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

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Alicia Sanders-Zakre

India Joins Wassenaar Arrangement

India was admitted into the Wassenaar Arrangement as its 42nd member Dec. 7 following the group’s annual plenary in Vienna. The Wassenaar Arrangement, established in July 1996, is a voluntary export control regime. Members share information on conventional weapons transfers and dual-use goods and technologies.

Experts assess that India is interested in joining export control regimes to bolster its bid to be included in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a nuclear technology control group. Despite U.S. backing, that group has not reached consensus on admitting India, which, alongside Pakistan, formally applied to join in June 2016, the same month India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). (See ACT, July/August 2016.)

Alexandre Ziegler, France’s ambassador to India, welcomed the admission decision, calling it in a tweet “one more recognition, after MTCR, of the growing role India plays in the world.” Critics contend that India should not have been admitted because it is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which was a requirement for the admission of other Wassenaar Arrangement members.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

India Joins Wassenaar Arrangement

Defense Bill Restricts CTBTO Funding

The most recent annual National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law on Dec. 12, includes language restricting U.S. financial contributions to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), except for funds related to the International Monitoring System, which detects nuclear test explosions. The CTBTO is the international organization that promotes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in advance of its entry into force and builds up its verification regime.

Infrasound arrays at the International Monitoring System station in Greenland is shown in this August 13, 2009 photo. The U.S. defense authorization bill allows for continued contributions to the monitoring system operated by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.  (CTBTO Preparatory Commission photo)The provision was originally inserted into the House version of the bill. Although not included in the Senate bill, the measure was incorporated into the conference bill, which passed the House on Nov. 14 and the Senate two days later.

The bill also includes an assertion that UN Security Council Resolution 2310, passed in September 2016, calling for the treaty’s early entry into force and the continuation of nuclear testing moratoria does not “obligate the United States nor does it impose an obligation” to refrain from actions that would run counter to the treaty. The amendment’s supporters argue that the United States should not be bound by or contribute financially to a treaty the Senate has not ratified. Opponents of the provision contend that it could signal a weakened U.S. commitment to the global moratoria on nuclear testing and undercut support for the treaty.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Defense Bill Restricts CTBTO Funding

Notable Read: "Utilizing Article XIV Conferences to Boost the Two Norms that Matter Most"

Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, highlights the importance of the norms against nuclear use and testing in a Jan. 4 blog post. While applauding UNSCR 2310 as a step in the right direction, he regrets that it does not prevent “boll weevils with the Trump Administration and on Capitol Hill” from seeking to tear down impediments to resuming nuclear testing. To continue to bolster the nuclear testing taboo, he recommends reinvigorating CTBT Article XIV conferences , which focus on advancing towards the treaty’s entry into force. The full article is available here .

Notable Read: "How Young People Are Trying to Stop Nuclear Weapons Testing"

Sarah Bidgood, senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and Susan le Jeune d’Allegeerschecque, British High Commissioner to Canada, extol the value of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization Youth Group in an editorial published Jan. 1 in Teen Vogue. The group, launched in 2016, includes more than 300 students and young professionals from around the globe and seeks to promote the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and its verification regime. The authors emphasize the role of virtual and personal relationships among members in understanding and...

US Abstains on CTBT at UNGA First Committee

The United States appeared to walk back its support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at the 2017 UN General Assembly First Committee, which discusses disarmament issues. The United States abstained on an annual resolution expressing support for the CTBT, which it had voted for last year, although U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood explained to Arms Control Today that it had only done so because it the United States is undertaking a review of international treaties. It also sponsored a resolution introduced by Japan, which was revised from its 2016 version to weaken its call for the CTBT’...

Hiroshima Survivor Setsuko Thurlow Shares Her Wisdom with the Next Generation

(Updated from original version published July 6, 2017) One of the catalytic forces behind the pursuit and conclusion of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in recent years has been the voices of the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the people across the globe who have been adversely affected by more than seven decades of nuclear weapons production and testing. The preamble of the new prohibition treaty, which was opened for signature at UN headquarters in New York on September 20, notes “the unacceptable...

U.S. Signals Shift at UN First Committee

December 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

When it came to voting at the UN General Assembly First Committee, the Trump administration may have said something by saying nothing.

Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, addresses the UN First Committee on November 2 in New York. (Photo credit: United Nations)The U.S. delegation to the First Committee session, which drew extra attention due to the shift in U.S. leadership, abstained from two resolutions that the United States had backed last year, one supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the other welcoming the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

On others, the delegation followed many of the positions taken by the Obama administration. The United States co-sponsored a resolution tying together disarmament and international security introduced by Japan, which it had voted for in the past, and continued to express opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Following the ATT resolution vote, Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), said that although the United States “shares the aims” of ATT states-parties, it could not vote in favor because it is undertaking a review of “various” international agreements. The United States did not make a statement after its abstention on the CTBT resolution. Wood said in a Nov. 17 email to Arms Control Today that the United States could not take a position on that resolution due to the ongoing review. The United States was also silent on the CTBT at a September conference on its entry into force. (See ACT, October 2017.)

The United States supported all other treaty resolutions it had voted for in past years, including one calling for a ban on fissile material production and one in support of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It continued to abstain from two other resolutions relating to treaties to which the United States is not party: the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Mine Ban Treaty.

This year, the United States spoke in support of funding the Biological Weapons Convention, after the resolution related to this treaty was adopted without a vote.

The United States chose to co-sponsor a controversial resolution introduced by Japan because, more than any other, it highlighted “the inseparable link between progress on disarmament and the international security environment,” Wood said in the email.

This resolution was considerably revised from the 2016 version to condition its call for prompt disarmament. The 2017 resolution eliminated several references to the elimination of nuclear arsenals and also scrapped a call to comply with steps toward disarmament agreed at previous nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conferences. Instead, it added several calls on all states to “ease international tension, strengthen trust between states and create the conditions that would allow for” further steps to disarmament.

The new resolution also weakened its support for achieving the entry into force of the CTBT and negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). It replaced a previous call for all Annex 2 states to adopt the CTBT with a demand for North Korea first to sign and ratify the treaty, claiming that the treaty cannot enter into force until North Korea ceases its nuclear testing. Instead of urging all states to negotiate an FMCT, as the 2016 resolution did, the 2017 resolution merely acknowledged the “widespread call” for such negotiations.

In a statement after the vote, Dell Higgie, New Zealand’s ambassador for disarmament, expressed “disappointment” with the new text, adding that it “risks fracturing the widespread and long-standing agreement on certain fundamental aspects of the international community’s approach to nuclear disarmament.”

The United States and other nuclear-armed states vocally objected to all explicit or implicit references to the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty in almost a dozen First Committee resolutions. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States called the treaty “dangerous,” Russia described it as a “mistake,” and Pakistan said it was not inclusive.

The United States opposed references to the prohibition treaty because it is “counterproductive, divisive, and only serves to divert attention from actual effective measures,” Wood said in the email, adding the treaty “will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear warhead or improve the security of any state.” Thomas Hajnoczi, Austrian ambassador to the UN Office in Geneva and leading negotiator of the treaty, argued in a Nov. 8 email to Arms Control Today that the division at the First Committee was caused instead by nuclear-weapon states failing to comply with NPT obligations and that efforts to weaken further such commitments would “seriously harm the NPT Review Process.”

Hajnoczi said France, the UK, and the United States objected to mentioning the prohibition treaty for another reason: to prevent it from becoming customary international law. “They perceive as the best way of not being bound by the prohibition norm in the future [is] to persistently object to it whenever it is mentioned,” he said.

United States abstains on two arms control resolutions.

Trump Fills Arms Control Jobs

December 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The Trump administration, after more than 10 months in power, is finally moving to fill key arms control and nonproliferation positions in the State and Defense departments.

Christopher Ford addresses the Arms Control Association annual meeting June 2. (Photo credit: Terry Atlas)President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have been criticized by lawmakers and others for the slow pace of filling top State Department positions. As of the end of November, only one of the six State Department undersecretary positions has been filled. In October, Trump sent Congress the names of two nominees for the assistant secretary of state posts responsible for arms control and nonproliferation matters, and he was said to be considering a prospective nominee for the senior position of undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Christopher Ford, currently senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation at the National Security Council, was nominated to be assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation. Ford previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control and international security during the George W. Bush administration and as a staff member for the Senate Appropriations, Banking, and Foreign Relations committees.

Trump nominated Yleem Poblete to be assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance. Poblete worked for more than 20 years as a staff member for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including as chief of staff. Poblete was the principal staff member for proliferation concerns involving Iran, North Korea, and Syria, but she has not held any positions specific to arms control.

There were reports that Andrea Thompson, a deputy assistant to the president and national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is in line to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, although there has not been an announcement. Thompson, a retired Army colonel, was a career military intelligence officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The nominees will need approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and confirmation by the Senate.

Trump also put forward three nominees for Defense Department posts with arms control and nonproliferation portfolios, one of whom has been confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The confirmation hearing for the other two nominees was held Nov. 18.

David Trachtenberg, nominated in July to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, was confirmed Oct. 17 by a vote of 79-17. Trachtenberg expressed support at his confirmation hearing for a new long-range standoff cruise missile, which would replace the current air-launched cruise missile. Previously, Trachtenberg served as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security policy and as acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for forces policy during the Bush administration. Earlier, he was a staff member on the House Armed Services Committee. Most recently, Trachtenberg was president and CEO of Shortwaver LLC, a national security consultancy.

John Rood, a senior vice president for international sales at defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., was chosen to become undersecretary of defense for policy. Rood served as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation and as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the Bush administration. Earlier in his career, he held various positions at the CIA, including as an analyst following foreign missile programs.

At his confirmation hearing Nov. 16, Rood highlighted the growing threat posed by North Korean and Iranian nuclear and missile activities and Iran’s support of regional terrorism. His hearing was unexpectedly contentious as committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) repeatedly pressed him on whether he would recuse himself from discussions with U.S. allies that could benefit Lockheed Martin.

Trump also nominated an assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, Randall Schriver, who also testified on Nov. 16 before the Senate committee. When asked about conducting diplomacy with North Korea, Schriver agreed that the United States must remain “entrepreneurial and creative” to find a diplomatic solution, although he noted that Pyongyang had rejected previous U.S. offers to talk. Schriver previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs and deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

The administration has been slow to act on top State Department jobs.

Russian Vetoes End Syria CW Probe

The group charged with determining the party or parties responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria was forced to discontinue its work Nov. 17 after several failed attempts to extend its mandate. The UN Security Council authorized the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in August 2015 with the support of Russia and the United States. Recently, Russia has rejected the legitimacy of the JIM’s findings, which placed some blame on Russia’s Syrian government allies, and argued the process must be substantially reformed if its investigations are to continue.

Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Nonproliferation and Arms Control Department, and other officials hold a press conference in Moscow November 2 to dispute the report by UN investigators which blamed a sarin gas attack in Syria's Khan Sheikhoun on the Syrian government. (Photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)The council on Nov. 16 failed to pass a resolution to extend the JIM’s mandate. Russia vetoed the U.S.-sponsored measure, which received 11 votes in favor out of 15. The Russian-backed alternative received four votes, far short of nine required for adoption. Japan’s last-minute resolution on Nov. 17 for a 30-day extension also was vetoed by Russia. When Russia vetoed another council resolution Oct. 24, it left open the possibility of changing its position depending on the results of the outcome of the JIM’s work, which subsequently cited the Syrian government for a major sarin gas attack. (See ACT, November 2017.)

“Russia’s actions today and in recent weeks have been designed to delay, to distract, and ultimately, to defeat the effort to secure accountability for chemical weapons attacks in Syria,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Nov. 17. The president of the Security Council in November, Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, claimed that the body will try to find a compromise to continue the JIM’s work. Even so, the disruption in the organization’s operation could lead to substantial delays for resumed investigations.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Russian Vetoes End Syria CW Probe

Final NDAA Restricts CTBTO Funding

The final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which President Donald Trump is expected to sign into law includes an amendment restricting the U.S. contribution for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), except for funds related to the International Monitoring System. The amendment was originally penned into the House version of the bill. Although it was absent from the Senate version, it was ultimately incorporated into the conferenced version of the bill as section 1279E. The House passed this compromise NDAA on Nov. 14, and the Senate followed suit on Nov. 16. Trump...

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