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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Nuclear Nonproliferation

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, May 24

Iran's Election and the Nuclear Deal Incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won reelection on May 19, securing a second four-year term. Rouhani took 57 percent of the vote, defeating conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi without a runoff. Two other candidates remained on the ballot on election day, but neither was expected to win. In his victory speech Rouhani did not mention the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated between Iran and six world powers, but said Iran is “ready to develop its relations with the world based on mutual respect and...

Sanctions Waivers Show U.S. Support for Iran Nuclear Deal

The Trump administration's decision to issue sanctions waivers today, as required by the nuclear deal with Iran, is a welcome and necessary step to ensure that the United States meets its commitments under the agreement. Given that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified to Congress in April that Iran is complying with its commitments under the deal, it is only logical for Washington to continue to waive sanctions. As the Trump administration continues its Iran policy review, it is critical to remember that implementing the nuclear deal blocks Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons and puts in...

New Leadership, Opportunities on the Korean Peninsula

The election of Mr. Moon Jae-in as South Korea’s next president could lead to an important and helpful shift in the international community’s approach to halting and reversing North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile programs. If Moon stays true to the policies outlined in his campaign , South Korea’s approach to North Korea will likely shift from “pressure only” to “pressure with pragmatic engagement.” This could improve the chances for lowering of tensions with North Korea and the resumption of talks designed to verifiably halt and then, later, reverse North Korea’s nuclear...

U.S. Support for the CTBTO Enhances U.S. and Global Security

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According to the FY2018 budget outline, the Trump administration will seek funding cuts in the U.S. contribution for the CTBTO, the intergovernmental organization responsible for the global nuclear test monitoring system designed to detect and deter clandestine nuclear explosions.

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Volume 9, Issue 2, May 2017

At a time when it is more important than ever to reinforce the global norm against nuclear test explosions and to maintain global capabilities to detect nuclear weapons testing by other countries, the Donald Trump administration is proposing severe budget cutbacks at the State Department, including U.S. contributions to key international organizations.
 
According to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget outline released by the Trump administration in February, his administration “seeks to reduce or end direct funding for international organizations whose missions do not substantially advance U.S. foreign policy interests, are duplicative, or are not well-managed.” No further detail or explanation was provided.
 
The Trump administration is expected to release its full budget request the week of May 22.
 
These funding cuts could include a reduction in the U.S. contribution for the intergovernmental organization responsible for the global nuclear test monitoring system designed to detect and deter clandestine nuclear explosions, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
 
Such funding cuts would run counter to the value placed on this contribution by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who joined with his G7 foreign ministerial counterparts to extoll the value of the CTBTO in their April 11 Joint Communique on nonproliferation and disarmament. They said in part:

We believe that all States should maintain all existing voluntary moratoria on nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosion, and those States that have not instituted such moratoria should do so.
 
The verification regime being established by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, in particular the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre, has proven its effectiveness by providing substantive and reliable data on the nuclear tests conducted by North Korea. We strongly encourage all interested States to complete the IMS as a matter of priority.

The statement also recalls UN Security Council Resolution 2310 (passed September 23, 2016) —which calls on all states to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), refrain from nuclear testing, and provide support for the CTBTO. The resolution also notes the contribution of the CTBT to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

Past U.S. Support and Results

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other diplomats vote to adopt the resolution in support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty during a UN Security Council meeting September 23. (Photo credit: Astrid Riecken/CTBTO) The final omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2017 fully funds the Obama administration’s final budget request of $32 million for the U.S. contribution to the CTBT International Monitoring System (IMS) and CTBTO. This is in line with the United States’ longstanding support for the CTBT, which was formally established in 1997.
 
The CTBTO was established with the support of the United States and the other 182 signatories of the CTBT to build, operate, and maintain a robust IMS and International Data Center to detect and deter nuclear weapon test explosions, which are banned by the treaty.
 
Today the IMS is more than 90% complete and is collecting and analyzing information on a continuous 24/7 basis for the purpose of detecting and deterring clandestine nuclear test explosions and to provide the technical basis for international responses to noncompliance.
 
The CTBTO provides additional nuclear test detection capabilities beyond U.S. national means of intelligence and is a neutral source of information that can mobilize international action against any state that violates the global norm against nuclear testing.
 
The total annual budget of the CTBTO was about  $128 million for 2016. The United States provides 22.47% of the CTBTO’s funding. Over the years, the United States has also made voluntary, in-kind contributions including for the operation and maintenance costs of all IMS facilities in the United States and support to the software development for the International Data Center, which analyzes the global monitoring data for nuclear testing activity. These in-kind contributions are valued at more than $5 million USD in 2015 and $9 million in 2016.
 
Although United States signed the CTBT in 1996 and has not conducted a nuclear test explosion in 25 years, the United States is one of eight remaining states that must ratify the treaty in order to allow for its formal entry into force.

The Illogic of the Treaty’s Critics

Unfortunately, a small but influential group of Republican lawmakers are seeking to cut U.S. funding for the CTBTO and undermine international support for the CTBT and the global nuclear test moratorium.
 
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced legislation on Feb.7 to “restrict” funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
 
The Cotton and Wilson bill  purports not to restrict U.S. funding specifically for the IMS, but in practice any significant reduction in U.S. technical and financial support for the CTBTO would:

  • adversely impact the organization’s ability to operate and maintain existing nuclear test monitoring stations. This is due to the fact that a wide range of organization’s personnel and assets directly or indirectly support the IMS. This includes staff time and technical support for the International Data Centre in Vienna, which processes information provided by IMS operations; and
  • prompt other states to restrict their funding for the CTBTO or possibly withhold data from CTBTO monitoring stations that are based in their territory, thus undermining the capabilities of the system to detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

The bill also seeks to undermine the U.S. obligation—as a signatory to the CTBT—not to conduct nuclear test explosions. It calls on Congress to declare that the September 15, 2016 UN Security Council resolution does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the CTBT, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1996.
 
Contrary to what the Cotton/Wilson bill implies, Resolution 2310 (which was endorsed by 42 states including Israel) does not impose any new obligations on the United States. Rather, UNSC 2310:

  • encourages states to “provide the support required” to the CTBTO and the IMS, and urges states to refrain from nuclear testing and urges those states that have not ratified to do so; and
  • also takes note of the September 15 joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members that formally “recognized” that a nuclear explosion would “defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” 

So long as the United States remains a signatory of the CTBT, it is legally obliged not to take actions that would defeat its object and purpose. In other words, like all other 183 signatories, it shall not conduct a nuclear test explosion.
 
However, if Congress were to adopt the Cotton-Wilson bill asserting that the United States is not required to respect our obligations as a CTBT signatory not to test, it would signal to other states that that the United States is seeking to back out of its commitment to a global and verifiable nuclear test ban and is considering the resumption of nuclear weapons testing.
 
That’s not a smart move. With North Korea threatening to conduct a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not undermine, the global nuclear testing taboo
 
Backing off our historically strong commitment to ending nuclear testing at this time could trigger a dangerous chain reaction by other nuclear-armed states and would run afoul of key U.S. allies who strongly oppose nuclear testing and who support the CTBT. Continuing to fund the U.S. contribution to detect and deter nuclear weapons testing enhances national and international security.

—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

Posted: May 8, 2017

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, May 5

Joint Commission Meets to Review Iran Deal The Joint Commission set up by Iran and the P5+1 to review implementation of the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) met April 25 in Vienna. This was the first regularly scheduled quarterly meeting of the group since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. The meeting provided the opportunity to discuss progress on the Arak reactor modernization project, civil nuclear cooperation developments, and sanctions relief, according to the chair’s statement released after the discussion. The statement also said that “...

Nuclear Mad Men

Less than 100 days into the administration of President Donald Trump, the war of words and nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea has escalated, and a peaceful resolution to the slow-moving crisis is more difficult than ever to achieve.

May 2017
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Less than 100 days into the administration of President Donald Trump, the war of words and nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea has escalated, and a peaceful resolution to the slow-moving crisis is more difficult than ever to achieve.

This undated picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on March 7, 2017 shows the launch of four ballistic missiles by the Korean People's Army (KPA) during a military drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)On Jan. 1, North Korea’s authoritarian ruler Kim Jong Un vowed to “continue to build up” his country’s nuclear forces “as long as the United States and its vassal forces keep on [sic] nuclear threat and blackmail.” Kim also warned that North Korea was making preparations to flight-test a prototype intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Two days later, Trump could not resist laying down a “red line” on Twitter, saying, “It won’t happen.”

North Korea has not yet tested an ICBM, but it has restarted its plutonium reactor and appears to be ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test explosion. Unless there is a deal to halt and reverse those efforts, Pyongyang’s nuclear strike capabilities will become more reliable with a longer range and less vulnerable to attack.

Last month, Trump and his team announced a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” to try to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and its ballistic missile program. However, as Vice President Mike Pence told CNN on April 19, the United States is not seeking to negotiate with North Korea “at this time.”

Better enforcement of existing UN sanctions designed to hinder North Korea’s weapons procurement, financing, and key sources of foreign trade is very important. Such measures can help increase the leverage necessary for a diplomatic solution. But it is naive to think China will help apply maximum pressure without a serious opening for talks between Washington and Pyongyang or that pressure alone can force North Korea to change course.

Worse still, Trump has begun to issue ultimatums to China and threats of overwhelming military force against North Korea. On April 3, Trump told The Financial Times that “if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” As North Korea paraded its ballistic missile arsenal, including canisters for new ICBM variants, last month, senior U.S. officials warned that “[a]ll options are on the table.”

Such language implies that U.S. strategic forces, including nuclear weapons, could be employed to counter North Korean aggression or possibly to launch a pre-emptive attack on its nuclear facilities and missiles if North Korea tries to conduct an ICBM test. Just as the North Korean nuclear problem cannot be outsourced to China, the United States cannot eliminate the North Korean threat through military means.

Pyongyang has responded to the U.S. statements with its own, even more bellicose rhetoric. Following press reports that a U.S. carrier strike group was being sent toward the Korean peninsula, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations warned on April 17 that “a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment” and that his country is “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the United States.”

Attempts by Washington to demonstrate its resolve to use military force to defend allies against aggression may assure nervous leaders in Seoul and Tokyo, but they will not compel Kim to shift course. In fact, repeated threats of U.S. military force only give credibility to the North Korean propaganda line that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter U.S. aggression, and it may lead Kim to try to accelerate his nuclear program.

That should not come as a surprise. Since the beginning of the nuclear age, U.S. “atomic diplomacy” has consistently failed to achieve results. As Jeffrey Kimball and Bill Burr document in their 2015 book, Nixon’s Nuclear Specter, the historical record shows that U.S. nuclear threats during the Korean War and later against China and the Soviet Union, as well as Nixon’s “madman” strategy against North Vietnam, failed to bend adversaries to U.S. goals.

The comprehensive new study Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy by Todd Sechser and Matthew Furman provides further confirmation that nuclear coercion is difficult to achieve. Furthermore, as the taboo against nuclear use has become stronger, most leaders come to recognize that the role of nuclear weapons must be limited to deterring first use by others.

Similarly, with respect to North Korea, the threat of pre-emptive U.S. military action is not credible, in large part because the risks are extremely high. North Korea has the capacity to devastate the metropolis of Seoul, with its 10 million inhabitants, by launching a massive artillery barrage and hundreds of conventionally armed, short-range ballistic missiles. Moreover, if hostilities begin, there is the prospect that North Korea could use some of its remaining nuclear weapons, which could kill millions in South Korea and Japan.

Trump and his advisers need to curb the impulse to threaten military action, which may increase the risk of catastrophic miscalculation. A saner and more effective approach is to work with China to tighten the sanctions pressure and simultaneously open a new diplomatic channel designed to defuse tensions and to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile programs.

Posted: April 25, 2017

The North, the South, and U.S. Nukes

With the South Korean election just weeks away, Pyongyangs’s recent provocations are making it clear that the new president will need to quickly develop a strategy to address the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear program. The May 9 election will likely take place amid rapidly escalating tensions, as U.S. President Donald Trump exchanges inflammatory, bellicose comments with the regime of Kim Jong-un. In this environment, South Korea stands to embark on a sensitive recalibration of its policy toward North Korea. While the Trump administration is in the process of finalizing its own North...

Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance

April 2017

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: January 2017

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 more than 1,500 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 260 total warheads. 

France

  • About 300 total warheads. 

Russia

  • April 2017 New START declaration: 1,765 strategic warheads deployed on 523 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers.(Note: In March 2016, the U.S. State Department issued the latest fact sheet on its data exchange with Russia under New START, sharing the numbers of deployed nuclear warheads and New START-accountable delivery systems held by each country.)
  • The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates: roughly 2,700 non-deployed strategic and deployed and non-deployed tactical warheads. And 2,510 additional warheads awaiting dismantlement.

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 215 warheads.

United States:

  • April 2017 New START declaration: 1,411 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 673 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers.
  • FAS estimates approximately 2,300 non-deployed strategic warheads and roughly 500 deployed and non-deployed tactical warheads.
  • In a January 2017 speech, Vice President Joe Biden announced that as of September 30, 2016, the United States possessed 4,018 active and inactive nuclear warheads. (Note: This number does not include warheads awaiting dismantlement.)
  • Biden also announced in January 2017 that approximately 2,800 warheads are retired and await dismantlement.

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 100-120 nuclear warheads.
IsraelAn estimated 80 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200.
PakistanBetween 110-130 nuclear warheads.


States of Immediate Proliferation Concern:

Prior to the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran pursued an 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. In contrast, North Korea has the material to produce a small number of nuclear weapons, announced its withdrawal from the NPT, and tested nuclear devices. Uncertainty persists about how many additional nuclear devices North Korea has assembled beyond those it has tested. In September 2005, Pyongyang “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.”

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 to have enough plutonium for approximately 10 plutonium based warheads as of late 2016.
  • 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 activity at North Korea's reprocessing facililty in 2016, indicating that Pyongyang has likely separated plutonium from the reactor's spent fuel. 
  • Unveiled a centrifuge facility in 2010, but unclear if Pyongyang is using the facility to produce highly-enriched uranium for weapons.
  • Experts estimate that if North Korea is producing highly-enriched uranium, it could have the material for an additional 4-8 uranium based warheads as of 2015, bringing the total to 14-18 warheads. 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, and U.S. Department of State.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Subject Resources:

Posted: April 7, 2017

Would More Sanctions Sway North Korea?

Better enforcement of sanctions could curb Pyongyang’s access to the materials and technologies necessary for advancing its nuclear and missile programs.

April 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

The United States is considering broader sanctions on North Korea, although it is unclear how effective the additional measures will be in curbing Pyongyang’s expanding nuclear and ballistic missile programs and in pushing North Korea to negotiate restrictions on these programs.

Absent a broader strategy, clear objectives, and consistent implementation, additional sanctions are unlikely to change North Korea’s behavior. Focusing on implementation of existing measures, however, could help disrupt the illicit networks Pyongyang uses to circumvent sanctions and import and export restricted goods.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Sohae Satellite Launching Station for a test of a new high-thrust rocket engine in a photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on March 19. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)The accelerating pace of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs is bringing renewed urgency to efforts to pressure Pyongyang to return to denuclearization negotiations before it tests a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile, which President Donald Trump indicated in a January tweet would cross what he considers a red line. “It won’t happen,” he declared in the three-word tweet, and he has met several times since then with his national security team to develop a new strategy on North Korea.

Trump has yet to provide details on his administration’s overall North Korea strategy or the role that sanctions will play in achieving his objectives. If Trump chooses to pursue talks, his administration has various options, such as seeking an interim agreement designed to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs until a more comprehensive agreement is reached or negotiating a denuclearization agreement at the outset. Absent a clear objective for the sanctions regime, it will be difficult to assess the value of additional restrictions, although there is some value in imposing sanctions to demonstrate to Pyongyang that there is a cost to flouting its international obligations.

Pyongyang is already subject to UN sanctions for its continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of UN Security Council prohibitions, including Resolutions 2270 and 2321, passed in 2016 in response to North Korean nuclear tests. Some countries, including the United States, have imposed their own sanctions on Pyongyang for these activities.

The Trump administration and Congress are considering additional sanctions in response to recent North Korean provocations such as its missile launches on Feb. 12 and March 6. (See ACT, March 2017.) A senior U.S. official was quoted by Reuters on March 21 saying that the administration is considering “broad sanctions” against North Korea that may include measures to increase pressure on Chinese banks and firms that do business with Pyongyang.

This is consistent with recent comments from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson said in his confirmation hearings in January that he supported additional sanctions to fill gaps in the existing sanctions regime on North Korea. During a March 17 press conference in Seoul, he told reporters that “all options are on the table” for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear activities, ranging from sanctions to pre-emptive military action.

Members of Congress are also calling for additional restrictions. In a Feb. 14 letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called for the United States to take actions that, if enforced, “could more effectively cut off North Korea’s access to the hard currency it uses to finance its illicit nuclear program.” The suggested actions include investigating whether North Korea “merits re-designation as a state sponsor of terrorism,” enforcing penalties against banks that provide correspondent services to North Korean banks, denying North Korean banks access to financial messaging services, investigating Chinese banks that conduct transactions with North Korea for violations of U.S. law, and freezing assets of any Chinese entity with assets in the United States that is importing coal from North Korea. Four other Republicans signed the letter.

Limited Benefit

Pursuing additional sanctions may not be the best tactic for influencing North Korean behavior, particularly given the poor enforcement of existing measures. Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said on March 21 at the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference that “sanctions are highly unlikely to work” and noted that, despite an uptick in restrictions on Pyongyang, North Korea’s economy is improving under Kim Jong Un.

Andrea Berger, a senior program manager at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said at the same event that assessing the sanctions’ effectiveness depends on their objectives. She said sanctions have not been very effective in encouraging North Korea to resume negotiations on its nuclear program, but noted that there are critical subsidiary objectives for sanctions, such as preventing North Korea from accessing technologies for its programs and stemming North Korea’s illicit trade networks.

The Obama administration’s approach to North Korea put a return to negotiations on denuclearization as the objective of the sanctions regime. The policy, known as strategic patience, included increasing pressure on Pyongyang through sanctions, while stating a willingness to resume negotiations after North Korea takes steps toward denuclearization.

One expert on North Korea sanctions, who formerly served on a Security Council panel of experts in charge of assessing implementation of UN sanctions, criticized the Obama administration’s approach. In a March 21 email, he said that, without “buy-in on enforcing sanctions” from the international community and “an offer of carrots” for Pyongyang, sanctions alone were unlikely to influence North Korean behavior.

The expert, who asked not to be named because he holds a position in government, said he is not optimistic that sanctions would work any better for a Trump administration, particularly prior to developing a strategy toward North Korea. He said that “sanctions are tool, and tools work best if you know what you’re trying to build” and Trump does not have a clear plan.

Enhancing Enforcement

Although there may be limits to the effectiveness of additional sanctions, focusing on enforcement of existing measures could curb Pyongyang’s access to the materials and technologies necessary for advancing its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea has developed a range of domestic capabilities for producing sensitive dual-use technologies, but it still relies on imports of certain technologies for its rockets. Analysis of debris recovered by South Korea from the rocket used by North Korea to launch a satellite in February 2016 shows that Pyongyang is using certain components sourced to foreign countries, including pressure transmitters manufactured in the United Kingdom.

Berger also described the current sanctions regime as “a sieve” and said that the focus should be on building capacity to enforce existing measures, such as ensuring that countries have the domestic legal frameworks for implementing UN measures.

China is frequently cited for poor enforcement of UN sanctions on North Korea. China accounts for about 80 percent of North Korea’s trade and has tended to resist moves in the Security Council to increase sanctions, in part reflecting its long-standing concerns about triggering instability and a humanitarian crisis in the neighboring country.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se during a press conference on March 17 in Seoul. (Photo credit: Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)Beijing has complied recently with caps set by UN Security Council sanctions on imports of North Korean coal, Pyongyang’s largest export item. China said in February that it was suspending all imports of coal from North Korea for the rest of the year.

But the former panel member said that it is too early to say if Beijing’s compliance is “merely cosmetic or signals a shift” in sanctions enforcement. He noted although coal imports from North Korea were cut, China continued its imports of certain metals in early 2017. Security Council Resolution 2321, passed in September 2016, bans countries from importing copper, nickel, silver, and zinc from North Korea. In assessing China’s performance, he said, the “real test is time.”

China is not the only country that can take steps to enhance enforcement of UN sanctions. Only 76 states reported to the Security Council on their implementation of the March 2016 sanctions resolution on North Korea. That is an increase in reporting since the prior resolution, but a majority of states fail to provide information about efforts to implement UN restrictions.

The most recent report from the panel of experts that assesses implementation of UN sanctions for the Security Council recommended steps to improve global compliance. One was that countries “rigorously implement the now legally binding ‘catch-all’ provision for items which could contribute to the country’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes.”

Another former member of the panel of experts, George A. Lopez, wrote in a March 13 column for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that the February report’s recommendations “go beyond the weak, oft-heard call that nations must increase their vigilance in enforcing sanctions.”

Lopez noted that the report recommends that states “clarify their methods of implementing sanctions where trade in minerals is concerned; share more information regarding cases of sanctions evasion; and regularly update their lists of companies and ships that adopt aliases to avoid identification as they pursue illicit activities.”

South Korea Gets Missile Defense System

A U.S.-supplied missile defense battery for South Korea is scheduled to become operational as soon as this month, amid growing tensions with North Korea, opposition from China, and mixed signals about how a new government in Seoul will view the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. 

The arrival of the THAAD components in early March occurred over the objections of China, which describes the deployment as a provocative move. Beijing’s concern, in part, is that the system’s powerful radar would enable the United States to quickly detect and track Chinese missile launches. The United States denies that THAAD deployments to South Korea and Japan pose a threat to the security of China, which has shown its displeasure by curtailing some business and tourism ties with South Korea.

The THAAD system is intended to provide a limited defense for South Korea from North Korean ballistic missile attacks. That threat was highlighted by Pyongyang’s missile tests during March as the United States and South Korea conducted joint military exercises in which about 3,600 U.S. service members were deployed to join the 28,000 U.S. troops already based in South Korea. 

With South Korea due to hold presidential elections May 9, frontrunner Moon Jae-in has sought to smooth relations with China and signaled that if he wins, his government would review the deployment. A negative decision by the liberal Korean politician would mark a rift with the United States, which is committed to defending South Korea under a mutual defense treaty. 

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is trying to formulate a new North Korea policy that would end years of diplomatic stalemate while the country had advanced its missile and nuclear weapons capabilities in defiance of UN Security Council prohibitions. The issue has become more urgent as leader Kim Jong Un has increased his country’s production of nuclear weapons and is seeking the capability to extend his threats to the continental United States with a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile. 

The Trump administration has abandoned the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience,” which envisioned out-waiting Pyongyang while ratcheting up pressure on North Korea through sanctions and covert actions, without a decision on what will take its place.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said March 17 in Seoul, during a trip that included consultation in Tokyo and Beijing. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures. All options are on the table. North Korea must understand that the only path to a secure, economically prosperous future is to abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction.”

North Korea gave no indication that it is impressed by such talk, firing back with threats of its own and a publicized test of a new, high-powered rocket engine under the watchful eye of Kim himself. The test on March 18 coincided with Tillerson’s talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing, timing that amounted to a rebuff of the pressures from the United States and China, its main economic lifeline and ally.

Kim’s actions raise the stakes for the meeting tentatively planned for early April between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Trump has criticized China repeatedly for not doing enough to pressure Kim to return to negotiations on denuclearization. 

Standing alongside Tillerson in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reflected his government’s concerns about the Trump administration when he urged the United States to be “cool headed” in order to “arrive at a wise decision.”

Posted: March 31, 2017

IAEA Provides More Detail on Iran

Report covers low-enriched uranium stockpile and testing of a new centrifuge.

April 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provided greater detail about Iran’s nuclear activities in its most recent report, drawing praise from the United States and criticism from Iran.

The IAEA is tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities under the July 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and reporting quarterly to the agency’s Board of Governors. The agency issued its most recent report on Feb. 24 ahead of the March 6-10 quarterly board meeting.

Officials gathered for the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting March 6 in Vienna. (Photo credit: Dean Calma/IAEA)For the first time since the agreement was fully implemented in January 2016, the IAEA reported on the size of Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent. The IAEA said Iran had 101.7 kilograms in several different forms. Under the deal, Iran can keep up to 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent, a level suitable for fueling nuclear power reactors but far below the enrichment level necessary to fuel a nuclear weapon.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said that the report provides more information on Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium because of “clarifications” agreed by the Joint Commission. The commission, comprised of representatives from the P5+1 countries, Iran, and the European Union, oversees implementation of the deal and resolves technical and compliance issues.

In December 2016 and January 2017, the commission publicly released decisions it had made over the past year. The January document included an agreement on how to account for enriched uranium that remained in process lines at a plant used by Iran to convert uranium gas into powder. According to the document, Iran could take certain steps under IAEA verification to render the material “unrecoverable,” so it does not count against the 300 kilogram stockpile limit.

Andrew Schofer, a senior official at the U.S. Mission to the International Organizations in Vienna, said in a statement during the IAEA board meeting that the United States welcomes the “inclusion of the additional level of detail, and expects it will continue in the future.” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, disagreed and requested that the IAEA produce future reports that are “as concise as possible.” He said that Tehran opposes the “inclusion of confidential safeguard information under the pretext of transparency.”

The report also noted that Iran’s stockpile of heavy water was 124 metric tons, less than the limit of 130 metric tons established by the deal. Iran is permitted to produce heavy water, which is used to moderate certain types of reactors such as the IR-40 reactor Iran is constructing at Arak, and can sell any excess material on the open market. The quantity is capped based on an assessment of Iran’s needs.

The previous IAEA report, issued in November 2016, said that Iran slightly exceeded the limit and possessed 130.1 metric tons. The Feb. 24 report said that the IAEA verified that 11 metric tons were shipped out of Iran on Nov. 19. The agency verified Dec. 6 that all of the heavy water reached its destination and is in storage in another country.

Najafi contested the necessity of this step during the board meeting and said that nothing requires Iran to ship out heavy water in excess of 130 metric tons if Tehran has not found a buyer. Schofer responded by saying that the deal clearly states that Iran cannot accumulate heavy water in excess of 130 metric tons.

The IAEA report also said that Iran began feeding natural uranium gas into a single IR-8 centrifuge Jan. 21. The IAEA said in its report that this activity is within the limits defined by the deal, which allows testing on a single IR-8 machine in a way that precludes Iran from withdrawing enriched or depleted uranium and under agency monitoring.

Iran is only permitted to produce uranium enriched to 3.67 percent using 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at its Natanz facility. The IAEA report said that Iran is abiding by that restriction. Iran’s state-owned Press TV cited a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran on Feb. 14 saying that the new domestically manufactured IR-8 centrifuge is 20 times more productive than the IR-1. Iran anticipates mass producing IR-8s as international restrictions are eased starting eight years after the implementation of the nuclear deal, said spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi.

The Feb. 24 IAEA report said that Iran continues to allow inspectors access to nuclear facilities and sites in Iran, but did not specify if any of the locations inspected are facilities other than Tehran’s declared nuclear sites. 

Posted: March 31, 2017

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