“What's really strikes me about ACA is the potential to shape the next generation of leaders on arms control and nuclear policy. This is something I witnessed firsthand as someone who was introduced to the field through ACA.”
– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
June 2, 2022
Arms Control Today

The Australia-UK-U.S. Submarine Deal: Submarines and Safeguards

December 2021
By Laura Rockwood

If the AUKUS deal, under which the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, goes forward, it will have a precedent-setting effect on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards implemented pursuant to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which is formally known as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said that the special arrangement that Australia must negotiate to acquire nuclear-powered submarines promised by the United Kingdom and the United States will require the agency “to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, which has never been done before, and it’s a very, very demanding process.” (Photo by Mandel Ngan/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)These technical measures are at the heart of international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. They are accepted by non-nuclear-weapon state-parties to the NPT through the conclusion of comprehensive safeguards agreements. Under these agreements, the agency is empowered to verify independently that such states are complying with their obligation not to divert nuclear material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Australia concluded such an agreement in 1974.1

The NPT does not prohibit the use of nuclear material for certain non-explosive military uses, such as nuclear naval propulsion. To accommodate that possibility, the comprehensive safeguards agreement includes a provision that allows a state to request the withdrawal of nuclear material from safeguards for use in such a nonprohibited activity. Prior to doing so, the state must conclude a separate, specific arrangement with the IAEA.

In the 40 years since the IAEA has been implementing comprehensive safeguards agreements, it has never concluded such an arrangement. If one results from the AUKUS deal, Australia, the IAEA, and the other two participant countries will have to take great care to avoid creating a loophole in such agreements that could provide cover for the diversion of nuclear material for use in a nuclear weapons program.

As IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi stressed to reporters on October 21, “There has to be a specific arrangement with the IAEA” that will require the agency “to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, which has never been done before, and it’s a very, very demanding process.”

Legal Framework

All comprehensive safeguards agreements are based on INFCIRC/153, a document negotiated in the 1970s by a committee of the IAEA Board of Governors that was open to all members of the agency.2 As regards submarines, the most important provision is paragraph 14, entitled “Non-application of safeguards to nuclear material to be used in non-peaceful activities.” It contains the procedures to be followed in the event that a state wishes to “exercise its discretion to use nuclear material required to be safeguarded under the agreement in a nuclear activity which does not require the application of safeguards.” This is often referenced as the “withdrawal” of nuclear material from safeguards, distinguishing it from provisions related to the termination of safeguards on nuclear material, for example, if the material has become practicably irrecoverable, and to the exemption of nuclear material from safeguards, such as for use in a non-nuclear activity.

Pursuant to paragraph 14, before any nuclear material may be withdrawn from safeguards for use in such an activity, the IAEA and the state concerned must “make an arrangement” so that safeguards will not be applied only while the nuclear material is being used in that activity.

The drafters of INFCIRC/153 insisted on this as a means of balancing a state’s interest in protecting militarily sensitive information while ensuring, to the extent possible, that the withdrawal of nuclear material from safeguards would not create opportunities for the state to divert the material for prohibited purposes.

The withdrawal of nuclear material under paragraph 14 is not automatic and is not intended as a blanket exemption for nuclear material, facilities, or activities due to their military nature. A state may not withdraw nuclear material from safeguards without invoking paragraph 14 and concluding an arrangement with the IAEA.

Only Canada has ever invoked paragraph 14. Although discussions on a possible arrangement with the IAEA were initiated in the late 1980s, Canada decided not to pursue the project, and no arrangement was ever concluded.

Brazil is the only non-nuclear-weapon state with an active nuclear naval propulsion program. Some experts worry that the AUKUS deal, in which Australia plans to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the UK and the United States, will encourage other countries to pursue this technology. (Photo by Mauro Pimentel / AFP via Getty Images)Brazil, the only non-nuclear-weapon state with an active nuclear naval propulsion program, has already announced its plan to build a land-based prototype for a submarine reactor and has provided facility design information to the IAEA. Unlike the AUKUS project, the Brazilian project is based on a domestic fuel cycle, including conversion, enrichment of nuclear material using low-enriched uranium, fabrication of the fuel, and assembly of the fuel into a reactor core. The IAEA has not received a request from Brazil to conclude a relevant arrangement.

In 2012, Iran also announced its intention to produce nuclear-powered submarines3 and recently started producing uranium enriched to 60 percent in uranium-235.4 Although Iran also recently alluded to the possible use of 60 percent-enriched uranium for a submarine program, no formal announcements have been made. South Korea has also expressed interest in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines and commissioned a feasibility study in 2017.5 Neither Iran nor South Korea has raised with the IAEA the prospect of concluding a paragraph 14 arrangement.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Germany and Japan developed nuclear naval propulsion but for civilian application to surface ships.6 No special safeguards arrangements were concluded with either country.

Questions to Answer

The key process-related question is whether approval by the IAEA Board of Governors is required for a paragraph 14 arrangement. Paragraph 14 speaks only of the IAEA agreeing on the arrangement, not whether such an arrangement would be subject to board approval.

An exchange of letters between the IAEA and Australia in 1978 concerning the secretariat’s handling of paragraph 14 requests is likewise ambiguous, but suggests that the board would determine the appropriate action.7 Should the matter be presented to the board by the director-general, the board itself could decide whether approval is necessary.8 Given the divergent interests of the states represented on the board, the results of such deliberations are far from predetermined and could become quite political and contentious.

There are also substantive issues associated with the use of nuclear material in a nonproscribed military activity and the conclusion of an arrangement under paragraph 14.

Details of the arrangement. Paragraph 14 requires that “only while the nuclear material is in such an activity, the safeguards provided for in the Agreement will not be applied” and that safeguards are to apply again “as soon as the nuclear material is reintroduced into a peaceful nuclear activity.” The arrangement must identify, to the extent possible, the period or circumstances during which safeguards will not be applied. It also must provide for the IAEA to be kept informed of the total quantity and composition of the material withdrawn from safeguards, whether in the country or exported.9

In addition, the arrangement may only relate to “such matters as” temporal and procedural requirements and reporting arrangements. The list in INFCIRC/153 of what the arrangement may include is not exhaustive and the IAEA and the states involved must work out the details. In agreeing to such an arrangement, however, the IAEA has no authority to require information deemed by the state to be classified or to approve or disapprove the activity in question.10

Withdrawal of material from safeguards and safeguards reapplication. The material should spend as little time as possible outside safeguards. As agreed by the drafters of INFCIRC/153, “[S]uch peaceful nuclear activities as transport and storage, and activities or processes which merely change the chemical or isotopic composition of nuclear material, such as enrichment or reprocessing, are not intrinsically military and, therefore, [are] not entitled to exclusion from safeguards under paragraph 14.”11 Insofar as Australia could be receiving submarines already equipped with the reactors,12 there inevitably will be some transport and storage of the submarines, which will have to be addressed. As Australia will not be engaged in enrichment or reprocessing of the reactor fuel, that could simplify the negotiation process. Yet, there needs to be clarity regarding when the nuclear material in the reactor would have to be brought back under safeguards.

This Australian Collins Class submarine is among those to be replaced under a new defense agreement among Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. (Photo by POIS Yuri Ramsey/Australian Defence Force via Getty Images)Implications for additional protocols. The implementation of an additional protocol could mitigate the possible negative impacts on safeguards of a paragraph 14 arrangement. An additional protocol offers the IAEA expanded access to information and locations, which increases the agency’s ability to detect indications of undeclared nuclear material and activities. Many measures contained in an additional protocol, such as the IAEA’s right to request access to and information about nuclear fuel-cycle-related research and development activities not involving nuclear material, could be relevant to a nuclear naval propulsion program, depending on what activities are actually carried out by the non-nuclear-weapon state.

Australia concluded an additional protocol in December 1997.13 Would some of these provisions be suspended as well? If so, how would that impact the IAEA’s ability to determine whether a state is pursuing undeclared nuclear activities?

More complicated still is how such a suspension might impact the IAEA’s drawing of “safeguards conclusions,” in particular the drawing of the “broader conclusion.” Each year, the IAEA draws a safeguards conclusion for each state in which safeguards were implemented during the previous year. If a state with a comprehensive safeguards agreement has an additional protocol in force and the IAEA sees no indications of the diversion of declared nuclear material and no indications of undeclared nuclear material or activities in the state, the agency draws a “broader conclusion” that “all nuclear material remained in peaceful activities.” Would the IAEA still be able to draw such a conclusion? Would there have to be a reformulation of the broader conclusion?

Although it is tempting to suggest that no paragraph 14 arrangement should be approved unless a state has an additional protocol in force, such a position is likely to meet resistance among NPT states-parties, given the insistence by many states on the voluntary nature of such protocols.

Military-to-military transfers and paragraph 14 arrangements. The question has been posed whether a transfer of nuclear material from a military program in a nuclear-weapon state to a military program in a non-nuclear weapon state—a so-called military-to-military transfer—would fall outside the requirements of the NPT or INFCIRC/153. The answer is no. Any efforts to circumvent the paragraph 14 mechanism should be resoundingly rejected, not just from a policy perspective but from a legal perspective. This approach was actually raised in the context of the Canadian project and rejected by the secretariat.

Paragraph 1 of INFCIRC/153 tracks the language of the NPT in requiring the application of safeguards “on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities.” The reference to peaceful nuclear activities was intended to accommodate the interest in nuclear-powered submarines among some non-nuclear-weapon states in the late 1960s. It was not intended as a means for securing an exclusion of nuclear material from safeguards due its use in a military activity.

Paragraph 34(c) requires that nuclear material of a composition and purity suitable for fuel fabrication or isotopic enrichment or produced later in the nuclear fuel cycle, as the nuclear material in a reactor core would be, become subject to all safeguards procedures upon its import into a state with a comprehensive safeguards agreement. Unlike other provisions in paragraph 34, subparagraph (c) is not limited to the import of such material for particular purposes. Thus, the nuclear material contained in a reactor would become subject to safeguards upon its import, regardless of the purpose for which it is imported.

Finally, pursuant to paragraphs 92 to 96, a state must provide advance notification to the IAEA of the expected transfer into the state of nuclear material in an amount greater than one effective kilogram, as would be the nuclear material in a reactor core, and in any case not later than the date on which the recipient state assumes responsibility for the material. Likewise, the state would be obliged to report the export of such material. None of these provisions has an exclusion for nuclear material used in or transferred for a military purpose.

The general rule under customary international law for interpreting a treaty is that a treaty should be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of an agreement in their context and in light of its object and purpose. From a plain reading of INFCIRC/153, safeguards agreements must be interpreted as states having committed themselves to notifying the IAEA of the production and import of nuclear material even if the material is intended for use in a nonproscribed military nuclear activity. Such states also are committed to abiding by the provisions of paragraph 14 should they wish to use nuclear material in a nonproscribed military nuclear activity.

Under customary international law, supplementary means of interpretation, such as the negotiating history of a treaty, may be used to confirm the ordinary meaning resulting from the application of this general rule. The negotiating history also can be used to determine the meaning of a treaty when interpretation in accordance with the general rule results in an ambiguous or obscure interpretation or leads to a result that is manifestly absurd or unreasonable. In this instance, the interpretation resulting from the application of the general rule does not result in an ambiguous, obscure, or manifestly absurd or unreasonable interpretation of INFCIRC/153. Nevertheless, it is useful to review the negotiating history, which clearly confirms that interpretation.

The negotiators agreed that the IAEA “should be consulted and satisfactory administrative arrangement[s] reached concerning the use of any nuclear material for a military purpose permitted under [the NPT], whether or not the material was initially under safeguards.”14 They also noted that “[t]he provision should thus be applied to all material which was either actually under safeguards and to be withdrawn or which had never been placed under safeguards and which was intended to be used in a permitted nuclear activity.”15 Finally, the negotiators made a change to the secretariat’s proposed draft of paragraph 14 to avoid any ambiguity that might suggest that nuclear material would not be subject to safeguards if it were assigned at the moment of production to a non-explosive military activity.16

Thus, to interpret paragraph 1 as providing what would be tantamount to an automatic exclusion from safeguards of nuclear material because it is used in or was produced for use in a military activity would be manifestly absurd and unreasonable. It would create an enormous loophole in safeguards, thereby defeating the very object and purpose of comprehensive safeguards agreements, contrary to international treaty law.17

Although some will argue that Australia’s sterling nonproliferation credentials should allow for greater flexibility, any arrangement will inevitably be invoked as a precedent by other states.

In fact, as Grossi told reporters, it “cannot be excluded” that other countries would use the AUKUS precedent to pursue their own nuclear submarine plans. General Sir Nicholas Carter, the departing UK chief of the defense staff, recently suggested that Japan, Canada, and New Zealand could eventually join the AUKUS partnership.

To that end, whatever the arrangement, it must be designed as fit for purpose, which is to say, it cannot be used to defeat safeguards regardless of who the partner states might be. Ultimately, the acceptability of any given arrangement should be judged on its nonproliferation merits and be able to survive the following test: if the names of the parties involved are changed, is it still acceptable?



1. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “The Text of the Agreement Between Australia and the Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/217, December 13, 1974.

2. IAEA, “The Structure and Content of Agreements Between the Agency and States Required in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/153 (Corr.), June 1972 (hereafter INFCIRC/153). The paragraph numbers in INFCIRC/153 correspond, by and large, to article numbers in the actual agreements. To avoid confusion, this article will refer to paragraphs as reflected in INFCIRC/153.

3. Olli Heinonen, “Nuclear Submarine Program Surfaces in Iran,” Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, July 23, 2021, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/nuclear-submarine-program-surfaces-iran; Tom O’Connor, “Iran Says It Wants Nuclear Submarines to Power Up Fleet After Confrontation With U.S. Navy,” Newsweek, April 17, 2020.

4. Uranium enriched to a level of 20 percent or higher uranium-235 is considered to be highly enriched uranium. Uranium that is enriched below 20 percent U-235 is referenced as low-enriched uranium.

5. Nuclear Threat Initiative, “South Korea Submarine Capabilities,” February 17, 2021, https://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/south-korea-submarine-capabilities/.

6. In the case of Japan, its surface vehicle Mutsu (1970–1992) never carried commercial cargo and was converted to diesel engine power in 1996. Germany’s Otto Hahn (1968–1979) was converted to diesel engine power in 1979.

7. IAEA, “Exchange of Letters Between the Resident Representative of Australia and the Director General,” GOV/INF/347, November 27, 1987. See Laura Rockwood, “Naval Nuclear Propulsion and IAEA Safeguards,” Federation of American Scientists Issue Brief, August 2017, https://uploads.fas.org/media/Naval-Nuclear-Propulsion-and-IAEA-Safeguards.pdf.

8. See Rockwood, “Naval Nuclear Propulsion and IAEA Safeguards,” p. 11.

9. INFCIRC/153, para. 14(b).

10. INFCIRC/153, para. 14(c).

11. GOV/COM.22/53/Mod.1.; GOV/COM.22/OR.76, paras. 47–53.

12. It is not certain whether construction of the actual submarines will be in Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States.

13. IAEA, “Protocol Additional to the Agreement Between Australia and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/217/Add.1, February 9, 1998.

14. GOV/COM.22/OR.11, para. 40.

15. GOV/COM.22/OR.13, para. 11.

16. GOV/COM.22/53/Mod.1; GOV/COM.22/OR.76, paras. 47–53.

17. In 1993 the IAEA advised North Korea that there was no automatic exclusion for IAEA access to information or locations simply by virtue of such information or locations being associated with military activities.

Laura Rockwood is the director of Open Nuclear Network in Vienna. She retired from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November 2013 as the section head for nonproliferation and policy in the Office of Legal Affairs after 28 years of service.

For Australia to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the UK and the U.S. as planned, it will have to negotiate an unprecedented safeguards arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

China’s Strategic Arsenal: Worldview, Doctrine, and Systems

December 2021

Digging Deep Into China’s Motivations and Intentions

China’s Strategic Arsenal: Worldview, Doctrine, and Systems
James M. Smith and Paul J. Bolt, Editors
(Georgetown University Press, 2021)
280 pages

Reviewed by Tong Zhao

Many op-eds have been written this year as more revelations emerged about the surprising speed and scale of China’s nuclear expansion. The reported construction of more than 200 new missile silos and the testing of an orbital hypersonic glider drew most of the international attention, but there may be more than meets the eye. Given that Chinese President Xi Jinping instructed the People’s Liberation Army in March to “accelerate the construction of high-level strategic deterrent” systems, more details about China’s comprehensive efforts to rapidly develop its nuclear triad capabilities will likely emerge.

These developments are taking place at a critical juncture, when the Biden administration is deliberating the future of the U.S. nuclear posture and China’s national power continues to grow even though the country’s overall strategic orientation has become increasingly unclear. In light of the growing ambiguities and all the moving pieces, only a holistic and systematic examination of China’s nuclear strategy could hope to offer deep and accurate insight about what is going on and the implications. The book, China’s Strategic Arsenal: Worldview, Doctrine, and Systems, edited by James M. Smith and Paul J. Bolt with contributions from a stellar group of leading experts, does exactly that. Admittedly, the book does not include the most recent Chinese capability developments, especially in 2021. That would be an impossible task given the fast developments in the program. Yet, the book performs an excellent service by enriching the public debate with a deep, nuanced review of the key technical, doctrinal, geopolitical, and cultural dimensions of the evolving nuclear thinking that appears to be shaping China’s current and future policy.

Reasons for the Buildup

Such a holistic approach helps avoid attributing China’s nuclear buildup to any singular cause. For instance, even though the perceived threat from U.S. missile defenses may still be the most important technical factor affecting the calculations of Chinese nuclear strategists, the incremental development of these U.S. capabilities cannot satisfactorily explain the relatively abrupt acceleration of China’s nuclear buildup. The reported construction of hundreds of missile silos across at least three suspected silo sites—a deployment strategy not optimal for countering missile defense—also indicates a growing Chinese concern about a possible U.S. preemptive nuclear strike. Why does China believe there is a such a threat? Why is China experimenting with exotic nuclear delivery systems that other countries perceive as excessive for dealing with realistic threats in the foreseeable future? Many analysts stop short of asking these deeper and potentially more important questions, but this book makes a particular effort to address them.

At a military parade in 2019, China displayed DF-17 Dongfeng medium-range ballistic missiles equipped with a DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle. (Photo by Zoya Rusinova\TASS via Getty Images)The book includes a timely and helpful analysis of the impact of China’s contemporary worldview, which increasingly may be shaping its perception of and approach to nuclear weapons more than any technical factors. Contributing author Andrew Scobell observes that China’s major “defense projects are the logical manifestations of a highly determined Leninist regime possessing ‘an extreme sense of insecurity.’” This insecurity appears to have become even more extreme in recent years as efforts by China’s paramount leader to centralize domestic power and strengthen internal control were met with growing criticism from the United States and other Western countries over issues such as human rights, democratic governance, and the rule of law. The West’s efforts to defend these long-held principles and values thus present the gravest threat to China’s security, as a result of “national security being conflated with regime security” by Beijing. As the Chinese leadership becomes increasingly alarmed by the growing threat from the U.S. “ideological confrontation” with China’s “political security” and “regime security,”1 a stronger nuclear capability could force the United States to acknowledge mutual vulnerability and accept peaceful coexistence with China under its current political system.

Influential Chinese public opinion leaders such as Hu Xijin argue that to contain such U.S. “strategic ambition and restlessness” against China, Beijing has to build an arsenal greater than its traditional second-strike capability.2 Such views seem to resonate with a Chinese population that is increasingly nationalistic and likely also aligns with Xi,who sees the United States as “the biggest source of chaos in the present-day world” and instructs all party officials to adopt the “fighting spirit” against such threats.3 If Chinese leaders think nuclear weapons can and should play a greater role in countering perceived U.S. political aggression, it would significantly change China’s traditional approach to nuclear self-restraint. For instance, if the nuclear buildup does not lead to the expected result of making Western powers treat China with respect—by ending human rights-related pressure on China, for example—even more nuclear buildup might be viewed as necessary.

Beijing’s growing determination to achieve its perceived territorial interests may also account for the nuclear buildup. Some Chinese experts believe the expansion is directly driven by a growing determination to achieve national unification with Taiwan in the foreseeable future. If it comes to the point where that is only possible by military means, a stronger Chinese nuclear force could reduce the ability of the United States to use the threat of nuclear escalation to interfere in China’s conventional military operations across the Taiwan Strait. As long as Beijing can effectively contain the nuclear escalation threat from Washington, China’s growing conventional military advantages in the region give it confidence that it would be able to deter and defeat any conventional military interventions.

Contributing author Sugio Takahashi points out another potential driver of China’s nuclear buildup: its interest in acquiring the capability to manage escalations. A secure second-strike capability coupled with a massive retaliation policy could help China deter a large-scale nuclear attack, but may not credibly deter a small-scale, limited nuclear attack and could be viewed as insufficient for conducting nuclear escalation management operations. As early as the 1980s, Chinese nuclear strategists started thinking about scenarios other than an all-out nuclear exchange.4 It is possible that China has been interested in pursuing a more sophisticated nuclear capability and posture that allows it to conduct a symmetric or proportionate nuclear response on various rungs of the escalation ladder. Indeed, a more diversified and increasingly more accurate nuclear arsenal would allow China to hold at risk not only big cities and other types of soft targets but also a wide array of military targets at various ranges. This gives China the option of conducting limited, reciprocal nuclear countermilitary strikes at the regional or strategic level to achieve escalation management. Admittedly, such capabilities could also enable China to initiate a limited nuclear strike during a conventional conflict, although China’s growing confidence in its conventional capabilities would reduce the Chinese incentive to do so.

The ideological confrontation appears to have persuaded Chinese leaders that the United States is increasingly willing to take greater risks to destabilize China. This may have intensified Beijing’s concern about possible nuclear escalation by the United States if a future conventional conflict, such as one over the Taiwan Strait, starts to get out of control. U.S. efforts to introduce low-yield nuclear weapons into its arsenal, although primarily aimed at addressing the perceived threat of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons in conventional wars, have been interpreted by Chinese experts as Washington’s attempts to develop nuclear war-fighting capabilities that lower the threshold of nuclear use. As China’s concerns about U.S. nuclear coercion rise, its sense of urgency to acquire effective escalation-management capabilities probably grows too.

China’s more explicit pursuit of escalation-management capabilities would have important implications. Nuclear restraint is more difficult when a nuclear power’s goal is to manage escalation in addition to securing a credible second-strike capability. When two nuclear rivals compete over escalation management, their competition is likely to become more zero-sum in nature because one’s capacity to manage escalation would likely be viewed as threatening the other’s capacity to do so. This dynamic contributed to the insane nuclear arms race between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War and today could lead to greater risks of a U.S.-Chinese nuclear arms race.

At the operational level, the pursuit of an escalation management capacity could drive new technological development. China’s recent investment in theater-range nuclear forces could enhance its escalation management capacity at the regional level. Under a circumstance in which a potential nuclear conflict rises along the escalation ladder and involves a limited U.S. nuclear attack on selected military targets on Chinese territory, Beijing might need the capacity to effectively deliver a limited nuclear retaliation against selected military targets on the U.S. homeland too. China might not have viewed such extreme scenarios as sufficiently realistic previously, but its heightened strategic threat perception in recent years could motivate more serious planning against these circumstances. That could be especially true when Xi repeatedly admonishes Chinese officials to adopt so-called bottom-line thinking, which warns against underestimating the hostility of an enemy and stresses the importance of preparing for the worst possible scenarios.

Some experts believe that the Chinese nuclear buildup is driven, at least in part, by Beijing's determination to achieve national unification with Taiwan. Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers, pictured here, march during a parade in 1999. (Photo by Stephen Shaver/AFP via Getty Images)Delivering a limited nuclear strike against the U.S. homeland could impose a more demanding requirement on China’s capabilities than delivering a nuclear retaliation in an all-out exchange. Current U.S. homeland missile defenses cannot pose a realistic threat to China’s second-strike capability, but they could become a considerably greater threat to a limited Chinese nuclear strike. It is difficult to tell at this point whether China’s reported development of exotic nuclear delivery technologies, such as the reported test of an orbital hypersonic-glider system, is driven by an interest to acquire a limited nuclear strike capability against the U.S. homeland for the purpose of achieving escalation management. If escalation management indeed becomes China’s goal, however, traditional understandings about the U.S.-Chinese nuclear relationship and strategic stability would need to be fundamentally reexamined.

The New Political Reality

Contributing author Nancy Gallagher highlights the need to redouble efforts to engage China on arms control to contain the risk of a nuclear arms race and nuclear use. Yet, the U.S. debate on this issue remains limited. Many U.S. experts focus on the importance of technical-level factors such as missile defense and seem to believe that U.S. efforts to limit its missile defense capabilities by itself would effectively remove China’s incentive to build up its nuclear capabilities. This view may overestimate the importance of technical-level factors.

The much-heightened Chinese threat perception appears less driven by the incremental development of any one U.S. weapons systems than political factors such as the recent drastic shift in China’s domestic and international orientations and the subsequent ideological confrontation between Washington and Beijing. Whether China’s nuclear buildup is intended to further assure its second-strike capability and strengthen regime security and international political leverage, to prevent nuclear escalation in a conventional military maneuver to achieve unification with Taiwan, or to acquire an escalation management capacity, political and strategic considerations seem to influence China’s thinking more than technical factors.

As China undergoes significant domestic changes, international nuclear policy experts can benefit from developing a deeper understanding of the domestic environment in which China’s nuclear policy changes are taking place. Contributing author Brad Roberts wonders if “the sense of insecurity that grips China’s leaders is deeply engrained in” and “reinforced by the inherent [nature of the political system]…and cannot be washed away by increased military strength.” He writes that:

The consequences of China’s strategic military modernization are intimately connected with the fate of political reform in China. The apparent failure to liberalize as it modernizes has sharply lowered the expectations of those Chinese who had hoped that embracing economic reform would generate political change of a kind valued by democratic states. But China’s leaders have gone beyond a mere rejection of liberalization. Rather, they have framed the competition with the United States as significantly ideological in character, with the aspiration to provide a competing model for the correct ordering of political life and to see that model flourish elsewhere.

China policy specialists point out that another dimension of the domestic change is that the unprecedented concentration of decision-making power under one person would further remove any remaining internal checks and balances within the system. Tightened security rules in recent years work to ensure only a very small number of insiders know what capabilities China is developing and why. As the Chinese state media dismisses foreign reports of China’s nuclear expansion, the majority of Chinese nuclear policy experts have even less capacity to understand what is going on than their foreign counterparts who have access to satellite imagery and other open-source tools. At the unclassified level, there is very little expert discussion, let alone debate, in China about how much nuclear capability would be sufficient to achieve what security objective, and almost no question is raised about the rationale and wisdom of China’s current nuclear development and its future trajectory. As the system is increasingly reorganized to ensure efficient and unquestioning implementation of Xi’s vision, his apparent interest in acquiring a stronger nuclear force fuels a positive feedback process in which experts and officials find their own interests best served by promoting the leader’s vision. The system is ridding itself of the capacity to conduct self-reflection and course correction from within.

Ironically, in some cases, Western experts may be unconsciously contributing to the groupthink in China. Many U.S. experts are deeply frustrated with the polarizing partisanship and other seemingly insoluble problems in the U.S. political system. They do an invaluable service for the international community by scrutinizing U.S. foreign and security policy and holding the government accountable so that the No. 1 superpower does not make terrible policy choices and throw its own people and the rest of the world in harm’s way. This inclination for critical self-reflection and empathy toward one’s rivals is not only applaudable but imperative to resolve international disagreements and develop international trust. China, however, appears to increasingly dismiss the usefulness of alternative perspectives and reject the idea of internal checks and balances, working on the assumption that China is an inherently pacifist, responsible country and that any hope to stabilize the U.S.-Chinese relationship rests with Washington correcting its wrongful behaviors. As it happens, negative U.S. expert commentary about U.S. policy and sympathetic commentary about Chinese policy are widely promulgated in China and help reinforce the country’s self-perception.

This does not mean that Western experts should stop holding their own governments accountable, but there is a need for more nuanced understandings about how internal and external factors may work together to shape the strategic perspective of an increasingly centralized political system. If people really believe in the theorem that checks and balances are imperative for accountability, they should pay attention to any place where such checks and balances may be lacking. Especially in the nuclear field, any country’s bad choice can cause tremendous harm to all. As Xi likes to say, we live in an interconnected world.

In this spirit, I believe this book will help readers develop a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of China’s nuclear policy, along with its evolving strategic perspective, at a time when an informed and in-depth international debate is badly needed in order to promote clear and constructive thinking about the future.


1.  Dazhi Yang, “政治安全是国家安全的根本” [Political security is the root of national security], PLA Daily, April 20, 2018, http://www.mod.gov.cn/jmsd/2018-04/20/content_4809950.htm.

2.  Xijin Hu, “胡锡进看到了什么,强烈主张中国扩大核力量” [What Hu Xijin sees that made him strongly advocates[sic?] China’s expansion of nuclear forces], Global Times, May 9, 2020.

3.  Chris Buckley, “‘The East Is Rising’: Xi Maps Out China’s Post-Covid Ascent,” The New York Times, March 3, 2021; “习近平激励年轻干部发扬斗争精神” [Xi Jinping inspires young cadres to carry forward the fighting spirit], Xinhua News Agency, September 9, 2021, http://www.news.cn/politics/leaders/2021-09/09/c_1127842766.htm.

4.  Alastair Iain Johnston, “China’s New ‘Old Thinking’: The Concept of Limited Deterrence,” International Security, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Winter 1995-1996): 5-42.

Tong Zhao is a senior fellow at the Nuclear Policy Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Editors James M. Smith and Paul J. Bolt have produced an insightful book that enriches the public debate with a holistic and systematic examination of China’s nuclear strategy.

The Military Role in Nuclear Command and Control

December 2021

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was telling it like it is when it comes to the potential launching or firing of a nuclear weapon by the United States in a conflict. He definitely would be involved. (See ACT, June 2021.)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations on Capitol Hill on September 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)Former Defense Secretary William J. Perry has alarmed the public by warning that there is no check on the raw power of the president to unilaterally order a nuclear strike—alternately termed “nuclear launch authority”—and that the commander-in-chief might “go rogue.” (See his 2020 book: The Button.)

In many fora, Perry has posed this question: “Almost every governmental process is subject to institutional checks and balances. Why is potential nuclear annihilation the exception to the rule?”

But is it an exception? With respect, the experienced Perry could not have overlooked an intervening military check and balance as part of the safeguards built into the process of executing the launch of the weapon.

Michael Schmidt, writing in The New York Times on Sept. 15, laid bare a code-word secret from the book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. He quoted Milley from the transcript of a telephone conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as saying:

“The one thing I can guarantee is that as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I want you to know…in your heart of hearts, I can guarantee you 110 percent that the…use of military power, whether it’s nuclear or a strike in a foreign country of any kind, we’re not going to do anything illegal or crazy.”

Afterward, Milley summoned senior commanders to the Pentagon war room to review long-standing procedures for launching nuclear weapons, and affirmed, as reported by Isaac Stanley-Becker in The Washington Post, that “the president alone could give the order—but, crucially, that he, Milley, also had to be involved.”

“If you get calls,” General Milley was quoted by The Times as saying, “no matter who they’re from, there’s a process here, there’s a procedure. No matter what you’re told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure. You’ve got to make sure that the right people are on the net.”

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 28, Milley elaborated on his January conversation with Pelosi: “I explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority, and he doesn’t launch them alone, and that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States.”

Milley is not in the chain of command—he is the principal military adviser--but he has now declared, publicly, that he must be kept “in the loop” on the decision to launch nuclear weapons, once ordered by the commander-in-chief.

Moreover, he is in the chain of communications when it comes to deploying troops or ordering strikes.

The events of the last year have presented the United States with an existential question: What is the military’s duty in curbing the unilateral power of a reckless commander in chief?

William E. Jackson Jr. was executive director of President Jimmy Carter’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control & Disarmament (1978–1980) and conducted a study of the command and control of nuclear weapons in the Executive Branch.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was telling it like it is when it comes to the potential launching or firing of a nuclear weapon by the United States in a conflict.

NPT States Prepare for a Critical Conference

December 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

States-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will convene in January for meetings that will shape the future of international arms control at a time when nuclear restraints are under severe stress and the outcome of the event is highly uncertain.

NPT conference president-designate Gustavo Zlauvinen (center) and UN High Representative for Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu (right) at a Nuclear Discussion Forum at the Mission of Kazakhstan, in October. (Photo by Mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.)After multiple delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the president-designate of the 10th NPT review conference announced in November that the meeting will finally be held Jan. 4–28 at UN headquarters in New York.

The conference caps a five-year cycle of meetings in which states-parties review compliance with the treaty and seek agreement on steps to overcome new challenges to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

The conference outcome is still very much in flux, according to diplomatic observers and participants. The president-designate, Argentine diplomat Gustavo Zlauvinen, and his three co-chairs are facilitating talks with more than 100 states-parties on a wide range of topics. Reaching consensus on a final document and action plan will be challenging, hinging on a handful of key issues, observers say.

The Disarmament Deficit

Ahead of the conference, tensions among the five nuclear-armed NPT members have risen as costly Chinese, Russian, and U.S. programs to modernize their nuclear arsenals speed ahead. These developments, along with the dissolution of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the failure of the United States and China to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, have increased frustrations over the failure of the nuclear-armed states-parties to meet their NPT disarmament obligations. As a result, a central conference issue will be reversing this trend.

As Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, described the situation in October, “Announcements and allegations related to growing nuclear arsenals and new means of delivery have caused disquiet not only amongst the other nuclear-weapon states, but also among non-nuclear-weapon states who see such developments as incompatible with the obligations contained in Article VI of the NPT.”

The NPT obligation to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date may have seemed quaintly outdated a decade ago, perhaps, [but] now seems worryingly relevant,” she said.

Another focus will be whether the conference will reaffirm the political commitments agreed by consensus at the 1995, 2000, and 2010 conferences, which all produced a final document.

In 1995, states-parties extended the treaty indefinitely on the basis of a package of decisions that included specific actions on disarmament and on establishing a “zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) in the Middle East. At the 2000 NPT Review Conference, states-parties went further, setting forth 13 “practical steps” on disarmament. The 2010 NPT Review Conference consensus document identified 22 “actions” to pursue nuclear disarmament.

Some NPT nuclear-armed states argue that some outcomes of past NPT conferences have been overtaken by events, are no longer valid, or must be updated.

The vast majority of the non-nuclear-weapon states take the opposite view. As Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Linde told the Conference on Disarmament in February 2020, “The disarmament-related commitments and obligations from past review conferences, notably in 1995, 2000, and 2010, remain valid. Several are still outstanding and should be implemented urgently.”

One goal that remains valid is pursuing steeper reductions in and maintaining verifiable, legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. Russia and the United States, which agreed at the 11th hour to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) until February 2026, will likely tout their renewed strategic stability dialogue and plans to seek a new agreement to supersede New START.

The United States will also likely cite its decision to disclose the number of nuclear warheads in its arsenal as a contribution toward greater transparency. The Oct. 5 declassification announcement indicates that the total number of “active” and “inactive” U.S. warheads is 3,750 as of September 2020.

U.S. officials have said little about what specific commitments they might endorse at the conference. Some decisions may hinge on the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which is not expected to be released until after the conference concludes.

The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction held its first session, shown here, in November 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York. The second session is taking place Nov. 29–Dec. 3 in the same venue. Whether to establish such a zone is among the issues to be considered at the 10th nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in January, also in New York. (Photo by United Nations)Asked by Arms Control Today what the U.S. message at the conference will be, Anthony Wier, deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said in an email, “We are deeply committed to restoring U.S. leadership on arms control and nonproliferation and to working closely with our partners and allies to address 21st Century challenges. At the NPT RevCon, the United States will do just that.”

He stressed that “a successful outcome will require each of us to be flexible” and said the United States will “work constructively with all NPT parties to achieve a positive outcome, one in which we reaffirm our commitment to the treaty.”

“The world is far more stable, secure, and prosperous today than before the NPT entered into force. We must preserve and prolong these benefits of the NPT, and strengthen the NPT itself,” Wier added.

With discussions moving slowly at best, several states have advanced proposals to encourage dialogue on disarmament and reducing nuclear risks. Among these is the 16-nation Stockholm Initiative, which emphasizes the value of “further work by the nuclear-weapon states on nuclear risk reduction, including more robust bilateral and multilateral dialogue and policies and doctrines that could reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security policies, prevent escalation leading to the use of nuclear weapons, and lessen the danger of nuclear war.”

Ahead of the conference, representatives of the five NPT nuclear-armed states will meet in Paris on Dec. 2 for their annual P5 Process meeting, which was established in 2007. The agenda includes nuclear doctrines and strategic risk reduction. At the group’s meeting in 2020, the United States balked at a proposed joint declaration that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.” At their summit last June, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed that statement. Diplomatic sources told Arms Control Today that the P5 Process group is working on a joint statement on nuclear risk reduction that references the Russian-U.S. statement.

As Nakamitsu noted in October, “Of course, while nuclear risk reduction can and should be a facilitator of nuclear disarmament steps, it cannot substitute for such steps.”

In recent months, other groups of states, including the Stockholm Initiative, the New Agenda Coalition, and the Non-Aligned Movement, issued statements and working papers that suggest how the conference can advance disarmament. Whether the delegations can converge around modest steps that build on previous conference statements could determine the success or failure of this one.

The Nuclear Ban

NPT states-parties are also expected to debate how to deal with the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which enjoys strong support from most NPT states-parties but not from the nuclear-armed states and many of their allies.

Diplomats told Arms Control Today that it makes sense for the conference to acknowledge that the TPNW has entered into force and is viewed by its supporters as a contribution to fulfilling the NPT obligations. Participants likely will press for language reinforcing the 2010 consensus that expresses “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaffirm[ing] the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”

There are indications that a few NPT nuclear-weapon states, all of whom criticized the TPNW in the past, may temper their opposition in the interest of reaching agreement on other more substantial issues.

At a Sept. 29 forum sponsored by the Geneva Center for Security Policy, Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and disarmament, said in answer to a question about the TPNW that the United States “still has concerns about the treaty, but we are also not telling countries that they shouldn’t sign and we’re not nearly as assertive as we were in the past about it.”

Sweden, which is not a TPNW party but plans to attend the first meeting of the TPNW states-parties in 2022 as an observer, is among those urging an end to polarizing tactics over the treaty. “It is essential that the upcoming NPT review conference does not turn into an argument for or against the TPNW,” Linde told Arms Control Today in May 2021.

“Digging ourselves deeper into trenches will not solve anything. Rather it may risk having a negative spillover effect on other issues,” she said.

Regional Issues

Meanwhile, disagreements persist about the process of establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone, despite a decision by the UN General Assembly to convene a UN-sponsored meeting on the issue in 2019.

Establishing such a zone has long been a priority for states in the region concerned about Israel’s nuclear arsenal. But disputes over the agenda and format of meetings have stymied progress.

At the 2015 NPT Review Conference, the United States vetoed the draft final conference document because it called for the UN secretary-general to convene a conference by March 1, 2016, aimed at “launching a continuous process of negotiating and concluding a legally binding treaty” establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. (See ACT, June 2015.)

The U.S. delegation, however, “was unable to accept an early deadline” for holding an initial conference on the zone and it objected to “Egypt’s insistence on deleting from the mandate the key phrase that the conference be held ‘on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at’… [which was] necessary not only to make an initial conference acceptable to Israel, but also for the credibility of any process that followed an initial conference,” according to former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Countryman. (See ACT, May 2020.)

Following the impasse, Arab states encouraged the UN General Assembly in 2018 to convene a conference on the establishment of the zone. The first session was held in November 2019. The second session is scheduled for Nov. 29–Dec. 3 in New York.

Zlauvinen told a gathering of diplomats on Oct. 27 that his consultations indicate that key states-parties remain divided as to whether the UN-convened meeting on the zone could advance genuine progress. “Aside from nuclear disarmament, this is the second most important challenge we face at the review conference,” he said.

Other Complications

The NPT conference typically involves hundreds of representatives from most of the 191 states-parties to the treaty, as well as nongovernmental organizations and meeting support personnel.

Even after three pandemic-related delays, the virus continues to complicate the work of conference delegates. Most premeeting consultations between the conference president and states-parties are usually in person, but global pandemic travel restrictions have relegated the bulk of this work to video calls.

Although the meeting will be held at the United Nations, diplomats will not have normal use of the building, and organizers have mandated that national delegations be smaller than usual.

The U.S. delegation has also been hampered by the fact that the special representative nominated by Biden to lead the team, Adam Scheinman, who also performed that function for the 2015 conference, has not yet been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The review conference marks the 50th anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force. As Zlauvinen said on Oct. 27, “[O]ne way that governments can show their strong support for the treaty is by attending at least the first few days of the conference at the highest levels.” He noted that he cannot dictate who those officials might be but made clear that “heads of state or foreign ministers would be more than welcome.”

The U.S. State Department’s Wier did not rule out that Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken might address the conference.

Before the conference was delayed last year, Zlauven said almost 40 foreign ministers and six or seven heads of state or government had been expected to attend.

States-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will convene in January for a review conference that will shape the future of international arm control.

Pentagon Sees Faster Chinese Nuclear Expansion

December 2021
By Shannon Bugos

China is accelerating its development of strategic nuclear warheads in an effort to amass 700 by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030, more than doubling last year’s estimate, according to the U.S. Defense Department’s 2021 China military power report.

China's DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, shown here during a military parade in Beijing in 2019, are a component of the country's nuclear buildup. (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)Viewed alongside recent revelations about the construction of at least 250 new missile silos in northwestern China, the annual report highlights a concerning nuclear buildup. Last year, the Pentagon estimated that Beijing had a total nuclear warhead stockpile in the low 200s and projected it would at least double over the next decade. (See ACT, October 2020.)

China is “investing in, and expanding, the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms and constructing the infrastructure necessary to support this major expansion of its nuclear forces,” according to the report, which covers developments through 2020.

“Our number-one pacing challenge is the People’s Republic of China,” said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby on Nov. 5.

Responding to the report’s release, State Department spokesperson Ned Price reiterated that the Biden administration has sought to engage China on arms control. “We think all responsible countries that have [nuclear] weapons should engage in an arms control dialogue,” he told a Nov. 4 press briefing. “We remain ready and willing to do that, and we’ve made that known to [Chinese] authorities.”

President Joe Biden also raised the possibility of opening a strategic stability dialogue with China, to include nuclear issues, during a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov. 15.

“The two leaders agreed that we would look to begin to carry forward discussions on strategic stability,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a virtual event at the Brookings Institution the following day. Such a dialogue will need “to be guided by the leaders and led by senior empowered teams on both sides that cut across security, technology, and diplomacy,” he added. “It is now incumbent on us to think about the most productive way to carry it forward from here.”

Beijing repeatedly rejected Trump administration demands to join trilateral arms control talks with Russia and also rebuffed previous calls by the Biden administration to open a bilateral strategic stability dialogue. The Biden-Xi virtual summit seemed to suggest that Beijing now is at least willing to consider the possibility of dialogue.

China strongly denounced the Pentagon’s report.

“The Defense Department report, just like similar reports in the past, disregards facts and is filled with bias,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Nov. 4. He emphasized that China “actively advocates the ultimate complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons.”

China has an estimated 350 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. The United States and Russia have at least 10 times more, with estimated stockpiles of 3,800 and 4,500 warheads, respectively.

The report also comments on recent revelations that China is constructing at least 250 new long-range missile silos at as many as three locations in its northwestern region. (See ACT, September 2021.) Beijing “is building hundreds of new ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] silos and is on the cusp of a large silo-based ICBM force expansion comparable to those undertaken by other major powers,” says the report.

Whether China plans to fill every silo with a missile and how many warheads each missile might carry remains uncertain. At the moment, Beijing possesses approximately 100 ICBMs, which can be silo based or road mobile.

As with the report covering 2019, the 2020 report concluded that China aims to deploy roughly 200 warheads on ICBMs within the next five years, as well as to continue expanding its inventory of more than 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear and conventional warheads.

In 2020, Beijing also began to deploy the dual-capable hypersonic glide-vehicle system paired with a medium-range ballistic missile, known as DF-17. The Pentagon report did not comment on the allegation by U.S. intelligence sources that China tested in July a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle, carried on a rocket, that flew through low-orbit space and circled the globe before striking within two dozen miles of its target. (See ACT, November 2021.)

China’s nuclear expansion “is certainly something that’s very concerning to us,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters ahead of the report’s publication. It “raises some questions about their intentions, because it’s one thing to observe what they’re doing, but they haven’t explained why they’re doing it.”

Caitlin Talmadge, an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University, echoed this concern, telling the Financial Times on Nov. 3, “If this was an emoji, it would be the ‘eyes popping’ emoji.”

Yet, Rose Gottemoeller, former U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and chief U.S. negotiator for the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, emphasized during a Nov. 17 event at the Arms Control Association that “there is no need to panic.” China has “a long way to go to catch up with the United States,” she said.

The report notes that Beijing plans to carry out the expansion by increasing its capability to produce and separate plutonium, which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons, through the construction of fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities.

James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace expressed skepticism about this conclusion. Although it is “quite likely” that China will restart fissile material production, “I am not convinced by the argument in [the report] that it has already decided to do so,” he tweeted on Nov. 3.

Restarting production will require Beijing to master difficult technologies and carry “significant technical risk,” Acton wrote. “It doesn’t seem all that attractive from a military perspective.”

The report found that China has “possibly already established a nascent ‘nuclear triad’ with the development of a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile…and improvement of its ground- and sea-based nuclear capabilities.”

As in 2020, this year’s report highlights speculation among Chinese strategists that Beijing may need “lower-yield nuclear weapons in order to increase the deterrence value of [its] nuclear force,” although they have not defined specific nuclear yield values. China is not known to have fielded any low-yield nuclear weapons.

In addition to providing some details on China’s nuclear forces, the report describes Beijing’s nuclear policy doctrine. China has long held a no-first-use stance.

But the report notes “some ambiguity about conditions where Beijing’s no-first-use policy would no longer apply.” Some Chinese military officers have discussed using nuclear weapons first in cases when a conventional attack threatens the survival of China’s nuclear forces or of the country itself, the report said.

Although Beijing says it maintains an arsenal “at the minimum level required for national security,” the report suggested that the Chinese arsenal can more accurately be called a “limited deterrent,” which Chinese military officials have described as a level between a minimum and maximum deterrent.

“I do worry they’re going away from minimum deterrence because every indication is they are,” Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Oct. 28. “You don’t need to develop the kind of capabilities they’re developing for minimum deterrence.”

The report states that China “intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning…posture with an expanded silo-based force.” Beijing likely views this posture as compatible with a no-first-use policy, the report added.

It is not established that Beijing has applied this approach to the majority of its forces, as the launch-on-warning posture appears primarily associated with exercises at this stage. The report also found that China “almost certainly keeps the majority of its nuclear force on a peacetime status—with separated launchers, missiles, and warheads.” With nuclear warheads separated from delivery vehicles, Beijing would require extra time to prepare its nuclear forces for launch.

Some experts say China’s nuclear expansion reflects concerns about U.S. missile defenses. But Tong Zhao, a Beijing-based senior fellow at Carnegie, argued in a Nov. 15 op-ed for The New York Times that, although technically correct, such an assertion “misses the bigger geopolitical picture.”

“It’s clear to me that Beijing’s nuclear buildup is ultimately an attempt to force Washington to drop the perceived strategic assault and accept a ‘mutual vulnerability’ relationship—in which neither country would have the capability or will to threaten nuclear war without risking its own destruction,” Zhao wrote.

China’s evolving capabilities are geared toward strengthening its ability to “‘fight and win wars’ against a ‘strong enemy,’” a likely euphemism for the United States, the report concluded, as well as to “coerce Taiwan and rival claimants in territorial disputes, counter an intervention by a third party in a conflict along [China’s] periphery, and project power globally.”

China Pushes 'Intelligentized' Warfare

The Pentagon’s 2021 report on China’s military strength highlighted another alarming claim in addition to the disclosures about the country’s expanding nuclear arsenal. That is that China will have completed by 2027 the modernization and what it terms the “intelligentization” of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), thus investing it with the capacity to engage and defeat U.S. forces in a hypothetical war over Taiwan.

According to the report, the Chinese leadership has decreed a new milestone for military modernization in 2027, the 100th anniversary of the PLA’s founding, when the PLA will have achieved “the integrated development of mechanization, informatization, and intelligentization” of its forces. Once this process is completed, the report asserts, China would have access to “more credible military options in a Taiwan contingency.”

By means of informatization and intelligentization, the report claims, the PLA expects that the use of advanced technologies, notably artificial intelligence (AI), high-speed computing, sophisticated sensors, cyberweapons, and autonomous, or unmanned, weaponry, will enable it to prevail in high-intensity combat against a well-armed adversary, such as the United States.

“PLA strategists have stated new technologies will increase the speed and tempo of future warfare, and that operationalization of AI will be necessary to improve the speed and quality of information processing by reducing battlefield uncertainty and providing decision-making advantage over potential adversaries,” the report states. “The PLA considers unmanned systems to be critical intelligentized technologies, and is pursuing greater autonomy for unmanned aerial, surface, and underwater vehicles to enable manned and unmanned hybrid formations, [and] swarm attacks…among other capabilities.”

The PLA also is stepping up research on emerging technologies such as AI and autonomy and accelerating the incorporation of these technologies in combat-ready weapons systems, the report says. In particular, the Chinese are said to be rushing development and deployment of unmanned weapons systems, including aircraft, ships, submarines, and tanks. Such systems are intended to collect data on enemy movements and supplement the combat power of manned weapons. The PLA is developing the capacity to employ unmanned vehicles in “swarms,” using AI to coordinate the actions of multiple robotic weapons, the report added. Swarming technology has also been tested by the U.S. military, for example in the Navy’s Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21 exercise of April 2021. (See ACT, May 2021.)

Although the report says China is developing unmanned weapons of all sorts, it provides detailed information on only one type: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The report says that the PLA has begun deploying its WZ-7 Xianglong “Flying Dragon” high-altitude reconnaissance UAV at airfields in western China and on Hainan Island. It is also continuing to develop the Shen Diao “Divine Eagle” long-range combat UAV and to upgrade its BZK-005 Chang Ying “Long Eagle” reconnaissance drone.

Equipped with these and other advanced systems, the Pentagon report concludes, by 2027 the PLA could be capable of repelling a U.S. counterattack should Beijing decide to invade Taiwan in order to secure the island’s unification with the mainland. Many independent analysts question this assertion, insisting that U.S. military capabilities are far superior to China’s and are improving all the time, thus negating any Chinese expectations of overpowering U.S. forces in such a contest. Nevertheless, the Pentagon’s claim that China is five years away from possessing the ability to defeat the United States in a war over Taiwan is certain to fuel efforts by Congress to increase spending on weaponry supposedly intended to defeat China in any such encounter.

China is accelerating its development of strategic nuclear warheads, more than doubling last year’s estimate, according to the U.S. Defense Department’s 2021 China military power report.

UN Panel Approves Working Group on Space

December 2021
By Mary Ann Hurtado

A UN panel has agreed to create an open-ended working group aimed at preventing an arms race in space, a major concern among UN member nations.

The UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with disarmament and international security threats, voted 163–8 on Nov. 1 to establish the new group. It was proposed by the United Kingdom with support from nearly 40 other countries, including the United States. The working group will consider threats to space systems and recommend rules of the road for military activities in outer space.

The International Space Station is among countless assets that could be at risk in the event of a war in space. The UN General Assembly First Committee has voted to establish a working group to examine this challenge. (Photo by NASA)“The prevention of an arms race in outer space is a UK priority,” James Cleverly, the minister leading the UK portfolio on space security, said after the vote. “There is no doubt that there is a growing range of threats to space systems, and a risk that those threats could lead to miscalculation and, in turn, escalation and conflict. Only together can we find solutions to keep space peaceful, sustainable, and open to all,” he added.

The General Assembly is expected to formally approve the working group in December. According to the resolution, the group will “work on the basis of consensus, hold its organizational session in Geneva for two days, and meet in Geneva for two sessions of five days each in both 2022 and 2023.” A report to the General Assembly is due in the fall of 2023.

Driving this action is concern for the security of thousands of satellites and vehicles in orbit, such as the International Space Station. The United States has long dominated space, but many other nations also have valuable assets there. In the U.S. case, satellites enable the Pentagon to locate enemies on the battlefield, verify arms control treaties, and ensure early warning if an adversary targeted the country with a missile.

During the Cold War, the United States and Russia engaged in limited testing of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. Russia tested one on Nov. 15 to destroy one of its own satellites, causing astronauts on the space station to take shelter when the craft intersected with the debris.

China and Russia are developing offensive capabilities, including jammers, lasers, and cyberweapons that could damage satellite operations. Even so, they have attempted to secure a ban on placing weapons in outer space within the Conference on Disarmament (CD), but the proposals have failed to generate traction. (See ACT, December 2020; November 2019.)

U.S. officials, meanwhile, have pressed countries to adopt a basic set of norms and rules for operating in space. In April, Gen. John Raymond, the chief of space operations, described the domain as the “Wild West.” In July, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signed a memo pledging that the Pentagon would follow five “tenets of responsible behavior in space,” including operating with “due regard” for others and limiting the creation of space debris.

The First Committee meeting dealt with many other issues related to nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons.

On biological weapons, the COVID-19 pandemic heavily shaped the discussions. The United States proposed strengthening the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and promoting more rigorous compliance, but did not detail its plans. China urged member states to conduct responsible, bioscientific research and adopt the Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists at the ninth BWC review conference in 2022. China, with Russian and Iranian support, also encouraged adoption of the legally binding BWC protocol and a “credible verification mechanism” to ensure adherence to BWC obligations.

U.S., European, and South Korean representatives urged North Korea to resume talks on its nuclear weapons program without preconditions. The UK in particular noted growing concerns about Pyongyang’s repeated ballistic missile launches. But China said that unnamed “relevant parties” should cease escalating tensions and implied that UN sanctions on North Korea should be lifted.

Meanwhile, Russia and the United States highlighted their recent decision to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) until February 2026. Washington said the extension laid a “firm foundation” for potential future arms control with Moscow and emphasized the importance of their bilateral strategic stability dialogue, which resumed over the summer. (See ACT, September 2021.) Moscow stressed the need to develop a new “security equation” that would consider strategic stability factors.

France, South Korea, and the United States pressed the case of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who has blamed the Kremlin for his poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok in 2020. Some states also emphasized the need to hold Syria to account for repeated violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Ahead of the review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in January, China, Russia, and North Korea expressed frustration with a lack of U.S. progress on its obligations under Article VI, which requires the treaty’s five nuclear-armed states-parties to take meaningful steps toward disarmament.

Beijing urged Washington to “abandon the Cold War zero-sum mentality” and safeguard global strategic stability, including by rejecting a new deal with the UK to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. (See ACT, October 2021.)

Russia said that by halting “face-to-face” diplomacy, the COVID-19 pandemic harmed the efficiency of the First Committee and the CD and increased tensions among member states. The UK countered that the lack of progress, especially in the CD, should be attributed to the states that prevented the adoption of a work program.

The UN General Assembly First Committee has agreed to create a working group aimed at preventing an arms race in space.


Russian ASAT Test Creates Massive Debris

December 2021
By Shannon Bugos

Russia conducted a direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) test on Nov. 15 to destroy one of its own satellites that has been in orbit since 1982, creating a field of at least 1,500 trackable pieces of debris in low orbit and threatening space operations and human spaceflight.

The Nudol PL-19, an anti-ballistic missile interceptor that also functions as an anti-satellite weapon, is the kind of system Russia used on Nov. 15 to destroy an aging satellite in space. The United States, Russia, and China are competing with each other in developing space-based missiles that can not only destroy ballistic missiles in the boost phase but can also target satellites in orbit.  (Photo by Russian Ministry of Defence)The destruction of the inactive Russian satellite, known as Cosmos 1408, caused the seven crew members aboard the International Space Station—four Americans, two Russians, and a German—to take shelter multiple times as the station’s orbit intersected with the debris and to seal off modules of the station. The collision occurred about 500 kilometers above the surface and 80 kilometers above the space station’s orbit.

“The long-lived debris created by this dangerous and irresponsible test will now threaten satellites and other space objects that are vital to all nations’ security, economic, and scientific interests for decades to come,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Nov. 15 statement. NASA said that it would monitor the debris in the coming days and into the future.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price added that “Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.”

U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander, also strongly denounced the test, charging that “Russia is developing and deploying capabilities to actively deny access to and use of space by the United States and its allies and partners.”

Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby added that the United States has “been very clear we would like to see norms for space so that it can be used responsibly by all spacefaring nations.” In October, the UN First Committee voted to create a new working group to develop new norms of responsible behavior in space aimed at the prevention of an arms race.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the test on Nov. 16, but said that the test did not violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and that “the debris it produced did not create any threat and does not pose any obstacles or difficulties to the functioning of orbital stations and spacecraft, or to other space activities.” The treaty bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction and prohibits the testing of any type of weapons in space.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also commented on the test, saying, “We’ve really tested a successful forward-looking system. It hit the old satellite.”

Condemnation of the test quickly rolled in from U.S. allies, members of Congress, and the expert community.

“This destructive anti-satellite missile test by Russia shows a complete disregard for the security, safety, and sustainability of space,” tweeted UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on Nov. 15. “The debris resulting from this test will remain in orbit putting satellites and human spaceflight at risk for years to come.”

In Congress, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the test “makes it clear that Moscow is willing to threaten the peaceful use of outer space, further militarize this domain, and disregard any consequences for all nations.”

“We must hold Russia accountable with the support of our allies and partners,” Smith added.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member on the committee, released a statement describing the Russian test
as “concerning.”

Meanwhile, the Secure World Foundation called for “the United States, Russia, China, and India to declare unilateral moratoriums on further testing of their anti-satellite weapons that could create additional orbital debris and to work with other countries towards solidifying an international ban on destructive ASAT testing.”

“The continued testing or demonstration of anti-satellite capabilities, including the targeting of one own’s space objects, is an unsustainable, irresponsible, and destabilizing activity in space in which no responsible spacefaring state should engage,” the foundation said on Nov. 16.

The Russian test follows activity last year in which Moscow reportedly conducted nondestructive ASAT tests in April and July. During the latter test, a Russian satellite operated in abnormally close proximity to a U.S. satellite before maneuvering away to another Russian satellite, near which it released an object. (See ACT, May and September 2020.)

This is not the first time an ASAT test resulted in thousands of pieces of dangerous debris in space. China shot down one of its weather satellites in 2007, and India destroyed one of its satellites with a ground-launched ballistic missile interceptor in 2019. (See ACT, May 2019; March 2007.)

Russia conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test to destroy one of its own satellites, creating a large debris field and threatening space operations and human spaceflight.

Iran’s Nuclear Growth Puts Deal at Risk

December 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

As negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal resumed on Nov. 29 in Vienna, Iran’s uranium-enrichment program continued to grow, deepening concerns that Tehran is not serious about returning to compliance with the accord.

As the 2015 nuclear deal hangs by a thread, Iran continues to expand its uranium-enrichment program, according to a report issued in November by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. (Photo by ALEX HALADA/AFP via Getty Images)According to a Nov. 17 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent uranium-235 is 114 kilograms, up from 85 kilograms documented in the agency’s prior report, issued Sept. 7. The stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent U-235 is 17.7 kilograms, up from 10 kilograms.

Uranium enriched to these levels poses a more significant proliferation risk because it can be enriched more quickly to the level of weapons grade, or 90 percent U-235. For that reason, Iran was prohibited from enriching uranium above 3.67 percent U-235, a level suitable for nuclear power reactors, for 15 years under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran enriched uranium to 20 percent prior to the JCPOA negotiations, but only began enriching to 60 percent in April. (See ACT, May 2021.)

In January 2021, Iran began enriching uranium to 20 percent in accordance with a December 2020 law that was passed by Iran to pressure the United States into lifting sanctions and returning to compliance with the JCPOA. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) The United States reimposed sanctions in May 2018 and withdrew from the deal, despite U.S. intelligence acknowledging that Iran was complying with the accord. (See ACT, June 2018.)

The Nov. 17 report also noted that Iran accelerated its installation of more advanced IR-6 centrifuges, which can enrich uranium more efficiently than the IR-1 machines that were permitted for enrichment under the JCPOA.

According to the IAEA, Iran has installed more than 170 IR-6 machines at its Fordow nuclear facility since the September report. These machines are not yet enriching uranium, but Iran is required to begin operating 1,000 IR-6 centrifuges by the end of the year in accordance with the new Iranian law. The new machines bring Iran to about 400 installed IR-6 centrifuges, of which about 210 are operating.

Iran’s continued manufacture and use of advanced centrifuges and its enrichment of uranium to 60 percent pose a more significant risk to multilateral efforts to restore U.S. and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA because Tehran has gained knowledge from these activities that cannot be reversed.

Biden administration officials have consistently stated that the United States seeks to return to compliance with the JCPOA alongside Iran, but only if the nonproliferation benefits of the deal can be fully restored. They appear to be using the 12-month breakout time established by the JCPOA as the metric for determining if returning to the agreement is still viable. A 12-month breakout means that if Iran were to decide to pursue nuclear weapons development, it would take a year to produce the fissile material for one bomb. Weaponization could take another two years.

Iran’s breakout time now is about one month. Reestablishing the 12-month breakout time frame becomes more challenging over time because of the knowledge Iran has gained from developing nuclear capabilities it did not have prior to the JCPOA, such as operating more efficient centrifuges and enriching uranium to 60 percent.

Iran’s nuclear advances have increased concerns in the region and among parties to the accord that Tehran is not serious about restoring the JCPOA. Talks to restore the deal resumed Nov. 29 after a five-month hiatus.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Monde on Nov. 19 that the resumed talks will enable Paris to assess Tehran’s willingness to pick up where discussions left off in June. He warned that if the “discussion is a sham, then we will have to consider the JCPOA empty.”

Israel already appears to believe that Iran no longer intends to return to the JCPOA, despite Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reiterating that restoring the deal is Iran’s goal.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Nov. 15 that Iran is buying time and has no intention of returning to the accord. His comments came after a meeting with Robert Malley, U.S. special envoy for Iran.

The previous week, Aviv Kochavi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the military is "speeding up the operational plans and readiness for dealing with Iran and the nuclear military threat."

Israel has attacked Iranian nuclear facilities in the past and assassinated nuclear scientists to slow the program. Tehran has generally responded by ratcheting up its nuclear activities. For instance, Iran cited an explosion at the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility in April as motivating its decision to enrich to 60 percent.

Similarly, the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakrizadeh in November 2020 led to the passage of
the law that mandated the acceleration of certain nuclear activities, including enrichment to 20 percent, and new
breaches of the JCPOA.

In addition to Israeli officials, Malley held talks with officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, and Jordan during a Nov. 18 trip to Saudi Arabia. He was joined by officials from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, who are participating in the negotiations with Iran.

A U.S. State Department statement on Nov. 18 said that the parties underlined that “a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA would benefit the entire Middle East.”


As negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal resumed, Iran’s uranium-enrichment program continued to grow, deepening international concerns.

Iran Continues Blocking IAEA Access

December 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran continues to block International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from accessing a nuclear facility and installing new surveillance equipment. Reports that Iran has resumed operations at the facility, which produces centrifuges for enriching uranium, heightens concerns about gaps in data that could complicate the agency’s monitoring efforts if the 2015 nuclear deal is restored.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian shakes hands with the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi at the foreign ministry headquarters in the capital Tehran on November 23, 2021.  (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)A Nov. 17 report from the IAEA noted that inspectors tried to access the Karaj centrifuge component production facility once in September and twice in October to install new surveillance cameras. Each time, Iran prohibited inspectors from entering the facility.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi traveled to Tehran for talks on Nov. 23 aimed at addressing the access issue. In a press conference the next day, he said the meetings were constructive but inconclusive. Grossi said that the trip, which included talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, was indispensable for exchanging views but that the agency and Iran could not resolve the access issue and were running out of time. “We must reach an agreement,” Grossi said, “the issues are very, very important.” He said no further meetings are scheduled, but he would remain in contact with Amirabdollahian.

In a Nov. 23 statement, Amirabdollahian said Iran seeks “constructive interaction” with the IAEA.

IAEA inspectors have not had access to Karaj since Iran suspended the intrusive agency inspections required by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in February. Under a special arrangement, IAEA cameras were continuing to collect data that would be handed over to the agency if the nuclear deal is restored. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Iran removed the four cameras from the Karaj facility in June, following an apparent sabotage attack on the site that Tehran blames on Israel. In an Oct. 28 letter to the agency, Iran said it had no legal obligation to allow inspectors to replace the cameras and was “investigating whether the terrorists have used the agency cameras to launch an attack on the complex.”

In the Nov. 17 report, Grossi said he “categorically rejects the idea that agency cameras played a role in assisting any third party to launch an attack” on the facility and offered to allow Iran to inspect the cameras in the presence of IAEA officials. He reiterated that Karaj was included in a special IAEA-Iranian arrangement on Sept. 12 allowing inspectors to replace the data storage on surveillance cameras at various sites.

The IAEA said in its report that it could not verify if production of centrifuge components had resumed at Karaj, but officials quoted in a Nov. 16 article in The Wall Street Journal said that Iran had resumed activities at the facility and produced parts for about 170 centrifuges since August. The IAEA report confirms that Iran installed new centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities since the prior report in September, but does not indicate where the centrifuges were produced.

Grossi stressed in October the importance of the IAEA resuming monitoring at the site prior to the resumption of centrifuge production to prevent further gaps in the IAEA’s knowledge about the facility.

Although The Wall Street Journal article said there was no evidence that Iran was diverting centrifuges from Karaj for covert activities, a gap in the monitoring could complicate agency efforts to account for all the components produced at the facility.

If the IAEA cannot reconstruct the facility’s history, speculation that Iran is engaged in covert activities could undermine efforts to restore the nuclear deal and complicate the agency’s efforts to resume implementation of the monitoring and verification mechanisms.

The lack of access to Karaj is “seriously affecting the agency’s ability to restore continuity of knowledge at the workshop, which has been widely recognized as essential” if the IAEA is to resume monitoring under a restored nuclear deal, the report said.

At the Nov. 24 press conference, Grossi said the IAEA is “close” to the point where it will not be able to maintain continuity of knowledge.

A second report issued by the IAEA on Nov. 17 indicated that Iran also is not cooperating with an ongoing two-year-old investigation into the presence of nuclear materials found at four locations outside of Iran’s declared nuclear program sites.

The IAEA assessment of the uranium particles at three of the locations indicates that the materials and activities date to 2003, when the IAEA assesses Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program, and are not continuing. Iran’s failure to explain satisfactorily the presence of uranium at undeclared sites suggests Iran violated its safeguards obligations.

The second report warned that the “lack of substantive engagement” in resolving these issues “seriously affects the agency’s ability to provide assurance of the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Iran continues to block International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from accessing a nuclear facility and installing new surveillance equipment.

China, Russia Propose North Korea Sanctions Relief

December 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

China and Russia are pushing the UN Security Council to lift certain sanctions on North Korea in recognition of steps Pyongyang has taken to denuclearize and to encourage further negotiations, according to a draft resolution circulated to council members. But comments by Biden administration officials suggest that the United States would almost certainly veto such a resolution if it were put to a vote.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, shown here in a 2020 photo, recently told a news conference in Beijing that because North Korea “has taken multiple denuclearization measures in recent years, its legitimate and reasonable concerns [about UN sanctions] deserve attention and response.”  The United States disagrees and is unlikely to support a Chinese-Russian UN Security Council resolution that would lift certain sanctions. (Photo by Artyom Ivanov\TASS via Getty Images)North Korea has been subject to Security Council sanctions since 2006 for continuing to advance its illegal nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The United States says China is not adequately enforcing those measures and has repeatedly called for better implementation of UN sanctions in response to recent North Korean missile tests. In a Nov. 8 press briefing, U.S. Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby said that China has influence with North Korea and needs to “put some bite” in UN sanctions enforcement in order to “help steer” Pyongyang toward diplomacy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a Nov. 2 press briefing that the resolution circulated by Moscow and Beijing aims “to create an enabling atmosphere to facilitate the early start of dialogue” and that because North Korea “has taken multiple denuclearization measures in recent years, its legitimate and reasonable concerns deserve attention and response.” He said pursuing such a resolution now constructively supports efforts to restore negotiations. “[T]he United States should face the crux of the problem squarely…, propose attractive plans for dialogue, and take real actions instead of simply shouting slogans,” Wang added.

Wang also said that international sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic are having a negative impact on North Korean livelihoods, so “the Security Council should facilitate external support and assistance to the country.”

The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed its willingness to engage in negotiations with North Korea without preconditions and said it has made specific proposals to North Korea about resuming talks, but has not publicly discussed the details of the offer. (See ACT, November 2021.)

The draft resolution, circulated on Oct. 29, says that the council “shall consider positively adjusting the sanctions measures…in light of [North Korea’s] compliance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

China and Russia appear to be referring here to Pyongyang’s continued suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests, which are prohibited by previous Security Council resolutions. The draft resolution’s introductory language notes that North Korea has refrained from nuclear tests since September 2017 and began a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing in April 2018.

But Pyongyang is prohibited from all ballistic missile and nuclear weapons-related activities, including uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, which produce fissile material that can be used for nuclear weapons. Although not acknowledged in the proposed resolution, North Korea recently tested several shorter-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Meanwhile, satellite imagery suggests it is continuing to enrich and reprocess.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations issued a statement on Nov. 2 saying that North Korea has “taken no steps to comply with the Security Council's demands regarding its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

The draft resolution also notes the “positive outcomes achieved in recent years” in talks between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States.

Specifically, the 2021 draft resolution calls for lifting sanctions that prevent the transport of industrial machinery used for infrastructure that “cannot be diverted to [North Korea’s] nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.” It says that sanctions shall not apply to “items necessary for carrying out humanitarian activities.” The resolution would also exempt from sanctions inter-Korean projects designed to connect the two countries via road and rail.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed interest in sanctions relief for such projects during a series of summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 and 2019. In November 2018, the UN Security Council said a study to connect North and South Korea via rail could go ahead without being subject to sanctions after U.S. concerns delayed the project.

China and Russia made a similar proposal to lift certain UN sanctions in 2019, but did not pursue a vote. The United States opposed the proposal then as well.

China and Russia reportedly are also shielding North Korea from further Security Council condemnation in response to recent ballistic missile tests.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pictured in September, told an Oct. 20 press conference that the UN needs to be “more serious about the implementation” of the sanctions on North Korea.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)During an Oct. 1 meeting, France proposed that the Security Council adopt a joint statement condemning recent North Korean missile tests, but Russia and China opposed the measure. Several council members ended up issuing their own statements instead.

Similarly, a Security Council meeting on Oct. 20 called by the United States and the United Kingdom in response to North Korea testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile the day before also failed to produce a statement.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, called North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests a “series of reckless provocations” that violate multiple Security Council resolutions. She told an Oct. 20 press conference that the UN needs to be “more serious about the implementation” of the sanctions on North Korea.

China and Russia are pushing the UN Security Council to lift certain sanctions on North Korea in recognition of steps Pyongyang has taken to denuclearize and to encourage further negotiations.


Subscribe to RSS - Arms Control Today