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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Nuclear Nonproliferation

Press Release: U.S., Russia Can And Should Reduce Nuclear Excess, But On Proper Terms

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“The sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and our European allies should only be eased if Russia changes its behavior vis-a-vis Ukraine,” Kimball said.

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For Immediate Release: January 18, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 105

(Washington, D.C.) — In his final news conference as president, Barack Obama noted that if incoming President Donald Trump can restart the stalled U.S.-Russian dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction measures in a serious way, “… there remains a lot of room for both countries to reduce our nuclear stockpiles.” 

President Obama at his final news conference, January 18, 2017 (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)“President Obama is right. The United States and Russia have an opportunity and a responsibility to further reduce their excess nuclear weapons stockpiles,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association.

Before the end of his term in office, Trump will need to decide whether to invite Russia to extend New START for another five years and/or negotiate a new arms reduction treaty.

“Trump should choose to build down, not build up,” Kimball said. "With up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under the 2010 New START agreement and no limits on the tactical nuclear weapons possessed by each side, Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country,” Kimball noted.

"About 900 U.S. nuclear weapons can be fired within minutes of a presidential decision to do so, and no Congressional approval is required,” he said.

In 2013, President Barack Obama, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other elements of the national security establishment, determined that the United States can reduce its nuclear force by another one-third below New START levels and still meet deterrence requirements.

Last weekend, Mr. Trump told the Times of London that "nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially,” but he suggested that such a deal might be linked to the easing of sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia is a party to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, a political understanding that the parties would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan if they renounced nuclear weapons and joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states.

"Such a linkage would be unwise and impractical,” Kimball said. “The sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and our European allies should only be eased if Russia changes its behavior vis-a-vis Ukraine,” he said.

“We have recommended for some time that the U.S. and Russian sides should seek further, parallel reductions of one-third or more below the New START limits. This approach would not necessarily require that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin negotiate a new treaty,” he said.

“However, any further U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reductions will most likely need to consider other issues of concern for both Moscow and Washington,” Kimball said. "These include: compliance with the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a new understanding about the scope of U.S. and Russian missile defense systems, and concerns about advanced conventional weapons."

“A renewal of the U.S.-Russian strategic dialogue is in the interests of both countries. Further progress in reducing the risk and number of nuclear weapons is possible and necessary and would very much follow in the tradition of past U.S. presidential administrations,” Kimball said.

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Posted: January 18, 2017

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, January 17

Iran Deal Hits One Year Milestone Jan. 16 marked one year of full implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal. Around the anniversary, key U.S. and Iranian figures issued contrasting comments about the future of the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On ABC News’ This Week program, President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did not directly answer a question about whether Trump was still committed to tearing up the deal. Priebus said the deal is on “life support,” but that he is “not here to declare one way or the other...

The Government of the Marshall Islands and former Foreign Minister Tony de Brum Voted "2016 Arms Control Persons of the Year"

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The winner of the 2016 Arms Control Person(s) of the Year

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For Immediate Release: January 9, 2017

Media Contact: Tony Fleming, communications director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 110

(Washington, D.C.)—The Republic of the Marshall Islands and its former Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, garnered the highest number of votes in an online poll to determine the "2016 Arms Control Person of the Year." Over 1,850 individuals from 63 countries participated in the selection.
 
The Marshall Islands and Ambassador de Brum were nominated for pursuing a formal legal case against the world's nuclear-armed states for failing to meet their obligations under the NPT. Ten individuals and groups were nominated by the staff of the Arms Control Association for their leadership in advancing effective arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament solutions or for raising awareness of the threats posed by mass casualty weapons during the past year.
 
The government of the Marshall Islands and Ambassador de Brum were nominated for pursuing a formal legal case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague against the world's nuclear-armed states for their failure to initiate nuclear disarmament negotiations in violation of Article VI of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law.
 
"The nomination of the Marshall Islands and Ambassador de Brum and the many votes they received reflects the concern and frustration expressed by many non-nuclear weapon states about the unacceptable consequences of nuclear weapons use, the slow pace of nuclear disarmament, and the growing risks of renewed global nuclear competition" noted Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction at the Arms Control Association.
 
In October, the 16-member court issued their rulings which upheld the arguments of the nuclear states that the Court lacked jurisdiction in two 9-7 votes in the cases of India and Pakistan and in an 8-8 vote in the case of the UK.
 
The people of the Marshall Islands were subjected to 67 U.S. atmospheric nuclear tests explosions from 1946 to 1958. 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.
 
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. 
 
The runner-up in the vote for the 2016 Arms Control Persons of the Year were the foreign ministers of Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa. They had jointly secured adoption of UN Security Council resolution L.41 “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”
 
The second runner up was former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry for his continuing efforts to raise attention to the risk of renewed nuclear weapons competition and calling for restraint. Secretary Perry had launched in 2016 a new online course on nuclear weapons and authored a new book, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink.
 
Online voting was open from December 8, 2016 until January 5, 2017. A list of all 2016 nominees is available at https://armscontrol.org/acpoy/2016
 
Previous winners of the "Arms Control Person of the Year" include: Setsuko Thurlow and the Hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, (2015); Austria's Director for Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Ambassador Alexander Kmentt (2014), Executive-Secretary of the CTBTO Lassina Zerbo (2013)Gen. James Cartwright (2012); reporter and activist Kathi Lynn Austin (2011), Kazakhstan's Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Umarov and Thomas D'Agostino, U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator (2010);Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) (2009), Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and his ministry's Director-General for Security Policy and the High North Steffen Kongstad (2008), and U.S. Congressmen Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio) (2007).

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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Posted: January 8, 2017

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, December 22

The Iran Deal Under Trump President-elect Donald Trump has yet to clarify his administration’s policy toward Iran and the July 2015 multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But he will need to move quickly as Iranian news outlets are reporting that the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said a meeting of the nuclear deal's Joint Commission will take place in early January and include members of the Trump team. Trump’s advisors, however, have voiced conflicting views about the agreement. The presumptive National Security Advisor,...

Dismantling the Iran Deal Would Be Dangerous and Unwise

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Trump should pursue continued implementation of the agreement and ensure that the IAEA has sufficient resources to keep Iran’s nuclear activities under close observation

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Volume 8, Issue 7, December 13, 2016

When President-elect Donald Trump takes office Jan. 20, he will inherit an array of foreign policy challenges. But unlike his predecessor, the list will not include the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran—unless Trump pursues a reckless plan to dismantle the nuclear deal or allows it to fall apart.

As a result of the historic agreement negotiated between the United States, its partners, and Iran in July 2015, Tehran’s nuclear activities are strictly limited and subject to intrusive monitoring for over a decade. The comprehensive set of restrictions in the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has increased the time it would take for Tehran to obtain enough enriched material for a bomb from 2-3 months in 2013 to over 12 months today. In return, Iran received relief from nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Troubling Signs

Then-candidate Donald Trump spoke at a rally against the Iran nuclear deal in Washington, DC, Sept. 9, 2015. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)Though Trump has not to date provided specifics on how he will approach the nuclear deal and relations with Iran, his rhetoric on the agreement during the campaign was dangerous and ill-informed.

In a March 21, 2016 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump said his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” On the campaign trail, Trump frequently called the agreement the worst deal ever negotiated and said he would seek to renegotiate it.

Possible cabinet members and advisers who have strong views on the agreement could also influence Trump’s policy toward the nuclear deal. The presumptive National Security Advisor, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and presumptive CIA Director, Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), have both been critical of the Iran deal.

On the other hand, former General James Mattis, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, described the deal as an “imperfect arms control agreement,” and said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in April that “there is no going back” on the deal “absent a clear and present violation” by Iran. Mattis stressed that the United States would be alone if we did so and “unilateral economic sanctions from us would not have anywhere near the impact of an allied approach.”

The Deal At Risk

There are two plausible scenarios by which Trump could unravel the nuclear deal with Iran.

First, the new president could pull the United States out of the deal by unilaterally renouncing the agreement, ceasing U.S. implementation of its commitments under the deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Iran's commitment to the deal will not waiver, despite any action by Trump to threaten the agreement. But it remains unclear if the deal can survive without the United States. 

A second scenario, which is perhaps more likely, is that Trump and the Republican-led Congress could slowly chip away at the agreement and create an escalatory dynamic that eventually provokes Iran into taking action that leads to the deal’s collapse. In this scenario, Washington would rigorously enforce the deal, leveraging legitimate ambiguities in the text against the spirit of the agreement, and prejudicially declare technical issues to be intentional violations.

Separately, Washington could impose sanctions apart from the deal under the label of human rights violations, ballistic missile activity, or support for terrorism. If such sanctions were imposed as a means of skirting U.S. commitments not to impose new nuclear sanctions under the deal, Iran would likely respond by challenging provisions of the agreement more aggressively or by taking steps in other areas that would heighten tensions between Tehran and Washington. This escalatory spiral could eventually cause the agreement to collapse.

Before putting the United States on one of these paths, President-elect Trump should evaluate the potential loss of nonproliferation benefits ensconced in the deal that contribute to U.S. security interests, and the likely obstacles to renegotiation.

Loss of Nonproliferation Benefits

When fully implemented, the nonproliferation benefits of the Iran deal are clear—the combination of limits and verification measures block Tehran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. If the deal is dismantled, and the United States no longer feels obligated to its implementation, it is safe to assume that Iran may no longer feel the need to adhere to its limits either.

The deal created a multilayered inspection regime that covers every step of Iran’s fuel cycle. When combined with national intelligence means, it provides the highest possible guarantee that any deviation from the limits would be quickly detected. 

If the deal falls apart, the losses in the enhanced monitoring and verification of Iran’s nuclear activities would be particularly significant. The international community would lose the following tools for verifying that Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful:

  • Continuous surveillance of key sites. The deal put in place continuous surveillance at Iran’s uranium mines and mills (25 years) and centrifuge production areas (20 years). This additional transparency would be lost if the deal falls apart. 
  • Real-time monitoring of Iran’s enrichment activities. The agreement provides real time monitoring of Iran’s uranium enrichment levels for 15 years to ensure that Tehran is enriching uranium only to reactor-grade levels, or 3.67 percent uranium-235.
  • Provisional application of the additional protocol. Under the deal, Iran is applying the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. This gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors enhanced access to information and nuclear sites in Iran. Without the additional protocol, inspectors will have access to fewer sites and lose their ability to conduct shorter-notice inspections.
  • Oversight of Iran’s procurement of materials applicable to nuclear activities. The deal puts in place a procurement channel that provides approval or denial of Iranian requests to import materials or technologies relevant to nuclear development.
  • Time-bound access to military sites to investigate concerns. Under the deal, if IAEA inspectors have concerns about illicit Iranian behavior relevant to developing a nuclear weapon and Iran refuses to grant access, the Joint Commission—created by the deal to resolve compliance concerns—can direct Iran to comply with the request or be found in violation of its obligations.

Since the deal's adoption, the enhanced monitoring and verification system has already demonstrated its effectiveness. IAEA inspectors have unprecedented access to Iran's nuclear facilities and report quarterly on Iran's compliance. On two occasions Iran slightly exceeded the limit on its stockpile of heavy water, a material produced by Iran to moderate certain types of reactors. This did not pose a proliferation threat, but inspectors noted the breach nonetheless and the Joint Commission was able to quickly deal with the issue.

Since the nuclear deal was adopted, it has significantly rolled back and restrained Iran’s nuclear program. If the deal ends, Iran could:

  • Move over 13,000 centrifuges, including 1,008 advanced IR-2 centrifuge machines, from monitored storage and begin using them to enrich uranium. When combined with the 6,104 first generation IR-1 centrifuges Iran was allowed to keep under the deal (of which 5,060 are operating), Iran could operate nearly 20,000 centrifuges.
  • Build up its stockpile of enriched uranium. As a result of the deal Iran blended down or shipped out 98 percent of its uranium stockpile and now keeps less than 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent. With a larger stockpile of enriched uranium, Iran could move more quickly to a significant quantity of weapons-grade uranium (25 kilograms of greater than 90 percent uranium-235).
  • Enrich to levels higher than 3.67 percent. Under the deal, Iran is limited to enriching uranium to 3.67 percent for 15 years. If the deal falls apart, Tehran could resume enrichment to 20 percent or possibly higher.
  • Resume enrichment at Fordow. Iran transformed Fordow, a facility built deep into a mountain near the city of Qom, from a uranium-enrichment site to an isotope production area for 15 years. Iran could resume enriching uranium at Fordow if the deal falls apart.
  • Resume development of advanced centrifuges. Iran’s research and development of more efficient centrifuges is limited to single-machine testing for eight and a half years.

Without the deal, Iran would no longer be subject to this enhanced monitoring and verification nor to strict limitations on its nuclear activities. Tehran could ramp up its uranium enrichment activities and move back to where it was in 2013 – capable of producing enough bomb-grade material for a nuclear weapon in 2-3 months or less. Tehran also agreed to permanently forgo certain types of experiments with explosives relevant to developing a nuclear weapon, an agreement that would likely be rescinded if the deal falls apart.

Without the deal, Iran would still be legally bound not to pursue nuclear weapons by its ratification of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. While it is unlikely that Iran would move quickly to pursue nuclear weapons, Tehran could move to a position where it could have enough weapons-grade material for a bomb in a matter of weeks. This would raise tensions with the United States and increase the chances of conflict in the region.

The Futility of “Renegotiation”

If Trump walks away from the deal, or attempts to increase the pressure on Iran to negotiate better terms, it is extremely unlikely that he will have sufficient diplomatic support from our negotiating partners—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—for new sanctions that could generate enough pressure to secure Iran’s agreement.

In addition to currently supporting the deal, these countries played a key role in enforcing sanctions that pressured Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program in the first place. Support for U.S. sanctions along with UN and EU restrictions created a web of sanctions that ratcheted up the pressure on Iran’s economic activities and incentivized Tehran to make a deal.

Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and head of the group of countries that negotiated with Iran, reminded the international community of the multilateral nature of the agreement and said that its implementation is her responsibility. In remarks to the press Nov. 13, Mogherini emphasized that the deal is a multilateral agreement and said that it is in the “European interest” to “guarantee that the agreement is implemented in full.”

Other leaders also voiced their support for the deal. French President Francois Hollande also told reporters reporters Nov. 16 that the agreement “gives us all security” and that the “absence of the accord would be very serious.”

The Responsible Path Forward

Rather than dismantle the deal or seek its renegotiation, the Trump administration should pursue continued implementation of the agreement and ensure that the IAEA has sufficient inspectors on the ground and the necessary resources to keep Iran’s nuclear activities under close observation.  

It should also look for opportunities to strengthen the deal in the years following the end of core nuclear limitations set by the JCPOA. This could include extending the limits on uranium enrichment activities, building out the innovative monitoring mechanisms, or negotiating separate restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile programs. As the deal continues to prove successful, the administration could look to regionalize certain restrictions in it. Trump could sell this as a ‘renegotiation’ package, building on the understanding among all parties that the original nuclear deal remains in place and is fully implemented.

Trump does not have to face the challenge posed by a nuclear weapons program in Iran—unless he brings it on himself. The consequences of the deal falling apart due to Washington’s actions would be significant. Abandoning it could open the door to a nuclear-armed Iran sooner rather than later and increase the prospect of a costly war in the Middle East. By walking away from the international agreement, Trump would also be sending a dangerous message that United States cannot be trusted to honor its agreements and that the opinions of negotiating partners do not carry any weight in Washington. Under such circumstances, Iran would not be likely to enter into a new agreement with the United States.  

KELSEY DAVENPORT, director of nonproliferation policy

Note: An earlier version of this referred to General Mattis as "brigadier general." We apologize for the error. 

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Posted: December 13, 2016

Mapping Nuclear Security and Nonproliferation Efforts

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This new resource aims to inform policymakers, scholars, and the general public on the role that overlapping multilateral initiatives play in nonproliferation efforts.

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New Online Resource Maps Efforts to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and Curb the Spread of Nuclear Weapons

For Immediate Release: December 6, 2016

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, director of communications, 202-463-8270 ext. 110

(Washington, DC)—The Arms Control Association today launched a new online resource in mapping and tracking the objectives and key activities of five major nuclear nonproliferation regimes.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Initiatives Mapping Project aims to inform and update nuclear policy experts, scholars, students, and the general public, on the role that overlapping multilateral initiatives play in bolstering the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by securing weapons-usable materials, regulating the spread of dual-use nuclear ballistic missile technologies, and blocking the illicit transfer of weapons-related items.

The Arms Control Association is launching a New Online Resource Maps Efforts to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and Curb the Spread of Nuclear WeaponsProject information and resources are available online at NuclearNonProMap.org
 
The five initiatives examined in this project include

  • the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism,
  • the Missile Technology Control Regime,
  • the Nuclear Suppliers Group,
  • the Proliferation Security Initiative, and
  • the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

"Each of these initiatives plays a critical role in reinforcing governments' efforts under the NPT, which entered into force in 1970, to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, prevent the rise of new nuclear-armed actors, and strengthening the global nuclear security architecture," noted Kelsey Davenport, director of non-proliferation policy, who developed the site. 

In addition to displaying the geographic scope and providing a brief background of each initiative, this project provides general recommendations that could improve the effectiveness of each in the years ahead. These recommendations are based on open source information about the work of each initiative.

The project also presents options for collaboration amongst these voluntary groups to amplify impacts and results. These recommendations are meant to spur creative thinking about how these voluntary initiatives can adapt and evolve to better address future threats and challenges.
 
By consolidating references and recommendations, the project serves as a resource to better understand the role that voluntary intergovernmental initiatives play in bolstering nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts. The project was made possible by the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation.

The site will be updated periodically to reflect the changing membership and priorities of each initiative, developments related to the challenges they address, as well as additional recommendations for strengthening multilateral efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and combat nuclear terrorism.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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Posted: December 2, 2016

India Stays Silent on First Nuclear Sub

India has quietly put into active service its first ballistic missile submarine in August, according to news reports. 

December 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

India has quietly put into active service its first ballistic missile submarine in August, according to news reports. If so, India will have taken the last necessary step to possess a nuclear triad, the ability to launch nuclear weapons from air, land, and sea. 

The Indian government neither confirmed nor denied reports of the commissioning of the INS Arihant, a nuclear-powered submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles. It can be equipped with 12 750-kilometer-range K-15 missiles or four 3,500-kilometer-range K-4 missiles. A K-4 missile launched from the northern Indian Ocean could reach China and Pakistan. The K-15 has been operational since July 2012, but the K-4 is estimated to require further testing before deployment. 

An Indian Kalvari-class attack submarine is escorted by tugboats in Mumbai on October 29, 2015. Recently, India is believed to have put its first Arihant-class ballistic missile submarine into active service. (Photo credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s submarine program began in 1984. The Arihant is the first of three ballistic missile submarines to be developed under the Advanced Technology Vessel program; the second, the INS Aridhaman, is scheduled to be delivered in 2018. India began development of the Arihant in 2009 and started testing it in December 2014. Sea trials were completed in February. In a March 19 interview with Arms Control Today, an Indian official claimed that the submarine would be ready to be commissioned at any time in the following month. (See ACT, April 2016.)

But the Indian government has made no announcement about commissioning the Arihant. The defense ministry did not confirm or deny that the submarine had been commissioned in August, reported The Diplomat on Oct. 19. When asked about the Arihant, the ministry and the Indian navy refused to comment on the grounds that the submarine program is a strategic and classified project, according to an Oct. 18 Times of India article. “There will soon be an opportunity to talk about it,” Vice Admiral GS Pabby stated in response to questions about the submarine at an Oct. 18 event, reported Hindu Business Line.

Several members of India’s defense community welcomed the news reports that the Arihant had begun active duty, citing the gap between India’s submarine fleet and those of other nuclear powers. As of 2015, India possesses 15 submarines while rival China has more than 50 conventional submarines and four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. 

The implications of India’s acquisition of a ballistic missile submarine are a “mixed bag,” Shane Mason, a research associate in the Stimson Center’s South Asia program told Arms Control Today on Nov. 15. Although such submarines are the most survivable leg of the triad and could enhance deterrence, they may create command and control challenges for India and give Pakistan an incentive to pursue its own sea-based leg of the nuclear triad, Mason said. 

In India, nuclear command and control traditionally has been directed by the political sector, not the military. “The practice of sea-based deterrence will be a new one for India and will upend the country’s tradition of strict civilian control of nuclear forces,” Mason said.

Posted: November 30, 2016

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Initiatives Mapping Project

Visit the full Project site at NuclearNonProMap.org

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Posted: November 21, 2016

UN Approves Start of Nuclear Ban Talks

The landmark resolution to begin negotiations in 2017 now goes to the General Assembly for final approval. 

November 2016

By Kingston Reif

Defying pressure from the major nuclear-armed powers, UN member states set the stage for negotiations next year on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.

The UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with nuclear disarmament issues, on Oct. 27 adopted overwhelmingly a landmark resolution “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

Supporters of treaty to ban nuclear weapons, including survivors of the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, displayed banners for their cause near the United Nations on October 21. (Photo credit: ICAN)The vote was 123-38, with 16 abstentions, on the resolution put forward by Mexico, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Nigeria, and South Africa. The full General Assembly is expected to approve the measure by year-end.

The resolution passed despite aggressive lobbying by nuclear-armed powers France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which have said they will not participate in such treaty negotiations. As a group, however, the world’s nine nuclear-armed nations were divided on the resolution.

The resolution calls for a one-day organizational meeting to be held in New York “as soon as possible” followed by two negotiating sessions in 2017 on March 27-31 and from June 15 to July 7.

The push to begin negotiations on a ban treaty reflects growing concern among non-nuclear-weapon states about the devastating humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, the rising risks of conflict between states with nuclear weapons, and frustration at the slow pace of nuclear disarmament by the nine nuclear-armed countries.

Advocates said the ban treaty would be an interim step, leaving the issue of eliminating nuclear weapons for subsequent negotiations. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Brazil’s permanent representative to the UN, said in an Oct. 17 statement that the treaty would be “part of a gradual process, which begins by setting out core prohibitions to be followed by elimination and verification arrangements.”

A majority of the nuclear-armed states voted against the resolution and cited risks of commencing negotiations on a ban treaty. 

In an Oct. 27 statement on behalf of France, the UK, and the United States, Alice Guitton, the French permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, said that although the commitment of the three countries to a world without nuclear weapons remained “unshakeable,” a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would not move toward that goal and instead would “distract attention” from more practical and verifiable disarmament steps. 

Russian Foreign Ministry official Vladimir Yermakov went much further, arguing that the hasty adoption of a legally binding prohibition would be “destructive,” “catastrophic,” “treacherous,” and “thrust the world into chaos and instability.” 

In an unexpected move, China broke ranks with the rest of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and abstained. 

The other nuclear-armed states took varied positions. India and Pakistan abstained, North Korea voted yes, and Israel, which does not officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons, voted no. 

The resolution was opposed by nearly every U.S. treaty ally in Europe and Asia, often labeled “umbrella states” because they rely on the U.S. nuclear arsenal to help protect them.

The sole exception was the Nether-lands, which abstained. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said that the Netherlands “sincerely supports a ban on nuclear weapons” but that there were problems with the resolution, according to Dutch broadcaster NOS. The lower house of the Dutch parliament had pressed the government to support the resolution. 

Sweden, which is not a member of NATO but has increased cooperation with the alliance in recent years due to concerns about Russian behavior, voted for the resolution. 

In an Oct. 17 nonpaper obtained by Arms Control Today, the U.S. mission to NATO urged alliance members and partners “to vote against negotiations on a nuclear weapons…ban, not to merely abstain.” The nonpaper warned that “efforts to negotiate an immediate ban on nuclear weapons or to delegitimize nuclear deterrence are fundamentally at odds with NATO’s basic policies on deterrence and our shared security interest.” 

The First Committee vote followed on the heels of an open-ended working group that met in Geneva this year, in which a majority of participating states expressed support for starting negotiations on a “legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.” None of the nuclear-armed countries attended the sessions. (See ACT, September 2016.

The working group’s final report said a new instrument “would establish general prohibitions and obligations,” which could include a number of elements, such as “prohibitions on the acquisition, possession, stockpiling, development, testing and production of nuclear weapons.”

A Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons?

The UN General Assembly’s First Committee last month passed a resolution to start negotiations to draft a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The following are excerpts from statements during the debate:

“The argument is often heard that nuclear deterrence is indispensable for national security. Austria does not believe this. If this were to be the case, then more states could feel the need to follow the same logic and want to acquire these weapons. We would embark on a dangerous path. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any nuclear weapons use—be it intentional or accidental—could not be contained and would inevitably fall back on the users themselves…. Some voices claim that negotiating a prohibition convention would be an unrealistic option. We do not believe that a negotiating process with the participation of the majority of states lacks credibility nor realism. No similar legally-binding instrument has started with universality, so we cannot expect this here, either. We are also realistic that the elimination of nuclear weapons is not something which can be achieved overnight and by way of a prohibition convention alone. Rather, it would lay the basis on which the necessary system to ensure its complete and verified implementation could subsequently be established.”

—Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi, Austria, October 14, 2016


“Though some are dissatisfied with the pace of disarmament, we remain convinced that the pragmatic and consensus-based approach that has successfully brought us to this point remains the right one going forward. Today, some states believe the time has come to abandon this pragmatic and consensus-based approach and instead pursue a radically different path that would simply declare a ban on nuclear weapons. We must evaluate this new approach using the same criteria that we apply to our current one. Will it improve global security and stability or undermine it? Will it build a coalition for disarmament or fracture the international community? Will it lead to real reductions in nuclear weapons or be a treaty for political, not practical effect? How can such an approach be verified? The United States has carefully applied these questions to the ban treaty concept and it fails to successfully meet the necessary criteria for success….

“The current challenge to nuclear disarmament is not a lack of legal instruments. The challenges to disarmament are a result of the political and security realities we presently face. The United States is ready to take additional steps including bilateral reductions with Russia and a treaty ending production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, some states are currently unwilling to engage in further nuclear reductions, and others are increasing their arsenals. At the same time, violations of international norms and existing agreements are creating a more uncertain security environment and making the conditions for further reductions more difficult to achieve. A ban treaty will do nothing to address these underlying challenges.” 

—Amb. Robert Wood, United States, October 14, 2016


“Australia’s position on the proposal before the committee to begin negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons has been consistent and clear: we do not support such an approach. “A ban treaty would not rid us of one nuclear weapon. It would not change the realities we all face in a nuclear-armed DPRK [North Korea], or tensions among major powers. And without the involvement of states possessing nuclear weapons, the practical value of negotiating a ban treaty is a questionable exercise.”

—Amb. John Quinn, Australia, October 17, 2016


“Such a treaty is not an end in itself nor a panacea to cure an otherwise ailing regime. It will be thoroughly compatible with the [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty and the wider nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. By doubling up on their commitment never to acquire nuclear weapons, non-nuclear weapon states which decide to take part in it will only reinforce their own credentials and the international nonproliferation regime. Further efforts needed to attain the complete elimination of nuclear arsenals can be pursued either within a framework laid out by the prohibition treaty—an approach supported by Brazil—or in parallel to it.”

—Amb. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Brazil, October 17, 2016

Posted: October 31, 2016

The Impact of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Fact-Checking the Fact Checkers

Squadrons of fact-checking journalists have been deployed by news organizations over the past several months trying to provide some perspective on claims about key campaign issues, including the 2015 nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran that the Barack Obama administration and former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton have claimed credit for and that the Trump-Pence campaign has criticized. Their effort to clarify the facts about these and other issues is vital to ensuring we have a more informed electorate. But sometimes the fact-checkers themselves – perhaps in their rush to provide...

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