats against which their nuclear facilities must be protected.

Continuing the dialogue. An important new gift basket created a nuclear security contact group that will convene annually on the margins of the IAEA General Conference. The contact group will carry forward the consultative element of the summit process, providing a forum for senior government officials to meet and discuss current efforts, evaluate progress on previously made commitments, and identify future priorities. If states buy into the idea of the contact group and take action to strengthen it, the group, whose membership is open to states that did not participate in the summits, could be an important vehicle for sustaining international nuclear security cooperation.

The summit also produced statements on bilateral nuclear security discussions between key countries. For example, China and the United States agreed to increase cooperation on nuclear terrorism prevention and conduct an annual dialogue on nuclear security. 

In addition, summit participants agreed to action plans for the IAEA, the United Nations, Interpol, the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Destruction, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). The plans outline the roles these organizations will play in supporting ongoing nuclear security discussions now that the summits have ended. 

Gaps and Missed Opportunities 

In their communiqué, the participants in the 2016 summit pledged to “continuously strengthen nuclear security at national, regional, and global levels.”8 Striving for continuous improvement is the right way to frame the challenge of providing effective and sustainable nuclear security. Unfortunately, summit participants missed important opportunities to give added momentum to the effort. The following issues continue to require attention. 

Still no global standard for nuclear security. Although the amended CPPNM establishes general security principles, it lacks specific standards or guidelines and applies only to materials in civilian use. UN Security Council Resolution 1540 requires states to provide “appropriate effective” protection for all materials, among other relevant measures, but does not specify what constitutes appropriate effective protection.9 IAEA recommendations, to which dozens of states have now publicly subscribed, provide somewhat more specificity, but their implementation is voluntary. Although the summit process certainly helped produce a shared understanding of the importance of nuclear security, it fell short of producing a consensus on a meaningful minimum global standard. 

If a global standard was beyond reach during the summits, a public commitment to stringent nuclear security measures among the states possessing the biggest stocks of HEU and plutonium would have been a consequential step. Although China’s and India’s endorsements of the initiative on strengthening nuclear security implementation was an important development, Russia’s absence from the summit and Russia’s and Pakistan’s refusal to sign that statement is a significant gap in the patchwork of nuclear security commitments. 

Furthermore, the summit outcomes were not comprehensive. Although the summit communiqués explicitly covered “all” nuclear material, most of the concrete progress from the meetings focused on civilian materials, largely ignoring the roughly four-fifths of the world’s remaining HEU and plutonium that is controlled by military organizations.10 

A mixed picture on implementation. Nuclear facilities in many countries still are not protected against the full range of threats. States with large stocks of nuclear weapons-usable material still contend with corruption and extremism.11 On the ground, security upgrades remain urgently needed in many spots around the world. One indication of the extent of the inconsistent application of physical protection measures is that, after all of the high-level attention since the 2010 summit, at least six countries—Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden—still do not have armed guards at their nuclear facilities.12 

The collapse of U.S.-Russian bilateral cooperation is particularly alarming. Without Russian and U.S. commitments to rebuilding their bilateral nuclear security relationship, it will be impossible for the two states that possess roughly 80 percent of the world’s weapons-usable nuclear material to reassure one another that their nuclear security is sound.

Slippage of consolidation and minimization goals. The Obama administration put laudable effort into cleaning out HEU and plutonium from many countries and minimizing the use of HEU elsewhere. Yet, political obstacles will likely make substantial additional progress more difficult than in the past, in particular for the hundreds of kilograms of HEU in Belarus and South Africa. Conversion of additional HEU-fueled research reactors to use low-enriched uranium fuel, particularly but not only in Russia, is hampered by technical challenges and political inattention. Moreover, summit participants failed to reach agreement, even in principle, on stopping or reversing the buildup of separated plutonium.13 

Continuing culture of complacency in some countries. The summits put the notion of nuclear security culture on the agenda for many countries where it previously had been neglected. Nevertheless, workers, managers, policy officials, and even national leaders in many places still dismiss the threat of terrorist theft or sabotage as remote or implausible.14 Many organizations handling nuclear weapons, HEU, or separated plutonium do not have specific programs focused on strengthening security culture. The IAEA has still not published its nuclear security culture self-assessment guide.15 The summit process helped spark interest in strengthening security culture, but much more work is needed.

Need for more-robust channels for dialogue. The political momentum created by the summits will not likely be re-created through other organizations, although the contact group, IAEA ministerial meetings, a review conference for the amended CPPNM, and other forums certainly will provide important opportunities for discussion, reporting on progress, and further cooperation.

The recent summit’s action plans did not significantly expand or strengthen the global nuclear security architecture. The IAEA has assumed greater responsibility for convening high-level discussions on nuclear security and has intensified its nuclear security efforts since the first summit. Yet, the agency still deals only with civilian material and has no authority to require states to take any action on nuclear security.16 The nuclear security capacities of the UN and Interpol are even less robust, and the multilateral groupings, the GICNT and Global Partnership, remain unchanged by the action plans the summit participants produced.

Finally, Russia’s absence from the recent summit may bode ill for the successful implementation of the summit action plans. Moscow’s leadership and cooperation in all of the organizations referenced in the action plans will be necessary for many key nuclear security steps. 

Progress in the Post-Summit Era

In the interest of promoting cooperation, the summits frequently focused on plucking low-hanging fruit, while failing to advance more-difficult discussions of threats and persistent challenges. Governments must focus not only on what is most feasible but also on what is most urgently needed in light of the evolving threats they face.17 

Nuclear security efforts should have a clear goal: ensuring that all nuclear weapons and the materials that could be used to make them, wherever they are in the world, are effectively and sustainably secured against the full range of threats that terrorists and thieves might plausibly pose.18 Building an international consensus around such a goal will be a major challenge for the next U.S. president and for like-minded leaders.

The 2016 summit communiqué alludes to the goal of continuous improvement. Achieving that goal will require work on several fronts. Here are some of the most important areas of focus.19

Building up the commitment to stringent nuclear security standards. A legally binding set of international standards for nuclear security is unfortunately out of reach for the present. Yet, a group of states like-minded emanating from within the contact group or a special working group of the GICNT could develop a set of principles and guidelines that they pledge to apply to all stocks of nuclear weapons, HEU, and plutonium and invite other states to join them. Such a commitment should include the provision of well-trained, well-equipped on-site guard forces; comprehensive measures to protect against insider threats; control and accounting systems that can detect and localize any theft of weapons-usable nuclear material; protections against cyberthreats that are integrated with other nuclear security measures; effective nuclear security rules and regulations and independent regulators capable of enforcing them; regular and realistic testing of nuclear security systems, including force-on-force exercises; a robust program for enhancing security culture; and regular assessments of the evolving threat of theft or sabotage. Following the example of the initial group of adherents, the accumulation of international support for more-comprehensive standards could grow over time. 

In the meantime, leading states that are bound by the amended CPPNM should push to universalize the treaty, and the states that have joined the initiative on strengthening nuclear security implementation initiative should encourage others to commit to implement IAEA recommendations and accept peer review. 

Implementing effective and sustainable security measures on the ground. Commitments to stringent standards are meaningful only if they translate into real improvements. Bilateral cooperation can help spur the actions that are needed. The United States should expand nuclear security cooperation with China, India, and Pakistan, sharing additional information on security arrangements without revealing sensitive information that would increase vulnerability to terrorist attack. The United States also will need to make a priority of discussions with a wide range of countries on enhancing their own nuclear security, providing resources when needed.

Despite tensions over Ukraine and other issues, Russia and the United States should agree to a package of cooperation that includes nuclear energy initiatives, which are of particular interest to Russia, and nuclear security initiatives, which are of particular interest to the United States. Although it is unlikely in the current political environment, one mechanism for achieving this goal would be to restart the U.S.-Russian Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Security Working Group, which facilitated dialogue from 2009 until it was suspended in 2014 because of tensions between the two countries. Cooperation should no longer be based on a donor-recipient relationship but on an equal partnership with ideas and resources coming from both sides.20

Increasing efforts to reduce the number of sites where nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials are stored. Today there are fewer locations where HEU and plutonium can be stolen because of removals motivated by the summit process. The consolidation process must continue. Stringent security requirements can help to incentivize the process of consolidation, as can well-funded programs for conversion of HEU-fueled reactors and removal of material. Russia and the United States, as the countries whose nuclear stockpiles are dispersed in the largest number of buildings and bunkers, should each develop a national-level plan for accomplishing their military and civilian nuclear objectives with the smallest practicable number of locations. The United States and other interested countries should ensure that plutonium and HEU bulk processing facilities do not spread to other countries or expand in number or scale of operations and that no more plutonium is separated than is used, bringing global plutonium stocks down over time.

Establishing a nuclear security culture that does not tolerate complacency about threats and vulnerabilities. Every country with relevant materials and facilities should have a program in place to assess and strengthen security culture, and all nuclear managers and security-relevant staff should receive regular information, appropriate to their role, on evolving threats to nuclear security. At the same time, interested countries should launch initiatives to combat complacency, including a shared database of security incidents and lessons learned; detailed reports and briefings on the nuclear terrorism threat; discussions among intelligence agencies, on which most governments rely for information about the threats to their country; and an expanded program of nuclear theft and terrorism exercises.

Building up channels for dialogue. Countries must continue to share information and devise plans to meet current nuclear security challenges. The IAEA ministerial-level meetings on nuclear security will provide an important forum. If parties to the amended CPPNM elect to meet every five years to review progress, this process could create important opportunities to place high-level pressure on states to step up nuclear security commitments and implementation. 

A more comprehensive scope of cooperation, including on military materials, could take place in multilateral forums. The GICNT, co-chaired by Russia and the United States and still valued by both, consists of more than 80 states committed to the group’s statement of principles, which includes improving measures that reduce the risk of nuclear theft such as accounting, control, and protection of nuclear and radiological materials. The group has not focused on these preventive approaches so far, but it should in the future.21 This summer represents the GICNT’s 10th anniversary, which would be an excellent time to announce the creation of a GICNT working group focused specifically on strengthening security for nuclear materials and facilities. The GICNT could also be a useful forum for Russia and the United States to expand nuclear security cooperation.

The contact group created at the nuclear security summit this year holds promise for facilitating dialogue, sharing information, and germinating joint activities. Its openness to all IAEA members has the advantage of potentially attracting states beyond the ring of past summit participants. Its size and heterogeneity, however, may limit the depth and effectiveness of the discussions. The contact group should select an executive committee of member state representatives—perhaps former summit hosts plus Russia, if it chooses to join—to establish and coordinate its agenda for discussion.

Finally, summit-level nuclear security meetings could be continued on the side of Group of 20 meetings, perhaps once every four years. This would sustain the kind of executive-level political attention to nuclear security that summits provided. 

The nuclear security summits periodically pressed participants to commit themselves to new and stronger measures for preventing nuclear terrorism. They facilitated a process of stocktaking and reporting on the concrete actions participants had taken. Moreover, they were a vehicle for forging stronger international collaboration on bolstering nuclear security around the globe. States must continue to build on the progress they made through the summit process. If they do, the 2016 summit will mark the beginning, rather than the end, of a new era of continuous improvement in nuclear security.


1.   For a comprehensive assessment of progress in fulfilling commitments from the summits prior to 2016, see Michelle Cann, Kelsey Davenport, and Jenna Parker, “The Nuclear Security Summit: Progress Report on Joint Statements,” Arms Control Association and Partnership for Global Security, March 2015, https://www.armscontrol.org/reports/2015/The-Nuclear-Security-Summit-Progress-Report-on-Joint-Statements

2.   The three countries that did not join gift baskets were Gabon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. For a list of gift baskets and joint statements from the 2016 summit, see “2016 Washington Summit,” Nuclear Security Matters, n.d., http://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/2016-washington-summit

3.   “Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation,” March 25, 2014, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/235508.pdf. Thirty-five countries signed the 2014 statement. Jordan joined in late 2015.

4.   See Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, “India and the Nuclear Security Summit,” Nuclear Security Matters, April 26, 2016, http://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/blog/india-and-nuclear-security-summ; Hui Zhang, “China Makes Significant Nuclear Security Pledges at 2016 Summit,” Nuclear Security Matters, April 8, 2016, http://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/blog/china-makes-significant-nuclear-security-pledges-2016-summit

5.   For background on the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, see “Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), n.d., https://www.iaea.org/publications/documents/conventions/convention-physical-protection-nuclear-material. For an argument that the review conferences envisioned in the amendment could help drive nuclear security progress, see Jonathan Herbach and Samantha Pitts-Kiefer, “More Work to Do: A Pathway for Future Progress on Strengthening Nuclear Security,” Arms Control Today, October 2015. 

6.   “Joint Statement by the Leaders of Japan and the United States on Contributions to Global Minimization of Nuclear Material,” April 1, 2016, http://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/files/nuclearmatters/files/joint_

7.   Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “U.S.-China Joint Statement on Nuclear Security Cooperation,” March 31, 2016, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/03/31/us-china-joint-statement-nuclear-security-cooperation

8.   “Nuclear Security Summit 2016 Communiqué,” April 1, 2016, http://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/files/nuclearmatters/files/nuclear_security_summit_2016_communique.pdf?m=1460469255.

9.   See Matthew Bunn, “Appropriate Effective Nuclear Security and Accounting—What Is It?” (presentation, “Appropriate Effective” Material Accounting and Physical Protection—Joint Global Initiative/UNSCR 1540 Workshop,” Nashville, TN, July 18, 2008), http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/bunn-1540-appropriate-effective50.pdf.

10.   For a discussion of security for military materials, see Des Browne, Richard Lugar, and Sam Nunn, “Bridging the Military Nuclear Materials Gap,” Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), 2015, http://www.nti.org/media/pdfs/NTI_report_2015_e_version.pdf. The 2016 summit communiqué reaffirmed that states had a fundamental responsibility “to maintain at all times effective security of all nuclear and other radioactive material, including nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons.” See “Nuclear Security Summit 2016 Communiqué.” 

11.   For a more complete discussion of the threats some countries with nuclear material face, see Matthew Bunn et al., “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 2016, pp. 39-52, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/PreventingNuclearTerrorism-Web.pdf

12.   For country information on physical protection, see the 2016 NTI Nuclear Security Index for sabotage, http://ntiindex.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/2016-NTI-Index-Data-2016.03.25.zip. Belgium has only recently added armed guards to its nuclear facilities. The Swedish regulator has ordered that facilities post armed guards by February 2017. See Steven Mufson, “Brussels Attacks Stoke Fears About Security of Belgian Nuclear Facilities,” The Washington Post, March 25, 2016; “Swedish Regulator Orders Tighter Security at Nuclear Plants,” Reuters, February 5, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/sweden-nuclear-security-idUSL8N15K3SS

13.   The 2014 summit communiqué states, “We encourage States to minimise their stocks of [highly enriched uranium] and to keep their stockpile of separated plutonium to the minimum level, both as consistent with national requirements.” “The Hague Nuclear Security Summit Communiqué,” March 25, 2014, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/237002.pdf. In 2016, there was no mention of plutonium in the communiqué.

14.   Matthew Bunn and Eben Harrell surveyed nuclear experts in states with nuclear weapons-usable material and found that some respondents did not find certain threats credible, despite extensive evidence to the contrary. See Matthew Bunn and Eben Harrell, “Threat Perceptions and Drivers of Change in Nuclear Security Around the World: Results of a Survey,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 2014, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/surveypaperfulltext.pdf.

15.   IAEA, “Self-Assessment of Nuclear Security Culture in Facilities and Activities That Use Nuclear and/or Radioactive Material: Draft Technical Guidance,” July 2, 2014, http://www-ns.iaea.org/downloads/security/security-series-drafts/tech-guidance/nst026.pdf

16.   See Trevor Findlay, “Beyond Nuclear Summitry: The Role of the IAEA in Nuclear Security Diplomacy After 2016,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 2014, http://belfercenter.hks.harvard.edu/files/beyondnuclearsummitryfullpaper.pdf.

17.   For a discussion of how the threat of nuclear terrorism has evolved over time, see Bunn et al., “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism,” pp. 14-26, 133-143. 

18.   Ibid., p. 96.

19.   For the recommendations on which this section draws, see Bunn et al., “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism,” pp. 96-133. 

20.   For a more complete description of the end of nuclear security cooperation, see Nickolas Roth, “Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation: Rebuilding Equality, Mutual Benefit, and Respect,” Deep Cuts Commission, June 2015, http://deepcuts.org/files/pdf/Deep_Cuts_Issue_Brief4_US-Russian_Nuclear_Security_Cooperation1.pdf.

21.   Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), “Fact Sheet,” n.d., http://www.gicnt.org/content/downloads/sop/GICNT_Fact_Sheet_June2015.pdf. Although the GICNT terms of reference state that its activities do not involve “military nuclear programs of the nuclear weapon states party to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” the group’s statement of principles, which is the only document GICNT members are required to endorse, contains no such exclusion. See Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State, “Terms of Reference for Implementation and Assessment,” November 20, 2006, http://2001-2009.state.gov/t/isn/rls/other/76421.htm; GICNT, “Statement of Principles,” 2015, http://gicnt.org/content/downloads/sop/Statement_of_Principles.pdf.

Martin B. Malin is executive director of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. From 2000 to 2007, he was director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Nickolas Roth is a research associate at the Project on Managing the Atom. Parts of this article draw from the authors’ article with Matthew Bunn and William H. Tobey in 2016 titled “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?”

The six-year nuclear security summit process produced significant advances in preventing nuclear theft and sabotage. Countries must ensure that progress does not stall now that the summits have ended.

Just Leave It: NATO’s Nuclear Weapons Policy at the Warsaw Summit

June 2016

By Tom Sauer

The biennial NATO summit in Poland next month comes at a time of deeply strained relations between NATO and Russia. The Russian occupation of Crimea is a direct challenge to internationally agreed principles. 

Other indications of Russia’s assertive foreign policy are its incursions into eastern Ukraine, brinkmanship with military aircraft and ships near the borders of NATO member states, aggressive nuclear rhetoric, and military intervention in Syria. 

No wonder that fear in many eastern European states, despite being members of NATO, has been on the rise since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. That is why the NATO summit in Wales in September 2014 tried to reassure eastern European member states with the creation of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, the stationing of rotating NATO (including U.S.) troops, and military exercises.

Apparently, eastern European member states are not yet fully satisfied. At the upcoming summit in Warsaw, although there are equally pressing challenges at NATO’s southern flank due to the conflict in Syria, eastern European states are expected to demand a reinforcement of NATO’s reassurance and deterrence policy.

Tellingly, more and more voices are calling for a review of NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy that would strengthen the role of nuclear weapons inside the alliance.1 That would be a dramatic change as the role of nuclear weapons in NATO doctrine has gradually decreased since the end of the Cold War. The numbers of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe have come down from about 2,500 in 1993 to about 180 today.2 The phrase from the 1999 Strategic Concept that nuclear weapons “will continue to fulfill an essential role” to preserve peace was significantly altered in the most recent version of the document 11 years later.3 Instead the current version states, “Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and convention capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy.”4 Similarly, the two specific references to the “nuclear forces in Europe” were deleted. The only remaining reference to those forces is the pledge to “ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control and consultation arrangements.”5 Moreover, the readiness levels of these weapons have been drastically reduced since the end of the Cold War. Contrary to the past, it would take weeks or even months to be able to use the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Europe.6 Finally, in contrast to the previous version, the 2010 Strategic Concept refers twice to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

After 25 years of scaling back its reliance on nuclear weapons, is NATO going to change course on that front? Last October 8, at a meeting of NATO defense ministers, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Adam Thomson, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to NATO, publicly stated that NATO should consider steps to improve the way it integrates conventional and nuclear deterrence.7 

Two months later, Polish Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski proposed stationing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Poland. That would contravene the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, which stipulated that NATO had “no intention, no plan, and no reason” to station nuclear weapons on the territory of the new members.8 The Polish Ministry of National Defence immediately denied that Szatkowki’s statement was a formal proposal. 

Nevertheless, NATO quietly is beefing up its nuclear posture. Polish F-16s participated for the first time on the sidelines of a NATO nuclear strike exercise at the end of 2014. As a clear signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, four B-52 bombers flew a nuclear strike mission over the North Pole and the North Sea in a bomber exercise in April 2015. Although these planes did not have nuclear weapons on board, they were equipped to carry 80 nuclear air-launched cruise missiles.9

In the run-up to the Warsaw summit, a high-level NATO working group is trying to come up with concrete proposals to strengthen NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy with respect to force structure, declaratory policy, and operational policy. Although there is no consensus on stationing B61 nuclear bombs in eastern Europe or on upgrading NATO’s nuclear hardware in general, one idea that is gaining strength within the working group is enhancing the readiness of the NATO dual-capable aircraft—those that are able to transport conventional and nuclear weapons—stationed in the five remaining host nations: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. The group also is considering ideas for organizing more nuclear exercises and being more transparent about them in the hope of strengthening deterrence, revising NATO’s communications strategy on nuclear deterrence, and strengthening nuclear expertise within NATO.10 

This article will describe and evaluate the arguments of the proponents of changing NATO’s nuclear weapons policy. It will conclude with a discussion of alternative options.

Reasons for a Review 

The advocates of change point out that the last revision of NATO’s Strategic Concept was conducted more than five years ago. Another key exercise in this area, the Deterrence and Defence Posture Review, was conducted from 2011 to 2012 and also predates the Ukraine crisis. The strategic environment has changed, and as a result, NATO policy, including nuclear weapons policy, should change, the advocates argue. They also point to a change in Russia’s nuclear doctrine that apparently includes the possibility of early use of limited nuclear strikes in response to a large-scale conventional weapons attack by the West in the hope of de-escalating the crisis at hand. 

Their arguments boil down to two objectives: first, strengthening NATO’s nuclear weapons policy in order to reassure eastern European states and, second, deterring Russia. The two are related as deterrence may strengthen reassurance, although only if the deterrent is perceived as credible. 

Eastern European states argue that NATO’s nuclear weapons policy should be updated. Because they are geographically close to Russia and some of them were invaded by the USSR during the Cold War, they want guarantees that Article 5 of the Washington Treaty will be implemented if needed. Article 5 states that an attack against one member state will be regarded as an attack on NATO as a whole and will trigger a common response. 

The advocates of the update want the rest of NATO to believe that conventional and nuclear weapons can be of help in this regard. Because the role of nuclear weapons has gradually diminished since the end of the Cold War, it is time to reverse this trend, they argue.11 They believe that NATO’s policy of extended nuclear deterrence helps deter Russia. According to this argument, the nuclear umbrella, partly in the form of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in western Europe, diminishes the chances that Putin will repeat in the Baltic states what he did in Crimea. For these reasons, they believe not only that the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in western Europe should stay, but also that NATO should increase the role of nuclear weapons.12

A Defensive Russia

The biggest mistake by NATO would be not to respond to the fears in eastern Europe. That said, threat perceptions are subjective by nature and can be heavily influenced by factors related to historical experiences and domestic politics, including the media. There are three reasons why Russia is not likely to invade and occupy any eastern European member state of NATO. 

First, Russia is not an expansionist country. The reason that it invaded Crimea can be categorized as defensive. Large nations defend their spheres of influence, and Russia regarded Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence. That geostrategic constellation is also recognized by realists such as Henry Kissinger, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen Walt.13 They blame the West as well as Putin for having created the Ukraine crisis. Luckily, the West can by definition not repeat in eastern Europe the mistakes it made vis-à-vis Ukraine and Russia because eastern Europe already belongs to the Western sphere of influence, something that has been more or less accepted by Russia. Even if Putin would like to live in a country as big as the former Soviet Union, he is fully aware that that is not going to happen. 

Second, there is a world of difference between occupying all or part of a country of which a large majority of the population stands behind the occupier, as in Crimea, and a country in which only a relatively small percentage of the population would support the occupation, as in the Baltic states. By invading and occupying one or more of the Baltic states, Putin would import too many problems. The Russian economy, which may determine the survival of the regime, is in trouble. The international reaction to the occupation of the Crimea, including the economic sanctions by the West, is hurting Russia economically. Putin has every reason to avoid making matters worse. 

Third, through NATO, the U.S. and western European spheres of influences have been institutionalized. The Baltic states belong to NATO; Ukraine did not. The Ukrainians might have hoped that the West would help them militarily. The Baltic states may hope for the same thing, but their hope has a much firmer foundation. NATO cannot do otherwise because helping allies militarily is NATO’s core business. Putin knows that very well. Although Putin can make mistakes, his record in foreign and domestic politics shows that he calculates rather well. He rightly estimated that occupying Crimea would not stir a military reaction by the West. With regard to the Baltic states, his calculations will be different. 

For all these reasons, it is reasonable to assume that the odds are that Russia is not going to invade and occupy the Baltic states, let alone Poland or Romania.

Providing Reassurance

That said, NATO should do as much as it can to reassure its eastern European states. These reassurances, however, should meet two conditions. They should be credible, and they should not provoke Russia as that could make matters even worse. 

With respect to the first condition, the question is whether nuclear weapons are a credible means of reassuring eastern European member states. Tallinn is fully aware that NATO is not going to use nuclear weapons, even in the extremely unlikely event of a Russian occupation of Estonia. Updating NATO’s policy of extended nuclear deterrence should therefore not be on the agenda. 

There is an alternative that is much more credible than nuclear weapons, namely the forward deployment of usable weapons. That would mean conventional weapons and troops, even if on a rotational basis. That is exactly what NATO has been doing until now and what Carter recently described.14 The Warsaw summit should restrict itself to fine-tuning and implementing the decisions made at the Wales summit.

Deter Putin in a Credible Way

It is difficult to see how NATO’s nuclear weapons policy can contribute to reassuring eastern European states unless one believes that these weapons deter Putin. That raises the second argument, deterrence. NATO should enhance deterrence for the very unlikely case that Putin is going to miscalculate. As in the case of reassurances, the deterrent should be credible and should not provoke Russia. 

The credibility of a deterrent depends on the capabilities and the intention to use them. That is the reason why conventional deterrence is more credible than nuclear deterrence, especially after 70 years of nonuse of nuclear weapons. Each day that nuclear weapons are not used on the battlefield, the norm against using these weapons is strengthened. Every day, it becomes more difficult for a U.S. president to authorize the use of these catastrophic weapons. 

That applies even more to nuclear weapons that are meant to defend other states under the notion of extended nuclear deterrence. In his standard work on deterrence, Patrick Morgan wrote, “If the Soviet Union invaded Western Europe, would it be rational for the United States to attack the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons if it knew that it would thereby provoke massive damage to itself in return? The answer, of course, is ‘no’.”15 It therefore is not rational for eastern European states to cling to the belief that NATO nuclear weapons, even the strategic ones, help much in deterring Putin.

That reasoning applies even more to the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stationed in western Europe. Practically speaking, the use of these tactical nuclear weapons requires the consent of all NATO member states. It is extremely unlikely that all states will agree to use the weapons, even in the unlikely event of the occupation of the Baltic states. That is because the consequences of the radioactive fallout may be felt in the Baltic states and other NATO member states. 

Furthermore, the 2010 Strategic Concept moved away from the role of tactical nuclear weapons and emphasized the role of strategic nuclear weapons as the key element of the nuclear umbrella. Note that the Strategic Concept was not written in times when the relationship with Russia was smooth, but after friction with Russia in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans, after two rounds of NATO expansion, after the NATO Bucharest summit in 2008 that stated that Georgia and Ukraine “will” become NATO members, and after the Georgian-Russian war that was partly the result of that declaration. The threat assessment in 2010 was different from the one today, but the difference should be put in perspective. Despite the troubles with Russia at that time, the role of NATO’s nuclear weapons was diminished in the 2010 Strategic Concept and the issue was not discussed at the 2014 Wales summit. It would be inconsistent to reverse this policy now. 

Putin knows that NATO is not going to use U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stationed in western Europe to protect the Baltic states. The authors of a recent RAND report based on a tabletop simulation exercise argue convincingly that these tactical weapons do not make any difference.16 To conclude, enhancing the readiness of the dual-capable aircraft in western Europe will not make the slightest difference in Putin’s calculations. As a result, an update of NATO’s nuclear policy will not strengthen deterrence of Russia and cannot help reassure the eastern Europeans. 

Likely Negative Consequences

Emphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s nuclear doctrine at the Warsaw summit is likely to have substantial negative consequences. First, it will complicate the relationship with Russia, especially in arms control, an area in which there already is an impasse. Strengthening the role of nuclear weapons on the Western side will only fuel the nuclear arms race, which is definitely not in the interest of NATO. If Putin has increased the role of nuclear weapons in Russia, that does not mean that NATO should follow suit, especially because NATO is powerful enough in the non-nuclear realm. One of the reasons why Russia’s defense depends on nuclear weapons is that it is compensating for its inferior conventional forces, just as NATO did during the Cold War.

Second, strengthening NATO’s nuclear weapons policy will have negative domestic political consequences in the countries that host tactical nuclear weapons. The odds are that these weapons will become more politically exposed if NATO decides to reverse its decades-old practice of lowering the readiness of the dual-capable aircraft. If NATO is going to do that, the pressure in the host nations to remove these weapons will certainly go up. That is a recipe for further friction within NATO. 

The public in the host countries, especially in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, already has been asking for more than a decade to remove these weapons from their territories. The Belgian parliament approved resolutions in this regard, most recently in 2015. In the Netherlands, the majority parties agreed to a parliamentary motion in 2013 asking the government not to make the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter nuclear capable. The 2009 German government declaration included a paragraph asking for the removal of the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. The answer from NATO was always that its nuclear weapons policy could not be changed except in the framework of the next Strategic Concept. If that is indeed the logic, NATO cannot change the policy in Warsaw because there will not be a new Strategic Concept produced there. 

Third, there is also a world beyond NATO and Russia that is increasingly impatient with the pace of nuclear disarmament. Partly as a result of this frustration, the humanitarian initiative arose.17 If NATO, the most powerful alliance in history, even without nuclear weapons, decides at the upcoming summit to reverse its decades-old policy of delegitimizing nuclear weapons and to rely on them even more, the odds are that such a decision will cause even more friction with many non-nuclear-weapon states outside NATO. In all likelihood, it will further diminish the chances that nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conferences will succeed in the future, and it will decrease the prospects for additional nonproliferation measures. One can also predict that the push for a nuclear weapons ban will draw even more support, which in turn will provoke societal debates within NATO member states about the role of nuclear weapons.18 Increasing even slightly and in whatever way the role of nuclear weapons in NATO at the Warsaw summit would go against the tide of history. The numbers of nuclear weapons worldwide are going down. When the current tensions have subsided, NATO should remove the tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.

Relations With Russia 

If a majority of NATO member states had believed that upgrading NATO’s extended nuclear weapons policy was the best thing to do to reassure eastern Europeans and deter Russia, they would have already done so at the NATO summit two years ago. That did not happen, and nothing in the post-Wales period suggests a different approach. That means that if eastern European member states, backed by France, which wants to delay the discussion about French nuclear weapons as long as possible, at the next summit insist on updating NATO’s nuclear weapons policy, countries that are opposed—the European countries discussed above and probably also the United States—will have to bargain as hard as the advocates of change in order to reach an end result that maintains the status quo. 

Russia has to be deterred with credible means, namely conventional weapons. Only a credible deterrent can reassure eastern European member states. Even better, NATO should start thinking about ways to restore a political relationship with Russia. That would be in the spirit of the Harmel doctrine, which regarded NATO as a political as well as a military organization. It is in the interest of all NATO member states not to make matters worse with Russia. Territory seized by the Islamic State group can be recaptured, but Russia will remain a neighbor of NATO in the future. NATO and Russia need each other to work together on issues such as containing the threat of international terrorism; stabilizing Syria, the rest of the Middle East, and Afghanistan; and preventing nuclear proliferation. 

NATO and Russia are doomed to cooperate. Halting the suspension of the NATO-Russia Council is a first step. The fact that the council reconvened in the second half of April after two years of inaction may be an indication that the height of the crisis has passed. To consolidate the cooperation, NATO and Russia can take other confidence- and security-building measures, including announcing and attending each other’s military exercises, discussing military doctrines with each other, and starting up new arms control negotiations, including with respect to tactical nuclear weapons. These arms control measures could include unilateral steps that the other side would be encouraged to reciprocate. 

In order to prevent a development like the Ukraine crisis in the future, Russia and the West should fundamentally rethink the existing Euro-Atlantic security architecture. At its core, NATO is a collective defense organization that was established to prevent attacks from outside NATO territory. Russia’s behavior in Ukraine was therefore a gift to NATO because it could be cited as a justification for NATO’s existence. Similar mechanisms are at play in Russia. Putin exploited NATO expansion for domestic political purposes. 

The Kremlin and NATO, along with their respective militaries and defense industries, need this kind of tension and antagonism toward each other. As long as that is the case, conflicts between Russia and the West, such as the one in Ukraine, may occur again. The only way to halt the negative spiral is to include Russia in the Euro-Atlantic security architecture in a way that is acceptable to all actors involved. Russia and the West have missed that opportunity in the past. 


1.   See Jacek Durkalec, “NATO Must Adapt to Address Russia’s Nuclear Brinkmanship,” European Leadership Network, October 30, 2015, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/nato-must-adapt-to-address-russias-nuclear-brinkmanship_3263.html; Jeffrey Rathke and Simond de Galbert, “NATO’s Nuclear Policy as Part of a Revitalized Deterrence Strategy,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 27, 2016, http://csis.org/publication/natos-nuclear-policy-part-revitalized-deterrence-strategy; Matthew Kroenig, “The Renewed Russian Nuclear Threat and NATO Nuclear Deterrence Posture,” Atlantic Council Issue Brief, February 2016, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/images/publications/Russian_Nuclear_Threat_0203_web.pdf.

2.   Hans Kristensen, “Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons,” Federation of American Scientists, May 2012, pp. 12, 14, https://fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf

3.   NATO, “The Alliance’s Strategic Concept,” April 24, 1999, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_27433.htm; NATO, “Active Engagement, Modern Defence: Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” n.d., http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_publications/20120214_strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf (adopted November 19, 2010) (hereafter 2010 Strategic Concept). 

4.   2010 Strategic Concept, p. 14.

5.   Ibid., p. 16.

6.   NATO, “NATO’s Nuclear Forces in the New Security Environment,” NATO Issues, June 3, 2004, p. 5. 

7.   Kingston Reif, “NATO Weighs Nuclear Exercises,” Arms Control Today, November 2015.

8.   “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security Between NATO and the Russian Federation,” May 27, 1997, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_25468.htm

9.   Hans Kristensen, “Adjusting NATO’s Nuclear Posture,” Federation of American Scientists, December 7, 2015, https://fas.org/blogs/security/2015/12/poland/

10.   Durkalec, “NATO Must Adapt to Address Russia’s Nuclear Brinkmanship.”

11.   Ibid.

12.   Ibid.

13.   Henry A. Kissinger, “To Settle the Ukraine Crisis, Start at the End,” The Washington Post, March 5, 2014; John J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 5 (September/October 2014); Stephen Walt, “Why Arming Kiev Is a Really, Really Bad Idea,” Foreign Policy, February 9, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/09/how-not-to-save-ukraine-arming-kiev-is-a-bad-idea/

14.   The Obama administration has requested $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative for fiscal year 2017, more than four times the amount requested for the current fiscal year, to increase the amount of war-fighting equipment and the number of U.S. forces rotating through Europe. U.S. Department of Defense, “Secretary of Defense Speech: Remarks at EUCOM Change of Command,” May 3, 2016, http://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech-View/Article/750946/remarks-at-eucom-change-of-command

15.   Patrick M. Morgan, Deterrence: A Conceptual Analysis (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1977), p. 93.

16.   David A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson, “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Balkans,” RAND Corp., 2016, p. 7, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1200/RR1253/RAND_RR1253.pdf. 

17.   John Borrie, “Humanitarian Reframing of Nuclear Weapons and the Logic of a Ban,” International Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 3 (May 2014): 625-646.

18.   Tom Sauer, “It’s Time to Outlaw Nuclear Weapons,” The National Interest, April 18, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/its-time-outlaw-nuclear-weapons-15814

Tom Sauer is an associate professor of international politics at the Universiteit Antwerpen in Belgium. He is a former fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. He co-edited Nuclear Terrorism: Countering the Threat (2016) and is the author of Eliminating Nuclear Weapons: The Role of Missile Defense (2011).

More and more voices are calling for a review of NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy that would strengthen the role of nuclear weapons within the alliance. That would be a dramatic and ill-advised change.

Getting to Know Greg Thielmann

June 2016

Interviewed by Daniel Horner

Read the full transcript of this interview here.

Greg Thielmann has spent four decades analyzing national security issues. For 25 years, he was a U.S. Foreign Service officer. In his last position before he left the State Department in 2002, he headed the Office of Analysis for Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Issues in the department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He then served as a senior staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Since 2009 he has been a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association and will retire this August. 

Thielmann spoke to Daniel Horner on May 10 at the offices of the association, which publishes Arms Control Today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You served in three pretty different places—Brazil, West Germany, and the Soviet Union. Did that give you some perspective on the U.S. and the way the U.S. interacts with the world?

I think trying to understand how foreigners perceive the United States gave me a lot of insights into threat assessments. One country may interpret something as being very threatening in terms of new weapons development or military actions, but from the other country’s perspective, it is what the first country is doing that is threatening. We’re dealing with perceptions, and because of that, there is often a way in which, through negotiations or realizing the different perspectives, you can actually find a space where both parties can reduce the sense of threat that they feel through a negotiated agreement. 

You observed the intelligence assessment process on Iraq from the inside and the one on Iran from the outside. Are you able to compare the two processes?

I think in many ways the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program was a great triumph in avoiding so much of what went wrong in the case of Iraqi [weapons of mass destruction]. What one had in the Iran document was the intelligence community basically admitting that previous National Intelligence Estimates had not gotten it right on Iran. For example, there was the critical determination on Iran’s nuclear weapons program—and they did have a nuclear weapons program, but it was essentially halted in the fall of 2003. 

What was so conspicuously different than the Iraq intelligence estimate was that [this conclusion on Iran] was a very unwelcome conclusion for the Bush administration, particularly the Dick Cheney wing of the Bush administration. Yet, the estimate was not tailored, shaped, spun in a way that disguised the conclusion. The administration basically allowed it to come out in its all-important, honest bottom line. That made a profound difference. 

In one of your interviews on Iraq [in 2003], you said, “The default setting of the U.S. intelligence community is to over-warn rather than under-warn.” Explain what you mean by that.

Warning is the chief function, one might say, of the intelligence community. To talk historically, this is sort of the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. That was a huge trauma that we haven’t quite gotten over. So there is that still legitimate response of the intelligence community to focus on warning of possible disastrous events. 

The problem is that this often leads us to assuming that a worst-case threat identified is the most likely outcome or that’s the most objective way to predict the future. So that’s why, as an intelligence analyst, I would always look for two different estimates: first, what could happen and what is the probability that that could happen; but secondly, what is most likely to happen, even realizing that judgments about the future are very difficult to make. It seems to me, again and again in the negotiating process, that we miss opportunities to lower the threat in a better way by overestimating what the threat is. 

So given all the political and institutional reasons you just were describing, how do you prevent that? 

One of the ways you prevent it is to make sure that your judgments are labeled for what they are. That means it’s okay and sometimes mandatory to remind people what could happen. But it’s also necessary to remind them what is likely to happen, or if we are wrong about identifying something that could happen one way or another, whether it’s good news or bad news, why might we be wrong. On what assumptions does this conclusion hinge? That’s just part of, it seems to me, responsible intelligence tradecraft. 

The longtime analyst reflects on Iraq, Iran, and “responsible intelligence tradecraft.” 

Conventional Arms Control in Europe: Decline, Disarray, and the Need for Reinvention

June 2016

By Lucien Kleinjan

For some years now, conventional arms control in Europe has found itself under pressure. The edifice of conventional arms control instruments in Europe consists of three main pillars: the Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, most recently updated in 2011; the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which entered into force in 1992; and the Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002.

Some might contend that, at this juncture in history, all of these instruments have lost their military relevance to a large extent, although these perceptions might vary according to one’s birthplace. This article will argue that, from a political point of view, the instruments still have a pivotal role to play.

On the one hand, their demise would be an obvious symbol of withered trust and confidence. On the other hand, the continued malfunctioning of these instruments contributes to the further erosion of that trust and confidence. 

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders has said on several occasions that the main issue is one of trust and confidence. The countries involved need to have the trust and confidence to cooperate with one another. At the same time, such cooperation creates trust and confidence. Yet, it is not a chicken-and-egg situation. One can start at either end; the main requirement is the political will to break the current negative cycle.

Traditionally, the Netherlands has put considerable emphasis on and effort into the maintenance of conventional arms control, just as it does for nuclear disarmament. This vision flows from a deep-rooted tradition that emphasizes the normative power of international law. For a country of relatively small size and international weight, much is to be gained from a multilateral system whose members strictly adhere to its rules. Arms control forms part and parcel of such a system.

There is a direct link between the conventional and the nuclear fields. NATO allies perceive nuclear arms to be weapons of deterrence. All the allies hope they never have to resort to the use of such weapons. NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept explicitly states this in Article 17: “The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote.”1

Russian doctrine does not make that distinction as clearly. In the Russian perception, the use of nonstrategic nuclear arms—those that could be used on the battlefield instead of against strategic assets in the homeland of the opponent—would be dependent on the needs of a given conflict situation. Thus, there is a relationship between conventional and nonconventional arms in their potential use and the way one approaches arms control.

A Topical and Urgent Issue

As discussed above, conventional arms control is politically and militarily relevant. The recent events at the edges of Europe have demonstrated once again the continued or renewed relevance of conventional arms control. Notwithstanding the emergence of all kinds of military innovations, including warfare in the cyber domain, the use of drones, and the use of soldiers posing as local insurgents, it is clear from recent subregional conflicts that such conflicts are fought to a large extent with conventional equipment. These battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, aircraft, and attack helicopters are arms to seize and hold ground, as the military would put it.

It is exactly these categories of equip-ment on which the CFE Treaty and the Vienna Document focus. There is an obvious and urgent need to keep these documents alive and update them where necessary. 

Such endeavors call not only for knowledge and concentrated effort, but also a certain amount of political courage. Given the current circumstances, with a re-emergence of the perception of a military threat from Russia, many politicians in Europe and the United States have an understandable inclination to postulate that these are not times for arms control. They would rather consider modernization and enhancement of military capacities in view of the volatile behavior of the one state that treads on long-standing agreements and principles.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, conventional arms control now is as important as ever. As Koenders tends to put it, arms control is not a fair-weather instrument. It is in dire times that the need for it is greatest.

Between countries that do not perceive each other as a threat in any way, arms control instruments are not warranted. The Netherlands does not have such instruments with Denmark. The need for arrangements to enhance transparency and thus stability and security arises in the cases of countries with which good relations come less naturally. 

The Vienna Document

The current year offers several oppor-tunities to engage in a dialogue to reinvigorate conventional arms control in Europe. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) happens to have started the exercise to update and modernize the Vienna Document this year. Some states, however, do not have the political will to engage in discussions on updates, let alone modernizations. They cite the current mistrust as the reason for their reluctance.

They are wrong. The crisis over Ukraine is a case in point. It demonstrated the need for substantial improvements in the Vienna Document, which would benefit all parties. Among other things, the crisis made clear that the Vienna Document had never foreseen the use of foreign troops posing as local insurgents, making use of heavy armor and weapons.

The crisis demonstrated the inadequacy of the verification methods in the document, shown, for example, in current restrictions on inspections and in insufficiently rigorous requirements for no-notice, or snap, exercises, in which participating troops are not forewarned and for which prior notification to the other signatories of the Vienna Document is not required.

Having held the presidency of the OSCE’s Forum for Security Co-operation during the first four months of this year, the Netherlands feels additionally motivated to propel the dialogue on these questions. It wants to do its utmost to arrive at a substantially improved Vienna Document that responds to the requirements of comprehensive security and the citizens of all participating OSCE states.

Modernization of the Vienna Document is vital. The loopholes that allow for circumvention of the letter and the spirit of the document should be closed. The times demand structural improvement of this pillar—for example, a document that allows more-intrusive inspections to enhance the verification regime, requires the parties to keep one another abreast of more exercises than under the current version of the document, and obliges countries to allow snap inspections and observations when holding snap exercises.

All this is not a goal in itself. It will make for more transparency and thus fewer surprises, fewer chances of misunderstandings, and fewer possible ensuing dangerous reactions. It is an investment in predictability, stability, and security.

It will not make for an ideal world. No Vienna Document could counterbalance a lack of trust and confidence. At the same time, the commitment to more-intrusive measures would be a first demonstration of the political will to arrive at greater transparency. That itself would be a confidence-building measure.

The Foundations of Conventional Arms Control in Europe

There are three main instruments on conventional arms control in Europe. Their scope and adhering members vary, mostly for historical and political reasons. The three agreements are described below.

The Vienna Document is a politically binding agreement among the participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It is intended to implement confidence- and security-building measures, such as exchanges of military information, prior notification of certain military exercises, and observation of certain military exercises. The crisis in and around Ukraine has highlighted loopholes in the agreement, as well as the need to enhance certain provisions. Because of the current political situation, Russia has shown a reluctance to enter into negotiations on the modernization of the Vienna Document.

The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty has its roots in the Cold War. It established limits on five categories of conventional military equipment in Europe and oversaw the destruction of excess weaponry by NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. There are 30 states-parties today. Russia is one of them, but it “suspended” its active participation in the treaty in 2007, expressing dissatisfaction with several of its elements, such as the continuation of the bloc-based approach.

The Open Skies Treaty allows for aerial surveillance flights over the territories of its 34 states-parties to enhance mutual understanding and confidence through the possibility of gathering information on military forces and activities. Due to a restrictive interpretation by Russia, the treaty risks losing some of its intrusiveness and thus effectiveness.

    The CFE Treaty

    Another opportunity presents itself this year to give a much needed boost to conventional arms control in Europe. In September, there will be a conference to review the functioning of the CFE Treaty, as there is every five years. 

    For years, the CFE Treaty rightly was considered the success story of conventional arms control, not just in Europe but worldwide. It was the benchmark, the cornerstone, of European arms control and thus European security.

    The treaty was a product of Cold War discord and was negotiated at the height of the Cold War. One result of the treaty was the observed destruction of 72,000 pieces of heavy military equipment by the countries of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The accompanying regime of mutual inspections provided a guarantee that the two opposing blocs were abiding by the agreed requirements for reductions and subsequently lower levels of armaments. The treaty thus created a framework for mutual trust, confidence, and transparency through its elaborate and intrusive system of continuous inspections.

    This system turned out to be mutually beneficial at a time when the blocs still felt secure at the lower levels of armaments. The parties were able to spend less on their militaries and more on civilian needs. The system thus provided economic gain without altering the strategic balance. The happy ending of the Cold War provided a good occasion to give the treaty a new footing, doing away with the blocs while preserving transparency.

    The adaptation of the treaty to that end never entered into force, as the precondition to which all the states-parties, including Russia, agreed—that 

    Russia would pull back its troops and materiel from Georgia and Moldova—was never met. Quite the contrary, one might say after the 2008 Russian intervention in Georgia. Moreover, in 2007, Russia unilaterally “suspended” implementation of its obligations under the treaty. Transparency, cooperation, predictability, and stability were heavily affected, and several efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to the impasse failed.

    Under these circumstances, this year’s review conference is likely to conclude that the CFE Treaty continues to suffer from the failure of one state-party to implement its obligations. Although 29 of the 30 states-parties continue to implement the treaty among themselves, the relevance of the pact is heavily affected because of Russian behavior. As noted earlier, the treaty’s value does not lie in mutual inspections between Denmark and the Netherlands.

    In the light of the foregoing, the Netherlands wants to appeal to all states-parties and to Russia in particular to return to the negotiating table. As with the Vienna Document, this is not a plea for just Dutch interests, but one that serves a common goal: stability and security for Europe. That goal transcends the undeniable differences among the countries of the continent. 

    The Open Skies Treaty 

    The Open Skies Treaty, the third pillar of European conventional arms control, still can be called quite successful. It offers its states-parties an unprecedented level of transparency, including the right to take photographs of military installations. 

    Unfortunately, the political upheaval in Europe has not left this treaty untouched. Russia’s restrictive interpretation of certain provisions and unilateral limitation of observation flights over its territory have affected the treaty’s effectiveness. For example, some areas have been declared off-limits for observation flights, and the accessibility of others has been hampered by restrictions on the altitude of overflights. 

    As always, states-parties are supposed to adhere faithfully to the letter and spirit of the treaty. Once again, the goal is simple and, one would hope, shared by all: promotion of transparency and predictability and thus of stability and security on the European continent.


    Today, the citizens of Europe live in circumstances that they had hoped they had left behind. Dividing lines and mistrust have again emerged in Europe. Yet, the instruments in place should at least contribute to predictability and thus stability and security on the continent. 

    They are the three instruments of arms control that have served Europe and the rest of the world so well in the past, including times when tension presumably ran even higher than today. Arms control instruments in themselves are not designed to prevent or stop crises, but they can lead to a restoration of trust and confidence by offering mutual transparency about capabilities and the intentions of their signatories. This is not something that countries can afford to throw away or to slowly let wither. They should act this year to restart the cycle that would lead to a more stable and secure continent. 


    1.   “Active Engagement, Modern Defence: Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” n.d., http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_publications/20120214_strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf (adopted at the NATO summit in Lisbon in November 2010).

    Lucien Kleinjan is the Netherlands’ special envoy for conventional arms control.

    Although it might seem counterintuitive, the instruments of conventional arms control in Europe still have a pivotal role to play.

    Momentum Builds for Nuclear Ban Treaty

    June 2016

    By Kingston Reif

    A growing number of non-nuclear-weapon states are expressing support for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a legally binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons, despite strong opposition from those states that possess nuclear weapons and many U.S. allies. 

    The contentious debate over how best to advance nuclear disarmament occurred at a meeting last month of an open-ended working group on disarmament taking place in Geneva this year.

    It remains to be seen how the final report of the working group will reflect the different views expressed and whether ban-treaty supporters will seek a mandate at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this fall to start formal talks on a treaty.

    In a working paper considered by the group during the first two weeks of May, nine states belonging to nuclear-weapon-free zones, including Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico, called for convening “a Conference in 2017 open to all states, international organizations, and civil society to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.”

    The paper detailed elements that negotiators of a ban treaty might include in this instrument, such as a prohibition on possession, use and threat of use, acquisition, and “assisting, encouraging, or inducing, directly or indirectly, the engagement in any activity prohibited by the legally-binding instrument.” 

    In addition, the paper argued that a ban treaty “would have a political as well as legal impact on the disarmament debate” and “would not need universal adherence to be negotiated nor to enter into force.” 

    Meanwhile, a May 4 working paper submitted by Austria and co-sponsored by all 126 other endorsees of the so-called Humanitarian Pledge that emerged from a December 2014 conference in Vienna on the impact of nuclear weapons use urged states “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons,” including “an additional legal instrument or instruments.” (See ACT, January/February 2015.)

    The Austrian paper noted that “[a]chieving and maintaining a world without nuclear weapons will require a multitude of legal and non-legal measures” and that “the various approaches cannot be considered as mutually exclusive but as complementary.” 

    Many supporters of the Humanitarian Pledge expressed their support for beginning negotiations on a ban treaty at the May meeting of the working group, but the Austrian paper did not explicitly endorse such a treaty as the most appropriate next step toward advancing nuclear disarmament, nor did it recommend specific elements a treaty should include. 

    One member of a European delegation participating in the group told Arms Control Today in a May 11 interview that although a majority of UN member states support starting negotiations on a ban treaty, some pledge signatories within the Non-Aligned Movement have not yet decided whether to support a ban as a near-term step. 

    During last year’s meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee, UN member states voted to approve a resolution sponsored by Mexico creating the working group. (See ACT, December 2015.) It is open ended, which means that all UN members can participate. 

    The creation of the open-ended working group grew out of the frustration of many non-nuclear-weapon states at the slow pace of nuclear disarmament. This has prompted these states to look for new and alternative approaches and venues to spur progress.

    Under the resolution, the main mandate of the group is to “substantively address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms” necessary to “attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.”

    The working group held its first meeting Feb. 22-26. Another set of meetings was held in Geneva during May 2-4 and 9-13. 

    United States Skips Meetings 

    Approximately 100 states sent delegations to the May session, but the nine states that have nuclear weapons declined to participate.

    Blake Narendra, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, told Arms Control Today in February that the United States decided not to participate because the agenda and rules for the working group “will not result in constructive dialogue on nuclear weapons or conditions under which nuclear disarmament can best be achieved.” (See ACT, March 2016.

    Washington also expressed concern that the working group would lay the groundwork for negotiations on a ban treaty, which it strongly opposes. 

    Some diplomats questioned the U.S. decision not to participate in the working group. A second European diplomat told Arms Control Today that had a U.S. delegation attended the meetings in Geneva, it could have slowed or even stopped the growing momentum in support of ban-treaty negotiation. 

    Umbrella States Oppose Ban

    Although none of the nuclear-armed states are attending the working group meetings, many countries in Europe and Asia that rely on U.S. nuclear weapons for their protection are participating. 

    These states, often referred to as “umbrella states,” repeatedly expressed opposition to commencing negotiations on a ban treaty. 

    In an April 27 working paper, Canada disputed the existence of a “legal gap” that must be filled by negotiating effective legal measures such as a ban treaty. According to the paper, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “provides a sufficient legal basis for achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.”

    Canada also voiced concern that the premature negotiation of a ban treaty that does not include the participation of states that possess nuclear weapons “would intensify existing rifts among states on nuclear issues” and “have the unintended consequences of imperiling the stability achieved under” the NPT.

    Most umbrella states instead backed a progressive “building blocks” approach to advancing nuclear disarmament. As described in a Feb. 24 working paper, the approach calls for the pursuit of “parallel and simultaneous” nonlegal and legal measures, such as reducing the risk of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, reducing numbers of nuclear weapons, bringing into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and commencing negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty. 

    According to the paper, only after these steps had been achieved would it be feasible to pursue the “final building block” of an “internationally verifiable nuclear disarmament framework such as...a multilateral nuclear weapons convention.” 

    Some countries suggested additional ideas to advance disarmament with the aim of bridging gaps between supporters of a ban treaty and the building blocks approaches. 

    For example, Annika Thunborg, director of the department of disarmament, nonproliferation, and export control in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proposed in a May 11 statement that states pursue an instrument prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, which she argued would reduce nuclear weapons risks and “could gain support among both countries with nuclear weapons and countries in nuclear alliances.” 

    Sweden also submitted a working paper co-sponsored by Switzerland proposing that states “initiate or engage in a process to reduce risks associated with nuclear armed cruise missiles,” including “actions to limit, prevent deployment of and lead to a ban on all nuclear armed cruise missiles.” 

    Next Steps Uncertain

    At the May 13 close of the most recent working group meetings, group chair Thani Thongphakdi, the permanent representative of Thailand to the United Nations in Geneva, noted that the debate “was not an easy one and if agreement could be observed on several important topics, there were also persisting differences in views and approaches on others.”

    Thongphakdi said that he would prepare a “factual report reflecting as much as possible the discussions held and proposals made” and circulate a first draft to states no later than early August. 

    The working group is scheduled to meet for its final session on Aug. 5, 16-17, and 19 to consider and adopt a final report. 

    Some states warned against seeking “a lowest common denominator outcome” at the expense of accurately reflecting what transpired during working group deliberations. In a May 13 statement, Dell Higgie, New Zealand’s ambassador for disarmament, said her country would not support a report that “simply repeats steps we have already agreed to elsewhere.” 

    She stressed “the importance of” the report emphasizing that the “clear majority” of states support “pursuing a negotiating process right now.” 

    Whether the UN First Committee might take up a resolution this fall to authorize the beginning of a negotiating process of a ban treaty is unclear. 

    Thomas Hajnoczi, the permanent representative of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that such a resolution would be a “logical” next step, but said his country, which supports starting negotiations on a ban, had yet to begin detailed consultations with other countries on the matter.

    A growing number of non-nuclear-weapon states are expressing support for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a legally binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons.

    Obama’s India Nuclear Blind Spot

    June 2016

    By Daryl G. Kimball

    Global efforts to prevent the spread of the world’s most deadly weapons depend on universal compliance with rules that constrain the transfer of nuclear technology and concrete action by nuclear-armed states to reduce, not expand, their weapons capabilities.

    As President Barack Obama said in his landmark April 2009 speech in Prague “[I]n our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons, rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons.”

    But just a year later, Obama announced that the United States would support Indian membership in the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)—the nuclear technology control organization established in 1975 in response to India’s first nuclear weapons test blast, which used plutonium produced by a Canadian-supplied reactor using U.S.-origin heavy water. 

    According to the official NSG website, India’s 1974 test explosion “demonstrated that peaceful nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be misused.”

    After low-level consultations on the issue within the NSG since 2011, U.S. and Indian officials have recently launched a quiet but high-level campaign for their proposal ahead of key NSG meetings this month in Vienna and Seoul. 

    Indian membership in the NSG on the basis of an exceptional political preference rather than a common set of nonproliferation and disarmament benchmarks would produce serious, long-term damage to strategic stability in South Asia, the NSG, and the broader nonproliferation regime.

    Such a move would compound the damage caused by the 2008 NSG decision to make an India-specific exemption to its full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards requirement for nuclear trade that was pushed through by the George W. Bush administration.

    NSG membership currently requires that the state is a member in good standing with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). India remains one of only three countries, with Israel and Pakistan, never to have signed the NPT. 

    Based on its record, India does not meet the same standards of behavior as current NSG members, nor is it clear it shares the NSG’s core nonproliferation goals, including preventing the spread of sensitive uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies. 

    India refuses to accept critical disarmament responsibilities and practices expected of responsible nuclear states, including a legally binding commitment not to conduct nuclear tests, such as signing the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), halting fissile material production for weapons, and reducing, not building up, its nuclear and missile arsenals.

    India has actively sought to weaken the nonproliferation commitments it was required to take to receive an NSG exemption in 2008. For example, its civil-military nuclear separation plan is substandard, and its IAEA additional protocol arrangement is weaker than those of the NPT nuclear-weapon states. Although India maintains a nuclear test moratorium, leaders in New Delhi have not taken any steps toward signing the CTBT, and they have not agreed to build international nuclear test-explosion monitoring stations on Indian territory.

    The NSG’s 2008 India-specific exemption has given India access to international nuclear fuel markets, which has freed domestic supplies for bomb production. Pakistan has reacted by accelerating its own fissile material production capacity and deploying highly destabilizing tactical nuclear weapons.

    In April, Obama said he would “like to see progress with respect to Pakistan and India to make sure…they are not continually moving in the wrong direction.”

    Another India-specific NSG exemption would undoubtedly move Pakistan in the wrong direction, hardening its resolve to keep pace with India’s ongoing nuclear weapons buildup. It would likely worsen China’s own NSG-noncompliant nuclear trade with Pakistan and make it more difficult to gain other states’ adherence to NSG trade control guidelines. Indian membership in the NSG would also reinforce the perception among NPT member states that the rules just do not apply to nuclear-armed states. 

    China, which insists on further dialogue on the matter and notes that NPT membership should remain the standard for NSG membership, may block India’s admittance to the group. Nonproliferation stalwarts, including Austria, Ireland, and New Zealand, may stand firm too. But that could change if the Obama team employs the strong-arm tactics used by the Bush administration against some NSG members to push through the 2008 exemption from key NSG trade guidelines. 

    Ironically, Indian membership in the NSG would empower New Delhi to block future efforts by participating governments to ensure that India respects the nonproliferation commitments that it made in order to win the NSG’s support for that 2008 decision. 

    If states in the NSG are to be asked to support the objective of Indian membership, it should only be as part of a broader strategy to strengthen the global nuclear order. Anything less represents an irresponsible disregard for long-standing nonproliferation principles.

    Global efforts to prevent the spread of the world’s most deadly weapons depend on universal compliance with rules that constrain the transfer of nuclear technology...

    Anti-Nuclear Terrorism Initiative Turns 10

    June 2016

    By Kelsey Davenport

    Participating countries in a voluntary initiative to strengthen global capacities to prevent nuclear terrorism will meet in the Netherlands this month to discuss areas for future activities to strengthen nuclear security. 

    The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) meeting, which will take place June 15-16, coincides with the 10th anniversary of the initiative’s founding by the United States and Russia. Since 2006, the GICNT has grown to include 86 countries and five international organizations and conducted more than 80 multilateral activities.

    Officials involved in the GICNT highlighted the meeting as an opportunity to expand regional cooperation among partner countries over the coming year and build on the three areas of focus for the initiative: nuclear forensics, nuclear detection, and response and mitigation. Working groups exist for each of these areas, in addition to an implementation and assessment group led by the Netherlands that oversees GICNT activities and coordinates other international efforts to prevent duplication.

    According to Kees Nederlof, the Dutch coordinator for the implementation and assessment group, the value of the GICNT is that it is a practical, “hands-on partnership” that “provides fora that do not otherwise exist for facilitating dialogue and cooperation among communities of experts within and across governments to identify needs and build national capacities in applying nuclear security principles.” 

    Nederlof said in a May 25 email that the 10-year anniversary meeting “will comprise both retrospective and forward-looking elements.” He added that it is an opportunity to “consider the evolving security landscape” and “identify and discuss the actions the GICNT can take to address existing and anticipated challenges.” 

    Looking ahead, Nederlof said that a future priority for the GICNT could be “the pursuit of greater regional cooperation and the use of regional activities” that have “the benefit of being able to use commonalities among neighboring states to help identify nuclear security challenges and develop solutions on a targeted, regional basis.” 

    A U.S. State Department official said in a May 27 email that “interagency national-level coordination” continues to be a “persistent challenge” and the United States would like to prioritize future GICNT activities that promote effective cooperation and dialogue.

    The GICNT was one of the five international initiatives designated as a successor to the nuclear security summit process. (See ACT, May 2016.) At the final summit in Washington in April, the 52 participating countries endorsed an action plan for the GICNT. The action plan included recommendations for additional exercises, capacity building, and cooperation with other organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

    The State Department official said that the GICNT anniversary meeting should “reinforce that senior-level attention is necessary” beyond the summit process to address the threat posed by nuclear and radiological terrorism.

    Working Group Contributions 

    The Dutch official said that the GICNT chose its three focus areas because “no other international organization, initiative or instrument was actively dealing with these specific areas, so there was a gap.” 

    Tegan Bull, the Australian coordinator for the nuclear forensics working group, said in a May 24 email that since the working group was formed in 2010, it has “communicated the role of nuclear forensic science to policy-makers and decision-makers.” Bull said that the conversation transitioned from “what is nuclear forensics” to questions on how to implement an effective nuclear forensics capability. This reflects a “greater understanding and awareness of how nuclear forensics can contribute to nuclear security.” 

    Bull says the nuclear forensics working group plans to develop a “self-assessment tool” for partner nations “seeking guidance and good practices for the practical implementation and sustainment of a national nuclear forensic capability.” Bull says this will help states “to consider existing national capabilities that could be utilized for nuclear forensics; additional capabilities that may be needed; and areas in which international assistance may be sought.”

    The nuclear detection working group, established in 2010, is currently coordinated by Finland. The chair of the working group said in a May 25 email that several of the “notable accomplishments” from the working group include “promoting partners’ practical application of nuclear detection best practices” and raising awareness among senior policymakers of the challenges to nuclear detection and “mitigating strategies.” 

    The chair noted that the development of an “exercise playbook” has “encouraged partners to organize national-level or GICNT activities based on the detection modules” outlined in the exercise book. He also said that the working group has led “international efforts to conceptualize, draft, and publish guidance and best practices documents in the area of nuclear detection,” including a four-volume series on developing nuclear detection architecture.  

    Looking ahead, the chair said that the working groups will focus on regional exercises designed to “examine and address unique border detection challenges,” such as those posed by geography or incompatibilities in detection technologies. Another area of focus will be continuing to build partner nations’ capacity to “develop and implement a coordinated government approach to detecting illicit trafficking” of material outside of regulatory control within states and using the exercise playbook to ensure that partner countries gain the “expertise needed for developing sustainable national-level exercise programs,” he said. 

    Itimad Soufi, the Moroccan coordinator for the working group on response and mitigation, said in a May 25 email that the group was established in 2012 to “identify and produce best practices and recommendations for responding to a nuclear or radiological terrorist incident and mitigating its consequences.” She said several events were organized and hosted by partner nations to discuss and exercise the key concepts identified in a framework document. 

    Two events in particular tested and enhanced “not only the national capabilities, but also the joint ability of two countries (or more) to communicate, coordinate and respond to radiological threats and terrorist acts,” Soufi said. This new series of exercises brought a regional perspective and allowed Morocco and Spain, as well as Argentina and Chili to discuss and exercise national and “joint ability to respond to these threats and acts,” Soufi said. 

    In the future, Soufi said “the bilateral, regional and international cooperation as well as the cross-disciplinary work will continue remaining an important objective” and that the group will conduct a new “virtual exercise” that involves teams of GICNT participants “responding to a scenario from the perspective of their own government.”

    GICNT Gaps

    Samantha Pitts-Kiefer, director of the global nuclear policy program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), wrote in a May 12 email that the end of the nuclear security summits and the 10th anniversary of the GICNT is an opportunity for the initiative to reaffirm “its role in strengthening the global nuclear security system by addressing one of the chief remaining gaps in the system, the lack of any common set of international standards and best practices.”

    Pitts-Kiefer recommended that the GICNT promote capacity building in “universalizing and strengthening implementation” of the nonbinding IAEA code of conduct on the safety and security of radioactive sources to “ensure that terrorists can never get their hands on dangerous radioactive material that could be used in a dirty bomb.” 

    She also suggested that the GICNT could work with countries considering nuclear power programs to “ensure they are following IAEA guidance and have the laws, regulations, and technical capacity necessary to protect nuclear power plants against acts of sabotage—whether through physical or cyberattacks—that could cause a serious radioactive release.”

    The NTI has identified “serious deficiencies” in both these areas, Pitts-Kiefer said. 

    The State Department official said the United States is interested in other areas of focus for the GICNT, such as “the exchange of models and best practices on legal and regulatory frameworks.”

    Participants in a voluntary initiative to strengthen global capacities to prevent nuclear terrorism will meet in the Netherlands this month to discuss future activities.

    North Korea Tests Land, Sea Missiles

    June 2016

    By Elizabeth Philipp

    In April, North Korea conducted a test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and three tests of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, eliciting international condemnation.

    On April 28, North Korea conducted two test launches of its intermediate-range ballistic missile, known as the Musudan. The same day, U.S. Strategic Command released a statement saying that “[i]nitial indications reveal the tests were not successful.” These tests followed an earlier attempt on April 15, which failed after diverting from a normal trajectory. (See ACT, May 2016.) North Korea first displayed a mockup of the missile in an October 2010 military parade. The Musudan is estimated to have a range of up to 4,000 kilometers. 

    Meeting on the same day as the Musudan launches, the UN Security Council held a closed consultation on nonproliferation in North Korea. As ACT went to print, the Security Council had not released a statement on the two Musudan launches of April 28, and Yonhap News had just reported a new failed Musudan launch on May 30. Consensus on a statement has been blocked by Russia, according to an NK News report on May 24 citing UN diplomats. The Security Council did condemn the maiden test of the Musudan on April 15. (See ACT, May 2016.)

    North Korea’s SLBM test did garner Security Council condemnation. Launched April 23, the KN-11 reportedly flew 30 kilometers before exploding, according to the South Korean joint chiefs of staff cited in a May 1 Yonhap News article. The test may have been designed merely to evaluate “the submarine’s launch systems, missile ignition sequence and initial guidance operations rather than a full operational test,” according to Joseph Bermudez, chief analytics officer for AllSource Analysis, writing for 38 North, an online publication of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. 

    The Security Council “strongly condemned the firing” of the SLBM in a press statement on April 24 issued by the council’s president, Ambassador Liu Jieyi of China. The launch “constituted yet another serious violation” of several Security Council resolutions, which prohibit North Korea from “develop[ing] and testing new ballistic missile capabilities.” Liu urged UN member states to “redouble their efforts to implement” the nonproliferation measures imposed by the council’s resolutions, which aim to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and prohibit it from testing ballistic missiles. (See ACT, April 2016.)

    On May 26-27, heads of state from the Group of Seven industrialized nations held a summit in the Mie Prefecture of Japan. At its conclusion, the leaders released a joint declaration that condemned “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s nuclear test and “launches using ballistic missile technology” of earlier this year. The declaration also demanded that Pyongyang “not conduct any further nuclear tests, launches, or engage in any other destabilizing or provocative actions.”

    In June, Japan, South Korea, and the United States are expected for the first time to test jointly their capabilities to track North Korean missiles. According to a South Korean Defense Ministry official cited in The New York Times on May 16, the joint naval drill will test the ability to detect missile launches, track missile trajectories, and share the information. In April, high-level diplomats from the three states met in Seoul and announced that their countries would enhance their collaboration on North Korea policy in part by increasing intelligence sharing. (See ACT, May 2016.

    More Nuclear and Missile Tests Pending?

    North Korea’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party held its seventh Congress on May 6-9 (see box below). Ahead of the gathering, South Korean intelligence officials warned of an impending nuclear test by Pyongyang. (See ACT, May 2016.) On May 16, Lim Byeong-chol, director of South Korea’s unification ministry, said that South Korea was still bracing for another nuclear or missile test following the Congress, according to Seoul’s Yonhap News. 

    According to a March 15 story published by Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared that North Korea would conduct a “nuclear warhead explosion test and a test-fire of several types of ballistic rockets capable of carrying nuclear warheads…in a short time to further increase the reliability of nuclear attack capability” and ordered preparations to be made. Another nuclear test would constitute North Korea’s fifth since 2006.

    North Korea Reiterates Nuclear Posture at Congress

    On May 6-9, North Korea held the seventh Congress for its ruling Korean Workers’ Party, which since 1946 has served as a forum for setting political priorities and rolling out policies. The Congress was last held in 1980, when Kim Jong Il was named heir apparent.

    At the gathering, the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, spoke about Pyongyang’s nuclear posture. He stated a discretionary no-first-use policy under which, “[a]s a responsible nuclear weapons state, [North Korea] will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes, as it had already declared,” according to transcripts made available by the National Committee on North Korea, a Washington-based nongovernmental organization that focuses on U.S.-North Korean relations.

    As Kim highlighted, North Korea has previously described itself as a “responsible nuclear weapons state” and declared a no-first-use policy. On Jan. 6, the North Korean government released a statement that it “will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…under any circumstances as already declared as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.” The statement was released via the state-run Korean Central News Agency following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.

    In the same Jan. 6 statement, North Korea stated it will not be the first to “transfer relevant means and technology” for nuclear weapons. Kim reiterated this position at the Congress, stating that Pyongyang “will faithfully fulfill its obligation for non-proliferation and strive for the global denuclearization.” North Korea has a known history of proliferating nuclear delivery technology to other states and is believed to have aided the construction of a suspected plutonium-production reactor in Syria, which was destroyed by Israel in 2007 before being completed.

    Kim also stated that the “Party and the [North Korean] government will wage a vigorous struggle to radically put an end to the danger of nuclear war, imposed by the U.S., with powerful nuclear deterrence and defend the regional and global peace.” Earlier in 2016, North Korea released a propaganda film depicting a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile attack on Washington.

    The 2013 constitution of North Korea describes the state as “a nuclear state and an unchallengeable military power.”

    In April, Pyongyang tested two new types of ballistic missiles, earning UN condemnation.

    China Expands Missile Arsenal

    June 2016

    By Kelsey Davenport

    China is expanding its arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to ensure the viability of its nuclear deterrent, according to an annual report to the U.S. Congress from the Defense Department. 

    The report, titled “The Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016” and released last month, noted an expansion in the number of China’s nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the development of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, the DF-26. 

    ICBMs have a range of more than 5,500 kilometers, whereas intermediate-range ballistic missiles have a range of 3,000-5,500 kilometers. 

    The 2016 report said that these missiles have capabilities, including multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), that are “intended to ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent in the face of continued advances” in areas such as ballistic missile defense and precision-strike capabilities by the United States and, to a lesser extent, Russia.

    Precision-strike capabilities utilize advanced guidance systems to hit targets more accurately, which threatens China’s ability to execute a second strike in the event of an attack. 

    The DF-26 is China’s first ballistic missile in the intermediate range and was unveiled for the first time in September 2015. When China deploys the nuclear variant of the DF-26, it would give Beijing its “first nuclear precision strike capability against theater targets,” according to the 2016 report. 

    U.S. military bases in Guam would be within range of the DF-26.

    Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said in a May 13 press briefing that China’s development of the DF-26 is an example of Beijing’s investment in military programs and weaponry that are designed in part to “improve power projection.”

    The 2016 report estimated that China has between 75 and 100 road-mobile and silo-based ICBMs, up from the 50 to 60 ICBMs noted in the 2015 edition of the report. The increase in ICBMs came as a surprise to a number of experts. 

    In a May 18 article for Strategic Security, the blog of the Federation of American Scientists, Hans Kristensen wrote that the increase in ICBMs is “inconsistent” with previous reports, which have listed the same number of missiles as missile launchers or slightly higher as the DF-4 ICBM launchers can be reloaded. Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the federation, wrote that the rationale is unclear for reporting a sudden increase in missiles to 25 more than the number of launchers. 

    The 2016 report did not indicate that China deployed any new ICBM variants since the last report, but noted that a road-mobile ICBM still under development, the DF-41, is capable of carrying MIRVs. The 2015 report only said the DF-41 was “possibly capable” of carrying multiple warheads. 

    According to the report, China deploys an ICBM, the DF-5B, that is equipped with MIRVs. Li Bin, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said at a May 5 event hosted by the group that it is unclear if China has deployed MIRVs on any DF-5B ICBMs. He argued that it would be more logical for China to use decoys on the missile instead of additional warheads. 

    Bin said China’s nuclear activities are not designed to seek parity with any other country but to demonstrate that Beijing is not “lagging” behind technological developments. Perception of a lag could invite aggressive actions from other countries, Bin reasoned. 

    The 2016 report also revised the estimate for China’s Jin-class ballistic missile submarines to begin conducting deterrent patrols. The 2015 report assessed that China would begin deterrent patrols in late 2015, whereas the 2016 report says “sometime in 2016.” China currently has four operational Jin-class submarines and a fifth under construction. The submarines are armed with the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The JL-2 has an estimated range of 7,200 kilometers. 

    Despite the assertion in the 2016 report that the Jin-class submarines have not yet conducted a deterrent patrol, the report notes that the submarines are “China’s first credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent.” 

    On a deterrent patrol, a submarine would carry nuclear-armed SLBMs.

    China’s first-generation Xia-class submarine is believed to have been a technology test bed that never conducted a deterrent patrol.

    China is expanding its arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, according to a report from the U.S. Defense Department. 

    Obama Addresses Hiroshima Experience

    June 2016

    By Daryl G. Kimball

    On May 27, President Barack Obama became the first serving U.S. president to visit Hiroshima and its Peace Memorial Park, which honors the victims of the world’s first atomic bombing. The U.S. president’s visit followed the summit of the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations in nearby Mie Prefecture, Japan.

    In a solemn ceremony in the early evening, Obama along with Japanese Prime Minister Abe offered wreaths at the Cenotaph Memorial, which lies less than one kilometer from the aim point of the U.S. atomic bomb that devastated the city and its 340,000 inhabitants. 

    An estimated 240,000 people died by 1950 as a consequence of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945.

    Following the wreath laying, Obama and Abe spoke before an audience of dignitaries, which included a small number of survivors from the bombing and the present-day mayors of the two cities.

    Obama began by asking and answering the question, “Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima?”

    “We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell,” Obama said. “We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow.”

    “Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering,” he noted. “But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

    In a powerful symbol of remembrance and reconciliation, the president also spoke briefly with survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, known as hibakusha.

    Sunao Tsuboi, chairman of the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, who was a 20-year-old student when the bomb hit, held on to Obama’s hand while they spoke.

    “I am 91 years old, but your speech was so exhilarating, I will live long,” Tsuboi told Obama according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK. 

    Obama also spoke with and embraced 79 year-old Shigeaki Mori, who campaigned for the recognition of 12 American prisoners of war who were killed by the bomb. 

    “Some day,” Obama noted in his address, “the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change.”

    “Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us,” the president warned. “The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.”

    Obama’s historic side-trip to Hiroshima follows the path-breaking visit to Hiroshima last month by the foreign ministers of the G7 nations, including Secretary of State John Kerry, who became the first serving U.S. secretary of state to visit Hiroshima.

    Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima not only put a spotlight on the continuing risks posed by nuclear weapons and war, but on the U.S. nuclear policies and actions and the work left to be done to fulfill Obama’s stated goal of “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” issued in 2009.

    Addressing this question, Obama said, “We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”

    “We may not realize this goal in my lifetime,” he continued, “but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles. We can stop the spread to new nations and secure deadly materials from fanatics.”

    Barack Obama became the first serving U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, where he honored the innocent victims of wars and the 1945 atomic bombings and called for renewed energy to eliminate the nuclear threat.


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