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45 OPCW States Demand Answers About Navalny

November 2021
By Leanne Quinn

Forty-five nations have demanded that Russia clarify and resolve unanswered questions regarding its handling of the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of poisoning him, remains imprisoned in Moscow. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)The action was taken last month during a meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Executive Council. The UK-led joint statement invoked Article XI of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which allows states to request clarification of any matter relating to the implementation of the convention. Russia was given 10 days to clarify what steps it has taken and plans to take to address the Navalny incident. Russia was also instructed to explain why it has not negotiated a technical assistance visit with the OPCW, the global chemical weapons watchdog, to investigate the incident.

Supporters of the joint statement included the European Union, Australia, Canada, and the United States, among others. Speaking for the 45 states-parties, Krassimir Kostov, the Bulgarian representative to the OPCW, explained why clarification from Russia was needed.

“The Russian Federation has not yet provided a credible explanation of the incident that took place on its soil. We have no knowledge of any internal investigations taking place in the Russian Federation, nor do we know what, if anything, the Russian Federation will do to prevent future uses of chemical weapons on its territory,” Kostov said.

After falling ill on a domestic flight in Russia on Aug. 20, 2020, Navalny received emergency medical treatment at a hospital in Omsk, Russia. He was moved from Omsk to the Charite Hospital in Berlin on Aug. 22. By Sept. 3, German experts had determined that Navalny was poisoned by a “nerve agent from the so-called Novichok group.”

Germany submitted a request for a technical assistance visit from the OPCW to confirm the identity of the chemical agent. An OPCW team traveled to Germany on Sept. 4 and collected biomedical samples from Navalny. Analysis of the samples by the OPCW laboratory near The Hague, as well as OPCW-certified laboratories in France and Sweden, confirmed Germany’s findings.

On Oct. 1, 2020, Russia reached out to the OPCW regarding a possible technical assistance visit to “cooperate with Russian experts in studying the results of Alexey Navalny’s tests to determine signs of a possible crime on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

But Russia did not agree to the terms of the visit proposed by the OPCW, and talks reached a stalemate. Last month’s OPCW joint statement called on Russia to answer “why the Russian Federation has been unable to accept the standard modalities for such a visit.”

Russia responded on Oct. 7 with its own set of questions for France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the OPCW, along with a 230-plus-page note verbale containing mostly German and Russian official OPCW correspondence about the Navalny incident.

“Today, effectively two days ahead of the deadline, Russia provided its worthy and legally calibrated response to the request of the 45 states,” Alexander Shulgin, Russian representative to the OPCW, said during an interview with the Russian news agency TASS.

“Simultaneously, we have initiated a request of our own. On the record and in attendance of all members of the OPCW Executive Council, we once again handed over an entire list of questions to Germany, France, and Sweden regarding this muddy story and their role in the spectacle they have staged themselves,” Shulgin added.

Germany responded that Russia’s note verbale “does not contain any answers to the set of questions” asked by the 45 states-parties and rejected Russia’s “attempts to discredit other states-parties as well as to question the impartiality and professionalism” of the OPCW.

One Russian question asked why the formula for the Novichok nerve agent identified by the OPCW, French, German, and Swedish laboratories was being “hidden” from Russian experts. Russia insists that the biomedical samples taken from Navalny while he was in the Omsk hospital do not show any evidence of the nerve agent.

The UK responded that Russia “had full access to the patient, affording the opportunity to recover biomedical samples of the kind which five separate laboratories used to establish the presence of a cholinesterase inhibitor structurally similar” to Novichok.

Several other questions focused on Maria Pevchikh, one of Navalny’s colleagues. Russia asked why there “were traces of some kind of chemicals found on the water bottle [Pevchikh] bought in the airport departure area.” It also asked why her role “in the whole affair [was] so carefully concealed.”

Germany countered that “the traces found by German experts on the water bottle which had been collected from Mr. Navalny’s hotel room are identical with the traces found in the biomedical samples taken from Mr. Navalny” and called on Russia “to investigate the events that took place on Russian territory.” The UK responded that “media reports have documented [Pevchikh’s] role in Mr. Navalny’s anti-corruption organization.”

It was clear from this exchange that the two sides disagree on the basic facts of the case.

If the UK deems Russia’s clarification to be inadequate or Russia deems the clarifications of France, Germany, Sweden, the UK, and the OPCW to be inadequate, the requesting parties can call on the OPCW director-general to “establish a group of experts from the Technical Secretariat…to examine all available information” and report its findings. If the parties are still not satisfied, they could call for a special session of the OPCW Executive Council to consider the matter and recommend an appropriate solution. The Navalny incident is likely to remain a matter of contention at the annual conference of CWC states-parties in November.

Forty-five nations have demanded that Russia clarify and resolve unanswered questions regarding its handling of the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Iran Signals Vienna Talks to Resume

November 2021
By Julia Masterson

Iranian diplomats met in Brussels with EU officials to review progress on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal. Following the Oct. 27 meeting, Iran said it would return to the talks in late November. Negotiations to revive the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have been stalled since the sixth round of meetings concluded in June 2021.

EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora, shown here in Vienna in June, traveled to Tehran on Oct. 14 to meet Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani and discuss Iran's plans to resume negotiations on the 2015 nuclear deal.  (Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images)In an effort to jump-start talks, EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora traveled to Tehran on Oct. 14 to meet Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani and discuss Iran’s plans to resume negotiations in Vienna with the other members of the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—and the United States.

In a tweet on Oct. 27, Bagheri Kani called the talks with Mora "very serious and constructive" and said "we agree to start negotiations before the end of November."

Mora, together with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, coordinated the first six rounds of discussions aimed at facilitating a mutual return to compliance with the deal by Iran and the United States, which withdrew from the accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018. Iran began to violate the deal one year later, in May 2019, but maintains it will restore limits on its nuclear program imposed by the accord in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Although the other parties have urged the prompt resumption of talks, Iran has delayed the seventh round, citing a need to restructure its negotiating team and clarify its position after the inauguration of President Ebrahim Raisi in August. In a telephone call with his Russian counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian described the Mora meeting as “positive.”

Meanwhile, Russia and the three European members concur that many issues impeding restoration of the JCPOA were resolved during the first six rounds of talks. As Mikhail Ulyanov, Russian ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted on Oct. 17, “Of course, talks in Brussels cannot substitute [for the Vienna talks on the JCPOA but]…if the Iranian side needs it, [the Brussels dialogue] can be viewed as a preparatory step towards resumption of real negotiations in Vienna.”

In an Oct. 11 tweet, Ulyanov wrote that “we should not resume the Vienna Talks on [the] JCPOA from scratch” and noted that “during the previous six rounds of negotiations significant and very useful progress has been achieved.”

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh remarked on Oct. 17 that the sixth round ended over differences, not compromises, implying that negotiations may not resume exactly where they paused in June.

A senior EU diplomat told Politico on Oct. 17 that Iran is “not yet ready for engaging in Vienna” but Iranian officials have “absolutely decided to go back” to the table. That official said Iran will use its time in Brussels to review the texts discussed during the last round of talks.

There is speculation that Tehran may demand additional concessions from Washington or a gesture of good faith prior to returning to the negotiating table. On Oct. 2, Amirabdollahian declared via a state-run broadcasting network that Washington should preemptively release $10 billion of Iran’s frozen funds as a goodwill sign. He said he “told the mediators if America’s intentions are serious, then a serious indication was needed…by releasing at least $10 billion of blocked money.”

The United States will not offer concessions before resuming talks, Rob Malley, the State Department special envoy for Iran, suggested during an Oct. 13 briefing at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said the United States will engage in talks on restoring the 2015 deal but if Iran approaches the negotiating table with demands that exceed the original accord, the United States will do the same.

U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that the time to restore the deal is not indefinite, given Iran’s accelerating nuclear activities. On Oct. 10, Iran announced it had produced more than 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent uranium-235. Iran’s 2020 nuclear law stipulates that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran should meet that benchmark by December. Early achievement of that benchmark suggests Iran accelerated uranium-enrichment to that level.

During an Oct. 13 meeting with the Israeli foreign minister, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that “we are getting close to a point at which returning to compliance with the JCPOA will not in and of itself recapture the benefits of the JCPOA, and that’s because Iran has been using this time to advance its nuclear program in a variety of ways.”

Although reaffirming that a day will come when advances in Iran’s nuclear knowledge could render it impossible to recapture the nonproliferation benefits envisioned by the 2015 accord, Malley said the United States believes that, for now, the window to fully restore the JCPOA remains open.

Iran has said it will resume talks, stalled since June, on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

U.S., Russia Establish Strategic Stability Groups

November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia established two working groups during a September strategic stability dialogue as a next step to make meaningful progress on arms control for the first time in nearly a decade.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (left) and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, leaders of their respective delegations, bump elbows  in front of their national flags before a round of strategic stability talks in Geneva on July 28. (Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva)The two countries released a joint statement following the Sept. 30 meeting in Geneva, which described the dialogue as “intensive and substantive” and officially named the Working Group on Principles and Objectives for Future Arms Control and the Working Group on Capabilities and Actions With Strategic Effects.

“The delegations additionally agreed that the two working groups would commence their meetings, to be followed by a third plenary meeting,” the statement said. The date of the third meeting is yet to be announced.

After the dialogue, a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters there was “a detailed and dynamic exchange” and “the discussion was very interactive and broad based and we think we were able to cover a variety of issues.”

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led the U.S. delegation alongside Bonnie Jenkins, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov led the delegation from Moscow.

“It is no surprise that the dialogue proves that the two sides have many discords, disagreements, and contradictory views on things, and only a few points of convergence,” Ryabkov told the Geneva Centre for Security Policy on Oct. 1. But “it is just the beginning of the journey. If political will and readiness for creative diplomacy prevail on both sides, then there are no unbridgeable gaps.”

The first round of the strategic stability dialogue under the Biden administration took place in July. (See ACT, September 2021.) President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during their June summit to relaunch the dialogue to “seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.” (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

Jenkins outlined the Biden administration’s goals for the dialogue on Sept. 6, saying that U.S. efforts “are guided by several key concepts,” which include seeking to limit new kinds of intercontinental-range nuclear delivery systems; address all nuclear warheads, such as nonstrategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons; and maintain the limits imposed by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). She added that the administration has also made pursuing new risk reduction measures with China a “priority.”

Russia has sought to develop “a new security equation” that addresses all nuclear and non-nuclear, offensive and defensive weapons that affect strategic stability. That would include U.S. missile defense systems, which Washington has resisted putting on the table.

The new groups are different than those established by the Trump administration that focused on nuclear warheads and doctrine, verification, and space. The new working group on future arms control might aim, for instance, to outline the scope of what agreement could follow after New START expires in 2026. Ryabkov has said that what may come next could be “a legally binding document, perhaps not one, but several texts, both legally and politically binding, if such an option is deemed preferable by both parties.”

The other new working group on capabilities and actions with strategic effects might cover discussion on issues such as long-range conventional or dual-capable precision fires, such as hypersonic weapons, and tactical nuclear weapons.

It remains unclear whether or how the Biden administration plans to transition the strategic stability dialogue to more formal negotiations on an arms control agreement or other arrangement to follow New START. Biden said in June that “we’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters.”

Following the September meeting, Ryabkov described the Biden administration’s “concepts and ideas” as “immature at this stage” due to the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review. “We take it as it is and believe that, in the meantime, there is enough space for intense discussions,” he told the Geneva Centre on Oct. 1.

Ryabkov reiterated Moscow’s rejection of a 2020 proposal that paired a one-year extension of New START with a one-year freeze on the numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads. (See ACT, November 2020.) At the time, New START was set to expire in February 2021. But the Trump administration also requested that the freeze contain detailed definitions and verification measures, which prompted Russia to dismiss the proposal.

“It was a one-time offer,” said Ryabkov after the September dialogue, and the United States “missed the opportunity.” Last year, he had said that, by adding other terms to the freeze, the Trump administration “will immediately destroy the possibility of reaching the agreement.”

New START, signed in 2010, caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles and heavy bombers each. The Bilateral Consultative Commission, the treaty implementing body, restarted its meetings for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on Oct. 5-14 in Geneva. “The U.S. and Russian delegations continued the discussion of practical issues related to the implementation of the treaty,” the U.S. State Department said a statement. But on-site inspections conducted under the treaty have not resumed.

The United States and Russia established two working groups as a next step to make meaningful progress on arms control for the first time in nearly a decade.

U.S. Continues Controversial Arms Assistance

November 2021
By William Ostermeyer and Jeff Abramson

Claims by President Joe Biden and administration officials that human rights are at the heart of U.S. foreign policy are drawing scrutiny as Washington continues arms sales and other security assistance to certain countries in the Middle East.

During a speech at the State Department on Feb. 4, President Joe Biden said that "we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images) In his national address in August marking the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Biden said, “I’ve been clear that human rights will be the center of our foreign policy.” In September, when the administration withheld $130 million in security assistance to Egypt, State Department spokesman Ned Price stated that the United States would release the funds “only if the government of Egypt affirmatively addresses specific human rights related conditions.”

But that decision quickly drew criticism. Nineteen human rights organizations issued a letter on Sept. 14 calling it a “betrayal” of Biden's commitment to human rights that “sidesteps the intent of Congress.” Instead, they argued, the administration should have withheld the full $300 million “to incentivize [President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi to change course.”

In 2019, Congress made $300 million of the $1.3 billion in annual foreign military financing to Cairo conditional on the secretary of state’s certification that Egypt was taking steps such as investigating and prosecuting extrajudicial killings, and releasing political prisoners.

The decision to send $170 million of that $300 million in security aid was not accompanied by such a certification. Instead, the administration argued that the entire $300 million fell into a funding category of border security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs to which the law did not apply. The Senate Appropriations Committee has removed the provision that allowed for that interpretation in its recently introduced annual bill.

In September, the State Department also notified Congress of a potential $500 million foreign military sale to Saudi Arabia to maintain various Saudi helicopters, including AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. Some experts said this was at odds with Biden’s promise to end "all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales." As an example, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a news conference on Feb. 4 that the policy applied to precision-guided munitions approved by the Trump administration. On Oct. 27, a State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today in an email that the helicopter maintenance was consistent with the administration’s human rights approach. The spokesperson said it “helps Saudi Arabia maintain self-defense capabilities…particularly on their border,” and that the administration had found “the overwhelming majority of [civilian harm] incidents were caused
by air to ground munitions from fixed wing aircraft.”

The administration has been criticized, however, for supporting Saudi Arabia through preexisting supply and maintenance contracts. In September, the House approved an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit maintenance support for warplanes used in Yemen against the Houthis. “It’s time to do what is morally right, hold Saudi Arabia accountable, and fully end U.S. complicity in the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing of Yemeni civilians,” Khanna said.

On Oct. 13, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met the foreign ministers of Israel and the United Arab Emirates, two U.S. weapons recipients that have been criticized for their human rights records, and spoke positively of the 2020 Abraham Accords, which helped normalize relations between them. At their joint press conference, Blinken made no mention of whether the administration might rethink the controversial arms sales to the UAE that have been linked to the accords, including F-35s worth $10 billion. The administration has said it wants to complete the F-35 deal, but in a way that respects human rights. (See ACT, May 2021.) The UAE has been criticized for misusing weapons in Yemen and its own human rights record.

Although Biden sometimes has spoken candidly about Washington’s Arab allies, his rhetoric on Israel has been less critical. Efforts to curtail or criticize U.S. material support for Israel over human rights issues have come instead from Congress.

In May, as hostilities escalated in Gaza, members of Congress introduced resolutions of disapproval to block a direct commercial sale of precision-guided munitions to Israel worth $735 million. (See ACT, June 2021.) Ultimately, no votes were taken, and the administration moved the sale forward. In July, the State Department notified Congress of another Israeli-related sale totaling $3.4 billion for 18 cargo helicopters and related equipment.

On Sept. 21, House Democrats, responding to progressive members, removed a provision from a funding bill that would have provided $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome air defense system. Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee then introduced a separate bill to fund the system, which passed the House on a 420–9 vote on Sept. 23. The bill hit a roadblock in the Senate on Oct. 4, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objected to a call by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) for unanimous consent to proceed. The funding is expected to be approved, and Paul supports the system, but he wanted the money to come from a different account.

Although there are precedents for Congress expressing concern about arms sales to Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, there is growing scrutiny over the relationship between weapons transfers and human rights. An expected revised conventional arms transfer policy could make more explicit how the administration weighs human rights in arms sales decisions. (See ACT, October 2021.)

Claims that human rights are at the heart of U.S. foreign policy are drawing scrutiny as Washington continues selling arms to Middle Eastern countries with dubious records.

U.S. Discloses Nuclear Stockpile Numbers

November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The Biden administration has publicly released the total number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile, a sharp reversal of the previous administration’s refusal to do so for the past three years.

“Today, as an act of good faith and a tangible, public demonstration of the U.S. commitment to transparency, we will present data which documents our own record of continued progress toward the achievement of the goals” of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), said Bonnie Jenkins, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, on Oct. 5.

The U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads was at 3,750 as of September 2020, according to the administration document. This number captures active and inactive warheads, but not the roughly 2,000 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement. The document lists stockpile numbers going back to 1962, including the warhead numbers from the years when the Trump administration refused to declassify the information.

“This number represents an approximate 88 percent reduction in the stockpile from its maximum (31,255) at the end of fiscal year 1967, and an approximate 83 percent reduction from its level (22,217) when the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989,” the document said.

Despite a significant overall reduction, the updated figures show the scale of reductions to the stockpile has diminished in recent years and even reflect a 20 warhead increase between September 2018 and September 2019 under the Trump administration.

The Biden administration also disclosed how many nuclear warheads the Energy Department has dismantled each year since 1994, for a total of 11,683. The Obama administration decided in 2010, for the first time, to release the entire history of the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The Trump administration declassified the stockpile data for 2017, but did not do so again for the following years.

On Oct. 6, Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, praised the Biden moves, saying that “such transparency measures are going to be crucial for future nuclear arms reductions.” But Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lambasted the decision in an Oct. 5 statement: “China and Russia failed to reciprocate any transparency when the United States did this during the Obama era, and instead embarked on major, opaque expansions and modernizations of their nuclear forces.”

The Biden administration, reversing its predecessor, has publicly released the total number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile.

IAEA Chief Supports Iran Censure

November 2021

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voiced support for censuring Iran during the agency’s Board of Governors meeting in November, although he acknowledged that the situation could change as the agency works to resolve the “most immediate challenges” with Iran.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi spoke at an Oct. 21 event hosted by the Stimson Center during his trip to Washington to meet Biden administration officials and members of Congress. He said the trip came at a “difficult juncture” in the IAEA efforts to monitor Iran’s nuclear program and hoped he would travel to Tehran soon to discuss these issues.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom considered pursuing a resolution censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with IAEA requests at the September Board of Governors meeting, but suspended the effort after Grossi reached an agreement with Tehran to stave off a monitoring crisis. (See ACT, October 2021.)

That Sept. 12 agreement allowed inspectors to service remote surveillance cameras at sites that inspectors have not accessed since February, when Iran reduced compliance with agency monitoring. (See ACT, March 2021.) But Iran blocked inspectors from installing new cameras at a centrifuge component manufacturing site at Karaj during an IAEA visit to the site on Sept. 26. Iran removed the surveillance equipment from that facility after the equipment was sabotaged in June and said the Sept. 12 agreement does not cover that location.

Grossi told The Washington Post on Oct. 20 that if the monitoring dispute and other issues are not resolved, it will be “extremely difficult” to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Although he said the IAEA is not a “main actor” in efforts to restore the JCPOA, the agency is an “essential element,” given its verification role. He said on Oct. 21 that the IAEA is doing what it can to ensure a baseline of information about Iran’s nuclear program, which is “indispensable” for any future negotiation.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Grossi and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed during their Oct. 19 meeting “the need for Iran to meet its nuclear verification obligations and commitments, cease its nuclear provocations, and return to the diplomacy it says it seeks.”

Several members of Congress, including Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, were more explicit in supporting censure. After meeting Grossi on Oct. 19, Risch called for “strong U.S. leadership in seeking accountability for Iran’s nuclear activities and pressuring Iran to fulfill its obligations to the international community.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in September that action by the IAEA board would negatively impact negotiations to restore the JCPOA.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

IAEA Chief Supports Iran Censure

North Korea Tests SLBM

November 2021

North Korea has tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) amid rising regional tensions over its missile provocations, marking Pyongyang’s first launch of an SLBM in two years.

A man in Seoul watches a television report, showing a news broadcast with file footage, of a North Korean missile test on October 19. The South Korean military said the test was believed to involve a submarine-launched ballistic missile.  (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)The South Korean military detected the launch of an “unidentified ballistic missile” from the waters near Sinpo, where North Korean submarines are based, on Oct. 19. The missile flew approximately 430 to 450 kilometers.

The missile launch came hours after the Biden administration confirmed that Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, will soon meet with allies in Seoul to discuss the resumption of negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.

“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for additional launches,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement Oct. 19.

Analyses of the test are ongoing. It remains unclear whether the missile was launched from the water and whether it was fired from a submarine vessel or from a submersible test barge, as was the case for the last North Korean SLBM test, a Pukguksong-3 missile in October 2019. (See ACT, November 2019.)

According to Reuters, military analysts in South Korea and the United States are investigating whether the missile tested on Oct. 19 is among the new systems displayed at North Korea’s defense exhibition held in mid-October. Ankit Panda, an expert on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, described the displayed system as an apparent “navalized version of the KN23 short-range ballistic missile.” That it was staged alongside the Pukguksong-1 and Pukguksong-5 SLBMs strongly suggests the new missile is also an SLBM, Panda wrote in an analysis for NK News published Oct. 19.

Pyongyang confirmed the launch Oct. 20 and said the test was of a “new type” of SLBM.

In response to the test, the United States and the United Kingdom requested a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, which was scheduled for Oct. 27.—JULIA MASTERSON

North Korea Tests SLBM

U.S. Suspends Nuclear Trade With Chinese Group

November 2021

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has suspended shipments of radioactive materials to China’s state-owned and -operated nuclear company, the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN). The action includes restrictions on deuterium, a hydrogen isotope used in nuclear reactors and boosted nuclear weapons.

Concerned about China’s growing nuclear weapons program, the NRC decided Sept. 27 that a suspension was "necessary to further the national security interests of the United States and to enhance the United States common defense and security consistent with the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.” The nuclear cooperation act governs U.S. nuclear trade of sensitive nuclear materials with China and other countries and distributes licenses for “the exportation of nuclear material, reactors, and related technologies” if states party to the act meet specified standards. In 2015 the United States and China signed a 30-year cooperation agreement under terms of the act.

Washington’s apprehension about Beijing’s nuclear advances has been growing for more than a decade. In July 2018, Chris Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, warned of China’s “military-civil fusion” policy. The NRC described its order regarding CGN as “an extension of the [2018] licensing framework for civil nuclear exports from the United States to China established by the Executive Branch,” when U.S. President Donald Trump restricted nuclear trade with China to prevent nonmilitary and unauthorized use of nuclear technology. That same year, the U.S. Energy Department outlined policy guidelines aimed at deterring Beijing from illegally transforming nuclear technology for civilian use to technology for military purposes.

In April, Navy Adm. Charles Richard, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, warned that a new generation of Chinese nuclear power facilities are based on technology that could greatly expand the production of weapons-grade plutonium. It is expected that Beijing will double its nuclear warhead stockpile over the next decade.

The United Kingdom is also planning to remove CGN from the nuclear power plant under construction in Suffolk by selling China’s 20 percent stake in the project.—MARY ANN HURTADO


U.S. Suspends Nuclear Trade With Chinese Group

Air Force Awards $2.6 Billion B-52 Engine Contract

November 2021

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Rolls-Royce of North America a $2.6 billion contract to produce 608 jet engines for the B-52 intercontinental bomber, enabling the iconic Cold War aircraft, which first flew in 1952, to remain in active service until well into the 2050s.

A US B-52 Stratofortress bomber flies over the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, in 2016 in a show of force against North Korea. (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)The existing fleet of 76 operational B-52s is powered by Pratt & Whitney’s TF33 engine, but these systems are nearing the end of their service life and must be replaced if the bomber is to continue flying beyond 2030. By replacing the TF33s—eight are mounted on each B-52—with a new, more modern engine, the Air Force plans to keep the bombers flying for another quarter century beyond that. “The B-52 is the workhorse of the nation’s bomber force, and this modification will allow the B-52 to continue its critical conventional and standoff mission into the 2050s,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, director of strategic plans, programs, and requirements at the Air Force Global Strike Command, when the award was announced Sept. 24.

When first conceived in 1946, the B-52 Stratofortress was largely intended as a long-range bomber designed to deliver nuclear weapons on enemy, presumably Soviet, territory. Although it still retains its role as a nuclear delivery system and, as such, is counted under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), it has also been used to deliver conventional bombs and missiles, most recently in Afghanistan. —MICHAEL KLARE

Air Force Awards $2.6 Billion B-52 Engine Contract

The F-35A Passes Final Flight Test

November 2021

The F-35A fighter aircraft successfully completed its final fight test on Sept. 21 for the nuclear design certification process.

“Having a fifth-generation [dual-capable] fighter aircraft with this capability brings an entirely new strategic-level capability that strengthens our nation’s nuclear deterrence mission,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Jackson, division chief of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration at Air Combat Controls headquarters, after the test.

During the full weapons system test, the F-35A Lightning II aircraft released two B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies from operationally realistic flight envelopes over the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. The test marks the completion of on-aircraft testing for the initial nuclear design certification process. Next steps will include nuclear operational certification, which ensures training and validation of maintenance and aircrews at potential future bases.

“No date has been released for full F-35A nuclear certification in support of real-world operations,” the Air Combat Command said in an Oct. 4 statement. Lt. Col. Douglas A. Kabel, Air Combat Command deputy director for strategic deterrence, told Air Force Magazine on Oct. 5 that even once certified, not every F-35 will become nuclear capable.

The F-35 is being developed primarily for conventional missions, but there will be some nuclear variants largely pursuant to U.S. extended deterrence commitments to NATO.—MARY ANN HURTADO

The F-35A Passes Final Flight Test


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