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

– George Stephanopolous
ABC News
January 1, 2005
Arms Control Today

10th NPT Review Conference: Why It Was Doomed and How It Almost Succeeded


October 2022
By Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova

Widely expected to be a disaster, the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) came surprisingly close to adopting a final outcome document. Although most delegations were disappointed with the draft outcome document, which was short on forward-looking disarmament steps, all the states-parties, except Russia, were prepared to join the consensus in an apparent effort to shore up the NPT regime, which has not had an agreed outcome in more than a decade.

Gustavo Zlauvinen (Seated, Center) of Argentina, president of the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, presides as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses the conference at the UN on August 1.  (Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)The conference, originally scheduled for 2020 and repeatedly postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, convened in New York on August 1–26 in an extraordinarily difficult international environment. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had entered its sixth month, and as the conference’s first week drew to a close, news came of the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, exacerbating concerns about the risk of a nuclear accident. More than a political backdrop, the war was of direct relevance to treaty implementation and the review conference deliberations, from the violation of security assurances provided to Ukraine when it acceded to the NPT to the safety and security of nuclear facilities and the ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to continue implementing safeguards in occupied Ukrainian facilities.

The 10th NPT review cycle, which began in 2015, had already been difficult before Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022. Nuclear-weapon states failed to implement most of the disarmament steps agreed by previous review conferences and signaled continued or growing reliance on nuclear weapons for their security. The crisis in U.S.-Russian arms control turned into near-total collapse while modernization of nuclear arsenals continued in all five nuclear-weapon states and the trend toward overall reduction of global nuclear stockpiles began to reverse.1

There was little reason to expect the review conference to be successful in agreeing on the review of the implementation of the treaty and a set of further measures on disarmament. Why then, on the morning of the last day of the conference, did many delegations believe they were about to adopt by consensus a final document, however underwhelming they found it? Several factors can account for this situation: the surprisingly business-like atmosphere at the conference that raised expectations among the delegates, the relatively low level of engagement by the Russian delegation, and, most importantly, the commitment of the majority of states-parties to achieving an agreed outcome.

Another contributing factor was an early agreement between Egypt and the United States on language regarding the Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which quietly settled a usually divisive issue. The text reaffirmed the importance of establishing such a zone and acknowledged the developments in the first two sessions of the new conference process on the Middle East zone established by the UN General Assembly in 2018.2 In the end, however, the NPT review conference failed over the impossibility of reconciling the positions between Ukraine and the West on the one hand and Russia on the other on the war against Ukraine and occupation of its nuclear facilities.

The Rooms Where It Happened

The review cycle was characterized by increasingly acrimonious interactions between some of the key states. It was manifested particularly in the more frequent resort to the right of reply, a practice under conference procedural rules when a delegation takes the floor to respond to (perceived) criticism directed at it by another delegation. Given that relations between Russia and the United States and the European countries continued to deteriorate, there was a risk that once the conference formally convened, it would collapse from the beginning. In the run-up to the review conference, however, U.S. diplomats indicated that, unlike their predecessors from the Trump administration, they had no intention of engaging in multiple rounds of right of reply. For his part, Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina, the conference president, used both personal rapport with the delegations and procedural methods to “keep the temperature down.”

A business-like atmosphere was conducive to serious negotiations, but it could not make up for substantive disagreements among states-parties on a wide range of issues. By the middle of the third week of the conference, it became clear that none of the three main committees dealing with disarmament, nonproliferation and regional issues, and the peaceful uses of nuclear technology would be able to agree on substantive reports for inclusion in the final document.

The Russian war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats have raised concerns about the possibility of the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Russia's short-range Iskander system (9K720), shown here, can carry nuclear warheads. (Photo by Boevaya mashina via Wikimedia Commons)At that stage, Zlauvinen invited a small group of states to conduct parallel negotiations on the disarmament and nonproliferation sections, based on the main committees’ drafts. These negotiations were convened at the Mission of Finland, chaired by Jarmo Viinanen, the Finnish ambassador for arms control. Separately, following the president’s request, Ingeborg Denissen of the Netherlands, the chair of Main Committee III, continued consultations on the peaceful uses section of the outcome document. Additional smaller groups negotiated directly on such matters as the status of the IAEA additional protocol, naval nuclear propulsion, and language addressing North Korea’s nuclear program. Zlauvinen also continued discussions on the draft final document with all the delegations in the closed plenary sessions. All of these processes fed into the revisions of the draft outcome document, the third and final version of which was released on the evening of August 25 and rejected by Russia at the closing plenary the next day.3

The practice of negotiating in small groups away from the conference floor has become a feature of NPT review conferences, but has been criticized for lack of transparency by civil society and smaller delegations who are left out of such groups. Although some of the small group participants, such as Indonesia, briefed other delegations on their involvement, it was difficult to get an accurate picture of where things were for a large number of NPT states-parties, let alone nongovernmental observers. At the same time, the small group approach is the most efficient way to find common language on the more contentious issues. With states-parties as divided as they are, small group negotiations will likely remain a staple of future conferences, but those on the inside should consider ways to keep their counterparts better informed on the progress of such talks.

High Risks and Low Gains

Nuclear disarmament traditionally has dominated the debates at the review conferences. For most non-nuclear-weapon states, the urgency of progress on disarmament has only grown since the most recent conference, in 2015. Nuclear-weapon states, however, point to the deteriorated international security environment as the reason to continue their reliance on nuclear weapons. This fundamental difference in approaches meant that, after days of intensive negotiations in New York, little movement could be made on updating existing commitments on nuclear disarmament, enhancing transparency, and reducing nuclear risks.

Most states-parties believed it was necessary for the conference to express concern about growing nuclear risks and condemn threats of use of nuclear weapons. For European and other Western countries, however, such condemnation was mostly specific to Russia’s rhetoric and nuclear threats issued soon after invading Ukraine, while for most of the developing countries, as well as Austria and Ireland, it was important to condemn all threats of use of nuclear weapons, direct and indirect. The latter group’s concern was that condemning only specific threats in the context of a military conflict would legitimize implicitly the more “general” threats that underlie the policies of nuclear deterrence.

Several states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) proposed to draw on the text of the Vienna Declaration adopted in June 2022, in which they “condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.”4 Disappointingly but not surprisingly, the final draft of the outcome document contained no explicit condemnation of any threat of use. Instead, it expressed deep but vague concern that the threat of nuclear weapons use was “higher than at any time since the heights of the Cold War.” The draft document did commit the nuclear-weapon states to implement risk reduction measures, including keeping nuclear forces at the “lowest possible alert levels,” placing the need for such measures in the context of concern over the humanitarian consequences of any nuclear weapons use.

The TPNW itself was once feared to be a potentially contentious point for the review conference, given the fierce opposition from nuclear-weapon states to its negotiation in 2017 and their insistence that the new treaty undermines the NPT. Although disagreements on the TPNW persist, they did not threaten to derail the conference. Well before the conference started, the TPNW states indicated they would not seek to place the ban treaty at the center of the disarmament debates and would rather focus on commitments adopted by past NPT review conferences. Although the TPNW states did propose language recognizing the treaty’s complementarity with the NPT, its contribution to implementing Article VI, and reinforcement of nonproliferation obligations, in the end they were prepared to accept only a short factual reference acknowledging the existence of the treaty and its entry into force.

It was important for this review conference to reaffirm the validity of commitments agreed by past conferences, including the 2010 action plan and the 13 practical steps for nuclear disarmament adopted in 2000. The central point of the debate on past commitments, however, was the need to build on them. The African Group, Austria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Switzerland, and Thailand, among others, called for the adoption of specific benchmarks, timelines, and targets on disarmament to better measure progress in the future. That said, the non-nuclear-weapon states made few if any specific proposals on such quantitative targets and timelines, while the nuclear-weapon states rejected the idea of benchmarks and measurability altogether. The final draft of the outcome document contained only one time-bound disarmament-related commitment, for the United States and Russia to pursue negotiations on a “successor framework” for deeper, irreversible arms reductions before the expiration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 2026.

The lack of implementation of past commitments and resistance to establishing benchmarks for progress undermine the credibility of the review process. Enhanced accountability on nuclear disarmament was one of the key points of debate on the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 and lies at the basis of decisions on strengthening the review process and principles and objectives for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament that were adopted together with the decision to extend the treaty indefinitely.5 More than a quarter century later, non-nuclear-weapon states would be right to question if the strengthened review serves its purpose when “looking forward” amounts to reaffirmation of measures previously agreed but not implemented.6 The conference agreed to establish a working group on further strengthening the review process, and states-parties should take this opportunity to critically review the current structure and ways to make it more efficient and fair.7

No Common Ground

Perhaps the biggest question ahead of the conference was how it would address the war in Ukraine in general and its nuclear aspects in particular. During the general debate, many states-parties condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and threats to use nuclear weapons.8 As the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant deteriorated, many states also expressed concern about the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and argued that the conference document should reflect these concerns and call on Russia to return the occupied facilities to Ukrainian control. Russia hit back with accusations that Ukraine itself, with support from NATO states, was shelling the power plant.

As the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant deteriorated, many states-parties at the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty expressed concern about the safety and security of this and other nuclear facilities in Ukraine. (Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)On the conference floor, Russia’s reaction to any text referencing Ukraine’s nuclear facilities was to request its deletion. Speaking in Main Committee III, the Russian representative argued that any paragraph on Ukraine, however “nominally neutral,” would provoke acrimonious debates that would “destroy any chance for consensus” and therefore the best solution would be to delete all such paragraphs.9 Many states objected to such proposals, and the paragraphs addressing the situation at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities remained, with some changes, in the draft texts until the end. The one notable change during the final days of the conference was the appearance and then removal of a direct reference to Russia, calling on it to return control over the nuclear facilities to Ukraine.

Because several delegations who had concerns with specific formulations in the draft document engaged directly with Zlauvinen and each other to find compromise language until the final draft was issued on August 25, the lack of change in the text on Ukraine seemed to suggest there was agreement on it. It was only on the afternoon of August 26, when it was too late to negotiate, that Russia brought a set of proposed amendments to the president, leading Russia to break the consensus.

There are different possible explanations why events unfolded this way. It appears that Russia concluded early that there could be no middle ground between it and Ukraine, the United States, and the European countries and that it was never going to accept a document with any reference to Ukraine. Russia apparently did not seek direct consultations with other delegations to look for a compromise language on the subject. Some of the diplomats involved in the small-room negotiations also remarked on the relatively low level of engagement by the Russian delegation on other issues. It would suggest that Russia did not treat achieving an agreed outcome as a high priority.

Loathe to be completely isolated, Russia seemed to have been biding its time, perhaps expecting the conference to collapse on other issues. When by the morning of the last day no other state conveyed an intent to reject the final document, however, Russia had no choice but to act alone. Even then, speaking at the closing plenary, the Russian representative argued that there were “many other delegations” unhappy enough to object to the document. Statements over the next several hours proved him wrong.

Questions Ahead

The amount of hard work put into the preparations and negotiations at the 10th review conference and how close it came to an agreement despite the difficult circumstances and low expectations are a testament to the commitment of the NPT states-parties. Non-nuclear-weapon states were prepared to adopt the final document not because it delivered significant progress on disarmament but because they recognized that the moment required unity and continued faith in the regime. This was the second time in a row that the non-nuclear-weapon states were willing to set aside their disappointment with the final document for the sake of an agreed outcome, something the nuclear-weapon states should not take for granted.

A review conference without an agreed outcome would not precipitate a dramatic collapse of the regime, but there will be more questions in coming months and years about the meaning and purpose of the process and the degree to which states-parties wish to participate and commit resources to it. The first preparatory committee meeting of the next review cycle is due to take place in 2023, and it is difficult to foresee much positive energy there. In the meantime, more states are likely to be drawn to the TPNW, at least as observers to the meetings of states-parties. Closer engagement between TPNW and non-TPNW states could benefit the dialogue on nuclear risks, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use, and victim assistance, and put pressure on the NPT and nuclear-weapon states to deliver on agreed commitments.

 

ENDNOTES

1. For information on nuclear weapon stockpiles and modernization, see Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “Global Nuclear Arsenals Are Expected to Grow as State Continue to Modernize—New SIPRI Yearbook Out Now,” June 13, 2022, https://sipri.org/media/press-release/2022/global-nuclear-arsenals-are-expected-grow-states-continue-modernize-new-sipri-yearbook-out-now; Federation of American Scientists, “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” n.d., https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/ (accessed September 17, 2022).

2. For more information on the Middle East zone conference, see UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, “Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction: Overview,” n.d., https://meetings.unoda.org/meeting/me-nwmdfz-2019/ (accessed September 17, 2022).

3. Draft final report of the conference, along with the draft reports of the Main Committees and Subsidiary Bodies, can be accessed on the Reaching Critical Will website, https://reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/npt/2022/documents.

4. First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, “Draft Vienna Declaration of the 1st Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: ‘Our Commitment to a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,’” TPNW/MSP/2022/CRP.8, June 23, 2022, para 4.

5. See Jayantha Dhanapala and Randy Rydell, “Multilateral Diplomacy and the NPT: An Insider’s Account,” UN Institute for Disarmament Research, UNIDIR/2005/3, 2005, p. 36, https://www.unidir.org/sites/default/files/publication/pdfs/multilateral-diplomacy-and-the-npt-an-insider-s-account-323.pdf; Michal Onderco and Leopoldo Nuti, eds., “Extending the NPT? A Critical Oral History of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2020, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/media/uploads/documents/Extending%20the%20NPT%20-%20A%20Critical%20Oral%20History%20of%20the%201995%20Review%20and%20Extension%20Conference.pdf.

6. Decision 1 of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference mandates that “Review Conferences should look forward as well as back,” meaning that they should not only review the implementation of the treaty but also identify areas and means for making progress in the future. 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document: Part I, Organization and Work of the Conference,” NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part 1), 1995, p. 8.

7. Although it was initially part of the draft final document, conference president Gustavo Zlauvinen was able to get an agreement on a separate decision to establish the working group.

8. For a detailed review of the general debate, see Ray Acheson and Allison Pytlak, eds., NPT News in Review, Vol. 17, No. 2 (August 4, 2022), https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/NIR2022/NIR17.2.pdf.

9. Remarks at the ninth meeting of Main Committee 3 on August 18, 2022, https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1e/k1e5mw8k13.


Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova is director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

It appears that Russia concluded early that there could be no middle ground on Ukraine.

Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–2022)


October 2022
By James Timbie

At the October 1986 summit in Reykjavik, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and their teams found themselves in a parallel universe, where the Strategic Defense Initiative had potential, in Reagan’s view, to protect U.S. citizens from nuclear ballistic missile attack and, in Gorbachev’s view, to negate the Soviet Union’s deterrent forces, leaving his country at the mercy of the United States. It was a universe where sensitive, not-yet-developed U.S. missile defense technology would be shared with Washington’s principal adversary and where an offer to eliminate ballistic missiles was countered with an offer to eliminate all strategic forces, which in turn was countered with an offer to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

A portrait of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, is displayed on the wall during his memorial service at the Column Hall of the House of Unions in Moscow, on September 3. (Photo by Evgenia Novozhenina/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)From one perspective, the summit was hastily arranged with little preparation. The United States refused to schedule a meeting as long as journalist Nicholas Daniloff of U.S. News and World Report was held in Soviet custody on espionage charges. He was released on September 23, and the Reykjavik talks were announced on September 30 beginning on October 11. No scripted meetings were planned; no joint statement was negotiated in advance. Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz looked forward to a personal dialogue between the two presidents. Experts then would follow up to produce detailed documents.

From another perspective, however, the groundwork for the summit had been put in place for some time. U.S. and Soviet negotiating teams had been meeting for years to examine possible limits on strategic nuclear forces, on intermediate-range nuclear forces, and on missile defense systems. They had engaged in detailed technical discussions across this broad spectrum of issues and had staked out well-defined positions that diverged in important ways. Both sides brought to Reykjavik senior officials and experts with considerable experience in these subjects who could provide the leaders with assessments of proposals and engage in technical negotiations if asked to do so.

Gorbachev took the initiative, offering new proposals on reductions in strategic and intermediate-range nuclear forces. Some of his opening offers represented significant movement toward U.S. positions. When negotiating teams met overnight, further Soviet concessions were forthcoming, so that by the second day the basic framework of what would later become the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty had been worked out.

Yet, these substantial moves, the first actual reductions in nuclear arms ever to be agreed, were contingent in Gorbachev’s view on further limits on missile defense systems. His proposal was for an agreement under which the two sides would not withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty for at least 10 years, followed by a period of negotiations lasting three to five years on how to proceed after that. In the meantime, research and testing of space-based components of missile defense systems would be confined to laboratories.

So began the remarkable dialogue between Reagan and Gorbachev, trading ideas for drastic reductions in strategic offensive arms linked to flexibility on missile defense systems. Reagan proposed eliminating all offensive ballistic missiles over a 10-year period, after which either side would be free to deploy missile defense systems. He argued that once ballistic missiles were eliminated, missile defense would not be problematic for the Russians and could be a useful hedge against cheating or against potential weapons of third countries. Reagan further pledged that if advanced missile defense technology proved successful, the United States would share it with the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev countered with a proposal to eliminate all strategic offensive arms, including bombers and ballistic missiles, over a 10-year period, coupled with a commitment not to withdraw from the ABM Treaty during that time and not to test space-based missile defense components outside laboratories.

Gorbachev made a serious technical error in pressing to prohibit testing of space-based missile defense components. As Soviet scientists could have told him at the time and as subsequent events have demonstrated, U.S. space-based missile defense systems would not pose a serious threat to the Soviet strategic missile force for the foreseeable future for technical reasons. Either Gorbachev believed that Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative truly threatened the Soviet deterrent, or others in the Soviet leadership gave him no flexibility on this question.

Reagan held firm on the flexibility to test missile defense systems in space and the right to deploy them after the 10-year elimination period. Gorbachev held firm on no testing of space-based missile defense components and on leaving to subsequent negotiations the future of missile defense following the 10-year elimination period.

In the back and forth over eliminating ballistic missiles versus eliminating all strategic offensive arms, Reagan offered to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Gorbachev agreed they could do that, provided the United States conceded on the missile defense issue.

The talks in Reykjavik came to an abrupt end. As Reagan and Gorbachev emerged from the summit venue at Hofdi House, the waiting reporters could tell immediately by the exhausted faces and body language that the leaders had tried and failed to reach the breakthrough they had envisioned. When Shultz met the press after the conclusion of the talks, his disappointment was obvious too.

Gorbachev’s death on August 30 at the age of 91 has prompted new speculation about what might have happened if he and Reagan had come to an agreement on the breathtakingly ambitious schemes they discussed and wanted. Prior to Reykjavik, both leaders had put forward proposals for eliminating all nuclear weapons. The exchanges in Reykjavik showed their strong attraction to such drastic measures, but there was little support for them at home. Even as Reagan, Gorbachev, and Shultz reached for transformative agreements among themselves, they would have faced a titanic struggle in Washington and probably in Moscow as well if they had pushed forward. They were eager to try; what the outcome would have been is difficult to say.

Most of the U.S. team flew home the night the summit ended, but Shultz had a date to brief the NATO allies in Brussels the next day. As he boarded his official airplane, he was exhausted and disappointed at trying so hard and coming so close to something that big. So, I composed a four-by-six card with a list of all that had been achieved in those two days, resolving on favorable terms many long-standing obstacles in the INF Treaty and START negotiations. It was an impressive record and made clear that the Reykjavik summit was one of the most productive meetings of its kind. I handed the card to Charlie Hill, a close Shultz adviser, to give to the secretary, and shortly thereafter I was called up to the front of the plane to go through the list. When we got to NATO headquarters the next day, Shultz gave positive presentations to the allies and to the press on all that had been accomplished.

As Shultz predicted, notwithstanding the continuing differences over missile defense systems, over time the Soviets came back to the framework on strategic and intermediate-range nuclear forces developed in Reykjavik, and the INF Treaty and START were completed successfully in 1987 and 1991.

Nuclear arms competition with the United States was only one of many major economic, political, and security challenges facing Gorbachev. In many cases, he looked to the United States for help. He listened attentively to Shultz on economic reform. He partnered with the United States on a series of steps to reduce the military threat to the Soviet Union, including not only the INF Treaty and START but also reductions in nuclear and conventional forces in Europe. Perhaps most remarkable was Gorbachev’s decision to enable Soviet support for a UN Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq, a long-time Soviet ally, just prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

As Gorbachev’s economic and political perestroika reforms transformed life in the Soviet empire, events spun out of his control, ultimately leading first to the Warsaw Pact countries and then the Soviet republics to break away as independent countries. Gorbachev deserves credit for allowing the Eastern European countries to make their own way in the world, including by joining NATO.

His plans for a new political relationship between Moscow and the republics, leading to a decentralized and rejuvenated Soviet Union, were overtaken by the 1991 coup. That stimulated the leaders of the republics, including Boris Yeltsin, who had been democratically elected president of Russia thanks to Gorbachev’s reforms, to press ahead and declare their independence, bringing an end to the Soviet Union that Gorbachev tried but ultimately failed to reform and preserve.


James Timbie, an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, was a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of State from 1983 to 2016, where he played a central role in negotiating nuclear arms reductions agreements with the Soviet Union and Russia, including accompanying Secretary of State George Shultz to the Reykjavik summit.

Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–2022)

Ukraine Shuts Down Zaporizhzhia


October 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

Ukraine shut down the remaining operational reactor at its Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in September amid increased fighting around the facility and deteriorating conditions for the plant’s workers.

Rafael Mariano Grossi (R), director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks with Ukrainian Minister of Energy German Galushenko on arrival of the IAEA inspection mission to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine on Aug. 31.  (Photo by Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images)Although shutting down the reactors reduces the likelihood of a large-scale release of radiation in the event of further attacks or an accident, it does not eliminate the risk entirely. The site still needs external power to run the cooling systems that prevent the shuttered reactor units from melting down. Also, spent nuclear fuel is stored onsite and could release radiation if struck during an attack.

Multiple attacks severing the main and backup power lines for the plant, including during a period in September when it was completely without external power, underscored the precarious situation that Zaporizhzhia’s operators faced in trying to keep the reactors operating safely and the shutdown units cool.

Before Zaporizhzhia was reconnected to offsite power, Petro Kotin, the head of Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom, warned that operators would have to rely on diesel generators to cool the shuttered reactors after the last unit was shut down on Sept. 11. That unit had been providing power for the site. He described the generators as the “last line of defense before a radiation accident.”

The blackout underscored the continued risk posed by fighting in the area and led to renewed calls from world leaders to establish a no-fire zone around the Zaporizhzhia plant and for Russia to withdraw its military forces from the nuclear facility.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who visited the site on Sept. 3 with an agency team, said on Sept. 17 that the “power status has improved” but the “general situation for the plant located in the middle of a war zone remains precarious.” Members of the IAEA team remain at Zaporizhzhia to continue assessing the safety and security of the facility.

In a report on the site visit, the IAEA noted that “while past events had not yet triggered a nuclear emergency,” there is a “constant threat to the nuclear safety and security because critical safety functions” at the site could be impacted by continued shelling.

In the report, the IAEA renewed its calls to halt shelling immediately in the vicinity of Zaporizhzhia to avoid further damaging the plant and to establish a “nuclear safety and security zone.”

Grossi told reporters on Sept. 20 that he is engaged in talks with Russia and Ukraine about first establishing a zone of protection around the site and then pushing for demilitarization of the area. Grossi said he would not be deterred by Russia’s Sep. 19 announcement to mobilize new troops and urged Moscow and Kiev to agree to the protection zone “as soon as possible.”

The IAEA Board of Governors echoed the report’s call for Russia to cease all actions against Zaporizhzhia and all other nuclear facilities in Ukraine. In a resolution approved on Sept. 15, the board also denounced Moscow for its “persistent violation actions” against nuclear sites. Of the 35 states represented on the board, 26 supported the resolution, seven abstained, and Russia and China were opposed. The board passed a similar resolution on March 3 after Russia occupied the Chernobyl nuclear facility. (See ACT, April 2022.)

In expressing support for the resolution, Laura Holgate, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said on Sept. 15 that “Russia alone will be responsible for any resulting nuclear hazards, and Russia alone can prevent them by heeding international calls to remove its forces from those facilities and withdraw from Ukraine altogether.”

She also endorsed Ukraine’s proposal to demilitarize the areas surrounding Zaporizhzhia.

Russia continues to deny that it has attacked the Zaporizhzhia plant and blames Ukraine for shelling the facility. (See ACT, September 2022.)

Alexey Likhachev, head of the Russian nuclear energy operator Rosatom, accused the IAEA of allowing “a political component” to influence its work in Ukraine. He said on Sept. 18 that the IAEA knows “full well what is happening” and who is behind the attacks on Zaporizhzhia.

Although Russia attacked Zaporizhzhia and continues to occupy the nuclear site in violation of international law, it appears to have an interest in keeping the facility operational.

Kotin said that Russia has a “crazy idea” to connect Zaporizhzhia to the energy grid in Crimea, which Russia has occupied since 2014, and shared a plan to do so with Ukrainian personnel managing the nuclear power plant.

Rosatom has a presence at Zaporizhzhia, but it would likely be challenging for the energy corporation to operate the reactors and connect the power plant to the grid in Crimea without support from Ukrainian personnel working at the facility. The reactors were designed and largely constructed when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, but they have been extensively updated and modernized since then.

In addition to the threats posed by shelling, the IAEA has drawn attention to the extreme stress that the Ukrainian plant operators are facing and the negative impact that has on safety and security at the nuclear plant.

After shelling cut off electricity to the nearby town of Energodar, where many of the plant’s personnel live, Grossi said on Sept. 9 that given the “dire circumstances that the people of Energodar are facing, there is the significant risk of an impact on the availability of essential staff on site to continue to safely and securely operate” Zaporizhzhia.

He described the situation in Energodar and the lack of offsite power for the nuclear power plant as “completely unacceptable.” He added that the “dramatic development demonstrates the absolute imperative to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone now.”

Although the situation at Zaporizhzhia poses the most serious risk for a radiation release, Energoatom said that Russian shells struck the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant on Sept. 19. A blast damaged transmission lines and buildings at the plant, but the reactors were not impacted and continue to operate, Energoatom said.

Grossi said the explosions at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant “all too clearly demonstrate the potential dangers also at other nuclear facilities in the country” and that “any military action that threatens nuclear safety and security is unacceptable and must stop immediately.”

The shutdown occurred amid increased fighting around the facility and deteriorating conditions for the plant’s workers.

Delay Risks Effort to Restore Iran Deal


October 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said he is serious about reaching a deal with the United States to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, but Iran’s advancing nuclear program threatens prospects for reviving the accord if talks remain stalled until after the U.S. election in November.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)Iran and the United States, which have been negotiating indirectly through the European Union for the past 18 months, came close to reaching an agreement to restore the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in August before new Iranian demands stalled progress.

In his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21, Raisi said that the United States “trampled on the accord” and that Tehran cannot trust Washington to meet its commitments without “guarantees and assurances.”

In his address to the United Nations that same day, U.S. President Joseph Biden also reiterated his commitment to restoring the JCPOA if “Iran steps up to its obligations.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sept. 10 that the prospect for a deal in the “near term” is unlikely, but did not mention pausing talks until after the U.S. elections on Nov. 8.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said more explicitly that he expects the stalemate to continue given the “political situation” in the United States and that he does not “have anything more to propose” to break the impasse. Borrell also said he did not expect progress at the UN General Assembly session, despite Raisi’s presence and planned meetings with other states that are party to the JCPOA.

In a Sept. 20 meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Raisi criticized the European parties to the JCPOA for acting in an unconstructive manner, while Macron urged him to take the deal at hand. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told reporters ahead of the meeting that there “will not be a better offer on the table and it’s up to Iran to take the right decisions.”

If talks remain stalled, Iran’s nuclear advances could deal a fatal blow to efforts to restore the accord. The fact that Iran’s diminishing breakout time, or the period it would take to produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb, is less than 10 days does not appear to be influencing the Biden administration’s calculus on whether restoring the JCPOA remains in the U.S. national security interest. But irreversible research and development and gaps in monitoring are likely to influence U.S. thinking.

According to a Sept. 7 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran is continuing to install and operate additional advanced centrifuges, which can enrich uranium more efficiently. The JCPOA prohibits Iran from producing enriched uranium with these advanced machines and strictly limits its production of the machines. The report also noted that Iran is continuing to experiment with the setup of its advanced centrifuge cascades, installing some in a way that allows a quicker switch between enrichment levels. The information that Iran gains from these processes cannot be reversed and dilutes the nonproliferation benefits of a restored accord.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said in a Sept. 10 statement that Iran’s advancing nuclear program has escalated “way beyond any plausible civilian justification.”

Gaps in IAEA monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program also put at risk efforts to restore the JCPOA. In the Sept. 7 report, the IAEA raised concerns about its ability to determine Iran’s inventory of centrifuges in the event of a restored nuclear deal. Inspectors have not had access to Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities since February 2021, and in June 2022, Iran disconnected cameras at those sites that were collecting data for the agency to use to reconstruct a record of nuclear activity if the JCPOA is restored. (See ACT, July/August 2022; March 2021.)

Even if Iran cooperates and provides documentation about activities at the sites during the gap in monitoring, “considerable challenges would remain to confirm the consistency of Iran’s declared inventory of centrifuges,” the agency’s report said. The challenge in establishing a baseline inventory could complicate IAEA efforts to verify that Tehran is abiding by the JCPOA’s terms.

If talks resume, a deal is far from certain. In its most recent response to Borrell’s draft text, Iran included demands that the years-long IAEA safeguards investigation be closed by an earlier date than the EU proposed. Iran is also seeking assurances that the agency would not conduct future investigations into Iran’s nuclear past. But Borrell has little space to negotiate on the issues because the investigation relates to Iran’s obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to declare all nuclear materials and activities to the IAEA. Only the agency can determine if Iran has provided credible cooperation to explain the presence of the uranium that inspectors detected at three undeclared locations in Iran. The IAEA is also obligated to follow up on any credible evidence of undeclared nuclear materials in the future.

The Biden administration has made clear it will not pressure the agency to prematurely close the investigation but will support closing the file on Iran at the IAEA Board of Governors when the agency is satisfied. (See ACT, September 2022.)

The European nations involved in the negotiations (France, Germany, and the UK) said Iran’s failure to cooperate with the agency and its demands regarding the safeguards investigation “raises serious doubts as to Iran’s intentions and commitment to a successful outcome.”

The Iranian Foreign Ministry called the European statement “unconstructive,” while the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) criticized the IAEA characterization of the investigation. The AEOI said that “there are no disagreements over [Iran’s] calculated materials” and that “simply observing contamination in a few places cannot be considered as implying the presence of undeclared nuclear materials.”

But Iran has not provided any evidence to support its claim that the presence of uranium at the undeclared locations was a result of contamination, according to a May 30 report by the IAEA.

Although the IAEA board did not take action against Iran for failing to cooperate with the agency’s investigation during its Sept. 12–16 meeting in Vienna, France, Germany, the UK, and the United States issued a statement endorsed by more than 50 countries encouraging Iran to meet its safeguards obligations and address the IAEA’s questions.

Iran and the United States came close to agreement in August before new Iranian demands stalled progress.

Putin Calls Up Reservists, Renews Nuclear Threat


October 2022
By Carol Giacomo and Shannon Bugos

Despite stunning setbacks in the war against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has escalated the fight, announcing a mobilization of 300,000 military reservists and brandishing new threats of using nuclear weapons.

Police officers detain a man in Moscow on Sept. 21 during protests against the military mobilization of 300,000 men announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of an effort to replenish forces deployed to fight Russia’s war on Ukraine. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)Although Russia expanded its unprovoked war on Ukraine with an invasion on Feb. 24, Putin now seeks to reframe the military campaign as a defense of Russian sovereignty against Western nations that are attempting to “weaken, divide and ultimately destroy” Russia. “The citizens of Russia can rest assured that the territorial integrity of our Motherland, our independence and freedom will be defended—I repeat—by all the systems available to us,” he said in the official Kremlin translation of a speech on Sept. 21.

“This is not a bluff,” he said.

Hours later, U.S. President Joe Biden used his address at the UN General Assembly in New York to push back. Referring to Russia, Biden made clear that what has happened is that “a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor” and aims to “[extinguish] Ukraine’s right to exist as a state.”

Biden condemned Putin’s comments as “irresponsible nuclear threats” and warned him against following through, repeating the Reagan-Gorbachev admonition that “[a] nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Biden also promised that “we will stand against Russia’s aggression,” but assured the assembled leaders that “we do not seek another Cold War.”

Putin has issued several previous threats to employ nuclear weapons against any perceived outside interference in Ukraine, but some U.S. officials and independent experts interpreted the latest threats as blunter and more serious. (See ACT, March and April 2022.)

After U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sept. 25 that the United States had warned Russia there would be “catastrophic consequences” if it used nuclear weapons, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov the next day said that Washington needs to “calm down and cease to inflate the situation [thus] bringing it closer to a dangerous line.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian regions under Russian control—Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk—conducted referendums on joining Russia. On Sept. 30, Putin signed decrees annexing the regions as part of Russia in violation of international and Ukrainian law.

After Putin’s address, Andrey Baklitskiy, a nuclear expert with the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, tweeted that Putin’s “statements go beyond the Russian nuclear doctrine, which only suggests Russian first-use [of nuclear weapons] in a conventional war when the very existence of the state is threatened.”

“Putin adds ‘territorial integrity’ and very abstract protection of people, independence, and freedom,” he wrote, adding, “Coming from the person who has the sole decision-making power regarding Russian nuclear weapons, this will have to be taken seriously.”

A senior White House official, briefing reporters in New York on Sept. 21, said “the language and formula [Putin] used today is quite similar to how he’s spoken before” about a potential nuclear weapons use. But the official added, “We don’t see anything in terms of specific information, signals, or moves that would indicate” that any moves with nuclear or unconventional weapons is imminent.

In a Sept. 18 interview with CBS 60 Minutes, Biden refused to detail how the United States would respond to Russian nuclear use, offering only that, “It’ll be consequential. [Russia will] become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been, and depending on the extent of what they do, will determine what response would occur.” According to previous media reports, the Biden administration is focusing primarily on non-nuclear responses, such as sanctions and conventional strikes. (See ACT, July/August 2022.)

Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, warned on Sept. 13 that Putin may “strike back now in really unpredictable ways that may even involve weapons of mass destruction,” such as nuclear weapons. She recommended that if this happens, the United States should not respond in kind.

“We’ve been concerned from the outset of this crisis with Putin rattling the nuclear saber that he might put in play for a nuclear demonstration strike,” Gottemoeller said in an interview with the BBC. She said the strike could be “a single strike over the Black Sea or perhaps a strike at a Ukrainian military facility.”

In the Sept. 21 briefing, the White House official described the latest Russian moves as “an act of weakness” resulting from Putin failing to achieve his strategic objectives. This is another episode where “Putin has tried to rattle his saber, tried to scare us off, tried to make us think twice about our strategy. He has not succeeded before; he won’t succeed now,” the official added.

Russia and many in the West expected Russian forces to overrun Ukraine within weeks after the invasion. Instead, the Ukrainians have held their ground and are even regaining lost territory. An estimated 60,000 Russian forces have been killed, thousands of vehicles have been destroyed or captured, and there have been major problems with supply chains, training, and recruitment.

Putin’s decision to call up 300,000 men for military service has provoked protests and resistance and caused thousands of Russian men to flee the country.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated the war in Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden decried Putin’s nuclear threats as “irresponsible.”

North Korea Passes Nuclear Law


October 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea passed a new law in September that updated its nuclear doctrine and provided greater clarity about command and control of the country’s nuclear weapons. Although the central tenets of North Korea’s nuclear strategy remain unchanged since 2013, the passage of the law further exacerbated tensions between North Korea and South Korea.

People at a railway station in Seoul on Sept. 25 watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, after the South Korean military said that North Korea fired a ballistic missile. Days earlier, a U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea for joint drills in a show of force against North Korea. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)In a Sept. 9 speech heralding the law, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that the country’s status as a nuclear weapons state “has now become irreversible” and that there will “never be any declaration of giving up our nukes or denuclearization” in future negotiations.

North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize has long been questioned because it views its nuclear deterrent as necessary to protect the Kim regime and the state, but past commitments to give up nuclear weapons have never been tested by a credible negotiating process.

The United States and South Korea dismissed Kim’s pronouncement and emphasized their continued goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In a Sept. 12 press briefing, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson Moon Hong-sik said that South Korea “remains firm” in its commitment to “pursue North Korea’s complete denuclearization.” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the United States will continue to pursue “the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” in close consultation with allies in the region and that U.S. policy toward Pyongyang remains unchanged.

The law also reiterated that Kim has sole authority over any decision to use nuclear weapons, but for the first time noted that “a nuclear strike shall be launched automatically and immediately” according to an “operation plan decided in advance” if the leader’s command and control “is placed in danger owing to an attack by hostile forces.”

This provision signals that Pyongyang is prepared to use nuclear weapons in the event of a so-called decapitation strike designed to eliminate the North Korean leadership, which South Korea and the United States have simulated in joint exercises, and to deter such an attack by demonstrating it will not neutralize the country’s nuclear options.

Furthermore, the law codifies the two missions for the nuclear arsenal that Kim laid out in an April 2022 speech. In those remarks, he reiterated that the primary mission of the North Korean nuclear arsenal is to deter an attack, but also suggested that nuclear weapons will be used to repel an attack if deterrence fails. Prior to Kim’s speech, North Korean missile testing suggested that the country was developing repellent capabilities.

The law states that the nuclear forces “shall carry out an operational mission for repulsing hostile forces’ aggression” to achieve victory if “war deterrence fails.”

In addition to laying out these two missions, the law enumerates circumstances under which North Korea could use nuclear weapons. They could be interpreted broadly to apply to a range of scenarios. The law, for instance, references the use of nuclear weapons if a “fatal military attack against important strategic objects” is “judged to be on the horizon” or if necessary for “taking the initiative in war.” These ambiguous statements would allow for using nuclear weapons first against a non-nuclear-weapon state or conducting a preemptive nuclear strike.

Moon said that if North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons against South Korea, the North will face “an overwhelming response” from the U.S.-South Korean alliance. He also noted that South Korea is enhancing its own deterrence capabilities.

U.S. Defense Department press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Kim’s speech was “unhelpful and destabilizing” but the United States has a “tried and true policy and process” for deterring North Korea.

The United States and South Korea also continue to reevaluate alliance capabilities in response to North Korea’s evolving nuclear capabilities, including at the third meeting of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group, which took place Sept. 16 in Washington.

A joint statement released after the meeting described the new North Korean law as “escalatory and destabilizing” and said any nuclear attack by Pyongyang would be met with an “overwhelming and decisive response.” The United States also committed to continue deploying strategic assets in the region to “deter and respond” to North Korean threats, the statement said.

Although the new law is consistent with Kim’s pronouncements regarding North Korean nuclear policy, its passage by a largely symbolic legislature is unlikely to inhibit Pyongyang if future circumstances require changes to the nuclear policy. The law, for instance, states that North Korea “as a responsible nuclear weapons state” will not share or “transfer nuclear weapons, technology, and equipment” or weapons-grade nuclear materials. But North Korea’s record of assisting states in the past with illicit nuclear activities and ballistic missile programs suggests its willingness to assist proliferators under certain conditions.

Activity at North Korean nuclear sites suggests that the country continues to engage in activities that could be used to expand its stockpile of fissile material available for nuclear weapons to meet evolving deterrence requirements. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi told the agency’s board of governors on Sept. 11 that there are indications that North Korea’s five-megawatt electric reactor, which produces plutonium, continues to operate and that the expansion of the centrifuge enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear complex is externally complete.

Grossi also reported that the North Korean nuclear test site “remains active and prepared to support a nuclear test,” although his agency did not observe extensive work at the location over the summer. He said the reopening of the test site is “deeply troubling.”

The new law exacerbated tensions between North Korea and South Korea.

U.S. Conditions Talks on New START Inspections


October 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The United States declared in September that any negotiation of a new nuclear arms control arrangement to follow on from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) depends on the resumption of the treaty’s on-site inspections of nuclear-related facilities, which Russia has impeded.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Wesley Baptiste (L) and Airman Daniel Peryer perform a “simulated missile reduction” in accordance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, in 2011. Such inspections, and the treaty itself, are now at risk because of Russia's failure to resume the inspections amid its war on Ukraine.  (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Desiree Esposito)The two countries agreed to suspend inspections in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although talks had been ongoing since last year to resume these inspections, Russia undermined such efforts and further extended the pause with its decision in August to prohibit inspections of its relevant facilities subject to New START. (See ACT, September 2022.)

“The first step is to resume inspections” under New START, “and we have been trying to work with the Russians toward that end,” a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said on Sept. 1. New START is the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement and will expire in February 2026. Washington paused arms control talks with Moscow following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. (See ACT, March 2022.)

Russia claimed that its flight crew and inspectors have faced difficulties in obtaining the necessary documents, such as visas, to carry out inspections in the United States, which has imposed, alongside U.S. allies, sanctions and restrictions on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

But U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Aug. 16 that “U.S. sanctions and restrictive measures imposed as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine are fully compatible” with New START and “don’t prevent Russian inspectors from conducting treaty inspections in the United States.” Another State Department spokesperson later added, “The United States has and will continue to engage Russia on the resumption of inspections through diplomatic channels,” such as the Bilateral Consultative Commission established by the treaty to address implementation and verification concerns.

Although the pause of on-site inspections is concerning, U.S. officials continue to assess that Russia does not appear poised to employ nuclear weapons imminently.

Since the outset of the war, the United States has consistently monitored Russian nuclear forces for any signs of impending use, thus far seeing none.

Against this backdrop of rising tensions, the United States moved ahead with a long-planned test of an unarmed nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Minuteman III, on Sept. 7. The test ICBM carried three reentry vehicles and traveled 4,200 miles from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California to a test range at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

In March, the Pentagon delayed and then cancelled an ICBM test so as not to exacerbate tensions amid the Russian war in Ukraine. It also delayed by two weeks an ICBM test in August due to heightened tensions with China over Taiwan. (See ACT, April and September 2022.)

Meanwhile, Moscow announced in mid-August the deployment of Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles on Mikoyan MiG-31 fighter jets based at the Chkalovsk Air Base in the Kaliningrad enclave as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Although the deployed missiles are conventional, the Kinzhal is thought to be nuclear capable.

Over the course of the war, Russia has used Kinzhal missiles to strike targets in Ukraine in March and possibly in May, leading a U.S. defense official to estimate that Russian forces have employed about a dozen hypersonic missiles in total. (See ACT, April and June 2022.)

“We have deployed [the Kinzhal system] three times during the special military operation” in Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in an Aug. 31 interview with Russian media, “and three times it showed brilliant characteristics.” U.S. defense officials, in contrast, have asserted that the Russian use of hypersonic weapons has not proved to be a game-changing decision in the war.

Russia declared that the United States would become a party to the conflict if it “cross[ed] the red line” by supplying Ukraine with longer-range missiles, such as the Army Tactical Missile System that has a range of up to 300 kilometers.

“We reserve the right to protect the Russian territory by all available means,” Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a Sept. 15 briefing.

Russia and the United States suspended inspections in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; Russia has extended the pause.

Germany Investigates Firms for Chemical Exports


October 2022
By Leanne Quinn

German customs officials on Aug. 30 carried out seven search warrants on a network of German chemical companies suspected of violating export control permitting laws.

According to case documents viewed by German public broadcasters NDR and WDR and the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, investigators allege that, over the last three and a half years, chemical company Riol Chemie GmbH sent more than 30 shipments of dual-use toxic substances and laboratory equipment to Russia’s Chimmed Group without export permits, violating the German Foreign Trade Act.

The shipments were reported to include precursor chemicals that can be used in the production of banned chemical agents such as mustard gas and Novichok. Benedikt Strunz, one of the German broadcasters from NDR who broke the story, said in an interview published on Sept. 12 that the amounts of compounds shipped to Russia were too small for industrial production of those chemical agents. At this time, the intended purpose of the shipments is unknown. At least two other chemical companies and one export firm could also be implicated, Strunz said.

The new investigation comes after the managing director of a trading company in the German state of Saxony was indicted in February on suspicion of exporting dual-use chemicals to a Russian intelligence agency for the purpose of producing weapons of mass destruction.

The two cases underscore the importance of strong national laws that criminalize activities related to the proliferation of chemical weapons. Although research, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons are banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), chemical weapons remain a threat in nations where treaty obligations have not been fully implemented.

 

Prosecutors charged a German chemical company with sending more than 30 shipments of dual-use toxic substances and equipment to Russia’s Chimmed Group, German media said.

U.S. Offering More Arms to Taiwan


October 2022
By Jeff Abramson

The Biden administration has notified Congress of its plan to offer more than $1 billion in weapons and military support to Taiwan as leaders in the Senate advanced legislation for even more armaments in the coming years, drawing new expressions of concern from China.

As tensions over Taiwan grew, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, sponsored by Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), shown in photo, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), to boost foreign military financing funds for the self-governing democracy that China claims as its own. The legislation must next be approved by the full Senate.  (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)The latest potential weapons deals, announced Sept. 2, would provide Taipei with support for its radar surveillance capabilities, as well as 60 anti-ship Harpoon missiles and 100 short-range air-to-air Sidewinder missiles. In total, the administration has proposed more than $2 billion in weapons transfers to Taiwan through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which includes whole or parts of weapons systems or support services for tanks, combat vehicles, howitzers, ships, and Patriot air defense systems. Congress has 30 days to disapprove the latest sales before the administration can proceed, but no serious effort is being made to block them.

Thus far, the Biden administration has not proposed new sales of weapons with a higher international profile, such as F-16 fighter aircraft, or longer-range capabilities, such as the Army Tactical Missile Systems and Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response, all of which were among more than $18 billion in FMS program notifications during the Trump administration. Such weapons give Taiwan more capabilities to attack the Chinese mainland, approximately 110 miles away.

The Biden administration appears to be following what some are calling the “porcupine” strategy, whereby Taiwan is so well provisioned with weapons that any attempt by China to invade and occupy the country would prove extremely difficult and costly.

Less than two weeks after the arms sale notification, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022. A vote of the full Senate has not been scheduled.. Authored by committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the committee added an additional year and $2 billion in foreign military financing funds to the original bill, raising it to $6.5 billion through fiscal year 2027.

The legislation also directs the State and Defense departments and contractors to expedite FMS program requests from Taiwan.

Menendez welcomed the committee’s vote on Sept. 14, saying that “we are carefully and strategically lowering the existential threats facing Taiwan by raising the cost of taking the island by force so that it becomes too high a risk and unachievable.” In an op-ed in The New York Times in August, he wrote, “We saw the warning signs for Ukraine in 2014 and failed to take action that might have deterred further Russian aggression. We cannot afford to repeat that mistake with Taiwan.”

In recent months especially after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan on Aug. 2–3, security concerns around Taiwan have increased, with China and the United States conducting military exercises. China reacted negatively to the latest potential arms sales and legislation, including by sanctioning directors of U.S. weapons manufacturers Raytheon and Boeing.

China claims that Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, is part of China and has vowed to reunite it with the mainland by force if necessary. U.S. President Joe Biden recently suggested that the United States would directly intervene militarily if needed on behalf of Taiwan in the event of a conflict with China. Interpreted by some experts as a change in the long-standing U.S. “One China” policy, such comments have been walked back by U.S. officials, but still have contributed to mounting tensions.

The latest U.S. offer is valued at $1 billion, as Taiwan seeks to build its defenses amid rising tensions with China.

U.S., Ukraine Refute Russian Bioweapons Charges


October 2022
By Leanne Quinn

A special session of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), convened in Geneva at Russia’s request and centered on biological weapons accusations against the United States and Ukraine, ended Sept. 9 without resolution.

As the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya has made his country's case for waging war in Ukraine and for accusing the United States and Ukraine of activities that violate the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). But Russia never provided any evidence of its charges, including at a special BWC session in September in Geneva. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)During eight closed-door meetings held Sept. 5–9, 89 BWC states-parties and one BWC signatory state heard presentations from the three countries involved in the dispute. Russia has a history of mischaracterizing U.S. biological research cooperation with Ukraine and other partners, but the consultative meeting marked the first time Russia used a provision of the treaty to press the United States for answers to its allegations.

After the meeting, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price lauded the work of the U.S. and Ukrainian delegations and condemned Russian attempts to spread disinformation.

“The United States and Ukraine presented a thorough, in-depth series of presentations that strongly refuted Russia’s absurd and false claims of U.S. biological weapons development and bio-labs in Ukraine,” he said in the statement.

Russia, which called for the meeting in June, sought answers to questions concerning the “fulfillment of [the U.S. and Ukrainian] respective obligations under the convention in the context of the operation of biological laboratories on the Ukrainian territory.”

Before the meeting, the United States received a diplomatic note from Russia that “did not contain any actual questions, but rather a series of assertions and mischaracterizations of various documents that the Russian Federation claims to have obtained during Russia’s war against Ukraine,” according to a U.S. document submitted to the meeting.

Addressing allegations related to U.S. funding of Ukrainian biological research facilities, the document explained that, in 2005, the U.S. Defense Department and the Ukrainian Health Ministry entered into a cooperative agreement on preventing the proliferation of technology, pathogens, and expertise that could be used in the development of biological weapons. Such cooperation is encouraged under Article X of the BWC.

The U.S. delegation noted that Russia was a foundational partner of the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction programs and benefited from similar collaborative biological research and biosafety work that took place between the United States and Russia for many years until cooperation was terminated by Russia in 2014.

“Normal Ukraine-United States Article X cooperation is being demonised, which is dangerous” for the BWC, Aiden Liddle, UK ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said in a tweet on Sept. 7.

One series of Russian questions focused on three U.S.-issued patents for technology related to the weaponization of toxins, including whether the patents violated U.S. obligations under the BWC. The United States responded that “the decision to issue a patent does not violate the obligations” of the United States under the BWC and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on the grounds that “patent rights do not confer a legal right or authorization to produce an invention” but rather “simply serve to give the patent owner the legal means to exclude other parties from taking certain actions with respect to that invention.”

The United States responded that because multiple states-parties to the BWC and CWC have issued similar patents, including Russia, it might be beneficial to hold “further discussions on best practices for identifying and addressing such applications.”

Regarding U.S. funding of animal surveillance projects in Ukraine, the United States dismissed Russian claims that the projects are seeking to “weaponize” migratory birds. It said the two research projects collect data on avian diseases in migratory birds to support “a long-term international effort encouraged by the World Health Organization to understand the spread of avian influenza around the world.”

 

Russia called a special meeting to reaffirm bioweapons charges against Ukraine and the United States but has offered no evidence.

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