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former IAEA Director-General

Arms Control Today

After the Singapore Summit

The historic if brief encounter on June 12 between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides a hopeful starting point for the lengthy and arduous process of negotiating the details of denuclearization and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.


July/August 2018
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

The historic if brief encounter on June 12 between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides a hopeful starting point for the lengthy and arduous process of negotiating the details of denuclearization and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

U.S. President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the start of their historic summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)The summit process has certainly eased tensions, but contrary to Trump’s self-aggrandizing claim that there is “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” the reality is that the difficult work of disarmament diplomacy has only just begun.

Denuclearization is no simple task. There is no precedent for a country that has openly tested nuclear weapons and developed a nuclear arsenal and infrastructure as substantial as the one in North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs involve dozens of sites, hundreds of buildings, and thousands of people. Rapid progress should be the goal, but comprehensive denuclearization will take years.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a CNN interview on June 24, hinted that more has been accomplished than the Singapore communiqué revealed. “There are understandings that have been put together prior to the summit…that I think put us on the right trajectory so that we can build out a framework for success,” he said.

With Pompeo expected to make a return trip to Pyongyang soon, the first order of business must be to agree on a framework for ongoing, direct, expert-level negotiations on the details and time frame for action-for-action steps. The process could be coordinated through high-level, three-party consultations involving the United States, South Korea, and North Korea.

An early goal should be to reach a common understanding, in writing, about what denuclearization entails—a crucial detail left out of the Singapore summit joint statement. A good basis would be the 1992 Joint Declaration on Denuclearization by North and South Korea.

Next, the United States will want North Korea to solidify its voluntary nuclear test moratorium by signing the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and expand on its missile testing halt to include an end to new ballistic missile production. It also will be crucial to secure a pledge from North Korea to halt fissile material production. These steps would help ensure that North Korea cannot expand its arsenal while negotiations continue.

Another early goal should be to secure North Korea’s commitment to deliver a full declaration of its nuclear infrastructure, materials, and weapons to be verified later by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) using guidelines and techniques established by the IAEA Model Additional Protocol for nuclear safeguards.

Further, the two sides will need to agree to a process and a timeline for dismantling North Korea’s stockpile of 10 to 50 nuclear weapons and securing separated fissile material. This work would likely have to be supervised by specialists from nuclear-weapon states in cooperation with North Korean technical experts.

Facilities that are part of North Korea's nuclear complex also would need to be verifiably dismantled or converted to peaceful uses under international supervision. This would be a major undertaking that could build on the experience from U.S. and Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, which helped eliminate excess Cold War-era stockpiles and sites.

The summit communiqué underscores that progress on denuclearization depends on joint “efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean peninsula. Kim is not going to give up nuclear weapons if he believes doing so will compromise North Korea’s security.

Trump’s postsummit decision to suspend U.S. joint military exercises with South Korea is an important confidence-building measure that may help catalyze further progress. What more can be done and done in a way that improves allies’ security? Key measures might include

  • formal security guarantees, including a commitment not to initiate the use of force against one another,
    and a hotline agreement to help avoid miscommunication in a crisis;
  • removal of U.S. strategic bombers and offensive-strike assets from any future joint military exercises;
  • a three-party declaration on the end of the Korean War to be followed by formal negotiations on a peace treaty involving the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and China;
  • steps toward the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations, beginning with the opening of a diplomatic interest section in Pyongyang and Washington; and
  • reduction of military force deployments on both sides of the demilitarized zone in a manner consistent
    with a future peace treaty.

The overall goal should be to continue to move as quickly as possible toward halting, reversing, and eliminating North Korea’s nuclear strike potential and away from a worsening crisis involving a growing North Korean nuclear capability and U.S. threats, such as Trump’s “fire and fury” remarks that brought the region to the brink of war in 2017.

Success is far from guaranteed. Yet, the pursuit of disarmament diplomacy with North Korea is far better than
the alternatives.

 

Posted: July 1, 2018

After the Summit: A Next Step for the United States and North Korea

Seeking North Korea’s signature on and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is the most promising near-term option to build confidence and make meaningful progress toward nuclear disarmament.


July/August 2018
By Stephen Herzog

The improved prospects for peace and nuclear disarmament dominated the headlines following the historic first meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, countries that have been bitter adversaries for seven decades.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the start of their historic summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12. The challenge will be to implement their summit declaration, including the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)The about-face by the two leaders at the June 12 summit in Singapore was remarkable, given that their bellicose rhetoric mere months earlier had threatened to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war. “We’re prepared to start a new history, and we’re ready to write a new chapter,” declared U.S. President Donald Trump. “The world will see a major change,” affirmed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.1

Their summit joint statement, however, signed after four hours of talks, is vague and draws on wording from past U.S.-North Korean communiqués. Regarding nuclear weapons, North Korea signed on to familiar diplomatic language about the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula that, as in the past, is open to differing interpretations. In selling the outcome as a win, Trump also pointed to what appears to be Kim’s sole new concession, destruction of a “major missile-engine testing site.”2

Although Trump proclaimed on Twitter that his diplomatic engagement means “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” Pyongyang has yet to dismantle a single warhead, ballistic missile, or launch site. Until that happens, the threat remains salient, even if bilateral tensions have eased.

Now that the public show is over, the difficult work toward nuclear disarmament begins. The most promising near-term option to build U.S.-North Korean confidence and make meaningful progress toward nuclear disarmament is to obtain Pyongyang’s signature on and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). If Kim is serious about turning back the clock on his nuclear program, permanent cessation of nuclear testing should be mutually agreeable. The treaty would restrict North Korean nuclear weapons development and lock the regime into arms control commitments. Further, it would open the door for representatives of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to verify the recently declared closure of the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri.

Debating Disarmament

In fewer than seven years in power, Kim has achieved the dream of his father and grandfather by meeting with the sitting U.S. president as an equal. Yet, his willingness to verifiably eliminate his nuclear weapons remains suspect; North Korea had promised to denuclearize at least six times prior to the Singapore summit.3 Barring an unexpected overture from Kim, the Trump administration needs to lay out a series of concrete, feasible steps to kick-start the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear arsenal. These steps should provide policy specifics to implement the overall framework of the joint statement and move the process forward.

Much of the skepticism about postsummit prospects stems from contrasting U.S. and North Korean interpretations of nuclear disarmament. Prior to the Singapore meeting, the Trump administration said that North Korea must engage in complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of its arsenal. This position is similar to the so-called Libya model, wherein U.S. technical experts collected former President Moammar Gaddafi’s nuclear program and transported the components to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. North Korean officials have shown no interest in this proposal, championed most vociferously by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, which briefly led to the summit’s cancellation.4 The Pentagon and the CIA assess that Kim will not fully disarm in the immediate future.5

In the joint communiqué, North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. Similar wording appears in the Panmunjom Declaration, signed April 27 by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. This is the historic North Korean position dating back to the days of Kim Il Sung, the first leader of North Korea and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather.

The United States and its allies contend that “denuclearization” refers to the rollback of the North’s nuclear program, while Pyongyang’s leaders have long conditioned any backing away from their nuclear aspirations on an absence of external security threats. Previously, they have called for an end to the U.S. military alliance with South Korea, withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula, removal of South Korea and Japan from the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and even U.S.-North Korean nuclear disarmament.6 Only time will tell if the United States and its allies can bridge the perception gap with North Korea and overcome the missed opportunities of past accords, notably the so-called Agreed Framework and the statements from the six-party talks.

At North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site, international journalists stand near a tunnel entrance before its demolition May 24. No international experts were invited to verify the extent of the destruction of the tunnel network at the remote, mountainous site. (Photo: News1-Dong-A Ilbo via Getty Images)Consequently, building confidence with incremental, verifiable steps marks the best path on the long road to disarmament. Many critics are rightly suspicious of Kim’s willingness to disarm, but others have struck more cautious notes of optimism about a road map for eliminating the North’s nuclear program over the next decade or longer.7 The administration’s messaging about the timeline for doing so has been inconsistent, however, which suggests that the U.S. side does not have a clear plan to propose to North Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has indicated that disarmament could occur in as little as two years, but Trump has walked back expectations by saying, “It does take a long time to pull off complete denuclearization.”8

A number of other potential steps could initiate nuclear disarmament. Yet, each poses challenges that will take time to overcome. Some possibilities involve setting initial caps on the number of North Korean long-range missiles or nuclear warheads or demolition of ballistic missile launch sites. Kim declared his April freeze on weapons testing only after the regime had conducted six nuclear explosions and 117 ballistic missile flights that gave him sufficient confidence in the performance of his arsenal.

It appears highly unlikely that North Korea will agree to near-term limitations on systems that contribute to deterrence by creating mutual vulnerability with the United States.9 Establishing accurate stockpile numbers and determining that the regime is not hiding weapons also require verifiable fissile material accountancy and extensive interviews with North Korean technical experts. Given the potential effects of such disclosures on deterrence, this sort of concession will require a much stronger level of bilateral trust than currently exists.

Another option might be for inspectors from the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to access critical fuel-cycle facilities, such as those used for uranium enrichment and plutonium separation. Such facilities, however, are dispersed throughout North Korea, and understanding the scope of fuel cycle activities to negotiate a potential dismantlement plan will be a lengthy endeavor. In total, at least 141 known sites are associated with the North Korean nuclear weapons program, fuel cycle and otherwise.10 Granting inspectors access to all of these sites would be an unprecedented action for the highly secretive North Korean regime.

An Opening for the Test Ban

The verification hurdles suggest that even if Kim is committed to the process, North Korean nuclear disarmament will be slow and at times frustrating. Still, U.S. officials should not lose sight of the goalposts. Although few experts outside of the White House believe that Kim will part ways with any of his nuclear weapons soon, the CTBT presents a way to immediately freeze and begin rolling back the program.

The North Korean regime’s rhetoric in recent months suggests an opening for the test ban to play a central role at the outset. On April 20, Kim declared moratoriums on nuclear and ballistic missile tests and announced the permanent closure of the Punggye-ri test site. He stated, “Under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests…. [T]he nuclear test site in [the] northern area has completed its mission.”11 At the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations Han Tae Song strengthened the message, noting that his country “will join international disarmament efforts for a total ban on nuclear tests.”12

The only nonproliferation regime that comprehensively addresses all aspects of prohibiting nuclear explosive testing is the CTBT, and North Korea’s acceptance of the test ban would bring about the benefits listed below that should not be overlooked by negotiators.

Building confidence and probing Kim’s intentions. The CTBT offers a litmus test of Kim’s credibility and nonproliferation bona fides. On one hand, he appears assured in his ability to strike the United States with nuclear missiles and claims that explosive tests are no longer necessary. On the other hand, acceptance of a legally binding moratorium on testing should not be taken lightly because it would place significant constraints on North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.

North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests of increasing sophistication since 2006, and the last one, in September 2017, may have been a thermonuclear device, given explosive yield estimates of up to 280 kilotons.13 Still, six tests with just one potential hydrogen bomb explosion that may have actually been a boosted fission device is not a lot when it comes to weapons development. The United States conducted 1,030 tests before declaring a moratorium in 1992, and its first full-scale thermonuclear burn of 10.4 megatons took place in 1952 at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Russia and China have carried out 715 and 45 tests each, respectively.

Pyongyang would curtail its ability to make a number of technical advances in its nuclear arsenal by terminating its testing program. Specific developments that would become difficult, perhaps nearly impossible in some cases, include building thermonuclear weapons with much higher, possibly megaton yields; producing smaller, lighter, and more deliverable warheads; and deploying multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles on ballistic missiles. The regime almost certainly lacks an infrastructure for high-performance computing simulations and laser fusion experiments. Even if it were to improbably gain such advanced capabilities, its small repository of explosive testing data would limit their utility for weapons development.14

Signing and ratifying the test ban would also provide insight into Kim’s intentions because it would lock the regime into treaty commitments. History shows that the international community harshly punishes states that join multilateral nuclear arms control treaties and then violate them, regardless of whether they withdraw before doing so. North Korea has never signed the CTBT, but had ratified the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) prior to its withdrawal in 2003. When North Korea carried out its first test at Punggye-ri three years later, despite being a nonmember of the NPT, the UN Security Council imposed biting sanctions under Resolution 1718. India and Pakistan have never joined the CTBT and NPT, but faced censure rather than sanctions in Resolution 1172 following their 1998 tests.15

Verifying the closure of Punggye-ri. Kim’s announcement that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site would be shuttered and destroyed in the lead-up to the Singapore summit was a positive development. There are legitimate reasons, however, to doubt the permanence of this action. Verification at the test site is necessary to demonstrate North Korea’s commitments to nuclear disarmament while showing the regime that it will be treated in a fair and transparent manner during the process. The CTBT could facilitate impartial international verification of the shutdown of Punggye-ri.

On May 24, as a group of about two dozen international journalists watched, North Korea carried out explosions for the alleged purpose of destroying the three intact horizontal nuclear testing tunnels at Punggye-ri. In the days before the demolition, the regime withdrew invitations for U.S. and South Korean technical experts to observe.16 The journalists present were not versed in the on-site and field inspection techniques needed to systematically analyze the day’s events. To add to these concerns, the press stood at an observation point just 500 meters away, raising questions about the size of the explosions and extent of what was actually destroyed. After the smoke cleared, satellite imagery showed that the tunnel entrances were razed, but the tunnels themselves may still be comfortably in place and recoverable with modest excavation.

Additionally, the test site’s command center appears to be operational, and the regime reportedly removed and relocated sensitive equipment before the blasts.17 Simply put, the closure of the test site requires verification; informal pledges from Kim are just not enough.

Establishing ties to the CTBTO. The CTBTO is the only international organization with the capabilities to verify that Punggye-ri is decommissioned and inoperable. CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo has offered the organization’s expertise in “site characterisation; site closure verification; post site closure and dismantlement verification; and online and remote monitoring.”18 Indeed, the CTBTO has a sizeable cadre of international inspectors and numerous other specialists through its Working Group B on verification issues, with expertise ranging from visual observation to overflight photography, environmental sampling, and drilling. Although official on-site inspections cannot occur until the treaty enters into force, the CTBTO stands ready to assist if Kim is legitimately interested in disarmament.

The CTBTO could verify closure of the test site and, as Zerbo has suggested, establish a baseline for monitoring Punggye-ri. Techniques that could be used include ground-penetrating radar and magnetic and gravitational field mapping to locate cavities or hidden underground testing infrastructure such as piping and diagnostic cabling. Multispectral imaging could allow identification of changes in the test site’s surface and subsurface geological features over time. The deployment of mobile gamma-radiation detection equipment and seismic arrays could provide local monitoring of normal background and potentially aberrant geophysical events. From there, video and remote monitoring of the site could occur, including continuous collection of International Monitoring System (IMS) data.19

Singapore Summit Statement

The following are key portions of the joint statement issued at the conclusion of the June 12 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Convinced that the establishment of new US-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state
the following:

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

Having acknowledged that the US-DPRK summit—the first in history—was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in the joint statement fully and expeditiously.

The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the US-DPRK summit.

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have committed to cooperate for the development of new US-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and the security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.

 


CTBTO experts are no strangers to this work, as the international community has invested heavily in the build-out of impartial, science-based procedures for test site verification. The organization has administered inspector training at the former U.S. test site in Nevada and former Soviet test site in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. CTBTO representatives also visited the closed French test site at Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. Furthermore, the CTBTO carried out successful, large-scale, simulated, on-site inspections in integrated field exercises in Kazakhstan in 2008 and Jordan in 2014.20

Still, some observers have raised concerns about the possible existence of a secret test site. Unlike the nuclear fuel cycle or stockpile storage, nuclear testing is a highly concentrated and expansive enterprise. In the age of satellite imagery supported by machine learning algorithms, it is unlikely that North Korea has constructed a second test site undetected by Western intelligence agencies and interested nongovernmental experts, which does not mean the possibility can be summarily dismissed out of hand.

Even in the improbable worst-case scenario, this hypothetical second test site would be unusable unless Kim desired a return to the hostile pre-Singapore climate. The CTBT monitoring system of seismic, infrasound, hydroacoustic, and radionuclide sensors is nearly 90 percent complete and successfully detected all six North Korean nuclear tests with a high degree of locational precision. North Korea is fairly aseismic, so detection of nuclear tests and discrimination between natural and artificial geophysical events is relatively straightforward.

A U.S. National Academy of Sciences report in 2012 by top U.S. technical experts also concluded that the IMS and individual national technical means would make it exceptionally difficult for even very advanced nuclear-armed states such as Russia to conduct militarily significant evasive testing without getting caught.21 There is no convincing evidence that any state, much less North Korea, could confidently employ cavity decoupling or mine masking of nuclear explosive tests.22

Seizing the Opportunity

By meeting with Trump, Kim has achieved something that was unthinkable just a few months ago. He has even received and accepted an invitation to visit the White House. Yet, many experts have well-justified and pervasive questions about the extent of Kim’s commitment to change.23

No one thinks North Korean nuclear disarmament will happen tomorrow, but now is the time to formalize the principles in the summit’s joint statement with concrete actions. There is simply no other way to gauge Kim’s intentions and build the confidence between longtime rivals that will be necessary to achieve verifiable nuclear disarmament. The nuclear test ban offers a path forward that should be feasible and mutually agreeable while providing the best prospects for preventing this rare diplomatic breakthrough from going to waste.

Persuading Kim to sign and ratify the CTBT would also be a domestic political victory for Trump. Imagine if the president convinced the only country to have tested nuclear weapons in the 21st century to embrace a treaty banning “all nuclear explosions on Earth whether for military or for peaceful purposes.” North Korea would join 183 signatory states and 166 ratifying states that have endorsed the global norm against nuclear explosive testing.

The most recent national public opinion survey on the test ban indicates that 65 percent of Americans support the United States ratifying the CTBT, with 20 percent undecided, and just 15 percent opposed. Among Trump’s core political base, 56 percent of Republicans support the motion, with 20 percent undecided, and only 24 percent opposed.24 If Americans so strongly favor forever ending U.S. nuclear tests, support for halting North Korean tests is probably close to universal. For a president with few if any bipartisan wins, getting Kim to commit to the CTBT might be a major political breakthrough.25

Trump has also stated, “The prize I want is victory for the world.”26 Putting a stop to Pyongyang’s testing once and for all would be a victory in itself. Even more importantly, getting Kim to accept legal, political, and technical constraints on his nuclear program would be an ideal launching point for future conversations about warhead and ballistic missile controls, dismantlement, and the regime eventually rejoining the NPT. Where the discussions start and end remains to be seen, but the Trump administration should begin planning straightaway to develop the framework more specifically from the summit’s joint statement.

Prompting North Korea to join the test ban is perhaps the quickest way to benchmark Kim’s openness toward disarmament, qualitatively freeze his arsenal, and begin meaningfully rolling back his nuclear weapons program. There has never been a better time to put to use the international community’s long-term investment in the CTBTO.

ENDNOTES

1. Susan Page, “Analysis: When Trump Met Kim, the Handshake Was More Historic Than the Words,” USA Today, June 12, 2018.

2. U.S. officials said the reference is to a missile-engine test facility at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, according to Reuters. North Korea has not publicly confirmed that Kim made such a commitment. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-usa-site/u-s-identifies-north-korea-missile-test-site-it-says-kim-committed-to-destroy-idUSKBN1JH02B.

3.  Brian Barrett, “All the Times North Korea Promised to Denuclearize,” Wired, June 12, 2018.

4. Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Singapore Summit’s Three Big Takeaways,” The Washington Post, June 12, 2018.

5.  Stephen Herzog, “A Way Forward With North Korea: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” War on the Rocks, June 11, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/06/a-way-forward-with-north-korea-the-comprehensive-nuclear-test-ban-treaty/.

6. Duyeon Kim, “The Inter-Korean Agreement and Pyongyang’s Offer to Trump,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 8, 2018, https://thebulletin.org/inter-korean-agreement-and-pyongyangs-offer-trump11590. For a forthcoming fictional account of the potentially catastrophic consequences of U.S. misunderstandings about North Korean interpretations of denuclearization, see Jeffrey Lewis, The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).

7. Siegfried S. Hecker, Robert L. Carlin, and Elliot A. Serbin, “A Technically-Informed Roadmap for North Korea’s Denuclearization” (presentation, May 28, 2018), http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4492764-Stanford-Report-on-Denuclearization-Roadmap.html.

8. Louis Nelson, “Pompeo: U.S. Will Seek ‘Major Disarmament’ From North Korea Over Next Two Years,” Politico, June 13, 2018; David Nakamura et al., “Trump-Kim Summit: Trump Says After Historic Meeting, ‘We Have Developed a Very Special Bond,’” The Washington Post, June 12, 2018.

9. Mark S. Bell and Julia Macdonald, “Toward Deterrence: The Upside of the Trump-Kim Summit,” War on the Rocks, June 15, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/06/toward-deterrence-the-upside-of-the-trump-kim-summit/.

10. William J. Broad, David E. Sanger, and Troy Griggs, “The Nine Steps Really Required to Disarm North Korea,” The New York Times, June 11, 2018.

11. Joe Tacopino, “North Korea Announces It Will Suspend Nuclear, Missile Tests,” New York Post, April 20, 2018.

12. “Satellite Photo Offers Clue as N. Korea Promises ‘Total Ban’ on Nuclear Tests,” Associated Press, May 16, 2018.

13. Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “North Korea Nuclear Test May Have Been Twice as Strong as First Thought,” The Washington Post, September 13, 2017.

14. Herzog, “A Way Forward With North Korea.”

15. Ibid.

16. Adam Rawnsley, “Satellite Images Show North Korea Scrubbed Nuclear Test Site Before Unilaterally Destroying It,” The Daily Beast, May 30, 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/satellite-images-show-north-korea-scrubbed-nuclear-test-site-before-unilaterally-destroying-it.

17. Ibid.; Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Jack Liu, “The Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site Destroyed: A Good Start but New Questions Raised About Irreversibility,” 38 North, May 31, 2018, https://www.38north.org/2018/05/punggye053118/.

18. Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, “Statement by Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary, CTBTO, on the Singapore Summit,” June 12, 2018, https://www.ctbto.org/press-centre/press-releases/2018/statement-by-lassina-zerbo-executive-secretary-ctbto-on-the-singapore-summit/.

19. For an accessible discussion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’s monitoring and verification system, see Ola Dahlman et al., Detect and Deter: Can Countries Verify the Nuclear Test Ban? (New York: Springer, 2011), pp. 129-157. See also Andreas Persbo, “Compliance Science: The CTBT’s Global Verification System,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 23, Nos. 3-4 (2016): 317-328.

20. Oliver Meier, “Special Report: Major Exercise Tests CTBT On-site Inspections,” Arms Control Today, November 2008, pp. 32-38; Jenifer Mackby, “Special Report: Did Maridia Conduct a Nuclear Test Explosion? On-site Inspection and the CTBT,” Arms Control Today, January-February 2015, pp. 16-22.

21. Committee on Reviewing and Updating Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, National Research Council of the National Academies, The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Technical Issues for the United States (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2012).

22. Kaegan McGrath, “Verifiability, Reliability, and National Security: The Case for U.S. Ratification of the CTBT,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2009): 412-414.

23. Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda, “North Korea Is a Nuclear Power. Get Used to It,” The New York Times, June 12, 2018; Jeffrey Lewis, “The Photo-Op Summit,” Foreign Policy, June 10, 2018, http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/10/the-photo-op-summit/.

24. Stephen Herzog and Jonathon Baron, “Public Support, Political Polarization, and the Nuclear-Test Ban: Evidence from a New U.S. National Survey,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 24, Nos. 3-4 (2017): 363-368.

25. Herzog, “A Way Forward With North Korea.”

26. Emily Cochrane, “President Trump a Nobel Laureate? It’s a Possibility,” The New York Times, May 9, 2018.


Stephen Herzog is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Yale University and Nonresident WSD-Handa Fellow with the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Previously, he directed a scientific engagement program supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Posted: July 1, 2018

A Path to Reducing Iran’s Missile Threat and Reconfiguring U.S. Missile Defenses

Why pursuing negotiations to limit Iran’s missiles could produce a win for all involved.


July/August 2018
By Jaganath Sankaran and Steve Fetter

President Donald Trump cast his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal as part of his administration’s “efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” Along with having “unacceptable” sunset provisions, he said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “fails to address the regime’s development of ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads.”

Iranian Sejjil (left) and Ghadr-H medium-range ballistic missiles are displayed in Tehran September 25, 2017 next to a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during annual defense-week events. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)If these issues are addressed, Trump indicated that he is “ready, willing, and able” to negotiate a new deal. The U.S. administration, he said, “will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.”1

European leaders declared their intent to stay in the deal and placed the onus on the Trump administration to propose “concrete” steps toward an alternative agreement with Iran. Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, said that “as long as Iran continues to implement its nuclear-related commitments, as it is doing so far, the EU will remain committed to the continued, full, and effective implementation of the nuclear deal.”2 European nations are exploring means of avoiding extraterritorial enforcement of U.S. sanctions, but it will be very difficult to sustain the financial benefits promised to Iran absent U.S. participation and support.

Iran, as it girds for renewed U.S. sanctions, has been cool, even hostile, to the idea of a new arrangement that imposes restrictions beyond those of the JCPOA. Such posturing, however, may be for bargaining purposes rather than a definitive refusal to engage in negotiations. In September 2017, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif argued that if the United States “want[s] to have an addendum, there has to be an addendum on everything,” indicating the possibility of accepting restrictions beyond the JCPOA if proper economic incentives are provided.3 One prospective topic for negotiations is ballistic missiles. Iranian leaders have recently pledged to limit the range of their missiles to 2,000 kilometers, asserting that their primary national security threats lie within that range.4

A new agreement that formalizes this restraint, along with further restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, would have many virtues. In addition to forestalling threats to most of Europe and all of the continental United States, an agreement on missile limitations could render unnecessary the planned U.S. deployment of missile defense interceptors in Poland and the existing deployment in Romania. The possibility of reducing or eliminating the European Phased Adaptive Approach for missile defense would reduce Russian motivations to deploy new nuclear weapon systems to penetrate or evade U.S. missile defenses, in turn motivating Russia to help persuade Iran to accept restraints on its missile program.

Missile Limits

As part of a new deal, Iran could agree not to flight-test missiles with ranges exceeding 2,000 kilometers.5 The limit on Iran’s missile capabilities would be in addition to constraints on its nuclear activities. To enforce such a limitation, some combination of restrictions on missile fuel, missile dead-weight, and warhead weight would need to be imposed to ensure that tested missiles could not under any circumstances exceed the 2,000-kilometer limit.

In addition to monitoring flight tests, it may be necessary to monitor experimental test facilities, such as rocket motor development and wind tunnel laboratories, to ensure compliance. For instance, Iran might be experimenting with long-range missile-related technologies at Shahrud.6 Iran may have to agree to cease such activity and provide access to verify compliance. Monitoring these facilities would help ensure Iran does not develop and test long-range missile motors and warhead re-entry vehicles.

U.S. Rear Admiral Jesse Wilson, Jr. (center), commander of Naval Surface Force Atlantic, tours the Aegis Ashore facility at Deveselu, Romania on April 14. The complex is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense system to counter the Iranian ballistic missile threat. (Photo: Jeremy Starr/U.S. Navy/Released)Iran has tested a solid-fueled Sejjil missile that may be capable of delivering a 750-kilogram warhead approximately 2,200 kilometers. Iran also may have tested the Khorramshahr missile, having a range of 2,000 kilometers with a 1,800-kilogram warhead. Each exceeds the 2,000-kilometer limit. Iran must agree to verifiably retire these missiles and variants that might exceed the limit.

In addition to Iran’s missile program, an agreement would be needed to permit legitimate space launch capabilities while impeding the possibility of a rapid fielding of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Iran has successfully launched primitive satellites into orbit using its Safir space launch vehicle. It has also displayed a larger two-stage Simorgh launch vehicle.7 In order to permit space launch activities while preventing potential ICBM capabilities, Iran would have to accept restraints. For example, Iran may be asked to declare its rocket-fuel facilities and subject those to inspections or to stockpile only a limited amount or only certain types of rocket fuel. Additionally, Iran may be asked to assemble its space launch vehicles on a just-in-time basis to ensure that these vehicles are not available for use as missiles. Alternatively, European countries or Russia might offer guaranteed launch services at a reasonable price in exchange for a suspension of Iranian space launch activities.

U.S. Interests

A prominent concern that has animated U.S. policy toward Iran has been the possibility of it acquiring long-range missiles able to target U.S. allies in Europe and eventually the continental United States, particularly the possibility that such missiles might be armed with nuclear warheads.

A new agreement that limits Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities could ensure that Iran will not be able to mount a “nuclear blackmail” of U.S. or European cities. This in turn would allow the United States to postpone plans for completion of a European missile defense and save considerable financial resources that the United States currently spends to develop and maintain it.

It also would help address a primary Russian complaint. In his recent address to the Russian Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin argued that “the United States is creating a global missile defense system primarily for countering strategic arms.… [T]hese weapons form the backbone of our nuclear forces.”8 The prospect of deferring and eventually canceling the deployment of the phased adaptive approach missile defense interceptors in Poland would provide valuable leverage in future arms control talks with Russia, including in resolving disagreements over Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Finally, it would free up resources to develop and install more robust regional missile defense systems, such as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the Middle East region, thereby reassuring U.S allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, which lie within reach of Iran’s short- and medium-range conventional missiles.

For more than a decade, U.S. presidents have invested considerable capital in pursuing missile defenses against Iranian missiles with ranges exceeding 2,000 kilometers. Justifying the development of a European missile defense architecture in 2007, President George W. Bush argued that “the need for missile defense in Europe is real and I believe it’s urgent. Iran is pursuing the technology that could produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them…. Our intelligence community assesses that, with continued foreign assistance, Iran could develop an [ICBM] capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe before 2015.”9

In 2009, President Barack Obama modified the missile defense plans developed by the Bush administration. The Obama administration argued that earlier plans had “been developed primarily to provide improved defenses for the U.S. homeland—not Europe—against long-range Iranian missiles launched one or two at a time.”10 Pointing out that ICBM threats from Iran had not matured as feared, the Obama administration initiated the phased adaptive approach. Although reduced in scope, the plan still aimed to defend European allies against Iranian missiles with ranges much greater than 2,000 kilometers.

The phased adaptive approach provides broad defensive coverages for the European theater against Iranian missiles having ranges between 2,000 and 5,000 kilometers (fig. 1), fired from near cities such as Tabriz, Mashhad and Zahedan, but little or no coverage for missiles having ranges less than 2,000 kilometers. Many U.S. military bases in the Middle East, Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan fall within a 2,000-kilometer range of those Iranian cities.11 Even under the best operational circumstances, the phased adaptive approach is unable to defend against Iranian missiles targeting the U.S. bases.12

A new agreement to limit the range of Iranian missiles to 2,000 kilometers would make the phased adaptive approach unnecessary. If Iranian missile threats of a range greater than 2,000 kilometers are eliminated, then the phased adaptive approach can be reconfigured to a much smaller hedge status with the goal of eventual removal. An initial hedge status, for instance, could permit the United States and Poland to “complete preparation of the missile defense sites in Poland, acquire the interceptors, but hold them in storage.”13

U.S. policymakers have consistently stated that European missile defense plans are directed only against Iran and if the threat vanishes so would the need for the defensive system. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates writes in his memoir that, during the George W. Bush administration, he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “told Putin that if the Iranian missile program went away, so would the need for U.S. missile defenses in Europe.”14 Similarly, speaking in Moscow in 2009, Obama said, “I’ve made it clear that this system is directed at preventing a potential attack from Iran…. [I]f the threat from Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program is eliminated, the driving force for missile defense in Europe will be eliminated.”15

These statements justify reconfiguring the phased adaptive approach system. One substantial benefit from such a move would be the impact on U.S.-Russian relations and bilateral arms control efforts. The Trump administration has been willing to engage Russia in arms control dialogues. A commitment to defer the deployment of interceptors in Poland would be welcome in Russia. If astutely negotiated, the reconfiguration could also be used to resolve disagreements over INF Treaty violations, extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), and provide a basis to begin negotiations on a New START follow-on agreement.

Putin has singled out the phased adaptive approach as a major point of contention in INF Treaty discussions. He has argued that the plan violates the INF Treaty because “the launch tubes where these [interceptor] missiles are stored…are the same that are used on navy ships to carry Tomahawk missiles. You can replace interceptor missiles with Tomahawks in a matter of hours, and these tubes will no longer be used to intercept missiles…. In my opinion, this is a major threat.”16 By reconfiguring the phased adaptive approach and inviting Russia to inspect the launch tubes, the United States could demonstrate its commitment to the INF Treaty. It also would provide a means to convince Russia to address its own violations of the INF Treaty.

The reconfiguration of the phased adaptive approach would have no impact on the U.S. and allied efforts to mount credible defenses against Iranian missiles with ranges less than 2,000 kilometers. The THAAD AN/TPY-2 radars reportedly deployed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, in Camp As Saliyah in Qatar, and in the Negev Desert in Israel have wide tracking coverages over the region (fig. 2).17 Missile defense of critical U.S. bases and cities can be performed by additional THAAD batteries that can plug into these radar coverages. Also, U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Israel have procured independent missile defense systems.

What Is in It for Iran?

The Trump administration’s unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA has diluted many of the incentives Iran might have in pursuing a new deal that imposed reasonable restrictions on its missile program and further limits on its nuclear activities. Yet, U.S. participation and sanctions relief is still required for Iran to obtain the broad and unhindered access to the global economy it wants.

If the P5+1 nations (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) initiated discussions for a new deal and the United States offered full and good faith political participation, including the potential approval of the U.S. Senate, it is conceivable Iran might be induced to engage. The French, German, and UK foreign ministers, in concert with Mogherini, appear to have broached a discussion with Iran on its ballistic missile program.18

Two factors could motivate Iran’s acquiescence to missile restrictions. First, Iran perceives major threats to its security emerging primarily from its neighborhood. Its offensive military programs are designed as a conventional deterrent to counter regional threats. Missiles having ranges longer than 2,000 kilometers might not be useful in a military contingency. Second, the reimposition of U.S. sanctions would prevent Iran from realizing the gains from the JCPOA that many Iranians anticipated as key to boosting the country’s troubled economy.

Iran develops and deploys missiles primarily to compensate for material military weakness in comparison to its regional foes. One report stated that “Iran lacks the resources, industrial base, and scale of effort to compete with Arab Gulf states that can generally buy the most advanced weapons available.”19

Iranians seem to believe that their missile arsenal serves as the only potent weapon available to offset its military inferiority. For instance, in 2012 the commander of the aerospace division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps pointed out that all major U.S. bases are “good targets” for Iranian missiles with a 2,000-kilometer range. He also suggested Iran has “set up bases and deployed missiles to destroy all these [U.S.] bases in the early minutes after an attack,”20 presumably with conventional warheads. Given that Iran is more interested in responding to military threats in its neighborhood, it may be willing to give up development of missiles with ranges more than 2,000 kilometers if sufficient incentives are provided.

Such incentives can be generated if the United States lifted nuclear and missile-related sanctions and other restrictions on trade with Iran. The economic leverage that the United States wields over Iran might be used to induce it to accept a reasonable set of restraints on its missile program. Although acknowledging that the United States had lifted sanctions as agreed in the JCPOA, Iranians believe that the United States was “finding other ways to keep the negative effects of sanctions” and “prevent countries from normalizing their trade and economic relations with Iran.”21 A new deal would have to convincingly assure Iran that such restrictions would not be used if Iran honored its commitments.

Conclusion

The possibility of a new arrangement with Iran will depend on a face-saving fix for Trump that addresses his concerns about the current deal, including the issue of Iran’s missile program.22 An agreement to restrict Iran’s missile program to those having ranges of less than 2,000 kilometers might be part of such a fix.

A U.S. commitment to hedge and reduce the scope of the phased adaptive approach in Europe, along with such a new agreement, would provide many additional advantages. It may induce Russia to use its influence to persuade Iran to accept new terms. It also would demonstrate the willingness of the United States to stand by its articulated policy that U.S. missile defense plans are a response to identified threats and that if the threat ceases to exist, the United States would remove the missile defense system. Such a commitment will buy valuable leverage in arms control negotiations with Russia.

ENDNOTES

1.  The White House, “Remarks by President Trump on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” May 8, 2018, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-joint-comprehensive-plan-action/.

2.  Jon Stone, “EU Tells Trump He Doesn’t Have the Power to Unilaterally Scrap the Iran Nuclear Deal,” Independent, May 9, 2018.

3.  David Sanger and Rick Gladstone, “Iranian Foreign Minister: If U.S. Wants New Nuclear Concessions, We Do, Too,” The New York Times, September 21, 2017.

4.  “Iran Says Supreme Leader Limits Ballistic Missile Range,” Associated Press, October 31, 2017. Similar statements have been made by the Iranian leadership on a number of occasions since 2011.

5.  The flight test ban idea has been previously explored. See Michael Elleman, “Banning Long-Range Missiles in the Middle East: A First Step for Regional Arms Control,” Arms Control Today, May 2012.

6.  Max Fisher, “Deep in the Desert, Iran Quietly Advances Missile Technology,” The New York Times, May 23, 2018.

7.  U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center, “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat,” NASIC-1031-0985-06, March 2006, p. 2, https://www.ausairpower.net/PDF-A/NASIC-1031-0985-06.pdf.

8.  President of Russia, “Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly,” March 1, 2018, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/56957.

9.  “President Bush Visits National Defense University, Discusses Global War on Terror.” The White House, October 23, 2007, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/10/20071023-3.html. See U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Defense, “Proposed U.S. Missile Defense Assets in Europe,” 07-MDA-2650, June 15, 2007, p. 6, https://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps84616/bmd-europe.pdf.

10.  Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Knopf, 2014), p. 400.

11.  The major U.S. bases within 2,000 kilometers of the three Iranian cities in figure 1 include Ali Al Salem base in Kuwait, Al Dhafra base in the United Arab Emirates, Al Udeid base in Qatar, Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Camp As Saliyah in Qatar, Camp Buehring in Kuwait, Fujairah base in the UAE, Jebel Ali port in the UAE, Kandahar base in Afghanistan, Kuwait Naval Base, NSA Bahrain, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, Izmir air base in Turkey, and Thumrait air base in Oman.

12.  Defensive coverage footprints were calculated assuming missile tracking will be available immediately after boost-phase burnout. That may not be the case for many trajectories. Similarly, a single-shot defensive doctrine is assumed. A shoot-look-shoot mode would further reduce the defended area footprints. Finally, engage-on-remote mode is assumed to explore the maximum possible coverages provided by the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

13.  Brad Roberts, “Anticipating the 2017 Review of U.S. Missile Defense Policy and Posture,” in Missile Defense and Defeat: Considerations for the New Policy Review, ed. Thomas Karako (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS], 2017), p. 35.

14.  Gates, Duty, p. 404.

15.  Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by the President at the New Economic School Graduation,” July 7, 2009.

16.  President of Russia, “Meeting With Heads of International News Agencies,” June 17, 2016, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/52183; President of Russia, “Meeting on Defense Industry Development,” May 13, 2016, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/51911.

17.  These locations are speculative. There is no official acknowledgment by the United States that Terminal High Altitude Area Defense radars are deployed at these sites. For sources on the locations, see Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “Pentagon Bulks Up Defenses in the Gulf,” The Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2012; “Construction of Negev Missile Defense Base Run by U.S. Troops Completed,” Haaretz, November 11, 2008; Karl Vick and Aaron J. Klein, “How a U.S. Radar Station in the Negev Affects a Potential Israel-Iran Clash,” Time, May 30, 2012; “Malatya Radar System to Be Commanded From Ramstein,” Hurriyet Daily News, February 4, 2012.

18.  Michael Peel, Guy Chazan, and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, “European Nations Step Up Iran Pressure in Face of Trump Threat,” Financial Times, January 16, 2018.

19.  Anthony H. Cordesman, “Military Spending and Arms Sales in the Gulf,” CSIS, April 28, 2015, p. 4, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/150428_gulfarmssales.pdf. See Trita Parsi and Tyler Cullis, “The Myth of the Iranian Military Giant,” Foreign Policy, July 10, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/10/the-myth-of-the-iranian-military-giant/.

20.  Marcus George, “Iran Says Can Destroy U.S. Bases ‘Minutes After Attack,’” Reuters, July 4, 2012.

21.  Ebrahim Mohseni, Nancy Gallagher, and Clay Ramsey, “Iranian Attitude on Iranian-U.S. Relations in the Trump Era: A Public Opinion Study,” University of Maryland Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, January 25, 2017, pp. 1-2, http://cissm.umd.edu/sites/default/files/Iranian%20Attitudes%20in%20the%20Trump%20Era%20-%20012517%20-%20FINAL.pdf.

22.  “Iran Deal’s Future May Hinge on Face-Saving Fix for Trump,” Associated Press, October 3, 2017.


Jaganath Sankaran is an assistant research professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and a research associate at the school’s Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland. Steve Fetter is a professor at the school.

Posted: July 1, 2018

Initiatives to Strengthen Nuclear and Radiological Security Efforts

Modest additional resources and a few targeted efforts could meaningfully reduce the risk that terrorists or other hostile actors obtain the materials for a nuclear or radiological bomb.


July/August 2018
By Leland Cogliani

The United States is not prepared to respond to rapidly evolving and complex nuclear and radiological threats. Yet, modest resources and a few targeted efforts could meaningfully strengthen the country’s ability to track and mitigate such dangers and, in some cases, eliminate them.

There is reason for concern about current stockpiles of nuclear materials and the prospect that they will increase as more countries, investing in nuclear research and development, are showing interest in deploying nuclear power reactors and enrichment technologies.

U.S. Army soldiers, dressed in metallic protective suits, conduct a radiation-reconnaissance activity April 22 during Guardian Response 18, a training exercise to validate Army units’ ability to support civil authorities in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear event. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Sofia, 78th Training Division)Already, too many radiological and nuclear materials remain at risk for theft, including materials in the United States. That raises the chances that terrorists or other hostile actors could acquire the capability to pose a nuclear or radiological danger, such as threatening or detonating a rudimentary “dirty bomb,” which would spew radioactive material over a large area.

Further, disruptive technologies, such as 3-D printing, machine learning, and cyberattacks, can provide terrorists unprecedented opportunities to build crude nuclear devices or anonymously attack U.S. energy assets. Such perils should spur a greater preventive effort by the U.S. government, which has the resources and capabilities to be more proactive.

The Trump administration’s report of its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review reaffirmed that “preventing the illicit acquisition of a nuclear weapon, nuclear materials, or related technology and expertise by a violent extremist organization is a significant U.S. national security priority.”1 Yet, the report offered no new initiatives, and the funding levels for existing programs are in jeopardy.

Although the current administration prioritizes spending to modernize the nuclear stockpile, it has failed to take actions to address these nuclear-related threats. There is a clear lack of high-level governmental attention to nuclear nonproliferation, no well-defined and bold vision for nonproliferation activities, a breakdown of international cooperative efforts, and a continuing loss of critical nuclear expertise across the government.

These factors make nonproliferation programs vulnerable to budget cuts and irrelevance at a time when these efforts are needed more than ever. The president’s fiscal year 2019 budget request is a prime example. The administration proposed $11 billion for nuclear stockpile modernization efforts, a $375 million, or 3.5 percent, increase from the enacted funding levels for fiscal year 2018. At the same time, it proposed cutting core nonproliferation programs by $191 million, or 11 percent, to $1.5 billion.2 Funding cuts to nonproliferation programs were offered as offsets for the overall $1.3 trillion multiyear effort to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile.

The government agency that has a leading role in reducing and preventing nuclear and radiological threats against the United States is the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous part of the Department of Energy. Within the NNSA, the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) has successfully led efforts over more than a decade to secure and permanently eliminate the most vulnerable nuclear materials around the world. For example, on August 29, 2017, the NNSA announced it had eliminated all highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Ghana. This made Ghana the 32nd country, plus Taiwan, to be completely HEU-free, significantly reducing terrorist access to material that could be used to produce a nuclear weapon or improvised nuclear explosive device.3

However, the DNN has not kept pace with a growing number of nonproliferation and nuclear security challenges. To strengthen nonproliferation efforts and refocus the DNN’s programs, three major efforts should be launched that would have the highest impact and receive strong congressional bipartisan support, including an initiative that maintains and builds critical capabilities to address current and future nuclear security threats, a proliferation detection consortium to advance the development and deployment of nonproliferation technologies, and a radiological initiative that would eliminate or secure within five years all of the highest-risk radioactive sources in the United States that could be used for a radiological dispersal device.

Nuclear Security Crosscut Initiative

The Energy Department needs a nuclear security crosscut initiative that would coordinate program activities and resources of the various offices and programs across the Energy Department and the NNSA. The goal would be to reduce nuclear and radiological threats and leverage the Energy Department’s unique expertise to address growing nonproliferation and nuclear security challenges that are a significant concern for the United States. These challenges include

  • continuing interest by terrorist groups in acquiring nuclear and radiological materials,
  • increasing global stockpiles of plutonium,
  • inadequately secured nuclear and radiological materials,
  • the threat of nuclear smuggling,
  • nuclear weapons modernization and foreign nuclear weapons development,
  • more countries investing in nuclear R&D and showing interest in establishing nuclear power reactors,
  • reassessments of advanced reactor concepts and the fuel cycle,
  • growing cyberattacks, and
  • the rise of disruptive technologies, such as additive manufacturing, laser enrichment, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

The NNSA is focused on maintaining core capabilities for the U.S. nuclear deterrent and nuclear weapons modernization efforts, but has not paid sufficient attention to the capabilities needed to understand and respond to foreign nuclear fuel-cycle and weapons development processes while supporting safeguards and future arms control technologies.

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration holds an International Radiological Assistance Program Training for Emergency Response class in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in July 2013. The training included using radiation detection equipment to locate hidden radioactive sources. (Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration)As an example of an emerging trend, there are 57 civil nuclear power reactors under construction in 18 countries around the world.4 There are a further 20 countries that currently do not have nuclear power programs that have expressed interest in developing them,5 and some are engaging in nuclear R&D—trends that have a significant impact on proliferation potential. Experts with knowledge about these issues reside at the Energy Department national labs, universities, and industry and are funded by different Energy Department and NNSA programs in many instances. Yet, these activities are not coordinated, and there is a risk of losing these capabilities based on neglect or lack of strategic vision.

The need for this crosscutting initiative presents an opportunity for the DNN to lead the initiative. The DNN should engage and coordinate with NNSA’s Office of Defense Programs, which includes production of unencumbered low-enriched uranium for tritium, and a number of Energy Department offices including the Office of Science, which includes programs for stable isotope production; the naval reactors program (HEU for naval reactors); the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; and the Office of Nuclear Energy, which includes programs for fuel research. Representatives from these offices would form a working group to outline a 10-year strategy and joint investments.

The first part of this effort would be a gap analysis. This analysis would set the baseline for existing capabilities, identify capabilities that are underfunded or disappearing that would be needed for nonproliferation missions, and provide recommendations to reconstitute, exercise, and rebuild needed capabilities. The analysis would be broad and embrace new monitoring and detection technologies, including big data analytics and computer science to detect patterns, crowdsourcing techniques, and use of inexpensive sensors. The effort would employ test beds or facilities to train and test skills and capabilities, such as new centrifuge designs, ways to conceal nuclear weapons development, and advanced fuel-cycle developments. An important element would be efforts to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce.

The NNSA’s role in providing technical support during negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is a perfect example of the broad range of capabilities needed to answer critical questions from the president on the timing and pathways for nuclear weapons production. To support the negotiations, experts from seven national laboratories and two nuclear weapons production sites provided technical analyses on issues such as uranium enrichment, spent fuel reprocessing, reactor designs, and safeguards.

This initial effort would require approximately $30 million and could be modeled after a congressional effort to restore the national laboratories’ capabilities to assess foreign nuclear weapons capabilities in the 2009 emergency supplemental appropriations bill or the new stockpile responsiveness program, managed by the NNSA’s Defense Programs office, established under the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

Proliferation Detection Consortium

A core element of this joint effort should be a proliferation detection consortium that would help accelerate the pace of innovation, development, and deployment of key nonproliferation R&D technologies and coordinate efforts across labs and universities. The purpose of this consortium would be to develop a strategic partnership among the NNSA, national laboratories, universities, and industry that brings together leading experts and resources to collaborate and advance the development and deployment of nonproliferation technologies. The goal is an integrated approach to ensure that NNSA-funded R&D is efficiently coordinated to reap the greatest return on taxpayer dollars. The DNN would strengthen its position as a resource and convener for the diverse and fragmented set of stakeholders across the national laboratories, universities, industry, and other federal agencies.

The first step would be to identify key stakeholders to develop a five-year plan for nonproliferation R&D needs that is tied to specific scientific and engineering grand challenges to address nuclear and radiological threats. Prime national laboratories stakeholders would likely include Los Alamos, Livermore, Sandia, Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Pacific Northwest. Other laboratories and NNSA sites, such as Brookhaven, Fermilab, and Berkeley, could provide technical support on accelerator and other emerging technologies. Prime universities could be drawn from members of the nonproliferation university consortia currently led by the University of California at Berkeley, North Carolina State University, and University of Michigan, the stewardship science academic programs, and partnership-funded institutions. Prime NNSA offices would be the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development (DNN R&D) and the Office of Nonproliferation and Arms Control.

The second step would involve convening a workshop of experts to identify the R&D grand challenges. Those challenges would include

  • next-generation technologies and methods to detect foreign nuclear weapons program activities, such as uranium production, plutonium processing, and low-yield nuclear tests;
  • arms control treaty technologies, such as warhead dismantlement verification;
  • advanced technologies for detecting the illicit diversion of bomb-relevent fissile “special nuclear materials,” such as plutonium and uranium-235, and improved remote monitoring technologies for nuclear materials and operations;
  • new technologies for counterterrorism and incident response; and
  • nonradioactive alternatives to medical and industrial technologies that currently use radioactive sources.

The Energy Department already has used this type of model successfully. In 2014, the Energy Department launched the Grid Modernization Lab Consortium, which coordinated the activities of 13 Energy Department national laboratories, as well as more than 100 universities and industries, related to modernizing the electric grid.6 The consortium developed a four-year modernization plan that identified six major R&D challenges, defined future R&D investments, and, most importantly, identified key labs and program managers to lead and coordinate each of the R&D challenges.7

After it issued the plan, which involved workshops and feedback from the laboratories, universities, and industry, the Energy Department released a $220 million funding opportunity announcement to advance the R&D goals. These projects were jointly funded by the Offices of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. A similar model and level of effort can be used for a proliferation detection consortium pooling resources from the DNN R&D and the arms control office.

The DNN can build on the initial successes of the university consortium for enabling capabilities, verification technologies, and nuclear science that are currently being funded and can leverage the broader network of universities doing work for the Defense Programs office in the academic alliance and partnership program. Many of the Energy Department and NNSA labs have global security programs that include nonproliferation missions, but the labs are not well coordinated, and there may be redundancies. Some labs are not aware of technology developments at other labs or developments that may be funded by other non-NNSA agencies, including the Office of Science, that may be applicable to nonproliferation missions. A consortium would help share ideas and technology developments while avoiding duplication.

In addition, this type of program could help reinvigorate the nonproliferation program more broadly by focusing the expertise of the best labs and universities on funding technology and policy solutions to nuclear and radiological threats. Limited resources could also be pooled to address specific challenges and clarify roles and responsibilities across the labs and sites.

Radiological Eliminate-and-Secure Initiative

A radiological dispersal device, or dirty bomb, attack does not present an existential threat like a nuclear device, but it would still have devastating social and economic consequences. The most likely path for a terrorist to construct a dirty bomb is to steal poorly secured radiological material domestically. The United States should lead by example and be able to declare within the next five years that all vulnerable, high-risk radiological materials have been eliminated.

Workers prepare to ship the last of Hungary’s highly enriched uranium out the country in November 2013. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration also has made progress in helping to secure the most vulnerable, high-risk radiological sources at medical and industrial facilities and has taken back orphaned radiological sources, but thousands of sources and hundreds of facilities remain vulnerable to theft. (Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration)The NNSA has made progress in helping to secure the most vulnerable, high-risk radiological sources at medical and industrial facilities and has taken back orphaned radiological sources, but thousands of sources and hundreds of facilities remain vulnerable to theft. Given budget cuts, the NNSA has pushed back the date of securing buildings and materials to 2033 rather than accelerating efforts to secure these sources from terrorists. In addition, too much effort has been placed on securing materials rather than permanent threat reduction.

The goal of a radiological eliminate-and-secure initiative would be to eliminate, consolidate, and secure by 2023 the highest-risk radioactive sources in the United States that could be used for a dirty bomb. This strategy eliminates the most vulnerable sources in the United States for a dirty bomb, allows the United States to lead by example, and, where necessary, develops new U.S.-based industries that can commercialize and sell nonradioactive technologies on the market. This effort would likely require around $500 million over five years.

Although necessary, a program centered mostly on securing sources raises issues of sustainability. Instead, the primary focus should be on eliminating radiological sources. Fewer sources in fewer, well-protected locations is an effective approach. The DNN Cesium Irradiator Replacement Program, which is focused on replacing blood irradiators using cesium-137 with nonradioactive X-ray technologies, is a good model. Such technological measures should be expanded to other radiological materials, such as cobalt-60 and iridium-192, and to devices such as Gamma Knife technology and medical sterilization irradiators.

The most effective way to reduce the threat of a dirty bomb is to replace radiological sources with safe, effective, alternative technologies. This effort will require coordinating with the DNN’s R&D program to invest in alternative technologies to replace radiological sources. Coordination with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which licenses and regulates the use of radiological sources, is also necessary and has sometimes been a roadblock to moving to alternative technologies. The DNN can help demonstrate that alternative technologies are technically and economically feasible and cost effective and can provide the same level of performance as radiological sources.

Conclusion

These three specific initiatives could help galvanize nonproliferation efforts, significantly enhance U.S. national security, maintain capabilities needed to address current threats, and prevent and, if necessary, respond to future nuclear security threats. Even better, only modest resources are needed to have a big impact. There is no reason the United States should still be vulnerable to dirty bombs made from U.S. materials.

As a world leader in science and technology, including nuclear energy technologies, and with a network of national laboratories and research universities that are the envy of the world, the United States has no excuse for not leveraging these existing capabilities to address major nuclear and radiological threats. Attracting the best and the brightest to these grand national security challenges is imperative because the threats will be enduring and will require innovative solutions.

ENDNOTES

1. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review,” February 2018, https://www.defense.gov/News/SpecialReports/2018NuclearPostureReview.aspx.

2. For base fiscal year 2019 funding, see U.S. Department of Energy, “FY 2019 Congressional Budget Request: National Nuclear Security Administration,” DOE/CF-0138, March 2018, p. 464, https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2018/03/f49/FY-2019-Volume-1.pdf. The core nonproliferation program base funding is $1.534 billion. For a comparison to fiscal year 2018 funding, see 164 Cong. Rec. H2498 (daily ed. March 22, 2018).

3. National Nuclear Security Administration, “NNSA Removes All Highly Enriched Uranium From Ghana,” August 29, 2017, https://www.energy.gov/nnsa/articles/nnsa-removes-all-highly-enriched-uranium-ghana.

4. World Nuclear Association, “World Nuclear Power Reactors and Uranium Requirements,” May 2018, http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/facts-and-figures/world-nuclear-power-reactors-and-uranium-requireme.aspx.

5. World Nuclear Association, “Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries,” April 2018, http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/others/emerging-nuclear-energy-countries.aspx.

6.  See U.S. Department of Energy, “Grid Modernization Initiative: What We Do,” n.d., https://www.energy.gov/grid-modernization-initiative-0.

7. See U.S. Department of Energy, “Grid Modernization Multi-Year Program Plan,” November 2015, https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/01/f28/Grid%20Modernization%20Multi-Year%20Program%20Plan.pdf.


Leland Cogliani is a consultant at Lewis-Burke Associates for research universities, research organizations, and scientific societies and was formerly a Senate Appropriations Committee staff member with oversight of nuclear weapons and nonproliferation programs. He is a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association.

Posted: July 1, 2018

DOCUMENT: Ethics and Autonomous Weapon Systems: An Ethical Basis for Human Control?

Decisions to kill, injure and destroy must not be delegated to machines, says the International Committee of the Red Cross.


July/August 2018

The following is the executive summary of a paper submitted by the International Committee of the Red Cross to the April 9–13 meeting in Geneva of the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts. The group is considering issues involving so-called killer robots, including calls from some countries and advocacy groups for a ban on such weapons.

In the view of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), human control must be maintained over weapon systems and the use of force to ensure compliance with international law and to satisfy ethical concerns, and States must work urgently to establish limits on autonomy in weapon systems.

In August 2017, the ICRC convened a round-table meeting with independent experts to explore the ethical issues raised by autonomous weapon systems and the ethical dimension of the requirement for human control. This report summarizes discussions and highlights the ICRC’s main conclusions.

The fundamental ethical question is whether the principles of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience can allow human decision-making on the use of force to be effectively substituted with computer-controlled processes, and life-and-death decisions to be ceded to machines.

It is clear that ethical decisions by States, and by society at large, have preceded and motivated the development of new international legal constraints in warfare, including constraints on weapons that cause unacceptable harm. In international humanitarian law, notions of humanity and public conscience are drawn from the Martens Clause. As a potential marker of the public conscience, opinion polls to date suggest a general opposition to autonomous weapon systems—with autonomy eliciting a stronger response than remote-controlled systems.

Ethical issues are at the heart of the debate about the acceptability of autonomous weapon systems. It is precisely anxiety about the loss of human control over weapon systems and the use of force that goes beyond questions of the compatibility of autonomous weapon systems with our laws to encompass fundamental questions of acceptability to our values. A prominent aspect of the ethical debate has been a focus on autonomous weapon systems that are designed to kill or injure humans, rather than those that destroy or damage objects, which are already employed to a limited extent.

The primary ethical argument for autonomous weapon systems has been results-oriented: that their potential precision and reliability might enable better respect for both international law and human ethical values, resulting in fewer adverse humanitarian consequences. As with other weapons, such characteristics would depend on both the design-dependent effects and the way the weapons were used. A secondary argument is that they would help fulfil the duty of militaries to protect their own forces—a quality not unique to autonomous weapon systems.

While there are concerns regarding the technical capacity of autonomous weapons systems to function within legal and ethical constraints, the enduring ethical arguments against these weapons are those that transcend context—whether during armed conflict or in peacetime—and transcend technology—whether simple or sophisticated.

The importance of retaining human agency—and intent—in decisions to use force, is one of the central ethical arguments for limits on autonomy in weapon systems. Many take the view that decisions to kill, injure and destroy must not be delegated to machines, and that humans must be present in this decision-making process sufficiently to preserve a direct link between the intention of the human and the eventual operation of the weapon system.

Closely linked are concerns about a loss of human dignity. In other words, it matters not just if a person is killed or injured but how they are killed or injured, including the process by which these decisions are made. It is argued that, if human agency is lacking to the extent that machines have effectively, and functionally, been delegated these decisions, then it undermines the human dignity of those combatants targeted, and of civilians that are put at risk as a consequence of legitimate attacks on military targets.

The need for human agency is also linked to moral responsibility and accountability for decisions to use force. These are human responsibilities (both ethical and legal), which cannot be transferred to inanimate machines, or computer algorithms.

Predictability and reliability in using an autonomous weapon system are ways of connecting human agency and intent to the eventual consequences of an attack. However, as weapons that self-initiate attacks, autonomous weapon systems all raise questions about predictability, owing to varying degrees of uncertainty as to exactly when, where and/or why a resulting attack will take place. The application of AI and machine learning to targeting functions raises fundamental questions of inherent unpredictability.

Context also affects ethical assessments. Constraints on the time-frame of operation and scope of movement over an area are key factors, as are the task for which the weapon is used and the operating environment. However, perhaps the most important factor is the type of target, since core ethical concerns about human agency, human dignity and moral responsibility are most acute in relation to the notion of anti-personnel autonomous weapon systems that target humans directly.

From the ICRC’s perspective, ethical considerations parallel the requirement for a minimum level of human control over weapon systems and the use of force to ensure legal compliance. From an ethical viewpoint, “meaningful”, “effective” or “appropriate” human control would be the type and degree of control that preserves human agency and upholds moral responsibility in decisions to use force. This requires a sufficiently direct and close connection to be maintained between the human intent of the user and the eventual consequences of the operation of the weapon system in a specific attack.

Ethical and legal considerations may demand some similar constraints on autonomy in weapon systems, so that meaningful human control is maintained—in particular, with respect to: human supervision and the ability to intervene and deactivate; technical requirements for predictability and reliability (including in the algorithms used); and operational constraints on the task for which the weapon is used, the type of target, the operating environment, the timeframe of operation and the scope of movement over an area.

However, the combined and interconnected ethical concerns about loss of human agency in decisions to use force, diffusion of moral responsibility and loss of human dignity could have the most far-reaching consequences, perhaps precluding the development and use of anti-personnel autonomous weapon systems, and even limiting the applications of anti-materiel systems, depending on the risks that destroying materiel targets present for human life.

U.S. Statement on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

The following is an excerpt of the U.S. statement on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) presented April 9 to the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts.

It is clear that many governments, including that of the United States, are still trying to understand more fully the ways that autonomy will be used by their societies, including by their militaries. There remains a lack of common understanding on various issues related to LAWS, including their characteristics and elements.

The United States believes that [international humanitarian law (IHL)] provides a robust and appropriate framework for the regulation of all weapons—including those with autonomous functions—in relation to armed conflict, and any development or use of LAWS must be fully consistent with IHL, including the principles of military necessity, humanity, distinction, and proportionality. For this reason, the United States places great importance on the weapon review process in the development and acquisition of new weapon systems. This is a critical measure in ensuring that weapon systems can dependably be used in a manner that is consistent with IHL.

The United States also continues to believe that advances in autonomy and machine learning can facilitate and enhance the implementation of IHL, including the principles of distinction and proportionality. One of our goals is to understand more fully how this technology can continue to be used to reduce the risk to civilians and friendly forces in armed conflict.

The issues presented by LAWS are complex and evolving, as new technologies and their applications continue to be developed. We therefore must be cautious not to make hasty judgments about the value or likely effects of emerging or future technologies. As history shows, our views of new technologies may change over time as we find new uses and ways to benefit from advances in technology. We therefore do not support the negotiation of a political or legally binding document. Rather, we believe we should continue to proceed collectively—with deliberation and patience.

Posted: July 1, 2018

REMARKS: Reducing Stocks of Highly Enriched Uranium

Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide addresses why this is an important international challenge.


July/August 2018

This is adapted from remarks on June 5 by Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide at the 3rd International Symposium on HEU Minimization in Oslo.

Few questions are more important than nuclear security, as global events in recent months have reminded us. I'm pleased that there are representatives from many countries from around the world here today, close to 90 people from 27 countries.

Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs  Ine Eriksen Søreide (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)Norway has been engaged in efforts to minimize and eliminate stocks and the use of highly enriched uranium [HEU] and in promoting non-HEU alternatives for more than a decade. We organized the first symposium on HEU minimization in 2006 and a second in 2012.

The International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] has been a close and important partner throughout these 12 years, and this symposium is yet another example of our long-standing and close cooperation with our Radiation Protection Authority.

There are at least two reasons why Norway has engaged in efforts to minimize HEU, first, because HEU is a key ingredient of nuclear weapons. The global security environment is challenging. The nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation architecture is under pressure. The U.S. decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran has made the whole agreement vulnerable. We are concerned about how this decision could affect the future of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] and the international community's ability to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Much is at stake. Last night's news that Iran may intend to increase the capacity to produce uranium hexafluoride and thereby possibly prepare for further enrichment is disturbing. It stresses the need for all parties to continue to show restraint and engage actively to ensure the continued implementation of the Iran accord. Furthermore, North Korea's nuclear program remains a huge challenge, although recent developments may give grounds for cautious optimism.

Norway is fully committed to the objective of total elimination of nuclear weapons. We are continuing to work actively for nonproliferation and disarmament based on the balanced, mutual, irreversible, and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

Reducing our dependence on HEU is important both as part of these efforts and for fulfilling our obligations under the NPT.

Second, minimizing and eliminating stocks and the use of HEU in the civilian sector is equally important as an element of a comprehensive approach to nuclear security. The large quantities of HEU still in use in civilian nuclear facilities pose significant risks.

Sadly, some nonstate actors are willing to use fissile and radiological material for destructive purposes. Their access to such material could potentially have catastrophic consequences. Recent instances of the use of chemical weapons, whether by states or nonstate actors, could undermine norms and the taboo against using weapons of mass destruction in general. Converting to non-HEU alternatives will considerably reduce the risk of nuclear material falling into the wrong hands.

Norway is actively supporting international efforts and collaboration to convert reactors from using HEU to low-enriched uranium [LEU] that still allows civilian facilities to operate at high performance levels. Norway has collaborated with Russia for more than 20 years to prevent nuclear and other radioactive material from going astray.

We have played a part in facilitating the safe transport of spent nuclear fuel, including HEU. Removal of spent nuclear fuel from the former base at Andreeva Bay on the Kola Peninsula began on June 27, 2017. This was an important milestone in our joint efforts to reduce threats to health and the environment in the north.

Today, I am happy to announce that Norway will provide $300,000 in support for the IAEA-led project on conversion of the Nigeria Miniature Neutron Source Reactor so that it can use LEU fuel instead of HEU. This project serves to further the agency's goals of “Atoms for Peace and Development” by contributing to global efforts to reduce the use of HEU in civil nuclear applications. It also supports the Nigerian government in its efforts to promote economic development and to develop a nuclear power program.

Norway is still in possession of a small quantity of HEU, which it has not yet been possible to repatriate. We are now intensifying our efforts to remove this material safely and appropriately. In collaboration with the United States, we will shortly convene an international technical meeting to discuss potential solutions for treating and ultimately removing materials containing HEU that have so far been outside of the scope of current repatriation programs.

Our aim is to make rapid progress in the transition from HEU to LEU for civilian use. This is a matter of the utmost importance for our common security.

Nuclear security is a perfect example of a 21st century security challenge that no one nation can solve alone. We need to act together.

Posted: July 1, 2018

Summit Reflects New Attitudes, Old Challenges

By talking rather than threatening, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stepped back from an accelerating slide toward a conflict. Still, eliminating Kim’s nuclear weapons is a
tall order.


July/August 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

The historic Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have emphasized pageantry over substance, but the document both leaders signed could start a serious negotiating process on eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they sit down with their respective delegations for the U.S.-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island in Singapore, June 12.  (Photo:  Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)Their June 12 joint statement committed North Korea to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and both countries to hold follow-on negotiations at the “earliest possible date” to implement the leaders’ understandings.

Upon his return to Washington on June 13, Trump claimed to have achieved his goal, tweeting misleadingly that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." The reassurance was premature at best, given that the summit statement did not commit Kim to take any specific steps to halt his nuclear weapons program. Negotiations on what comes next are bound to be difficult, and the history of failed agreements (see box) will weigh on the talks.

Still, by talking rather than threatening, Trump and Kim have stepped back from what seemed to be an accelerating slide toward a conflict with the risk of nuclear weapons use in 2017. Kim, one of the world’s most isolated leaders, bolstered his standing by attaining a one-on-one meeting with a U.S. president. It remains to be seen if the meeting created the necessary political momentum to begin a negotiating process or if it sends the wrong message about leveraging illicit nuclear activities for political gain. Iran, for one, may note the disparity in U.S. treatment.

The U.S. negotiators, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, must try to convert the declared understandings into detailed commitments and then into actions leading to North Korea's complete and verifiable nuclear disarmament—the very goal that has eluded negotiators in the past. How this goes in the coming weeks, months, and perhaps years—not the day-after celebratory tweets from the U.S. president—will determine whether the meeting was a historic turning point or another diplomatic disappointment.

Going into the summit, North Korea and the United States had different expectations about what denuclearization entails. (See ACT, May 2018.) The reference to “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” does not appear to have resolved those differences, and gaps are already discernable between the two countries’ interpretations of the summit commitments.

Before the summit, Pompeo told reporters in Singapore that the “complete and verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is the only outcome that the United States will accept.”

When pressed by reporters after the summit on why there was no inclusion of the word “verification” in the summit document, Pompeo said that verification was understood as part of “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” A June 13 statement on the summit published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) did not mention verification.

Differences in interpretation have plagued U.S. negotiations with North Korea in the past. Most recently, a February 2012 moratorium on long-range missile tests collapsed when North Korea conducted a satellite launch in April of that year. Satellite launch vehicles were not expressly mentioned in the so-called Leap Day deal; the United States said it was understood that such launches were also prohibited, whereas North Korea said they were permitted. (See ACT, May 2012.)

The KCNA statement said that the two leaders agreed “it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action” to achieve peace, stability, and denuclearization.

John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, said June 20 in an interview with Fox News that all sanctions will remain in force until there is evidence of North Korean denuclearization.

It may be difficult for the United States to retain sanctions pressure, given the steps Kim has taken to halt nuclear weapons and certain missile tests and to engage in negotiations with the United States and South Korea.

Following the summit, China called for the UN Security Council to support the diplomatic process and adjust sanctions, “including to pause or remove the relevant sanctions” if North Korea “acts in accordance” with Security Council resolutions. In addition to requiring North Korea to halt nuclear weapons and missile tests, the Security Council resolutions also demand Pyongyang abandon its nuclear program in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner.

In follow-up negotiations, Pompeo will need to clarify with his North Korean counterparts the expectations for denuclearization or run the risk that Pyongyang may exploit any ambiguity in the future.

Despite differences over scope and sequencing, the summit may yield concrete results. Kim is more likely to take verifiable steps to halt and roll back his nuclear and ballistic missile programs if there is a fundamental shift in U.S.-North Korean relations, and despite the insults Kim and Trump traded last year, the two leaders seem to have developed a personal chemistry.

North Korea has long stated that its nuclear weapons are a deterrent against “U.S. hostile policy” toward the country. The KCNA statement on June 13 said that if the United States is willing to take “genuine measures to improving trust” between the two countries, North Korea will take commensurate steps. The statement also said the two countries should commit to refrain from “antagonizing” one another and noted that Trump and Kim have “deepening friendly feelings.”

Trump’s expressions of admiration for Kim, despite myriad human rights abuses, and his announcement at the June 12 summit news conference that the United States would suspend joint “war games” with South Korea may demonstrate that Washington is willing to take steps to respond to North Korea’s security concerns.

Trump’s decision to suspend all military exercises and his adoption of Pyongyang’s term of “war games” to describe the drills caught many off guard, including South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. military forces in Korea. South Korea later agreed to suspend the planned exercises in August.

Pompeo had acknowledged in his June 11 news conference that addressing North Korea’s security concerns and steps on denuclearization must go hand in hand, but did not indicate that Trump was putting a suspension of exercises on the table during the summit.

Trump did say that the United States would resume military exercises if negotiations with North Korea fail to make progress. He did not indicate if the continued suspension was tied to a continuation of North Korea’s voluntary pledge in April to halt long-range ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests.

China has long pushed an interim “freeze for freeze” proposal in which North Korea would agree to halt testing in exchange for a halt of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. Last year, U.S. officials including H.R. McMaster, the then-national security adviser, rejected that concept. (See ACT, November 2017.)

As the dominant regional power, China is playing an important, if unclear, role. Kim met with Chinese President Xi Jinping twice in the lead-up to the summit and again on June 19. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on June 12 that the Trump-Kim summit has “important and positive meaning.”

 

North Korea's Past Nuclear Agreements at a Glance

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” as stated in the Singapore summit statement, follows a history of agreements that at times curbed but ultimately failed to stop North Korea from producing and testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them. Following is a summary of some of the previous agreements.

Jan. 20, 1992: The two Koreas sign the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, agreeing not to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons or to possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium-enrichment facilities. They also agree to mutual inspections for verification. The following year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found that North Korea had clandestinely separated a small amount of plutonium.

Aug. 12, 1994: The United States and North Korea sign an “agreed statement” that establishes a three-stage process for the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In return, the United States promises to move toward normalized economic and diplomatic relations and assures North Korea that it will provide assistance with the construction of proliferation-resistant power reactors to replace North Korea’s graphite-moderated reactors.

Oct. 21, 1994: The United States and North Korea conclude four months of negotiations by adopting the Agreed Framework. The accord calls for North Korea to freeze and eventually eliminate its nuclear facilities, a process that will require dismantling three nuclear reactors. North Korea agreed to allow the IAEA to verify compliance through special inspections and to allow 8,000 spent nuclear reactor fuel elements to be removed to a third country, in exchange for heavy fuel oil shipments and the construction of two, more proliferation-resistant light-water reactors. Calling for movement toward full normalization of political and economic relations, the accord also serves as a jumping-off point for U.S.-North Korean dialogue on Pyongyang’s development and export of ballistic missiles. The agreement broke down by 2002 over accusations by
each side that the other had failed to comply with key obligations.

June 15, 2000: Following a historic summit, North and South Korea sign a joint declaration stating they have “agreed to resolve” the question of reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The declaration included promises to reunite families divided by the Korean War and to pursue other economic and cultural exchanges. No commitments are made regarding nuclear weapons or missile programs or military deployments in the Demilitarized Zone.

Sept. 19, 2005: The participants in the six-party talks conclude a statement of principles to guide future negotiations. North Korea commits “to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date” to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to IAEA safeguards. It also called for the 1992 Joint Declaration to be “observed and implemented.” Washington affirms in the statement that it has no intention to attack or invade North Korea. The statement commits the participants to achieving “the verifiable denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula “in a peaceful manner.” Implementation disputes arose, and North Korea conducted its first nuclear test explosion on Oct. 9, 2006.

Feb. 8-13, 2007: The fifth round of the six-party talks concludes with an action plan of initial steps to implement the September 2005 joint statement on North Korea’s denuclearization. North Korea agreed to halt the operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon during a 60-day initial phase in return for an initial shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil. The action plan also established five working groups to “discuss and formulate specific plans” regarding economic and energy cooperation, denuclearization, implementation of a “Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism,” North Korean relations with the United States, and North Korean relations with Japan. The statement called for Pyongyang to provide a complete declaration of all of its nuclear programs and disable all of its existing nuclear facilities in return for an additional 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or its equivalent. By the end of 2008, however, the last of the six-party talks ended in a stalemate due to a U.S.-North Korean dispute over the verification of North Korea’s declaration.

Feb. 29, 2012: Following a Feb. 23–24 meeting between the United States and North Korea in Beijing, the two countries announce in separate statements the “Leap Day” agreement by North Korea to suspend operations at its Yongbyon uranium-enrichment plant, invite IAEA inspectors to monitor the suspension, and implement moratoriums on nuclear and long-range missile tests. The United States says that it would provide North Korea with 240,000 metric tons of food aid under strict monitoring. The agreement fell apart over a dispute about whether it prohibited “space launches” and North Korea’s March 2012 attempt to use a rocket to loft a satellite into orbit.

March 8, 2018: Following a series of ballistic missile tests in 2017, including successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) flight tests; threats of military attack from the United States; and North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test explosion on Sept. 3, 2017, senior South Korean officials convey an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

June 12, 2018: Trump and Kim meet for about four hours in Singapore and sign a joint communique in which they agree to establish “new” U.S.-North Korean relations, build a “lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean peninsula, and recover remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War. Kim commits to “work toward complete denuclearization” on the Korean peninsula, and Trump commits to provide unspecified “security guarantees” for North Korea.

Posted: July 1, 2018

EU Acts to Block U.S. Sanctions on Iran

European leaders try to keep Trump’s action from blowing up the Iran nuclear deal.


July/August 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

The European Union adopted measures to protect European entities doing business with Iran from U.S. sanctions, but Iranian officials have said EU efforts are insufficient to persuade Tehran to remain in compliance with the accord.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj greets to her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in New Delhi on May 28. Like the EU, India is resisting renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran. “India follows only UN sanctions, and not unilateral sanctions by any country,” she said at a news conference. (Photo: Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images)The European Commission action on June 6 updating its 1996 blocking regulation to include U.S. sanctions on Iran enters into force Aug. 5, unless more than half of the members of the European Parliament or the EU Foreign Affairs Council object prior to that date. The blocking regulation prohibits EU entities from complying with U.S. extraterritorial sanctions and allows companies to recover damages from such sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement on May 8 withdrawing from the multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and reimposing sanctions triggered 90- or 180-day wind-down periods for companies and banks to exit Iran before penalties are assessed. (See ACT, June 2018.) The 90-day period ends Aug. 6.

Despite the EU action, a number of companies already announced they are pulling out of the Iranian market, including Maersk Tankers of Denmark, General Electric, Siemens, Lukoil, and Reliance Petroleum.

Although it was expected that multinational companies would exit the Iranian market irrespective of the blocking regulation, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told the European Parliament on June 12 that the focus is on small and medium-sized enterprises that “are less engaged in the U.S. market.”

Several companies, including French automaker Renault, said they intend to remain in Iran, while others, such as French oil company Total, said they will seek U.S. sanctions waivers to continue doing business with Iran.

In a June 4 letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mogherini along with the foreign ministers and finance ministers of the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) requested sanctions exemptions that would allow European entities to maintain banking channels with Iran and allow existing contracts to go forward. They wrote that, as U.S. allies, they expect Washington “will refrain from taking action to harm Europe’s security interests” and reaffirmed that they consider the nuclear deal critical for protecting “collective security interests.”

There is no indication from the Trump administration that exemptions will be granted. Chris Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said on June 11 that the United States is prepared to “lean hard on our partners and the international community” as Washington pursues its strategy of using sanctions to pressure Iran into new negotiations on its ballistic missiles and regional activities, as well as its nuclear program.

The U.S. officials have begun a “diplomatic roadshow” to discuss how to minimize exposure to U.S. sanctions and how to “work together in pursuit of a better, successor agreement,” Ford said at the Center for a New American Security.

Iranian officials have said they will not renegotiate with the United States and will continue abiding by the nuclear deal if the remaining parties can deliver on sanctions relief. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said on June 19 that the steps taken so far by the EU are insufficient.

The EU is working on additional options to realize the sanctions relief for Iran envisioned by the nuclear deal. Mogherini said that the “most important challenge now is to find solutions on banking and finance” to facilitate legitimate trade.

The European Commission agreed on June 6 to update the European Investment Bank’s mandate to enable lending to Iran. But it seems unlikely that the bank will decide to finance any activities in Iran. After the announcement, the bank said in a statement that it “is not the right tool” and that the bank cannot ignore the sanctions and remain a “solid and credible institution.”

Although the Trump administration appears unlikely to grant waivers for European entities, it may grant exemptions for projects specified by the nuclear deal. One of the entities redesignated under U.S. regulations as a result of the reimposition of sanctions was the AEOI, which puts at risk companies engaged on these priority nonproliferation projects.

Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to remove the core of its Arak reactor and modify it to produce no more than minimal amounts of weapons-usable plutonium. China is working with Iran on implementation. The nuclear deal also required Iran to convert its Fordow enrichment site into a stable-isotope research facility and refrain from any uranium-enrichment activities at the site for 15 years. Russia is assisting Iran in that project.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today on June 15 that no decision has been made on whether to pursue penalties against Chinese and Russian firms working on the Arak and Fordow projects.

Iran has continued to threaten to respond to the U.S. action by resuming prohibited nuclear activities if the remaining parties do not deliver on sanctions relief.

The most recent IAEA implementation report confirmed Iran’s compliance. But the report noted that although inspectors have had access to all sites necessary, more “timely and proactive cooperation by Iran” on access granted under an additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would facilitate implementation and “enhance confidence.”

During the IAEA Board of Governors meeting, U.S. diplomat Nicole Shampaine said on June 5 that the agency “should never again have to appeal for ‘timely and proactive cooperation’ by Iran.”

Iran also notified the IAEA that it was opening a new centrifuge production facility. Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, said on June 6 that the decision to open the facility reflect preparatory work “for a possible scenario” and reiterated that Iran will not start “any activities contrary” to the accord at this time.

Building a new facility for centrifuge production is not a violation of the deal if Iran notifies the agency in accordance with its safeguards obligations, which Tehran appears to have done. But if Iran were to produce centrifuge machines at that location in the future, it might breach the limits of the nuclear accord.

Under the deal, Iran can produce advanced centrifuges in line with its research and development plan and can only produce IR-1 machines, which are currently used for enriching uranium, when the number of machines in monitored storage drops below 500. Iran has not yet reached that point.

Posted: July 1, 2018

Plans Set for Trump-Putin Summit

Along with festering arms control issues, the meeting will be freighted with questions about U.S. President Trump’s relationship with Russian President Putin in light of Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.


July/August 2018
By Monica Montgomery

The planned meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin provides an opportunity to jump-start arms control talks on issues such as whether to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in less than three years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with journalists in Moscow June 7 following his annual televised call-in program. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said in Moscow June 27 that his preparatory discussions had covered missile-defense matters and “a number of other” arms control topics. “I’m sure many of these will come up in the meeting between the two presidents,” he said.

Along with festering arms control issues, including compliance disputes involving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Trump-Putin summit will be freighted with questions about Trump’s relationship with Putin, particularly in light of the investigation into Russia’s efforts to hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The meeting, scheduled for July 16 in Helsinki, follows Trump’s participation in a NATO summit and his visit to the United Kingdom.

Trump has wanted such a formal get-together for some time. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders previously confirmed that he had invited Putin to Washington during a March 20 phone call. In June 15 remarks to reporters, Trump said that he believes that “just like [with] North Korea...it’s much better if we get along with [Russia] than if we don’t.”

Putin and Trump briefly met twice in 2017 on the sidelines of the July Group of 20 summit in Germany and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman was reported to have been in Washington recently to help with preparations for the first extended one-on-one meeting between the two leaders.

Huntsman was also arranging a visit to Moscow for a delegation of Republican senators. Such a trip could provide a supportive partisan chorus for the presidential meeting, even though Republicans lawmakers in the past have been harshly critical of Putin over issues including Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its military role in support of the Assad regime in Syria, and its threatening posture toward the Baltic nations.

The summit comes amid growing concern about the possibility of a new arms race. Putin and Trump have recently commented on this point, with Putin saying that “nobody plans to accelerate an arms race” and Trump adding that it “is getting out of control.”

Putin has called for New START, which numerically caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces, to be extended for five years beyond its February 2021 expiration, as allowed by the treaty if both countries agree. Trump has criticized the treaty, and the administration is reviewing the question of extension. (See ACT, May 2018.)

The Trump administration’s budget and the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review accelerate plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and push for the development of new nuclear capabilities. (See ACT, March 2018.) Putin unveiled plans for the development of several new weapons systems at his March 1 presidential address to the Russian Federal Assembly (See ACT, April 2018) in what he described as a response to the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and new U.S. missile defense systems.

During his annual televised call-in show, “Direct Line With Vladimir Putin,” on June 7, Putin faced questions about the status of his announced weapons development program. Despite some “minor things,” he stated that the weapons development “is going exactly according to plan” and he has “no doubt” that they will be put into service on schedule.”

The Kinzhal, described as a “high-precision hypersonic aero-ballistic missile,” has already been tested and is in service with the Russian army. Another hypersonic weapon, the Avangard intercontinental glide vehicle, is an “absolute weapon” that is currently in production for supply in 2019, he added. Finally, Putin said the Sarmat, the “super-powerful” intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry multiple warheads, is in development for deployment in 2020.

Responding to a question about the potential for World War III, Putin said that the idea of nuclear war has been enough to prevent any global war since World War II and should continue to deter international actors from taking any “extreme and dangerous actions…that could threaten modern civilization.” He added that “it is time to sit at the negotiating table and elaborate modern, adequate models of international, European security.”

Posted: July 1, 2018

GOP Takes Aim at Surveillance Treaty

Critics of the Open Skies Treaty seek to block the Pentagon’s request for funding to modernize U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and sensors.


July/August 2018
By Kingston Reif

Republicans on a key House committee are ratcheting up their campaign to cripple the Open Skies Treaty despite protests from the Pentagon and U.S. allies that such a move would benefit Russia.

An OC-135B Open Skies aircraft takes off from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.  (Photo: Josh Plueger)The House Armed Services Committee proposed in May to block the Air Force’s request to replace the aircraft that the United States uses to conduct treaty flights, including over Russia. But in a letter to Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that, despite Russian violations of the treaty, “it is in our nation’s best interest to remain a party” to the pact.

“In order to maximize U.S. benefits from the Treaty, the United States needs to recapitalize and modernize its sensors and aircraft,” Mattis added. “The 1960s-era U.S. Open Skies aircraft are ill-suited to extreme operating environments in Russia and experience regular, unplanned maintenance issues, often resulting in mission delays or cancellations.”

The Treaty on Open Skies, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states-parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency of military activities, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants for information-gathering purposes. The parties have equal yearly quotas of overflights and must make the information they acquire available to
all treaty parties.

The treaty permits up to 42 overflights of Russia by states-parties, of which 16 can be flown by the United States.

Washington for several years has raised numerous concerns about Russian compliance with the pact. The State Department’s annual compliance report released in April determined that Russia is violating the treaty by imposing restrictions on observation flights within 500 kilometers of Kaliningrad, which is a sensitive Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, and within a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In response, the United States has placed restrictions on some of Russia’s treaty flights.

Separate from the compliance concerns, treaty critics in Congress argue the Russia’s flights, which now employ more advanced sensors and cameras as allowed by the treaty, amount to spy missions.

Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, then-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee in March 2016 that he has “great concern about the quality of the [digital] imagery” for intelligence collection purposes and “would love to deny the Russians” that capability. (See ACT, March 2016.)

The Pentagon is in the process of transitioning to the more advanced digital sensors in its treaty flights over Russia. Even so, critics claim that commercial satellite imagery can provide higher-quality photos and videos than those taken on U.S. treaty flights.

In his May letter to Fischer, Mattis countered that the imagery produced on treaty flights “is verifiable and unclassified, which allows for its use in international or bilateral fora.” He noted that, in 2014, treaty imagery was “a key visual aid during U.S. engagement with allies and Russia regarding the military crisis in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, the two OC-135B aircraft that the United States uses for treaty flights are increasingly unreliable, resulting in mission delays and cancellations. In 2017 the United States completed only 64 percent of its scheduled Open Skies missions over Russia, according to Mattis.

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have barred the Pentagon from acquiring an upgraded digital imaging system for treaty flights. The Senate version of the bill did not include such a provision.

The Trump administration strongly objected to the House proposal. In a statement of policy on the bill, the White House said the prohibition would “prevent the United States from keeping pace with Russian Open Skies aircraft sensor upgrades, fully implementing the Open Skies Treaty, and increasing the value of the treaty to United States national security.”

Following negotiations between the two chambers, the final version of the authorization act conditioned funding for the new cameras and sensors on the receipt of two certifications. (See ACT, December 2017.) The first certification requires the defense secretary to confirm that the new cameras and sensors “will provide superior digital imagery as compared to digital imagery” commercially available to the Defense Department. The second certification requires the president or secretary of state confirm that Washington has imposed costs on Russia for its violation of the treaty. Neither certification has been provided to Congress.

The House has taken an even more aggressive approach this year, turning its attention toward preventing the Pentagon from replacing the OC-135B aircraft. The chamber’s version of the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House in May, would eliminate the Pentagon’s $222 million request to buy new planes.

In addition, the bill would prevent the United States from participating in or implementing decisions made at the Open Skies Consultative Commission, the pact’s implementing body, to approve requests made by parties to the treaty to upgrade their digital sensor systems until several requirements are met.

These requirements include a certification that Russia has returned to compliance with the treaty and the submission of a report on the value of the treaty. Among the required elements of the report is “a plan, and its estimated comparative cost, to replace the treaty architecture with an increased sharing of overhead commercial imagery, consistent with United States national security, with covered state parties, excluding the Russian Federation.”

The Trump administration once again objected to the House proposal. In its statement of policy on the House bill, the White House said that “modern, capable, and cost-effective aircraft” are needed to replace the current unreliable OC-135Bs.

In contrast, the Senate version, which passed in June, would condition funding to upgrade the digital imaging system until the administration provides the certifications required by the fiscal year 2018 bill.

House and Senate leaders are hoping to reconcile differences in the bills and send a final version to the president by the end of July.

In the Senate, the fight for funding is being led by the two Republicans from Nebraska, who have a home-state interest. The OC-135Bs are based at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha.

Fischer told the Omaha World-Herald in May that “if we don’t have the planes to complete the mission, we’re not hurting the Russians.… We’re hurting ourselves.”

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) echoed similar sentiments in an interview with the Daily Beast. “While Russia has chosen not to comply with some provisions [of the treaty], they generally adhere to the rest,” he said. “We need them to return to full compliance. Defunding our own aircraft doesn’t hurt them, it only hurts us.”

Anthony Wier, a former State Department and Senate official who worked on Open Skies Treaty implementation issues, told Arms Control Today in a June 21 interview that the effort to hollow out the treaty is based on the theory that there are alternative ways to collect the imagery it provides. But Wier, who is currently at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, noted that the agreement provides the United States and its allies “with imagery we cannot get any other way” and that the flights strengthen ties between the United States and its allies and reassure non-NATO members on Russia’s periphery.

Undermining the treaty, he continued, would further alienate the European allies of the United States, who are seething in the wake of Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

“We stay in Open Skies not to do favors for the Russians or anybody else, but because being able to fly a camera low and slow over Russian territory many times a year is in America’s interest,” Wier said.

Posted: July 1, 2018

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