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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Nuclear Nonproliferation

Iran Takes Another Step Away from Compliance with the JCPOA, Experts Available

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For Immediate Release: September 5, 2019

Media ContactsKingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Thomas Countryman, board chair, 301-312-3445; Daryl Kimball, executive director, 202-277-3478

Iran is poised to take a third step away from compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in retaliation to the U.S. withdrawal from the deal in May 2018 and phased re-imposition of sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 4 ordered the atomic energy organization of Iran “to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development.” He referred to “expansions in the field of research and development, centrifuges, different types of new centrifuges, and whatever we need for enrichment.”

The atomic energy organization is scheduled to detail the specific steps that will be taken on Saturday, Sept. 7.

Iran earlier this summer announced that it would renege on its commitments to increase the low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium and enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent level.

Iran’s latest step away from the deal comes after the U.S. government apparently rejected a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron to extend Iran a $15 billion line of credit guaranteed by future Iranian oil sales in return for Iran’s return to compliance with the JCPOA and a return to negotiations on regional security and the future of Iran’s nuclear program.

Brian Hook, the State Department coordinator on Iran, told reporters on Sept. 4 that “We can't make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers.”

QUICK QUOTES

“The most responsible path forward is for Iran to exercise restraint and for all parties to return to full compliance with the JCPOA and agree to open follow-on negotiations to address issues of mutual concern.” – Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

“It would be a self-defeating and counterproductive mistake for the Trump administration to reject the plan proposed by President Macron to salvage the JCPOA, retain the strong limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and create the opportunity for further dialogue. The administration’s rejection of this proposal is further confirmation that it is not serious about diplomacy with Iran.” – Thomas Countryman, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and chair of the ACA board of directors

“While Iran’s decision to breach a third JCPOA nuclear limit does not pose a near-term proliferation risk, it is worrisome and could be followed by more serious steps if the United States continues to reject reasonable offers for dialogue and for easing tensions. Iran has indicated that it is willing to return to compliance with the JCPOA but is seeking leverage to counter the U.S. maximum pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran the sanctions relief it was promised as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.” – Daryl G. Kimball, executive director 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

EXPERTS AVAILABLE IN WASHINGTON

  • Kingston Reif, ​Director for ​D​​​​isarmamen​​t and ​T​h​​reat ​R​e​​d​​uction​ ​Policy​, ​[email protected], 202-463-8270 ext. 104
  • Thomas Countryman, former​ ​Acting​ ​U​nder ​S​ecret​​ary of ​​S​tate for​ ​Arms​ ​Control and ​International ​S​ecur​​ity, and ​​Chair of the Board for the Arm​​s Control Association, [email protected], 301-312-3445
  • Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, [email protected], 202-277-3478

Or contact Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext. 110 / 202-213-6856 (mobile) to schedule an interview.

Description: 

While Iran’s decision to breach a third JCPOA nuclear limit does not pose a near-term proliferation risk, it is worrisome and could be followed by more serious steps if the United States continues to reject reasonable offers for dialogue and for easing tensions.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

Roland Timerbaev (1927–2019), At the Vanguard of Nuclear Nonproliferation


September 2019
By Matthew Bunn

Roland Timerbaev, who passed away in mid-August at the age of 91, was a true giant—both as an arms controller and as a human being. I doubt we will see his like again.

(Photo: Center for Energy and Security Studies)From the 1950s, after a brief stint at the fledgling United Nations, Timerbaev was directly supporting Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko on nuclear weapons issues. (He remembered drafting the first Soviet proposal for a fissile material cutoff treaty in 1958.)  Preventing nuclear annihilation became his consuming, life-long passion. He retired from the Foreign Ministry just as the Soviet Union was collapsing, resigning as permanent representative to the international organizations in Vienna, including, of course, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

He is best known for his key role in negotiating the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, where he first met my father, George Bunn, who served on the U.S. delegation. As Timerbaev remembered, while neither of them were the heads of their respective delegations, they were often the “day-to-day negotiators” of the treaty, assigned to find ways to overcome the blockages that arose.1 It was Timerbaev and his colleague Vladimir Shustov, with Bunn and the U.S. delegate Culver Gleysteen, who broke the impasse on the safeguards article during a hike in the mountains near Geneva, even though both sides had been instructed not to compromise.2

Working together on the NPT, Timerbaev and my father built a close friendship and professional partnership that lasted the rest of their lives; in a letter for a Stanford celebration of my father’s career in 2004, Timerbaev wrote that their friendship and cooperation had been “the most rewarding [professional] thing I have ever experienced.”

The NPT was by no means the end of Timerbaev’s nonproliferation work. He played a key role in launching the Nuclear Suppliers Group, working through the night with British ambassador John Thomson (later the founding chairman) in early 1975—with the assistance of a good dinner and some whiskey back in the hotel room—in negotiating the documents that announced the initiative. He made major contributions to IAEA safeguards, to the negotiation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and to many other key nuclear accords.

After leaving the Foreign Ministry, Timerbaev spent several years at what is now the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, teaching, writing, and launching a variety of policy initiatives. He was particularly proud of having brought most of the members of the Ukrainian parliament to Monterey for nonproliferation training before the crucial vote that confirmed Ukraine’s non-nuclear-weapon status.

Working with Vladimir Orlov, Timerbaev then launched the PIR Center in Moscow, one of the most important nongovernmental nonproliferation organizations in Russia. He was an encouraging and tireless teacher and mentor, training generations of Russian and global nonproliferation experts. He was also an indefatigable writer; in particular, his history, Russia and Nuclear Nonproliferation, 1945–1968, became a standard Russian text.

Beyond all these accomplishments, Timerbaev was a warm and generous person, charming everyone from diplomatic counterparts to graduate students. He told his CNS colleague William Potter that he “collected friends the way other people collect art.” A visitor to his home was always welcomed with enthusiasm and with a kaleidoscopic conversation ranging from the fate of the universe to music to the issues of the day—and with a gentle chiding if the visitor preferred water to whiskey or wine. He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather, and a classical music aficionado (especially Rachmaninov’s fiendishly complex 3rd Piano Concerto). He genuinely cared both about reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and about the individual people living under that Sword of Damocles. He will be sorely missed.

 

ENDNOTES

1. Roland Timerbaev, “In Memoriam: George Bunn,” Arms Control Today, June 2013.

2. Part of that story is recounted in “In Memoriam: George Bunn.” For Timerbaev’s take on the continuing importance and success of the NPT, see Anton V. Khlopkov, “Roland Timerbaev: The Nuclear Noproliferation Treaty Has Largely Achieved Its Goals (Interview),” Arms Control Today, September 2017.

 


Matthew Bunn is a professor of practice at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

An architect of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, Roland Timerbaev leaves a long-lasting legacy.

Bolivia Ratifies Ban Treaty

 

Bolivia ratified the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on Aug. 6, marking the 25th ratification overall and the halfway point toward the 50 ratifications needed for the treaty’s entry into force.

Sacha Sergio Llorenti, Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at UN headquarters in 2018.  The diplomat deposited Bolivia's ratification of the Treaty for the Prohibition  of Nuclear Weapons to the United Nations on Aug. 6, marking the halfway point in the ratifications needed for the treaty's entry into force. (Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)The date, exactly 74 years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, was selected by Bolivian ambassador Sacha Llorenti for its significance to nuclear disarmament activists. 70 states have now signed the agreement, which was opened for signature at the United Nations in 2017. It is the first international instrument to comprehensively ban the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. All states parties engaging in these activities are bound to submit and implement a plan to divest themselves completely of nuclear weapons upon ratification.

Although it has been dismissed by the nuclear-armed powers, as well as by states which benefit from nuclear security guarantees, the treaty's supporters hope that it will nonetheless pave the way for an emerging international legal norm against nuclear arms. More states are expected to ratify the treaty at a UN meeting in New York on Sept. 26, the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. —OWEN LeGRONE

Bolivia Ratifies Ban Treaty

China’s Stance on Nuclear Arms Control and New START

The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia is set to expire in February 2021. Although the two nations could extend the treaty by up to five years (and there is bipartisan congressional support for such a step), the future of New START remains uncertain, in part because the Trump administration wants to include China in any future arms control deal. Integrating China further into international nuclear arms control efforts is a worthy goal, but extending New START should not hinge on China’s participation. Given China’s relatively minimalist...

The Impact: Iran Breaches Nuclear Deal

This blog post originally appeared on the U.S. Institute of Peace's " The Iran Primer ," July 8, 2019. Since July 1, Iran has engaged in two breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. On July 1, it increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium above the 300-kilogram limit. On July 8, it increased enrichment from the limit of 3.67 percent to 4.5 percent. Iran had previously complied with the agreement, even after President Trump abandoned it in May 2018. What do Iran’s decisions mean for the future of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) ? Iran’s decision to breach the 300-kilogram limit...

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Russia

July 2019

Updated: August 2019

As of early 2019, Russia’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise 6,490 warheads, including approximately 2,000 that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. As of the March 2019, New START data exchange, Russia had 1,461 strategic deployed warheads and 524 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation has declined since 2013, though some bilateral efforts to secure nuclear material still continue. The number of Russian entities under U.S. nonproliferation sanctions has increased since 2014, which marks the start of a decline in U.S.-Russian relations. Beginning in June 2014, the State Department has alleged that Russia produced and tested a missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty, and Russia has responded with its own allegations of U.S. violations. Russia completed destruction of its chemical weapons, as obligated by the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2017. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention, but the United States maintained as recently as 2016 that it cannot be certain that Russia is complying with the treaty.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
  • New START
  • Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

2000

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1983

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

---

2008

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2007

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a member, but Russia claims to adhere to the group’s rules and control list

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 2000, entered into force in 2007

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with the United States

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Russia has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

As of early 2019, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that Russia possesses a nuclear arsenal consisting of a total of 6,490 warheads, including approximately 1,070 strategic and 1,820 non-strategic warheads in storage, and approximately 2,000 warheads that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. Under New START, Russia can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable warheads until February 2021 when the treaty expires. As of March 2019, Russia had 1,461 strategic deployed warheads and 524 deployed strategic delivery systems.

According to the Pentagon, Russia has an active stockpile of up to 2,000 tactical (non-strategic) nuclear warheads, a much larger number than the United States' 150 tactical nuclear weapons, which are deployed in Europe. The United States and Russia have a comparable number of strategic nuclear weapons.

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • As of 2019, Russia’s estimated 318 ICBMs, which carry approximately 1,165 warheads, include the:
    • RS-12M (three variants)
      • RS-12M (Topol [SS-25 Sickle])
      • RS-12M1 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]) (mobile)
      • RS-12M2 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]) (silo)
      • Each variant carries a single 800 kt warhead, 10,500-11,000 km range.
    • RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2)
      • Mobile and silo versions.
      • Each carries four 100kt MIRV warheads, 10,500 km range.
    • RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto)
      • Each carries six 400 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), 10,000 km range.
    • RS-20V (SS-18 Satan) 
      • Each carries ten 500-800 kt MIRV warheads, 10,200-16,000 km range.
    • RS-26 Rubezh
      • Development in progress. A successful May 2012 test displayed an operational range of 5,800 km.
      • It is unknown whether the Rubezh will carry a single warhead or MIRVs.
      • Final development and deployment appeared to be postponed until 2027.
    • RS-28 (SS-30 Sarmat)
      • Also known as the “Son of Satan” or “Satan 2.”
      • Russia is currently developing the RS-28 to replace the RS-20V by the end of the decade, with deployment expected to occur in the early 2020s.
      • It is reportedly being developed by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, also known as the State Rocket Center (SRC) Makayev.
      • The Sarmat is expected to be equipped with 10 MIRVs, though some sources list an exaggerated 15 MIRVs.
    • Barguzin (rail-based version of SS-27 Mod 2)
      • Russian defense officials have indicated that it is intended to revive and upstage the former Soviet nuclear trains and is in the early stages of design development.
      • Russia successfully completed an ejection test in November 2016 and expects to that nuclear trains will enter into service between 2018 and 2020 and that they will remain in service until 2040.  
      • Final development and deployment appeared to be postponed until 2027.
  • All of Russia’s ICBMs were developed and entered service from the 1980’s to the 1990’s with the exception of the RS-24 which entered service in 2010 and RS-26 and Rs-28 which are still under development.
  • While the number of Russian ICBMs is set to fall below 300 by the early 2020s, Russia is currently modernizing its land-based missiles and plans to increase the share of missiles equipped with multiple warheads.  

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • Russia is capable of delivering up to 720 warheads through Delta IV submarines, Delta III submarines and the new Borey-class submarines (to replace aging Delta III and IV submarines).
    • Delta IV
      • Part of Russia’s Northern Fleet.
      • Armed with 16 RSM-54 Sineva (SS-N-23 Skiff) missiles. 
      • Reportedly upgraded to carry the new R-29RMU2 Layner missiles (a modified Sineva missile).
    • Delta III
      • Part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.
      • Armed with 16 RSM-50 Volna (SS-N-18 Stingray) missiles.
    • Borey class and Borey-A class
      • Armed with 16 RSM-56 Bulava missiles.
      • Russia is developing five upgraded Borey-A class submarines to be delivered by the mid-2020s.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):

  • Russia’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles include the RSM-50, RSM-54, RSM-56, and reportedly the R-29RMU2 and include a total of 176 missile launchers on all SSBNs.
    • RSM-50 (SS-N-18 M1 Stingray)
      • Deployed in 1978.
      • Equipped with three 50kt MIRVs, 6,500-8,000 km range
    • RSM-54 (SS-N-23 M1 Sineva)
      • Deployed in 2007.
      • Equipped with four 100 kt MIRVs, 8,300 km range. 
    • RSM-56 (SS-N-32 Bulava)
      • Deployed in 2014.
      • Equipped with six 100 kt MIRVs, 8,000+ km range.
      • Since its inaugural test in 2004, the Bulava missile has a long record of failed launches, the most recent being in 2016.  
    • R-29RMU2
      • Several sources claim it entered service in 2014, some have speculated that the missile can be equipped with up to 10 warheads, however, other estimates put the number at 4 warheads.

Strategic Bombers

  • As of 2019, the Russian Air Force operates 68 long-range bombers which can carry a total of 786 warheads.
    • Tu-95 MS6
      • Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. 
    • Tu-95 MS16
      • Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles.
    • Tu-160
      • Capable of carrying Kh-55 (AS-15B) cruise missiles or 12 Kh-15 (AS-16) short range attack missiles. 
  • All three aircraft are categorized as strategic heavy bombers and are limited by New START. 
  • All three bombers can be equipped with gravity bombs.
  • The Russian Air Force also operates a multipurpose medium-range supersonic bomber, the Tu-22M, which is considered a tactical nuclear delivery platform for various types of cruise missiles and is not limited by New START.
  • Russia has begun studying designs for a next-generation of strategic bombers meant to replace the entire fleet of Tu-95’s, Tu-160’s, and Tu-22M’s. The new bomber program is expected to develop a prototype by the early 2020’s.
New Strategic Systems
 
Russia is also working on the development of a range of new strategic-range weapons:
 
  • Avangard, a hypersonic boost-glide warhead, which can be carried by the Sarmat “super-heavy” ICBM
  • Kinzhal, a hypersonic ballistic missile which can perform evasive maneuvers
  • Peresvet, a high-energy laser weapon
  • Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile “of unlimited range”
  • Poseidon, a nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle “of unlimited range”

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

Despite Moscow’s fierce criticisms of the U.S. missile defense program, Russia is expanding and upgrading its air and missile defense systems. Russia exports many of these systems abroad. The A-135 ballistic missile defense system has been operational around Moscow since 1995, after replacing the 1970s-era A-35 Galosh system. Russia operates several families of air defense systems, each consisting of multiple variants and upgrades. These include the S-300P, S-300V, and S-400 systems. The S-500 system is in development. More information can be found here
 

Fissile Material

Russia has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material (highly enriched uranium [HEU] and plutonium) for weapons purposes.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The Kremlin announced a halt to HEU production for weapons in 1989 and the cessation of plutonium production for weapons in 1994.
  • At the end of 2016, Russia’s HEU stockpile was estimated at 679 metric tons, with a margin of error of 120 metric tons (making it, absent the margin of error, the largest HEU stockpile). Approximately 20 metric tons are designated for civilian use, the second largest stockpile of civilian HEU after the United States.
  • Russia concluded a joint program in 2013, the U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, in which Moscow downblended 500 metric tons of its excess weapons grade HEU into a reactor fuel unsuitable for bombs that it then sold to the United States as light water reactor fuel.
  • A second U.S. funded program, the Material Conversion and Consolidation project (MCC), blended down 16.8 metric tons of HEU by the end of 2014.

Plutonium

  • In April 2010, Russia closed its last plutonium production facility, although it has not discounted a return to producing separated plutonium for fast-breeder reactors in the future.
  • In 2012, the last weapon-grade plutonium reprocessing plant Zheleznogorsk was shut down.
  • Its total plutonium stockpile is, as of the end of 2016, estimated at 185.2 metric tons, with an 8 metric ton margin of error.
    • The weapons-grade stockpile is estimated at 128 ± 8 metric tons.
    • 57.2 metric tons of separated reactor-grade plutonium are declared for civilian use.
  • Russia committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium, beginning in 2018, under a 2000 agreement with the United States entitled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA).
    • However, in October 2016, Russia, citing the U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, suspended its implementation of the deal and conditioned the resumption of implementation on the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia and a restructuring of NATO’s forces. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because this alternative method would not change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor-grade.  

Proliferation Record

  • The United States and independent analysts have long cited Russia as a key supplier of nuclear and missile-related goods and technology to a variety of countries, including states of proliferation concern such as Iran and Syria.
    • In response, the United States has often levied sanctions on Russian entities believed to be involved in such proliferation activities.
    • Beginning in the mid-2000s, the number and frequency of Russian entities placed under U.S. proliferation sanctions declined, possibly as a result of an increasing Russian commitment to controlling sensitive exports; however, that number has greatly increased since 2014.
  • Russia remains a source of illicit sensitive technology pertaining to missile proliferation.
  • The vast former Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons complexes, including their former scientists, have also been seen as a potential source of arms, materials, and knowledge for other regimes or non-state actors.
    • The United States and other countries have pursued programs dedicated to mitigating this potential threat by helping Russia and other former Soviet states secure or destroy facilities, materials, and weapon systems, and gainfully employ former scientists in non-arms related work.
    • However, there has been a significant decline in U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation since 2013, despite continued cooperation in cleaning out weapon-grade material from third countries such as Poland in 2016.
  • After suspending the PMDA, Russia likewise suspended its participation in a 2013 cooperative agreement on nuclear and energy related research and terminated a third agreement from 2010 on exploring options for converting research reactors from weapons-usable fuel.

Nuclear Doctrine

Under Russia’s military doctrine, most recently updated in December 2014, Russia “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in response to aggression against the Russian Federation that utilizes conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”

U.S. Defense Department officials have said that Russian doctrine includes a so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, which envisions the limited first use of nuclear weapons to attempt to end a large-scale conventional conflict on terms favorable to Russia. However, some experts have called into question whether “escalate to de-escalate” is part of Russian doctrine. 

Testing

Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) has conducted 715 nuclear weapon tests. The first test occurred Aug. 29,1949 and the last test occurred Oct. 24, 1990. Russia was the second country to conduct a nuclear test, after the United States. 

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Biological Weapons

  • The Soviet Union maintained an extensive offensive germ weapons program, including research into plague, anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, glanders, and hemorrhagic fever.
  • The United States has repeatedly voiced concern over the status of Russia’s inherited Soviet germ warfare program. However, in 2011, Russia maintained that it is in compliance with the BWC.
  • Nonetheless, the State Department in April 2016 maintained that Russia’s annual BWC confidence-building measures submissions since 1992 have “not satisfactorily documented whether this program [the inherited Soviet offensive biological research and development program] was completely destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes in accordance with Article II of the BWC.” 
  • The lack of transparency surrounding this program prevents the United States from reaching more concrete conclusions.

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Chemical Weapons

  • Upon entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on Dec. 5, 1997, Russia declared that it possessed approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents, the largest amount in the world at the time. A dispute lingers over whether Russia has fully declared all of its chemical weapons-related facilities and past production.
  • On Sept. 27, 2017, the OPCW announced that Russia had completed the destruction of its full chemical weapons arsenal.
  • The State Department stated in 2016 that it “cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention: for declaration of its CWPFs [chemical weapons production facilities]; its CW development facilities; or its CW stockpiles.”
  • The UK accused Russia of assassinating a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in the UK using the chemical agent Novichok on March 4, 2018.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

However, in July 2014, the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In February 2019, the United States announced its intention to suspend its obligations and withdraw from the treaty in six months if Russia did not return to compliance. At that time, Russia raised concerns about U.S. compliance and announced its intention to suspend its obligations under the treaty, as well. On Aug. 2, the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty.

For more information on the INF Treaty, visit the "INF Treaty at a Glance" fact sheet.

New START
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor to the original START accord. The new treaty, known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICMBs, SLBMs, and bombers by 2018. Both sides met the limits by the Feb. 5, 2018 deadline, and the limits will hold until the treaty's expiration in February 2021. In addition, the treaty contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement.

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in extending the treaty by five years as allowed by the agreements provisions, but has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability. Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters June 6, 2019, that while Russia has said “a hundred times” that it is ready to extend New START, they are willing to let the treaty lapse if the Trump administration is uninterested in extending the agreement.
 

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions.

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Russia, along with China, has attached significant priority in the CD to negotiating an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). However, the United States and other countries have opposed this initiative. In keeping with its official stance in support of a ban on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, Russia submitted a draft program of work to the CD in March 2016 calling for the establishment of a working group to recommend “effective measures to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.” In 2016, Russia also proposed that the CD should negotiate a new convention, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism, in order to fill several gaps it claims exist in the CWC.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The Russian government has signed and ratified protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. In 2011 Russia signed and ratified Protocol I and II for the African zone. In 2014, it ratified the protocols for the Central Asian zone but has yet to ratify the protocols for the Southeast Asian zone.

Nuclear Security Summits
Russian participation in Nuclear Security Summits includes the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS in Seoul, and the 2014 NSS in The Hague. Russia did not participate in the most recent NSS, held in Washington, DC in 2016. The Russian boycott of the 2016 NSS came amid continued souring of U.S.-Russian relations. At the time, Moscow declared, “We do not see added value coming out of these meetings.”

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia took part in the negotiation of the July 2015 JCPOA, which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the accord "will favorably affect the general situation in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf." Russia backed the JCPOA on the grounds of supporting nonproliferation. Furthermore, Russia stands to accrue significant economic gains in Iran with the lifting of nuclear sanctions. For example, in 2016, Russia concluded the delivery of an S-300 air defense missile system worth $800 million to Iran in a deal that had been suspended since 2010. Russia has continued to support the JCPOA following the Trump administration's violation and withdrawal from the deal in May 2018.

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, Russia reached an agreement with the United States to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Russia has officially supported the UN resolution but maintained that only the OPCW can determine violations of the CWC and that it did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter against Syria without confirming the use of chemical weapons. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.  

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. Russia stood by the Assad regime, claiming that the airstrike had hit an opposition depot housing chemical weapons. In November 2017, Russia blocked investigations into identifying who has used chemical weapons in Syria from continuing.

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

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Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance

July 2019

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102; Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: July 2019

At the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States hoped to maintain a monopoly on its new weapon, but the secrets and the technology for making nuclear weapons soon spread. The United States conducted its first nuclear test explosion in July 1945 and dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Just four years later, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test explosion. The United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and China (1964) followed. Seeking to prevent the nuclear weapon ranks from expanding further, the United States and other like-minded states negotiated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

India, Israel, and Pakistan never signed the NPT and possess nuclear arsenals. Iraq initiated a secret nuclear program under Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003 and has tested nuclear devices since that time. Iran and Libya have pursued secret nuclear activities in violation of the treaty’s terms, and Syria is suspected of having done the same. Still, nuclear nonproliferation successes outnumber failures and dire forecasts decades ago that the world would be home to dozens of states armed with nuclear weapons have not come to pass.

At the time the NPT was concluded, the nuclear stockpiles of both the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia numbered in the tens of thousands. Beginning in the 1970s, U.S. and Soviet/Russian leaders negotiated a series of bilateral arms control agreements and initiatives that limited, and later helped to reduce, the size of their nuclear arsenals. Today, the United States and Russia each deploy roughly 1,400 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles, and are modernizing their nuclear delivery systems.

China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. In addition, Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. North Korea continues its nuclear pursuits in violation of its earlier denuclearization pledges.

Nuclear-Weapon States:

The nuclear-weapon states (NWS) are the five states—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States—officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons by the NPT. The treaty legitimizes these states’ nuclear arsenals, but establishes they are not supposed to build and maintain such weapons in perpetuity. In 2000, the NWS committed themselves to an “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” Because of the secretive nature with which most governments treat information about their nuclear arsenals, most of the figures below are best estimates of each nuclear-weapon state’s nuclear holdings, including both strategic warheads and lower-yield devices referred to as tactical weapons.

China

  • About 290 total warheads. 

France

  • About 300 total warheads. 

Russia

  • March 2019 New START declaration: 1,461 strategic warheads deployed on 524 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers.
  • The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates approximately 4,490 stockpiled warheads and 2,000 retired warheads for a total of roughly 6,490 warheads, as of early 2019. 

United Kingdom

  • About 120 strategic warheads, of which no more than 40 are deployed at sea on a nuclear ballistic missile submarine at any given time. The United Kingdom possesses a total of four ballistic missile submarines.
  • Total stockpile is estimated up to 200 warheads.

United States:

  • March 2019 New START declaration: 1,365 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 656 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers.
  • FAS estimates approximately 3,800 stockpiled warheads and 2,385 retired warheads for a total of 6,185 warheads as of early 2019.

Non-NPT Nuclear Weapons Possessors:

  • India, Israel, and Pakistan never joined the NPT and are known to possess nuclear weapons.
  • India first tested a nuclear explosive device in 1974. That test spurred Pakistan to ramp up work on its secret nuclear weapons program.
  • India and Pakistan both publicly demonstrated their nuclear weapon capabilities with a round of tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May 1998.
  • Israel has not publicly conducted a nuclear test, does not admit or deny having nuclear weapons, and states that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Israel is universally believed to possess nuclear arms, although it is unclear exactly how many.

The following arsenal estimates are based on the amount of fissile material—highly enriched uranium and plutonium—that each of the states is estimated to have produced. Fissile material is the key element for making nuclear weapons. India and Israel are believed to use plutonium in their weapons, while Pakistan is thought to use highly enriched uranium.

IndiaBetween 130-140 nuclear warheads.
IsraelAn estimated 80-90 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200.
PakistanBetween 150-160 nuclear warheads.


States of Immediate Proliferation Concern:

Prior to the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran pursued a uranium-enrichment program and other projects that provided it with the capability to produce bomb-grade fissile material and develop nuclear weapons, if it chose to do so. Iran’s uranium enrichment program continues, but it is restricted and monitored by the nuclear deal. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 and tested nuclear devices and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Uncertainty persists about how many nuclear devices North Korea has assembled. In 2007, Israel bombed a site in Syria that was widely assessed to be a nuclear reactor being constructed with North Korea's assistance. Syria has refused to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency's attempts to investigate.

Iran:

  • No known weapons or sufficient fissile material stockpiles to build weapons.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the institution charged with verifying that states are not illicitly building nuclear weapons, concluded in 2003 that Iran had undertaken covert nuclear activities to establish the capacity to indigenously produce fissile material.
  • July 2015: Iran and six world powers negotiated a long-term agreement to verify and significantly reduce Iran's capacity to produce material for nuclear weapons.
  • As part of this agreement, the IAEA and Iran concluded an investigation into Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities. The agency concluded that Iran had an organized program to pursue nuclear weapons prior to 2003. Some of these activities continued through 2009, but there were no indications of weaponization activities taking place after that date.

North Korea:

  • Estimated as of June 2019 to have approximately 20-30 warheads and the fissile material for 30-60 nuclear weapons.
  • While there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding North Korea's fissile material stockpile and production, particularly on the uranium enrichment side, North Korea is estimated to have 20-40 kilograms of plutonium and 250-500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. The estimated annual production of fissile material is enough for 6-7 weapons.
  • North Korea operates its 5-megawatt heavy-water graphite-moderated reactor used to extract plutonium in the past for nuclear warheads on an intermittent basis since August 2013. There has also been intermittent activity at North Korea's reprocessing facility since 2016, indicating that Pyongyang has likely separated plutonium from the reactor's spent fuel. 
  • North Korea unveiled a centrifuge facility in 2010. It is likely that Pyongyang is using the facility to produce highly-enriched uranium for weapons. U.S. intelligence suggests that there are several additional centrifuge facilities in North Korea. 
  • By 2020, experts estimate that North Korea could have anywhere between 20-100 nuclear warheads based on the rate of its stockpile growth and technological improvements. 

Syria:

  • September 2007: Israel conducted an airstrike on what U.S. officials alleged was the construction site of a nuclear research reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.
  • The extent of Syrian-North Korean nuclear cooperation is unclear, but is believed to have begun in 1997.
  • Investigations into U.S. claims uncovered traces of undeclared man-made uranium particles at both the site of the destroyed facility and Syria’s declared research reactor.
  • Syria has not adequately cooperated with the IAEA to clarify the nature of the destroyed facility and procurement efforts that could be related to a nuclear program.


States That Had Nuclear Weapons or Nuclear Weapons Programs at One Time:

  • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited nuclear weapons following the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, but returned them to Russia and joined the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states.
  • South Africa secretly developed but subsequently dismantled its small number of nuclear warheads and also joined the NPT in 1991.
  • Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but was forced to verifiably dismantle it under the supervision of UN inspectors. The U.S.-led March 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent capture of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein definitively ended his regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
  • Libya voluntarily renounced its secret nuclear weapons efforts in December 2003.
  • Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan also shelved nuclear weapons programs.
     

Sources: Arms Control Association, Federation of American Scientists, International Panel on Fissile Materials, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Subject Resources:

Seeing Red in Trump’s Iran Strategy


July/August 2019
By Eric Brewer and Richard Nephew

Since Iran’s May 2019 announcement that it would no longer abide by some nuclear restrictions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Trump administration has sought to push back against these moves by citing the imperative of the JCPOA’s constraints. The JCPOA created limits on Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle that mean Tehran would need a year to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb, and the agreement established enhanced transparency and inspector access throughout the entire fuel cycle.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks to reporters at the White House April 30. Bolton has linked any Iranian expansion of enrichment activities to a deliberate attempt to shorten the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons.  (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)The U.S. push for Iran to adhere to the deal’s terms has drawn some international incredulity given how the United States withdrew from agreement in May 2018 while noisily alleging many JCPOA flaws. More subtly, the Trump administration has begun to lay the groundwork for what can be described as its first real redline for the nuclear program: that any reduction in Iran’s one-year breakout timeline, the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb, is unacceptable.

It is unclear how much reduction the administration would tolerate, what its response would be, and given President Donald Trump’s avowed preference for a deal and to avoid another conflict in the Middle East, whether it would be enforced at all. Yet, National Security Advisor John Bolton in late May linked any Iranian expansion of enrichment activities to a deliberate attempt to shorten the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons, which would suggest that a severe response, perhaps even military force, would be on the table to prevent Iran from a nuclear restart. At the very least, the United States is shifting the traditional definition of what is unacceptable from a weapon or having the ability to produce one quickly to any deviation from JCPOA baseline restrictions.

A renewed nuclear crisis with Iran is now likely. Not only would Iran’s announced steps from May shorten the breakout timeline, only modestly at the start, but Iran has set a deadline that expires in early July for the restart of other nuclear activities that might reduce the timeline considerably faster.

Nevertheless, Iran’s nuclear actions so far do not merit this redline or the military response that could follow, nor do they rise to the level of an unacceptable threat to the United States or its interests. Rather, they are a signal that, although some in the Trump administration believe otherwise, Iran will not consent to being pushed via sanctions without seeking leverage of its own.

To be fair to the Trump administration, there is some utility in setting out a clear marker for Iran as to what constitutes unacceptable nuclear behavior. In fact, one of the biggest concerns over Trump’s Iran policy thus far is that the Iranians have seen little clarity from the White House as to what the United States wants from Iran. U.S. objectives have varied over time and, depending on who is articulating the policy, have involved everything from regime change to a renegotiated JCPOA. It would be valuable to give Iran and the rest of the world a clearer sense of U.S. intentions, expectations, and the seriousness with which the United States would treat certain Iranian nuclear actions. A firm stance now could also potentially head off a more dangerous situation down the road, and for the Trump administration, there is a palpable desire to avoid being identified as the cause of this new nuclear crisis.

Despite these potential benefits, the particular redline that appears to be in the process of being established is profoundly unnecessary, unwise, and dangerous for four reasons.

Iran’s Restart Will Be Gradual

First, establishing the one-year breakout timeline as a redline makes little sense in terms of the nuclear program itself. The JCPOA was designed to give governments at least a year to mount a strategy to react if Iran started to exit its obligations and dash to a weapon. For this reason, the JCPOA built in restrictions on Iran’s centrifuges, its uranium stockpile, and spare parts and materials for the program, as well as intrusive transparency steps that ensure the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the international community would quickly become aware of any deviation from Iran’s agreed steps.

Iran has said it will expand its enrichment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and heavy water and will consider additional steps as well, perhaps as soon as July 6. Iran’s decision to restart these nuclear activities will eventually erode the breakout time barrier of a year, but this will occur, at least at the start, relatively slowly and incrementally. The reasons are political and technical. Politically, Iran’s main goal is to regain negotiating leverage and force Europe to provide economic benefits or risk the deal falling apart, not to race to a bomb. As Iran has done in the past, it will likely calibrate the pace and scope of its nuclear activities based in part on how the international community responds.

From a technical standpoint, Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile will probably expand gradually. Iran has said it will exceed the JCPOA’s 300-kilogram limit by June 27, which IAEA reporting suggests would be a major increase in the pace of enrichment operations but not impossible. That said, even at the rate of enrichment that this would suggest, as much as 30 to 50 kilograms per month, it would take many months before Iran would have enough LEU, which would need further enrichment, for a bomb. Of course, enriching uranium further from its current level would be noticed by the IAEA and time consuming.

Iran’s buildup of heavy water is less concerning from a nuclear weapons perspective. Even if Iran fulfills its threat to abandon its JCPOA-mandated requirement to redesign the Arak reactor to produce less plutonium in July, the path to actually completing and starting its old reactor design would be a long and uncertain one.

In early 2016, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had removed the core of its heavy-water reactor at Arak, as required by the 2015 nuclear deal. Restoring the reactor to maximize its plutonium-production capability would be a lengthy process.  (Photo: President of the Islamic Republic of Iran)More worrying would be if Iran acts on its threat to increase enrichment levels as early as July. Depending on how high Iran goes, such as resuming enrichment to near 20 percent uranium-235, this could have a seriously adverse affect on Iran’s breakout timeline as this material accumulates. A U.S. decision to end sanctions waivers that allow Iran to import 20 percent-enriched fuel for its research reactor would make
it easy for Tehran publicly to justify higher enrichment.

Some of these steps are more concerning than others, but none would indicate a breakout, and they do not suggest that the world is facing an imminent Iranian nuclear weapons threat. Indeed, unless Iran starts to curb IAEA access, which in and of itself would be a major concern, all of these measures will be done in full view of inspectors, which is exactly how Iran wants it. There is time to resolve the crisis diplomatically before using military force. A year was judged to be a reasonable but not necessarily minimum amount of time to do so. Indeed, prior to the JCPOA, Iran only needed a few months to produce a bomb’s worth of material. Even then, the United States determined that it could stop an Iranian breakout with the use of force if necessary.

An Ambiguous Redline

Second, for this redline to work, Iran would have to know when it is nearing that threshold so that if it wants, it can refrain from doing so. Because Iran possessed a large LEU stockpile, not to mention its near 20 percent-enriched uranium, for many years prior to the JCPOA, Iran may not perceive its renewed possession of this material as now representing a casus belli for Washington. In fact, Israel even set a redline for Iran’s enrichment program that could be interpreted to permit up to 200 kilograms of near 20 percent-enriched uranium, suggesting that what Iran is presently doing is far below the Israeli threshold for action.

Moreover, breakout timelines are based on a range of assumptions, and even among U.S. allies, there was some ambiguity about those timelines as the JCPOA was negotiated. It is therefore unlikely that Iran and the United States would have a common definition of where that tipping point occurs. This presents a high risk of miscalculation.

Advocates of Trump’s redline approach may believe that this works to the U.S. advantage: by laying out extreme positions, Iran can be deterred from undertaking any nuclear expansion. This view, however, ignores two facts. First, Iran will judge what is tolerable to the West based on past experience, and higher levels and amounts of uranium may not be seen as such. Second, Iran’s perspectives on U.S. deterrence are informed by the full range of U.S. responses to Iranian behavior. With North Korea and Iran, Trump has a history of issuing grand yet vague threats and then not following through on them, a practice that is likely to undermine U.S. credibility on this redline. In addition, Trump’s own attempt to walk back his administration’s hawkish stance toward Iran in late April and early May with respect to the deployment of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf has likely confused the Iranians. Offers to restart negotiations on a more limited slate of issues than U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “12 demands”—a list he laid out in May 2018 for Iran to fulfill, including elimination of its nuclear fuel cycle, severe restrictions on its missile program, and the end of its relationships with Hezbollah and other proxies—probably have done likewise. It certainly has led Iran to try to convince Trump that he is being manipulated into conflict via the “B team,” a term Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has used to describe those he says are war advocates, including Bolton, Emirati Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayad, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even in the likely event that this ploy fails, the dynamic means that Iran is unsure as to where the president stands in all of this. In such an atmosphere of confusion and ambiguity, dangerous mistakes can be made by both sides.

Fewer Peaceful Options

Of course, Trump administration officials and their advocates may stress that no one has mentioned the word “force” in any official capacity and that this is a conclusion being inappropriately drawn. Yet, the third problem with the redline approach being articulated is that Trump administration actions have reduced the scope of nonmilitary responses. Most options short of war have already been expended by this administration and arguably are why this predicament exists in the first place. This includes walking out of the JCPOA and reimposing and expanding sanctions.

Some additional sanctions could be imposed against Iran. Recent actions, such as designations of Iranian petrochemical companies and sectoral sanctions targeting other activities, such as Iran’s metal sector, may help U.S. sanctioners build momentum against Iran. Their value as a deterrent to Iran increasing its nuclear activities, however, is limited because the administration is already aggressively seeking to eliminate Iranian oil exports and has implemented widespread financial sanctions, which are far more damaging measures. If history is a guide, more pressure will likely cause Iran to accelerate its program if there is no realistic diplomatic off-ramp. At this point, Iran’s apparent calculus is that there is little more that Washington can do to punish Tehran from pushing back against the United States by rolling back its JCPOA commitments, at least in part and in stages. Iran sees very little difference between the sanctions pressure Washington is applying now and what more it could generate if Iran builds up its nuclear program. Without this perception, Iran would not have broken a year’s worth of restraint to act now.

The absence of specific and discrete response options for enforcing the redline runs the risk of creating a hollow commitment on the part of the United States. As the United States has learned to its chagrin in recent years, unenforced redlines carry risks and consequences. In this case, it would make it more difficult for the United States to deter Iranian nuclear threats that really do matter in the future. The United States would be ill advised to issue such pronouncements and fail to make good on the promises inherent within them. This is why setting appropriate, sober, and well-considered redlines, if redlines are set at all, is so imperative.

A Bigger Risk Ignored

Finally, although what Iran is doing to retaliate for the U.S. pressure campaign may ultimately create some breakout risk, a redline focused on protecting a one-year breakout timeline focuses on the wrong part of the problem. Iran’s most plausible and likely weapons development scenario would involve a covert program rather than relying exclusively on its known facilities and materials. Iran knows that IAEA oversight, enhanced by the JCPOA, enables rapid detection of any major steps toward breakout. Even if Iran is able to erode breakout time to the two-to-three-month range that predates the JCPOA, this is still sufficient time for the United States to detect and respond militarily, and Iran knows it.

For these reasons, the most important step the United States can take to prevent moves toward a nuclear weapon using the very facilities and materials about which Bolton is now concerned would be to ensure the transparency and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program that the JCPOA provides. These same transparency and monitoring tools that help detect a breakout can give confidence that Iran is not presently in possession of covert facilities and that they would be detected long before they can deliver a nuclear weapon.

A Better Approach

The United States does need to demonstrate its readiness to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. For this reason, showing a willingness to use all the means of U.S. power, including diplomacy, to prevent such an eventuality is reasonable and prudent. Indeed, diplomacy is the only means that the United States has employed in the last two decades that has proven capable of limiting Iran’s nuclear program to a significant degree and for a sustained period of time.

Trump has repeatedly said that he wants a better deal than the JCPOA. It is an ambition that people across the political spectrum can endorse, but it seems unlikely that a significantly better deal is available in the current climate. A better deal will not come from issuing ill-founded redlines that increase the risk of miscalculation while targeting the wrong threats. Rather, the Trump administration should invest itself in developing a realistic negotiating agenda and getting back to the table with Iran to avoid this crisis while it still can.
 


Eric Brewer is a fellow and deputy director of the Project on Nuclear Issues with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He served a decade in the U.S. intelligence community, including as deputy national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction with the National Intelligence Council. Richard Nephew is a senior research scholar with the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. He has held positions at the Department of Energy and Department of State and on the National Security Council.

The Trump administration’s apparent redline with Iran is unnecessary, unwise, and dangerous.

Iran Moves Toward Breaching Nuclear Limits


July/August 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran is moving closer to the limits on its nuclear program set by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal after threatening in May to breach certain caps, but Tehran has not yet crossed those thresholds. The United States, however, has already accused Iran of violating the accord, an assertion disputed by other parties to the agreement.

Iranian workers smile at the nation’s newly opened heavy water production plant in Arak in 2006. Iran has moved closer to storing more heavy water than allowed by the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)Iran announced on May 8 that it would no longer adhere to stockpile limits for low-enriched uranium and heavy water set by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The announcement was a response to the U.S. decision in May 2018 to reimpose sanctions and withdraw from the agreement. (See ACT, June 2019.)

According to a May 31 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran moved closer to the caps on enriched uranium and heavy water set by the deal, but did not exceed them.

The agency reported that as of May 20, Iran had stockpiled 174 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235, which is less than the 202 kilograms permitted by the JCPOA. In its previous report in February, the IAEA reported that the stockpile was 168 kilograms.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said on June 17 that Iran was quadrupling its uranium-enrichment capacity and would breach the limit set by the deal within 10 days.

Exceeding the limit of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent U-235 would reduce the so-called breakout time, or the time it takes Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a weapon, but it does not pose an immediate risk. Currently, due to restrictions put in place by the nuclear deal, the United States estimates that timeline at 12 months.

Any reduction in the 12-month timeline will depend on how quickly Iran continues to enrich and stockpile uranium. Tehran would need to produce about 1,050 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 3.67 percent U-235 to produce enough weapons-grade material (more than 90 percent-enriched U-235) for one bomb.

Kamalvandi also said that Iran was increasing its production of heavy water and would exceed the JCPOA’s 130-metric-ton cap in two-and-a-half months. According to the IAEA, Iran had 125 metric tons as of May 26.

Heavy water is used to moderate the reactions that occur in certain types of reactors, including Iran’s unfinished reactor at Arak.

The IAEA also reported that Iran had installed 33 advanced IR-6 centrifuges, of which 10 are being tested with uranium, at its Natanz plant. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in April that Iran would install 20 additional IR-6 machines at the facility.

Past IAEA reports have not indicated the specific number of IR-6 centrifuges installed at the facility, but stated that Iran was conducting its research and development (R&D) activities using advanced centrifuges in accordance with a confidential plan submitted to the agency.

That language did not appear in the May report, which stated that technical discussions on the IR-6 centrifuges are “ongoing.”

Citing the number of installed IR-6 centrifuges, Jackie Wolcott, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said on June 11 that Iran “is now reported to be in clear violation of the deal.” Other countries still party to the agreement argue that Iran’s actions fall into a gray area not explicitly covered by the accord.

According to the JCPOA, Iran is permitted to conduct mechanical testing on up to two IR-6 centrifuges and can test with uranium using “single centrifuge machines and its intermediate cascades.” Iran cannot withdraw any enriched material from the centrifuges.

The deal does not specify what constitutes an intermediate cascade, but states that, after eight-and-a-half years, or beginning in July 2024, Iran can “commence testing” of up to 30 IR-6 centrifuges.

Additional detail is likely found in the confidential R&D plan that Iran submitted to the IAEA. Alleged copies of the plan leaked in 2016 suggest that Iran can test about 10 IR-6 centrifuges for the first four years of the deal and then move to a cascade of 20 machines until year eight and a half, when it is permitted to test up to 30.

It does not appear to be clear in either the nuclear deal or leaked copies of the R&D plan how far ahead of those time frames Iran is permitted to install the additional IR-6 machines.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 6 that inspectors have not found “a single violation” of Iran’s nuclear commitments.

An official from a country party to the JCPOA told Arms Control Today on June 13 that Tehran is “pushing the limits” of the deal but the IR-6 installation is not likely a violation. The official said that it is for the JCPOA Joint Commission to “resolve any ambiguities or compliance questions” and it is premature for states to make judgments on the IR-6 dispute before the commission can consider the issue.

The commission was set up to oversee implementation of the deal and resolve any compliance issues. It is comprised of the parties to the deal, so the United States is no longer a participant. The next commission meeting is scheduled for June 28.

Wolcott said the commission is “treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves.”

 

Iran Rejects Trump Outreach

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rebuffed a message from U.S. President Donald Trump in June, saying he would not send a response because Trump is not “deserving to exchange messages with.”

Trump’s message was delivered to Khamenei by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Tehran on June 12-13. The content of the message has not been disclosed, but Khamenei told Abe that Iran believes that its “problems will not be solved by negotiating” with the United States and that there is no sense in talking with Washington after the United States has “thrown away everything that was agreed upon,” referring to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal in
May 2018.

During a May 27 visit to Tokyo, Trump supported Abe’s decision to travel to Tehran and said he is “not looking to hurt Iran at all” and that he thinks “we’ll make a deal.”

On June 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is “prepared to engage in a conversation [with Iran] with no preconditions.”

Since then, tensions between the United States and Iran have increased. The United States accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. Iran denied that it was behind the attack, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif suggested that a foreign country might have conducted the attack and is trying to blame Iran.

Iranian officials did publicly acknowledge shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone on June 20. Iran claimed that the drone was shot down in Iranian airspace, but the United States argued that the drone was in international airspace.

Trump sent mixed messages in response to Iran shooting down the drone. He tweeted on June 20 that “Iran made a very big mistake!” Later in the day, Trump said that he found it “hard to believe” that Iran’s action was intentional. The Trump administration discussed a possible retaliatory strike, but Trump said on June 21 that he did not give final approval for military action.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also visited Tehran recently. In a June 9 press conference with Zarif, Maas said that Germany remains committed to finding solutions that provide Iran with the economic benefits envisioned by the nuclear deal, but admitted that “we can’t perform miracles.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in May that Iran will return to compliance with the nuclear deal and refrain from further actions to breach the accord, currently planned for early July, if Europe, Russia, and China can facilitate oil and banking transactions.

Maas’s delegation included representatives from INSTEX, the mechanism set up by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to bypass U.S. sanctions and facilitate trade with Iran. INSTEX has yet to conduct a transaction, but a statement from the three countries after the visit said they are working to complete the first transaction “as quickly as possible.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran is increasing its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water, nearing the limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

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