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former IAEA Director-General

Arms Control Today

December 2018 Books of Note

Hacking the Bomb: Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons
Andrew Futter, Georgetown University Press, 2018, 212 pages

Red Cross Interventions in Weapons Control
Ritu Mathur, Lexington Books, October 2017, 190 pages

 

Hacking the Bomb: Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons
Andrew Futter, Georgetown University Press,
2018, 212 pages
 

Andrew Futter, an associate professor at the University of Leicester’s School of History, Politics, and International Relations, provides a new perspective on the challenges raised by the cyber-nuclear nexus and aims to address the implications that result from emerging cyberthreats as they relate to nuclear weapons. Futter makes two main points. First, the emerging cyber age and advancing capabilities requires a shift in thinking about, managing, and controlling nuclear weapons. Second, he maintains that if parties begin to establish a norm of hacking nuclear weapons, the consequences would be fraught with danger. Futter spends much of the book supplementing these two arguments with further context, and he works methodically to showcase the unique nature of the cyber-nuclear challenge, what those challenges and attacks could be, and how this affects current strategy. His conclusion briefly touches on recommendations that include possibly working with other nations to increase cybersecurity. Most importantly, Futter closes by focusing on three main principles to prepare for the cyber-nuclear future: systems must be simple, secure, and separate.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

 


 

Red Cross Interventions in Weapons Control
Ritu Mathur, Lexington Books, October 2017, 190 pages

Ritu Mathur, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, details the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the control and elimination of weapons. The ICRC has contributed substantially to this field, in part due to its privileged access to diplomatic negotiations, Mathur contends. Recent ICRC interventions into debates about weapons disarmament, including its outspoken support for weapons prohibition treaties, has been criticized by some who contend that the organization should remain nonpolitical. Yet, Mathur’s account shows the ICRC has acted consistently and wielded its influence in three primary modes: “testimonialization,” medicalization, and legalization. Testimonialization refers to the ICRC practice of representing itself as bearing witness to victim testimony with the express purpose of motivating states to ban and eliminate a particular weapon. In examining medicalization, Mathur details the ICRC’s shift to using evidence of the medical impact of certain weapons to advocate for disarmament. Finally, Mathur outlines legalization, using relevant law to pursue disarmament. The ICRC, Mathur contends, has played a fundamental role in the shaping of the legal architecture of arms control and disarmament, most recently in the negotiations leading to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

 

Posted: December 3, 2018

‘Nothing Endangers the Planet More Than Nuclear Weapons’

Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the prospective chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, discusses his policy priorities, the limits of military spending, and the peril of a new nuclear arms race.


December 2018

With the shift in control of the U.S. House of Representatives next month following the November midterm elections, Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is in line to become chairman of the Armed Services Committee. In that powerful post, he will give Democrats renewed influence over key defense-related developments and bring renewed scrutiny of key programs, including nuclear weapons procurement and policies.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, questions witnesses during a defense budget hearing April 12. Smith is in line to become committee chairman in January, when control of the House of Representatives flips to the Democrats. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)In an interview with Arms Control Today, Smith said he plans to question the need and affordability of elements of the Trump administration’s approach toward nuclear weapons and press for greater diplomatic engagement to avert an accelerating arms race with Russia and China. He opposes U.S. plans for two new, low-yield nuclear capabilities, envisioned as a counter to Russia, that he said will do little to enhance nuclear deterrence and make the country safer. A better course, he says, includes undertaking renewed efforts with Russia to maintain the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) beyond its February 2021 expiration date. This transcript has been edited for length
and clarity.

What are the top two or three steps you think should be taken to enhance oversight of the administration's approach toward nuclear weapons?

It is really a matter of taking another look at the Nuclear Posture Review [NPR]. What we want to do is to drill down, firstly, on the costs. Exactly what is this going to cost us, and how does that balance out against our other national security needs, and then, what's the strategy behind this? Why do we need so many nuclear weapons? Ultimately, what I want to do is see a shift to a deterrence strategy. I think the oversight will come to having an explanation for why do you think we need this many delivery platforms? Why do we need the triad? Why do we need over 4,000 nuclear weapons? I think that is the discussion that most members of Congress have not been privy to, and having seen it myself, I don't buy the explanations, and I don't think it is the correct course.

A key element of the Trump administration's NPR report was the call to develop two new, low-yield nuclear capabilities for the sea-based leg of the triad—in the near term, a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead option and, in the longer term, a new sea-launched cruise missile. Would these enhance deterrence, or could they lower the nuclear threshold and increase the risk of miscalculation?

I think it lowers the nuclear threshold and increases the risk of miscalculation. I think it increases the risk that people will see nuclear weapons as simply another weapon in their arsenal of conflict, and when you start talking about low-yield nuclear weapons, you contemplate uses other than for deterrence.

Now, the argument that the administration will make is, well, if Russia has low-yield nuclear weapons, we have to counterbalance it. My view is that we have to say that there is no such thing as an acceptable use of a nuclear weapon and that we will counter it with whatever nuclear weapons we have. When you go the low-yield route, you increase the number of weapons, you increase the risk for people thinking that they can use them in a tactical way. They do not enhance our ability to deter our adversaries, so I'm opposed to low-yield nuclear weapons. I think that speeds up an arms race that is very, very dangerous.

Do you know whether the U.S. intelligence community has concluded, as the NPR report claims, that Russia or China might believe the United States would be self-deterred from using current weapons in response to, say, limited Russian or Chinese nuclear use?

It's just speculation. I have not seen any in-depth study on that question. This is why the other big part, of course, is to maintain an open dialogue with our fellow nuclear powers China and Russia. It is our responsibility as global powers to make sure that nuclear weapons are never used, and we need to have consistent dialogue on how to avoid that.

Whatever other differences we might have, I want to see a consistent dialogue on nuclear weapons. It is something that President Ronald Reagan understood. He was obviously for peace through strength. He wanted to build up a strong military, but he was also instrumental in negotiating arms reduction treaties where nuclear weapons were concerned, precisely because he understood the risk that nuclear weapons pose.

The Congressional Budget Office projected last year that the Obama administration's plans to sustain and upgrade the nuclear arsenal would cost $1.2 trillion without adjusting for inflation. The Trump administration's proposals would add to the cost. Do you believe that is realistic and affordable?

I do not. I think that is the biggest challenge that we face within our national security budget. Every single branch says it doesn’t have enough, that we need more, and yet we don't have the money to do that. We need to reconfigure a national security strategy that would better reflect both our resources and our true national security needs.

Nuclear weapons are a great example of where we could save money and still maintain our national security interests. A deterrent strategy is what's going to help us the most, and we could do that for a heck of a lot less money than is currently being spent. We could meet our needs from a national security standpoint with a lot fewer nuclear weapons. The path we're going down now is certainly unsustainable from a fiscal standpoint, and it doesn't make us safer.

You noted we can get the deterrence we need with fewer nuclear weapons. What might be the options to maintain the nuclear arsenal that would be more cost effective while still providing for a strong deterrent?

Build fewer of them. We can calculate what we need the weapons for in order to deter our adversaries, and there's a compelling argument to be made that a submarine-based nuclear weapons approach alone gives us an adequate deterrent. But we can certainly simply build fewer weapons to meet our national security needs. It's not really that complicated.

I know you're familiar with the plan to develop a new fleet of nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missiles, known as the long-range standoff [LRSO] system, that the Air Force says is needed to ensure that the air leg of the nuclear triad can continue to penetrate the most advanced air defenses well into the future. Critics argue that retaining such cruise missiles is redundant, given current plans to build the stealth B-21 long-range bomber and upgraded nuclear B61 gravity bomb. Do air-launched cruise missiles bring a unique contribution to the U.S. nuclear deterrent?

I don't think they're worth the money in terms of what they get us, and I would agree with the arguments that our new air-launch plans more than cover the need and, heck, our submarines cover the need as well, in terms of being able to reach these targets. So, no, I don't see the need for the LRSO.

Earlier this year, you said that the United States does not need as many intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as the Air Force plans to build. The service is planning to replace the existing Minuteman III ICBM system of about 400 deployed missiles with missiles that are part of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent system. The program is very early in its development, and there is significant uncertainty about the cost, which is estimated at between $85 billion and $150 billion, counting inflation. What options should be considered to reduce the cost?

Build fewer of them. Again, this isn't terribly complicated. You look at the total number of nuclear warheads that we have and how many we truly need for our national security. In the studies I've seen, we are planning on winding up with 4,000 warheads by the end of this nuclear modernization when, in fact, 1,000 would be more than sufficient. You could also make an argument that we do not even need the ICBM component of the triad in order to meet our needs for deterrence with nuclear weapons. But certainly, it's a very compelling argument that we could get by building fewer of them.

So, do you think the Pentagon should more seriously consider further extending the life of a smaller number of existing Minuteman III ICBMs as a cheaper, near-term alternative to the plan for an entirely new ICBM system?

That I would have to examine to figure out the viability of extending the life of our existing nuclear weapons. If that's possible as a cheaper alternative, I think it's certainly something we should consider, but I would have to hear more arguments about that. But no matter how you get there, if you build fewer of them, you save more money.

The Trump administration's NPR expands the circumstances under which the United States would consider the first use of nuclear weapons, including in response to non-nuclear attacks on critical infrastructure or on nuclear command, control, and communications and early-warning capabilities. You introduced legislation last year that would make it U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first. Why adopt a no-first-use policy?

In order to reduce the risk of us stumbling into a nuclear war. There are a lot of threats, there are a lot of weapons systems out there. Nothing endangers the planet more than nuclear weapons. If you introduce them, you cannot predict what your adversaries are going to counter with, and an all-out nuclear war is the likely result, with the complete destruction of the planet.

President Donald Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 at Fort Drum, New York, on August 13. Rep. Adam Smith says the House Armed Services Committee, under Democratic control, will undertake renewed scrutiny of key defense programs, including nuclear-weapons procurement and policies.  (Photo: Sgt. Thomas Scaggs/U.S. Army)Look, war in general causes an enormous amount of suffering, but nuclear war is the greatest danger to the future of the planet. Introducing nuclear weapons first is an unacceptable escalation of any conflict that we could possibly envision. We have conventional means of responding, and we have a variety of different means of preventing getting into that war in the first place. I don't think it makes sense to have first use of nuclear weapons on the table as an option.

What would you say to critics who believe that a no-first-use policy could undermine deterrence
and unsettle our allies?

I think our allies are more unsettled by the possibility that we might introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict, as they are a lot closer to the nuclear powers in the world than we are. I think our allies would like to see us have a no-first-use policy, and, look, there are a whole lot of other things we need to do to deter our adversaries. I just don't think that nuclear weapons should be a part of that equation.

President Donald Trump announced his plan to have the United States withdraw from the INF Treaty. You have strongly criticized that and expressed concern about not being briefed or consulted. Do you think that the United States and Russia have exhausted all diplomatic options to resolve the compliance dispute?

I do not, and my biggest concern is we have not included our NATO allies in this discussion. I think we should pursue diplomatic efforts to try to preserve the INF Treaty. I think it is an important treaty, and I think we are abandoning it prematurely.

Does the United States need to field intermediate-range missiles in Europe or East Asia, and what would be the benefits and risks of doing so?

I don't think that we need to. I think we have other deterrent capabilities. The risk is an arms race. The risk is that Russia would greatly expand its arsenal of these types of weapons. I think the treaty made sense when we signed it. It still makes sense now.

If the INF Treaty collapses, the only remaining bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control agreement would be New START, which expires in 2021 but can be extended by up to five years through agreement by both parties. The administration has said that it does not yet have a position on whether to take up Russia’s offer to begin extension talks. What would be the impact of a U.S. withdrawal from or failure to extend New START?

An escalating arms race which gets us in dangerous territory. I think it would be problematic if we let that treaty expire.

The Obama administration had determined that the United States could reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to a third below the New START limits of 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. Should the United States seek to engage Russia on further reductions, including on Russian concerns about U.S. missile defenses?

Yes. I think we would benefit from greater dialogue with Russia. It's actually something that I do agree with the president on. I don't agree necessarily agree with the way he's handled it, but as two of the greatest military powers, I think the whole world would benefit from us having more robust discussions and negotiations with the Russians on all of these issues.

As part of its effort to win Republican support in the Senate for New START in 2010, the Obama administration pledged to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in September that congressional support for nuclear modernization ought to be tied to maintaining an arms control process that limits and seeks to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. Do you agree?

As I said, negotiating with Russia to reduce military might in an equal way helps reduce the risk of conflict and the risk of escalation. We've got a long history of this, starting with President Richard Nixon in the 1970s. But as we looked at the build-up of our military strictly on the nuclear side, it made sense to negotiate a sensible limit on what weapons we would develop and that continues to be the case. Now that Russia is rebuilding and rearming and is much more in conflict with the United States, I think it makes sense that we have these discussions.

The administration is conducting a major review of U.S. missile defense policy. Some Trump administration officials have suggested that the review should augment the role of missile defense in countering Russia and China, not just the limited threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and they have urged the development of interceptors in space. Do you believe that such steps would be wise?

We need to have a dialogue with the Russians and Chinese about this. We don't want either side to get to the point where it thinks that it can win a war with an acceptable level of loss and therefore stumble into that war. Certainly, missile defense is part of what concerns the Russians, and their reaction has been toward wanting to build more weapons. We need to be able to defend ourselves, but I think we need to have an open dialogue with the Russians about an arms control approach that gives us a more secure world.

There have been efforts off and on to engage with Russia in a strategic stability dialogue. There was a strategic stability dialogue meeting last fall, but since then, a follow-up has not been scheduled despite the fact, as we understand it, that the Defense and State departments want to have it and the Russians want to have it. Is this something that the secretary of state and secretary of defense should be directly involved in, rather than relying on Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting occasionally on the margins of other meetings?

Yes, I think there needs to be robust engagement across all those fronts. I think the secretary of state and secretary of defense need to be involved. I think President Putin and President Trump need to be involved. I think a regular negotiation on the subject would be very, very helpful. So, yes, I think that is the right approach. We just need to follow through on it and do it.

Posted: December 1, 2018

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States

The reality-based, “speculative novel” provides a chilling glimpse of one possible future.


December 2018
Reviewed by Andrew Facini

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States
By Jeffrey Lewis
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2018, 208 pages

Each fall, the students of Harvard Extension School’s course on nuclear weapons and international security are subjected to a tone-setting viewing of the 1984 film “Threads,” a BBC production that offers an even grimmer presentation of a full-scale nuclear exchange than its U.S. predecessor “The Day After,” which terrified millions the previous year. Such films, along with other contemporary media, reflected a deep-seated cultural dread that a sudden, civilization-ending nuclear war was an increasingly likely possibility. To a class of students increasingly born well after these years, “Threads” vividly presents the worst fears of a seemingly bygone era.

Unfortunately, as the class learns, the potential for such a catastrophe is anything but bygone—society has just shifted its focus. As the Cold War nightmare faded in the early 1990s, expressions of nuclear war in films, books, and music became scarce. Meanwhile, decades-old thinking on nuclear conflict and deterrence has continued with little adaptation to the new era. As the general sense of relief expressed in the ’90s gave way to a post-9/11 focus on international terrorism, popular culture largely ignored the lingering possibility of catastrophic nuclear war, producing a generational blind spot on the subject.

This has become especially evident recently as a new generation of Americans encounters and begins to mentally process a resurgence of nuclear fears in the wake of North Korea’s 2017 testing blitz. Hawaii’s false alarm emergency alert this past January, in particular, caused a spike in anxiety and revealed a lack of public knowledge about what to do were a nuclear attack indeed underway. Since then, President Donald Trump’s so-far unsuccessful efforts to force unilateral denuclearization by North Korea have kept the issue alive.

It is timely, then, that Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, has thoroughly imagined the contemporary possibilities of nuclear war with his “speculative” novel, The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States. Framed as a future U.S. governmental attempt to understand and summarize the devastation wrought in a calamitous resumption of the Korean War, Lewis populates the novel with today’s political leaders in an environment shaped by recent events. In this, The 2020 Commission Report is a realistic and compelling drama written to bring this grim subject back into the popular conversation.

The confrontation in the book begins as many international crises do: with a mistake. In March 2020, North Korean air defense forces, frayed by a months-long U.S. air campaign meant to test North Korea’s borders, mistakenly shoot down a South Korean civilian airliner that had strayed into its airspace. Pressured by internal politics and dismayed by Washington’s abandonment of diplomacy in 2019, South Korean President Moon Jae-in decides to respond swiftly. Without conferring with Washington, he orders a conventional missile strike on North Korean anti-aircraft sites, as well as on one of Kim Jong Un’s palaces. Kim, on tour at a manufacturing plant, finds himself suddenly isolated and inexplicably incommunicado, and fears that U.S.-led forces are preparing for a full-scale invasion.

Kim’s fears seem to be confirmed when a new tweet from Trump makes it through to his cadre in their makeshift bunker: “Little Rocket Man won’t be bothering us much longer!” Believing it to be the only action that may prevent his violent ouster, Kim gives the order to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on military bases and command centers in South Korea and Japan with short-range missiles. Millions are killed in the first wave of North Korean attacks, but it was not until U.S. forces begin a conventional air campaign to seek out and destroy Kim’s missiles that the follow-on order is given for Kim’s remaining long-range nuclear forces to launch their missiles at cities in the United States.

North Korea simultaneously launches four ballistic missiles during a military drill March 6, 2017 at an undisclosed location.  (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)U.S.-led forces quickly “win” the war in North Korea, but the consequences of the nuclear attacks are dire and global. Kim’s missile attacks instantly kill 1.4 million Americans, and millions more die of radiation poisoning and injuries in the following weeks. Recovery efforts are hampered by the uniquely terrible effects of nuclear weapons, as well as secondary emergencies such as disease and logistical breakdowns. The ramifications are felt far from the conflict zones. As cities burn in Japan, South Korea, and the United States, vast amounts of black smoke alter the climate, causing famines in Africa and South Asia.

An uncomfortably modern tale of rapid, unintended escalation, the events presented in The 2020 Commission Report are quite unlike the wars as feared and imagined in the 1980s. Rather than a precipitous crisis between well-informed, equally matched superpowers, the spiraling dynamic that Lewis presents is much more personal: events are guided closely by the various leaders’ divergent personal beliefs, habits, and pointedly limited access to information. The pace of the unfolding catastrophe too feels downright familiar because the story is often carried not on a dispassionate intelligence report in a hardened bunker, but on cable news reports, mobile phone alerts, and social media. The scope of the destruction described in Asia and the United States breaks sharply with the bleak finality of a full U.S.-Soviet exchange as feared in the 1980s. In the events of March 2020, just four U.S. metro areas were successfully attacked, and it is tangentially clear that the rest of the country is actively focused on rebuilding.

In such scenery, however, lies the book’s most divisive and perhaps deliberate flaw. Although the personal elements keep the story highly relatable, the supposed actions of Trump in particular have a tendency to venture into parody. For example, Trump’s hostile tweets directed at Kim, while inspired by reality, take a cheaply personal turn in the run-up to the conflict. His interactions with aides and advisers are pointedly childlike. It is sometimes difficult to see past these characterizations as more than a partisan critique of the president, even if much of it is based on his previous actions.

For a story that hinges partially on Trump’s unique personality, Lewis took a flier on presenting sharp authenticity, rather than writing a more dispassionate Trump. It is understandable if this caricature turns off potential readers who support the president or who are weary of the intense political polarization in general. Still, even if such characterization would be rightly seen as absurd speculation before Trump, it is undeniable that much has changed in what Americans expect from the White House since 2017. Perhaps in this, a volatile and reactive president is becoming just another element to consider when imagining modern nuclear conflict.

Despite the contemporary trimmings, the book’s presentation of nuclear war is no less alarming than that of “Threads.” Lewis knows his topic well, and the book’s deeply researched footnotes reflect his expertise on the nuclear enterprises of North Korea and the United States. He presents the grim details of the nuclear attacks in a way that moves swiftly past the cold metrics of missile specifications, blast strengths, and death tolls and instead humanizes the horrible losses via a set of personal perspectives by survivors.

Synthesizing from accounts of the hibakusha, the Japanese survivors of the U.S. nuclear attacks in 1945, and of 9/11 survivors, Lewis provides a deeply moving element to what may have otherwise been an overly technical war story. As the storylines driven by Kim, Moon, and Trump yield to personal vignettes, a darker sense of loss takes hold. In the context of lost family members, doomed victims, and desperate survivors, the many steps of disturbingly sound logic required to touch off the war are cast into an achingly regretful light. In the end, the most truly frightening element of The 2020 Commission Report is that it all fits together in a way that feels exceedingly and increasingly possible.

As the real-world crisis with North Korea continues to evolve in slow motion, a deeper public understanding of the threats posed by nuclear weapons is urgently needed. In its blending of technics and humanity, Lewis’s nightmare vision is well positioned to spark a long-overdue conversation.

Posted: December 1, 2018

DOCUMENT: Bipartisan Experts Urge Trump to Save Nuclear Treaties With Russia

Bipartisan Experts Urge Trump to Save Nuclear Treaties With Russia

 

November 7, 2018

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Dear Mr. President:

As national security professionals and public servants who have spent their careers working for and with Republican and Democratic presidents to protect our nation’s national security, we urge you to ensure that we sustain meaningful, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals in order to provide more predictability, transparency, and stability in our nuclear relationship with Russia.

We have been deeply troubled by the unresolved problem of Russia’s noncompliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In July, NATO members, including the United States, affirmed their commitment to the INF Treaty, stating that it was “crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.” We agree. The INF Treaty has prevented the unchecked deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe, significantly reducing the risk of rapid escalation towards nuclear war.

Rather than move to terminate the INF Treaty, however, we urge you to direct your team to redouble efforts to negotiate technical solutions to U.S. (and Russian) INF compliance concerns. Russia’s deployment of a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile must be addressed; Moscow is concerned that launchers at the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense sites in Romania (and the planned site in Poland) are capable of firing offensive missiles. A senior adviser to President Putin has said that Russia is still ready to address “mutual grievances” related to the treaty. We urge you to pursue this option.

In the absence of the INF Treaty, the only remaining agreement regulating our nuclear stockpiles will be the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers, and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each. U.S. military leaders continue to see value in New START. Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress last March that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

New START is due to expire on February 5, 2021 unless you and President Putin agree to extend it by up to five years (to 2026), as allowed for in Article XIV of the treaty. We urge you to take up Russia’s offer to engage in talks on the extension of New START. These talks should begin immediately to address any outstanding treaty compliance concerns before the treaty expires.

With your decision to extend New START, the two sides would have the time necessary to work together on a new deal that addresses obstacles that prevented your predecessors in the White House from achieving further limits and deeper reductions in the two countries’ nuclear arsenals.

Every American president since John F. Kennedy has successfully concluded at least one agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear dangers. Without New START, there would be no legally-binding, verifiable limits on the U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

In March of this year, you said you wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.” We respectfully urge you to do so.

Sincerely,

Susan Burk, former Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, and head of the U.S. delegation to the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference

Richard R. Burt, former Ambassador to Germany and chief negotiator for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty

Thomas Countryman, former acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Chairman of the Arms Control Association

Thomas Graham Jr., Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation, Disarmament

Jill Hruby, former Director, Sandia National Laboratories

Lt. Gen. Arlen D. Jameson, (USAF, Ret.), former Deputy Commander, U.S. Strategic Command

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, (R-Kansas) 1978–1997

Laura E. Kennedy, former U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament and former Ambassador to Turkmenistan

Sen. Richard Lugar, (R-Ind.) former Chairman, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Sen. Sam Nunn, (D-Ga.) former Chairman, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee

William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense

Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and former Ambassador to the United Nations, to Russia, India, Israel, Nigeria, Jordan and El Salvador

Joan Rohlfing, President and COO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative

George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State

Posted: December 1, 2018

Iran Vows to Resist U.S. Sanctions

The United States abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, but Tehran continues to comply for now.


December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran vowed to resist U.S. sanctions and continue implementing the nuclear deal after U.S. measures targeting its oil and banking sectors went back into effect.

Ahead of renewed sanctions imposed by the United States, Iranians protest November 4 outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, marking the anniversary of the start of the 1979 hostage crisis. At rallies in the capital and other Iranian cities, protesters carried placards that mock President Donald Trump, wiped their feet on fake dollar bills, and engaged in the ritual of burning the U.S. flag.  (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)Although the sanctions are already curtailing Iran’s oil sales, the Trump administration did issue waivers Nov. 5 allowing seven countries (China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey) and Taiwan to continue purchasing oil from Iran. In addition, the Trump administration agreed to allow certain nonproliferation projects outlined under the Iran nuclear deal to proceed.

Preserving the nuclear cooperation projects and some oil revenue will likely provide Iran with enough benefit to continue complying with the nuclear deal, at least in the short term, even though Trump pulled the United States out of the accord. The oil waivers, however, only last six months.

Under the reimposed sanctions, states importing oil from Iran must make a “significant reduction” in purchases every 180 days to be eligible for a waiver. Unlike the Obama administration, which defined “significant reduction” at about a 20 percent cut, the Trump administration evaluated each country on case-by-case basis.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the waivers as a victory for Iran because the United States initially said it would “reduce Iran’s oil sale to zero.” Rouhani also said on Nov. 5 that Iran will continue to sell oil and “break sanctions.”

In a Nov. 5 news conference on the sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the oil waivers as “temporary allotments to a handful of countries” in order to address “specific circumstances and to ensure a well-supplied oil market.” He noted that more than 20 states already eliminated oil imports from Iran, reducing the country’s oil exports by more than 1 million barrels per day.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif admitted that the sanctions will impact Iran’s economy, but said the sanctions “will not change policy” in Iran. He said the United States “has an addiction to sanctions” and that the country believes they are “the panacea that resolves” all problems.

The Trump administration has made clear that it intends to continue ratcheting up pressure. Pompeo said the “ultimate goal” remains to “convince the regime to abandon its current revolutionary course” and the campaign of economic pressure is “at the center of this effort.” Pompeo also said that the United States will continue to push the remaining eight nations permitted to buy oil from Iran to zero out their imports.

Administration officials say the effort is to force behavior changes by the Iranian regime, not to drive for regime change. But officials such as Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, advocated for regime change in Iran before they joined the administration. Also, the administration has been working closely with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief regional rival, both of which seek a regime change in Tehran.

Details of the sanctions waivers were not made public, but Bloomberg News reported that India will be limited to 300,000 barrels of oil per day, down from 560,000 in the first half of 2018. China’s waiver permits 360,000 barrels per day, down from an average of 658,000 in early 2018. China and India are Iran’s largest oil purchasers and resisted the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.

Revenues from the oil sales will be held in accounts in the importing countries, and Iran can use the funds to purchase goods from those countries.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Tehran on November 19. The UK is among the countries seeking to soften the impact on Iran of renewed U.S. sanctions so that Tehran continues to comply with the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images )Although the revenue from oil sales is likely to be critical in influencing Iran’s decision whether to stay in the deal, the waivers issued for the nonproliferation projects were key for permitting the P4+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) to remain in compliance with the deal. The multilateral group committed to assist Iran in converting several nuclear facilities to reduce their proliferation threat, and failure to conclude these projects could allow Iran to argue that the P4+1 were violating the accord.

Additionally, after Trump repeatedly disparaged the value of the nuclear agreement and referred to it as the “worst deal ever,” Pompeo acknowledged on Nov. 5 that “allowing these activities to continue for the time being will improve ongoing oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program and make these facilities less susceptible to illicit and illegal nuclear uses.”

Waivers for the projects were necessary because the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) was one of the 700 entities sanctioned Nov. 5 by the United States.

As part of the nuclear deal, the AEOI was removed from the sanctions list to meet U.S. commitments under the accord. With the AEOI now subject to sanctions, foreign entities would be penalized for working with the organization on the specified projects.

The projects in question concern an unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak, the centrifuge facility at Fordow, and the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

China and the United States, which was succeeded by the UK under the agreement, had agreed to assist Iran in redesigning the unfinished Arak reactor to produce significantly less plutonium on an annual basis than is necessary for a nuclear weapon. If the reactor were completed as originally designed, it would have produced enough plutonium for about two nuclear weapons every year.

Iran removed and destroyed the original core of the Arak reactor in 2015. Work has commenced on designing the new core and on the contract for Chinese assistance on the project, but it does not appear that modifications at the Arak site have begun.

At Fordow, Iran agreed to forgo uranium enrichment at the facility for 15 years and convert it to an isotope research and production center. Russia is assisting in the facilities conversion.

The waivers also allow Russian work to continue at the Bushehr site. Russia provides nuclear fuel for the sole operating nuclear power plant at that site and is responsible for removing the spent fuel.

Russia has broken ground on two additional nuclear power reactors at Bushehr since the nuclear deal was implemented in 2016. Annex III of the accord, which deals with nuclear cooperation, raises the option of collaborating with Iran on light-water reactors, but does not require it.

It is unclear if additional Annex III projects, such as the Nuclear Safety Center that the European Union is interested in pursuing in Iran, will be permitted to go forward.

In addition to the reimposed sanctions, the Trump administration succeeded in pressuring SWIFT, the Brussels-based international financial messaging service, to cut off Iranian banks that were on the list of the 700 entities sanctioned Nov. 5 by the United States. SWIFT was not required to disconnect the Iranian banks, but made a “regrettable” decision to do so in order to maintain stability in the international banking system, the organization said.

A group of Republican senators said they would introduce legislation to sanction SWIFT if the body did not cut off the Iranian banks. Without SWIFT, it will be more difficult to facilitate financial transactions with Iran, even for permittable humanitarian trade such as medical supplies.

 

Posted: December 1, 2018

North Korea Pushes for Sanctions Relief

There is talk of a second Trump-Kim summit as diplomatic efforts stall over next steps.


December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea is stepping up pressure on the United States in its push for the Trump administration to grant sanctions relief early in the denuclearization process.

A South Korean government photo taken November 15 shows President Moon Jae-in meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore. The South Korean government said the two discussed recent diplomacy with North Korea and preparations for a second meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. (Photo: South Korean government)In addition to canceling the meeting scheduled for Nov. 8 in New York between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his negotiating counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, North Korea drew attention to its military capabilities by announcing that it tested a new, unspecified “ultramodern tactical weapon.”

These steps come as Pyongyang is ratcheting up its condemnation of U.S. sanctions policy and calling for relief earlier in the process. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Although Pyongyang’s voluntary testing moratorium only covers its long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads, until now North Korea has refrained from military activities and testing in 2018 that might be viewed by South Korea or the United States as provocative. This Nov. 16 test might be a signal to Washington that North Korea will test military systems if talks do not produce results soon.

North Korea did not provide details about the weapon, but emphasized that it was a tactical system. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was described in the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) as “expressing great satisfaction” in the test and noting that it was a “striking demonstration” of the “rapidly developing defense capability of the country.”

The Trump administration downplayed the test, and the State Department issued a statement saying that the United States remains confident the promises of the Singapore summit document will be fulfilled.

The State Department initially blamed the meeting cancellation on scheduling difficulties. After North Korea announced it had canceled the meeting, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said Pyongyang was not ready and so the talks had to be postponed. No new date has been announced.

The cancellation comes as North Korea and the United States continue to trade barbs over the pace of sanctions relief and next steps in the process.

Initially it appeared that North Korea was seeking U.S. agreement on a peace declaration ending the Korean War, but it increasingly looks like Pyongyang is now prioritizing sanctions relief. North Korea may be emboldened by support for sanctions removal from Russia, China, and, to a lesser extent, South Korea, all of which are calling for the United States to ease restrictions earlier in the negotiating process.

KCNA quoted Kim on Nov. 1 as saying that “vicious sanctions” imposed by “hostile forces” stand in North Korea’s way “toward promotion of peoples well-being and development.”

The following day, KCNA ran a commentary criticizing U.S. sanctions and saying that the United States “should not forget what it promised” in Singapore and that there is “no justification for sanctions” after the “active and preemptive” steps taken by North Korea.

The steps likely referred to North Korea’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing issued in April and dismantlement of the nuclear test site in May. (See ACT, June 2018.)

Haley said on Nov. 8, however, that it is North Korea’s turn to act and said that the United States has “given a lot of carrots up until now” and will not “get rid of the stick because they have not done anything to warrant getting rid of the sanctions yet.”

The United States continues to press for full sanction implementation until the denuclearization process is completed, but there is already evidence that adherence is slipping.

The annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, released in November, concluded that “Beijing appears to have already started to loosen enforcement of sanctions on North Korea, undermining the U.S. ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.”

The report recommended that the Treasury Department provide a report assessing Chinese enforcement and a list of entities that continue to conduct trade with North Korea.

Haley called out Russia after a UN Security Council meeting for pushing to lift certain sanctions on North Korea, particularly as they apply to what Russia describes as “serious humanitarian problems.” The Russian mission to the United Nations said in a statement that the current situation is “absolutely unacceptable” because it violates decisions made by the council that sanctions should not be directed at the North Korean people.

Haley said that the U.S. goal is to ensure that humanitarian aid is not compromised and that the Trump administration is “taking our time in vetting that very carefully.”

Despite the stalled progress, planning appears to be continuing for a second summit between Trump and Kim.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Nov. 15 in an NBC interview that the summit was going to happen and the two leaders would decide on a “verifiable plan” for North Korea to make a declaration detailing its nuclear and missile capabilities.

Contrary to expectations, Pence said that the United States will not require that North Korea provide a complete list of its nuclear weapons and missile sites ahead of the second summit. The Trump administration reportedly had been pursuing such a declaration from North Korea since Pompeo went to Pyongyang in July after the Singapore summit. (See ACT, September 2018.)

 

Posted: December 1, 2018

MOX Fuel Plant Layoffs Begin

Energy Department shifts to cheap plutonium-disposal plan.


December 2018
By Kingston Reif

The contractor responsible for building the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina began issuing layoff notices last month in the wake of the department’s action to terminate the project.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) fought in Congress for years against the efforts to terminate the costly and delayed mixed-oxide fuel fabrication project in his state. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)Approximately 600 workers, or roughly one-third of the project’s workforce, have been notified by the main contractor, CB&I Areva MOX Services LLC, that they will be laid off beginning in January 2019.

The layoff notices follow years of controversy over the MOX fuel program. In a Nov. 8 statement in response to the first round of layoff notices, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the decision to end construction “a colossal mistake,” adding that “there is no viable alternative.”

On Oct. 10, the Energy Department notified MOX Services in a letter that it was terminating the company’s prime contract to build the MOX fuel facility. (See ACT, November 2018.) The letter came a day after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of a district court’s June injunction preventing the termination of the project. The ruling allows the Energy Department to proceed with shutting down the facility pending the appeals court’s final decision on the department’s appeal of the lower court ruling. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The MOX fuel plant, designed to turn 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into power-reactor fuel, has been plagued by major cost increases and schedule delays. The Energy Department has sought to end the program since 2014 in favor of a cheaper alternative, known as dilute and dispose. That process would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal at the deep underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Congress, led by South Carolina’s delegation, blocked the department’s effort to transition to the alternate approach. But the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Donald Trump in November 2017, included a provision allowing the energy secretary to stop construction if there is an alternative to dispose of the plutonium at “less than approximately half of the estimated remaining [life-cycle] cost” of the MOX fuel program. (See ACT, May 2018.)

Energy Secretary Rick Perry submitted the required waiver to Congress on May 10. (See ACT, June 2018.)

The dilute-and-dispose process would cost at most $19.9 billion, or 40 percent of the $49.4 billion cost of continuing the MOX fuel program, according to a report prepared by the independent cost office of the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, which was certified by Perry and submitted to Congress on May 10.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request submitted in February called for $220 million to close down the MOX fuel facility and $59 million to support the dilute-and-dispose option.

The fiscal year 2019 version of the defense authorization bill signed by Trump in August mandated the continued construction of the facility and authorizes $220 million for that purpose, but like last year’s bill allows the secretary to waive this requirement.

The fiscal year 2019 energy and water appropriations bill similarly provided $220 million for construction of the facility, but, also like last year’s bill, follows the authorization bill in allowing the funds to be used to terminate the facility. (See ACT, November 2018.)

The appropriations bill provided $25 million for design activities for the dilute-and-dispose approach, a reduction of $34 million from the budget request. The final amount was a compromise between the Senate Appropriations Committee, which provided the full $59 million requested by the administration, and the House Appropriations Committee, which provided no funding for the option, due to concerns that the approach lacked key specifics.

In his Nov. 8 statement, Graham warned that the dilute-and-dispose plan in New Mexico “is not feasible and simply will not work.” He added that “it’s yet another half-baked idea from [the Energy Department] that simply has no chance of success.”

Posted: December 1, 2018

Nuclear Warhead Costs Rise

Are the administration’s nuclear weapons plans achievable and affordable?


December 2018
By Kingston Reif

The estimated cost of the Energy Department’s plans to sustain U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure has risen sharply over the past year, adding to concerns about affordability.

Frank Klotz, former National Nuclear Security Administration administrator, has raised concern about the level of demands on the agency envisioned by the Trump administration. (Photo: Leon Roberts/USACE)The department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on Nov. 1 released the sixth version of its annual report on the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan. The fiscal year 2019 iteration projects more than $390 billion in spending on agency efforts related to sustaining and modernizing the nuclear weapons stockpile over the next 25 years. This is an increase of $70 billion, or 22 percent, from the 2018 version of the plan.

The new NNSA plan begins to reflect the recommendations of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report released in February, which called for developing two additional low-yield nuclear capabilities, retaining the B83-1 nuclear gravity bomb, and expanding the NNSA’s plutonium-pit production capacity. (See ACT, March 2018.) These initiatives are part of a proposed expansion of NNSA nuclear weapons work that the report says would provide “capabilities needed to quickly produce new or additional weapons” beyond the 3,800 warheads currently in the active U.S. nuclear stockpile.

The NNSA states that the projected growth in spending “is generally affordable and executable” due in part to large funding increases provided to the agency by Congress over the past two years. But according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published in April 2017, the NNSA’s plans to modernize its nuclear weapons “do not align with its budget, raising affordability concerns.”

Like the GAO, former NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz raised concern about the level of demands on the NNSA in coming years envisioned by the Trump administration. “The agency is “working pretty much at full capacity, and you can draw your conclusion from that,” he said in an interview with Defense News two days after leaving office in January and before the release of the NPR report.

The Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives as a result of the November midterm elections is likely to bring greater scrutiny of the administration’s efforts to upgrade the nuclear arsenal. (See ACT, November 2018.) Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee who is poised to become chairman in January, told Arms Control Today in a Nov. 16 interview that the current Energy and Defense Department plans are “certainly unsustainable from a fiscal standpoint.”

The largest source of projected growth in the new stockpile plan is in the area of nuclear and non-nuclear production facility modernization, including new plutonium-pit production, uranium processing, and uranium-enrichment facilities. Whereas last year the agency projected $8.6 billion to $39.3 billion in spending, including the effects of inflation, on these and other facilities, it now estimates the cost at $61.1 billion to $90.7 billion.

The NNSA plan also foresees an increase in spending relative to the 2018 version on warhead life extensions programs through the beginning of the 2020s even as it follows the NPR report in backing away from a controversial proposal to develop three interoperable warheads for deployment on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles as part of the so-called 3+2 strategy.

Since 2013, the NNSA had planned to jointly replace the W78 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warhead and the W88 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead with a new interoperable warhead known as IW-1. Two subsequent interoperable warheads were slated to replace the W87 and W76 warheads.

Instead, the NPR report called for accelerating replacement of the W78 by one year to support deployment on the Air Force’s new ICBM by 2030 “and investigate the feasibility of fielding the nuclear explosive package in a Navy flight vehicle.” The report did not commit developing additional common warheads.

But the uncertain future of interoperable warheads does not appear to have reduced the projected cost of replacing the W78, which is projected to cost $12.5 billion, an increase of $500 million above last year’s estimate. The stockpile plan states that the warhead will consist of “all newly manufactured components” and “new technologies.”

Congress repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the prior plan to buy interoperable warheads, citing the cost and risks involved with the plan. In a March 2017 letter to the GAO director, Reps. Smith and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the likely next chairwoman of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee, expressed “concerns about the affordability of the IW-1.”

The fiscal year 2019 energy and water appropriations bill, signed by President Donald Trump in September, called on the NNSA to produce a report estimating the cost of a possible, less expensive alternative to the current plan to replace the W78.

The stockpile plan notably does not include any projected costs associated with developing a sea-launched cruise missile warhead and potentially extending the life of the B83-1 as proposed in the NPR report. Work on the cruise missile warhead is slated to begin in fiscal year 2020 and, according to the NNSA, “will be a major new addition in the next decade.”

Posted: December 1, 2018

Pressure Builds on Saudi Nuclear Accord

Lawmakers call for suspending talks on nuclear cooperation agreement following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.


December 2018
By Shervin Taheran

In the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who was critical of the Saudi government, Democratic and Republican members of Congress called on President Donald Trump to suspend negotiations on a U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear cooperation agreement, especially because the kingdom is seemingly unwilling to accept a ban on uranium-enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during an October 16 visit to Riyadh amid international outrage over the Saudi murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince's alleged role in ordering the killing and his threat to have Saudi Arabia produce nuclear weapons if Iran does so pose new hurdles to concluding a long-delayed U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear cooperation agreement. (Photo: Leah Millis/AFP/Getty Images)Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Todd Young (Ind.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Dean Heller (Nev.) wrote to Trump on Oct. 31 urging that he suspend negotiations on a cooperation accord, known as a 123 agreement, “for the foreseeable future.” They noted that their prior reservations, given Saudi unwillingness to accept the “gold standard” of no uranium enrichment or reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, have been “solidified” in light of the Khashoggi murder, as well as “certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon.”

Further, the senators threatened to advance a joint resolution of disapproval as provided for by the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, from which section 123 agreements gets the name, to block any such agreement.

On the same day, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released his own letter calling on Trump not only to suspend the 123 agreement negotiations but also to revoke existing Saudi “Part 810” authorizations, which allow for the transfer of nuclear services, technology, and assistance, and to indefinitely suspend any further considerations of Part 810 authorizations for the kingdom.

Complicating matters, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the U.S. intelligence community reportedly concluded was responsible for the Khashoggi killing, said earlier this year that Saudi Arabia would produce nuclear weapons if regional archrival Iran does so. (See ACT, April 2018.) For that, the Saudis likely would need uranium-enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

A U.S. State Department official told Arms Control Today that the two governments “have been in negotiations on a 123 agreement since 2012,” but declined to comment on the substance of negotiations. The Energy Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is seeking to ensure Congress is able to keep any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia at the highest nonproliferation standards. He has been working on legislation that would require positive action by Congress to approval a U.S.-Saudi 123 agreement, and a similar measure is being developed in the Senate.

Under the current process, the president submits a 123 agreement to Congress for automatic approval after 90 days unless Congress objects with a veto-proof majority. Sherman’s bill would require instead that Congress vote in favor of an agreement for it to be implemented. The legislation also would require any accord to include the gold standard provisions and increased inspections authorization for the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as for the White House to produce reports on Saudi Arabia’s state of human rights and its investigations into the Khashoggi murder.

Trump has repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining financial and diplomatic ties to the Saudis, but has not, at least recently, specifically addressed the potential civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which supporters say could be a boost to U.S. companies in the civilian nuclear energy field, such as bankrupt Westinghouse Electric Co. Complicating matters is the fact that Westinghouse was recently acquired by a Canadian asset management company, and Saudi Arabia has a recent edict prohibiting business with Canada as a result of Canadian criticism of Saudi human rights abuses.

Even if the United States does sign a 123 agreement, there is no guarantee the Saudis would go with U.S. companies. For example, the United Arab Emirates, after reaching an accord with the United States, still chose to go with a South Korean company for nuclear-reactor construction. But the agreement is useful to the UAE because it allows for easier transfer of sensitive technology and information.

In its accord, the UAE, the only other Arab nation in the Persian Gulf to have a 123 agreement with the United States, agreed to abide by the gold standard provisions. If the United States relaxes its standards for the Saudis, the UAE could seek to renegotiate a comparable easing of its 123 agreement.

China, France, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are currently vying to build two nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, the first of what the Saudis have said could be as many as16 reactors in a multibillion-dollar program over 20 years.

Companies were supposed to be selected by this month, but South Korea said in July that the winner would likely be selected by the Saudis during 2019. That date could slip further in light of Khashoggi’s murder and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s comments in September that the 123 agreement negotiations were going more slowly than desired. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Saudi Arabia’s state-run press agency announced on Nov. 6 that the crown prince had “laid the foundation stone” for several strategic projects, including Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear research reactor. Although not providing details about the construction timing, purpose, or cost of the “low-energy” research reactor, the statement marked an important milestone as the oil-dependent kingdom aims to diversify its energy mix.

Posted: December 1, 2018

Indian Submarine Completes First Patrol

The INS Arihant gives India a nuclear triad.


December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in November that the country’s first ballistic missile submarine completed its inaugural “deterrence patrol.”

An undated photo shows India testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile system. The missile was launched from a location in the Bay of Bengal, from a depth of 50 meters. The nuclear-capable system was developed to be deployed on INS Arihant.  (Photo: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)Modi described the deployment of the INS Arihant on Nov. 5 as an “open warning for the country’s enemies” and a response to “those who indulge in nuclear blackmail.” Modi did not specifically mention Pakistan, but his message was likely directed at Islamabad.

Modi’s description of the sub’s activities could mean that the submarine was armed with nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It is unclear how long the patrol lasted.

The Arihant is India’s first domestically built, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. It was commissioned in 2016 and began sea trials at that time. (See ACT, April 2016.) The lapse between sea trials and the submarine’s first patrol is believed to have been caused by extensive damage after a hatch was left open in 2017, flooding the submarine.

The Arihant can carry 12 K-15 SLBMs, which have an estimated range of 750 kilometers. The K-15 has been tested multiple times, including in August 2018. In the future, the submarine could carry four K-4 SLBMs. The K-4 is still under development and has an estimated range of about 3,500 kilometers. The longer-range missile is likely designed with China in mind, while the shorter-range K-15 puts Pakistan in range.

The Arihant deployment completes India’s nuclear triad, that is, the ability to deliver nuclear weapons from land-, air-, and sea-based systems. It also enhances India’s second-strike capability, although India, with only one deployed submarine, will not be able to conduct continuous deterrent patrols at this time.

A second ballistic missile submarine was reportedly finished in December 2017, and an additional two submarines are under construction. India plans to build four to six nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines. These subsequent submarines are larger than the Arihant and could hold up to eight K-4 ballistic missiles.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Nov. 8 that the Arihant’s patrol “marks the first actual deployment of ready-to-fire nuclear warheads in South Asia” and is a “matter of concern” for states in the region and the international community.

Indian and Pakistani nuclear warheads are largely believed to be de-mated, or stored separately from delivery systems. On a submarine, however, de-mating is not feasible, and the warheads are stored paired with the ballistic missiles.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, said that “no one should doubt Pakistan’s resolve and capability to meet the challenge” posed by India’s recent developments.

Pakistan is currently developing a sea-launched cruise missile, the Babur-3, likely for use with its diesel submarines. Pakistan tested the Babur-3, which has an estimated range of about 450 kilometers, from a submerged barge in 2017 and 2018. Pakistani officials said the move was prompted by India’s decision to develop SLBMs.

Posted: December 1, 2018

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