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ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

November 2016

Digital magazine

Edition Date: 
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Cover Image: 

IAEA Condemns North Korea’s Actions

Pyongyang’s defiance tops the issues International Atomic Energy Agency’s annual meeting.

November 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Member states of the Inter-national Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed several resolutions at the organization’s yearly meeting, including one that condemns North Korea’s nuclear activities, but did not vote on a controversial resolution singling out Israel’s nuclear program. 

The IAEA’s 60th General Conference was held Sept. 26-30 in Vienna. 

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, addresses delegates September 26 at the 60th IAEA General Conference in Vienna. (Photo credit: Dean Calma/IAEA)The agency’s resolution on North Korea was adopted unanimously Sept. 30. It reaffirmed that North Korea cannot have the status of a nuclear-weapon state under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and called on Pyongyang to implement comprehensive safeguards and resolve all outstanding issues that have emerged since agency inspectors were last granted access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities in 2009. 

North Korea joined the IAEA in 1974, but withdrew in 1994. The agency has not been able to conduct safeguards activities since then, although inspectors had limited periodic access through 2009.

Laura Holgate, U.S. representative to the IAEA, said in a statement on Sept. 30 that the resolution is “strong, resolute, and unequivocal” and underscores that North Korea could “not harbor any illusions that its illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons will achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.” 

Holgate said that enhanced pressure on North Korea will remain essential to compel Pyongyang to “correct its course.” 

In June, the Arab member states of the IAEA made a request to put Israel’s nuclear capabilities on the agenda, but unlike past years did not introduce a resolution on the subject during the conference. 

Zeev Snir, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said in his opening statement at the meeting that Israel welcomed the decision to refrain from putting forward a draft resolution but regretted the Arab Group’s decision to include the topic on the agenda for discussions, saying it leads to “politicized, irrelevant discussions.” 

Holgate said the United States welcomed the decision by the Arab states and that the resolution singling out Israel was “not an appropriate item” for the conference.

In the last decade, the resolution has passed once, in 2009, and was not put forward in 2011 and 2012. It failed to pass in 2010, 2013, and 2014.

The member states did approve a resolution on Sept. 29 on the application of safeguards in the Middle East. The measure was approved 122-0, with six abstentions, including the United States. Explaining the U.S. position, Holgate said that efforts to advance toward the creation of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction have been pursued at IAEA general conferences “without seeking consensus among states in the region” and that this approach undermines trust. 

The resolution calls on all states in the Middle East to accede to the NPT and accept full-scope IAEA safeguards on their nuclear activities. It also calls on states in the region to take measures toward supporting a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

The resolution does not specifically single out Israel, but Israel is the only Middle Eastern country not party to the NPT. Israel is suspected of having a nuclear arsenal of about 80 warheads, with enough material for up to 200 weapons, although it has never officially acknowledged possessing such arms or demonstrated its capability through a declared nuclear test.

The conference also passed resolutions relating to the agency’s budget, nuclear security work, and technical cooperation. It approved three new applications for IAEA membership for Gambia, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Posted: October 31, 2016

UN Struggles Over North Korea’s Actions

The UN Security Council quickly condemned a missile test, but moves slowly on new sanctions in response to September nuclear test.

November 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning a North Korean missile test last month, but has yet to pass a resolution in response to the underground nuclear test explosion Pyongyang conducted in September. 

According to a statement from U.S. Strategic Command, North Korea attempted to launch a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile on Oct. 14 from an airfield near Kusong, a city in the northwestern part of the country. The missile exploded shortly after liftoff. The missile has an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers with a 750-kilogram payload.

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on June 23 shows what is described as a test launch of a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (Photo credit: KCNA/AFP/Getty Images)Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations and president of the Security Council, said in an Oct. 17 statement that council members condemned the test as a “grave violation” of past Security Council resolutions and that North Korea’s ballistic missile activities “increase tension.” 

He called on all member states to “redouble their efforts to implement fully” the sanctions imposed on North Korea and reiterated the Security Council’s commitment to finding a way to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. 

Just days after Churkin’s statement, North Korea attempted another launch, presumably of a Musudan. The Oct. 19 test, which also took place near Kusong, failed. North Korea has tested the Musudan eight times in 2016. Only one launch, in June, was successful. 

The council is discussing a new resolution expanding sanctions on North Korea in response to its Sept. 9 nuclear test, but has yet to agree on a text. (See ACT, October 2016.

During a trip to Seoul, Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN, called negotiations over the resolution “intense” and said that there are political and technical issues involved in the talks over new sanctions. Power said that the United States wants a resolution that “makes a substantive difference and changes the calculus over time of the North Korean leadership” and that officials are “working around the clock” to quickly secure passage of a resolution.

Power said that the United States has engaged at the highest level with China on the resolution. China and the United States are reportedly at odds over what restrictions to include in the resolution. 

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with their South Korean counterparts in Washington on Oct. 19 to discuss a range of issues, including the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. 

In a news conference following those talks, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said that Washington and Seoul agreed during the meeting to “use all available tools” to “beef up pressure and sanctions” on North Korea. 

Yun said that the two countries will “institutionalize the extended deterrence doctrine, which is at the heart of the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea.” To accomplish this, Yun said that the four officials agreed to establish a high-level “extended deterrence strategy and consultation group.

Kerry and Carter “have reaffirmed that the U.S. will defend South Korea from any and all North Korean threats through extended deterrence, encompassing all parameters of defense capabilities, including nuclear umbrella, conventional, and missile defense,” Yun said. “They also made it loud and clear that Pyongyang will be met with effective and overwhelming responses should it resort to nuclear weapons.”

Lost Cause

The top U.S. intelligence official effectively buried the Obama administration’s effort to force North Korea to give up all its nuclear weapons, but in doing so, he opened the way for the next president to pursue a different approach to dealing with Pyongyang.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Oct. 25 that the best that can be achieved diplomatically may be limiting further advances in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and even that, if possible, would require offering Pyongyang “significant inducements.” 

“I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause,” he said at an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations. “They are not going to do that. That is their ticket to survival.”

North Korea is thought currently to have enough plutonium for approximately six to eight weapons and the capacity to produce six to eight a year, according to U.S. officials and private analysts. The intelligence community previously assessed that North Korea has been able to develop a warhead that could be mounted on a missile, Clapper said.

The six-party negotiations between North Korea and China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States collapsed in 2009, leaving North Korea to advance its weapons programs. The Obama administration has pursued a policy of “strategic patience,” which includes international sanctions and Chinese diplomacy to induce North Korea to return to denuclearization negotiations. 

As recently as Sept. 9, following a North Korean underground nuclear test explosion, President Barack Obama said in a statement that “the United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.”

Clapper said his views in part draw on his visit to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in 2014 on a mission to gain the release of two Americans. “I got a good taste of that when I was there about how the world looks from their vantage [point],” he said. “They are under siege, and they are very paranoid. So the notion of giving up their nuclear capability, whatever it is, is a nonstarter with them.”

Asked about whether there may be prospects for an Iran-type accord to roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities, Clapper said, “I don’t think so.”

“The best we could probably hope for is some sort of a cap,” he said. “But they’re not going to do that just because we ask them. There’s going to have to be some significant inducements.”

Posted: October 31, 2016

Marshall Islands Lose Nuclear Cases

The International Court of Justice turns down an effort to force faster action on nuclear disarmament. 

November 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The International Court of Justice on Oct. 5 dismissed on procedural grounds the cases filed by the Marshall Islands against India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, the first nuclear disarmament challenges brought before the court by a state. The Marshall Islands, a group of Pacific Ocean islands and atolls, still suffers from the effects of being used for nuclear tests by the United States from 1946 to 1958.

In April 2014, the Marshall Islands filed complaints against all nine nuclear states (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, and the United States). It alleged a failure to initiate nuclear disarmament negotiations in good faith, a breach of Article VI of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and of customary international law. India, Pakistan, and the UK were the only states to participate in the lawsuits because the others do not recognize the court’s compulsory jurisdiction to mediate disputes between states. 

The International Court of Justice announced judgments on the cases filed by the Marshall Islands October 5. (Photo credit: Frank van Beek/ICJ-CIJ/UN)The court held hearings on March 7-16 this year to determine if there was sufficient evidence of an international dispute to give it jurisdiction to review the merits of the cases in future hearings. India, Pakistan, and the UK denied that any dispute existed and cited strong disarmament records. 

The Marshall Islands countered that the three countries’ verbal commitments to disarmament were contradicted by their actions. It pointed to the UK’s voting record in the UN General Assembly against beginning disarmament discussions and to India’s and Pakistan’s expanding nuclear weapons programs. India test-fired a nuclear capable K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile on March 7, the first day of the hearings.

The 16-member court upheld the arguments of the nuclear states in two 9-7 votes in the cases of India and Pakistan and in an 8-8 vote in the case of the UK, in which Judge Ronny Abraham, president of the court, broke the tie. Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, who voted in favor of the Marshall Islands in its UK case and against it on India and Pakistan, argued in his dissent that the UK’s obligation under Article VI of the NPT distinguished it from India and Pakistan, which are not NPT signatories. 

The UK welcomed the decision and reasserted its strong record on nuclear disarmament and commitment to working toward a nuclear-weapon-free world, a UK Foreign Office spokesman told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 13 email. The Marshall Islands in a statement deplored the gridlocked disarmament negotiations, remarking that it was “no way to honor or respond to the lesson the Marshallese people have brought the world.” 

Casks of LEU sit aboard a C-17 in this photo from February 14, 2012. (Photo credit: National Nuclear Security Administration)Despite the court decisions, representatives of the Marshall Islands said the cases brought the frustratingly slow pace of disarmament negotiations to the world’s attention. “The Marshall Islands’ bringing of these cases in and of itself is significant because it squarely challenged the nine nuclear states to comply with the legal obligation to pursue and conclude negotiations on nuclear disarmament,” John Burroughs, a member of the Marshall Islands’ legal team and the executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, told Arms Control Today in a phone interview Oct. 12. Looking ahead, Burroughs recommended that the UN General Assembly request an advisory opinion from the court, akin to the one issued in 1996, that would expand on nuclear-armed states’ legal obligation to negotiate disarmament.

Two days before the ruling, efforts to jump-start nuclear disarmament negotiations commenced at the opening of the UN General Assembly First Committee on disarmament, where member states discussed beginning negotiations on a legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons. The push for the nuclear weapons ban has been driven by non-nuclear-weapon states participating in the humanitarian initiative movement that, like the Marshall Islands, are frustrated by stalled progress on nuclear disarmament.

Posted: October 31, 2016

Sudan Accused of Chemical Weapons Use

Amnesty International has accused Sudanese government forces of using chemical weapons in 30 attacks since January in Jebel Marra, a province in southwestern Sudan, killing up to 250 civilians, including many children. 

November 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Amnesty International has accused Sudanese government forces of using chemical weapons in 30 attacks since January in Jebel Marra, a province in southwestern Sudan, killing up to 250 civilians, including many children. Sudan denies the allegation, but has not permitted the organization or the United Nations access to the region.

Amnesty International relied on satellite imagery and phone interviews with witnesses to document the alleged use of chemical weapons. Amnesty International said in its Sept. 29 report that two independent chemical weapons experts found that the evidence strongly suggests exposure to blister agents, such as sulfur mustard, lewisite, or nitrogen mustard, according to the report.

Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers stand on a pick up truck on their way to the river side to ride on a boat on the Nile, as they head to Alole, northern South Sudan, on October 16, 2016. A recent Amnesty International report accused government forces of using Chemical Weapons. (Photo credit: Charles Atiki Lomodong/AFP/Getty Images)Not all chemical weapons experts agreed with Amnesty International’s conclusions. The evidence seems to indicate incendiary weapon use, such as white phosphorous, Jean-Pascal Zanders, who directs The Trench website and has been an adviser to the delegations of the European Union at Chemical Weapons Convention meetings, said in an Oct. 17 phone interview with Arms Control Today. He noted that the Amnesty International report did not show pictures of fatalities, remnants of the means of delivery, the incidents themselves, or infections in blisters, a common consequence of mustard agent exposure without medical treatment.

The Sudanese government, which has long fought rebels in the Darfur region that includes the area of the alleged attacks, rejected claims that it possesses or uses such weapons. The accusations were “unreliable, contradictory and unsubstantiated,” stated Sudanese Justice Minister Awad Hassan Elnour in a Sept. 27 letter to Amnesty International.

Aid workers and local officials also claimed Sudan used chemical weapons in the Nuba mountains region of South Kordofan, another government-restricted region, the IRIN news agency reported on Oct. 10.

The United Nations has not discovered any chemical weapons in Sudan, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council on Oct. 4, but he also said that the African Union-UN mission in Darfur been unable to investigate Amnesty International’s allegations because Sudan bars access to Jebel Marra. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a Sept. 29 statement that it could not draw any conclusions without further evidence. 

The United Kingdom urged Sudan to allow the UN full access to Jebel Marra in an Oct. 15 statement to the Sudan Tribune. Zanders echoed calls for access, noting that incendiary weapons use violates international humanitarian law.

Posted: October 31, 2016

Syria Blamed for Chlorine Attack

The latest report by a UN Security Council panel found that the Syrian regime is responsible for a third attack involving chlorine gas, a finding largely overshadowed by the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. 

November 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

The latest report by a UN Security Council panel found that the Syrian regime is responsible for a third attack involving chlorine gas, a finding largely overshadowed by the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. 

The panel, charged by the Security Council in August 2015 with investigating and identifying groups that used chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, concluded in an Oct. 21 report that the Syrian government was responsible for using a toxic substance consistent with chlorine gas in an attack on the village of Qmenas, in Idlib province, on March 16, 2015.

A wounded woman is placed in an ambulance as rebel fighters and their families arrive on the outskirts of Idlib following their evacuation from rebel-held neighborhoods of the Syrian capital on October 14, 2016. (Photo credit: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)The Syrian government is prohibited from using chlorine gas, a choking agent, under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Damascus acceded to the CWC in 2013, giving up its major stocks of chemical weapons and precursors in a Russian-brokered deal to avoid threatened U.S. airstrikes against the regime headed by Bashar al-Assad. Syria’s weaponization of chlorine, a chemical with many nonmilitary uses, has exposed a major gap in that deal. (See ACT, November 2013.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said that the United States condemns in the “strongest possible terms the Assad regime’s defiance of the longstanding global norm against chemical weapons use.” 

In an Oct. 22 statement, Price said the United States will work with international partners to “enforce accountability” for the attacks through “appropriate diplomatic mechanisms,” including the UN Security Council and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversees the CWC. Price called on Russia and Iran, two countries that support Syria’s military operations, to “unequivocally support these efforts and sustain our shared commitment” to the norm against chemical weapons use. 

The 15 members of the UN Security Council received the panel’s report on Oct. 21, and the council is expected to consider a resolution imposing sanctions on Syria for the continued use of chemical weapons. But the record of the Syrian regime, bolstered by Russian aircraft and protected by Russia’s Security Council veto, show the difficulty in imposing meaningful pressure or punishment. 

This is the third attack using chlorine gas attributed to the Assad regime occurring between April 2014 and August 2015. 

On Aug. 24, the panel issued a report that assigned blame to the Syrian regime for using toxic substances consistent with chlorine gas in a March 2015 attack on Sarmin and an April 2014 attack on Talmenes. The Aug. 24 report also found the Islamic State group responsible for the use of sulfur mustard in Marea in August 2015. 

In the Aug. 24 report, the panel found insufficient evidence to determine responsibility in three additional cases and found that several others, including the Qmenas attack, required additional investigation to assign blame.

Posted: October 31, 2016

Hold Syria Accountable on the CWC

Assad’s industrial chlorine barrel bomb attacks require a strong and unified international response from the UN Security Council and the OPCW. 

November 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

Over the course of the horrific five and a half years of Syrian civil war, the government of Bashar al-Assad, his Russian allies, and extremist fighters, have committed numerous war crimes. Some 500,000 people have died, and more than 10 million have been displaced. There is no military solution to the conflict, yet the killing continues.

Among the most heinous aspects of the war has been the repeated use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime beginning in late 2012, including the massive August 2013 sarin gas attack that killed more than 1,400 civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

Screenshot from a video posted to YouTube on April 11, 2014 shows substantial yellow coloration at base of the cloud over Keferzita, Syria, drifting with main cloud. (Via Human Rights Watch)The Ghouta attack led the United States to threaten the use of force to try to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal. This threat prompted Moscow to work with Washington to develop and to help compel Assad to accept an ambitious agreement mandating the expeditious and verified removal and elimination of Syria’s massive arsenal of 1,308 metric tons of chemical agents, storage and production facilities, and associated equipment under the auspices of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). 

The UN Security Council unanimously approved the OPCW timeline for destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal under Resolution 2118 and allowed for measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if Syria does not comply or otherwise violates the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The complex, multinational disposal operation was a major milestone that effectively eliminated the threat of further large-scale chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime against the Syrian people and neighboring states.

But in October, after a 13-month-long investigation, the fourth report of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) confirmed what has been suspected for some time—that the Assad regime has continued to drop barrel bombs filled with chlorine from Russian-supplied military helicopters on civilian areas. The JIM reported that the helicopter flights originated from two bases where the 253rd and 255th Syrian Army air squadrons belonging to the 63rd helicopter brigade are located. 

Although less destructive and deadly than sarin nerve agent, Assad’s industrial chlorine barrel bomb attacks violate the CWC and are war crimes. These are the first-ever documented cases that a CWC member state has used chemical weapons. 

This serious matter concerns all states and requires a strong and unified international response from the UN Security Council and the 192 states-parties of the OPCW. Russian diplomats will try to shield the Syrian regime from tough UN sanctions, but other states must act with clarity and conviction.

For example, under Chapter VII the Security Council could demand the immediate grounding of the Syrian Army helicopter units involved in the attacks and a halt to all forms of assistance to these units, including Russian military support. Individuals involved in authorizing and conducting the chlorine attacks should be prosecuted for war crimes. Entities providing such assistance should be subjected to sanctions. 

The OPCW Executive Council should revoke Syria’s rights and privileges within the body until such time that it is determined to be in full compliance with its CWC obligations. To help deter additional barrel bomb attacks, the mandate for the JIM should be extended as requested to investigate additional reported chemical weapons attacks in Syria further.

The OPCW Declaration Assessment Team must be authorized to continue to press Syrian government officials to fill in the large gaps in their 2013 official declaration to the OPCW in order to ensure that Syria fully eliminates its chemical warfare capacity, including any more production of barrel bombs. 

An inadequate international response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime will only increase the risk that the world’s most dangerous, indiscriminate, and inhumane weapons will be used to commit atrocities in the future, erode the integrity of the CWC, and undermine the authority of the Security Council.

Russia, which has backed the Syrian regime and become directly involved in aerial bombardments of civilians itself, has a special responsibility to support and not block a strong response at the OPCW and on the Security Council. After all, Syria has brazenly violated the terms of the 2013 agreement that Moscow helped broker. 

Likewise, Iran, which was a victim of horrible gas attacks during its war with Iraq in the 1980s but now backs Assad, must also support strong action or lose credibility as a defender of chemical weapons victims.

Unfortunately, there are no international laws against war itself, but there are rules about how wars can and cannot be conducted. Holding the line against further chemical weapons use is a core U.S. and international security interest because chemical weapons produce horrible effects and because the erosion of the global taboo against chemical weapons use can lead to more and more significant use of weapons of mass destruction in the future.

Posted: October 28, 2016

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