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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Arms Control Today

The NPT in 1995: The Terms for Indefinite Extension


May 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball and Randy Rydell

The fifth review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), held from April to May 1995, like previous review conferences sought to assess implementation and compliance with the treaty’s obligations and to explore ways to address shortcomings.

The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference opened on April 17, 1995, with remarks from (left to right): Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, conference president Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, and conference secretary general Prvoslav Davinic of the former Yugoslavia. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference also had another formal purpose. Article X of the NPT called for a conference of states-parties to be held 25 years after the treaty’s entry into force in order “to decide whether the [t]reaty shall continue in force indefinitely, or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods.”

Although the treaty provided that the extension would be determined by a majority vote, the parties felt that such a key decision should, if possible, be reached by consensus. Achieving that consensus proved to be one of the most difficult challenges in the history of multilateral diplomacy.1

The 1995 conference began with considerable uncertainty regarding the nature of any extension. Non-nuclear-weapon states, particularly developing countries belonging to the Nonaligned Movement, expressed disappointment with the lack of progress toward nuclear disarmament and feared that a decision to extend the treaty indefinitely would by default enable the nuclear-armed states to hold on to their nuclear arsenals in perpetuity and avoid any accountability in eliminating them.

At the conference, Indonesia and South Africa proposed tying the treaty’s indefinite extension to a decision to strengthen the treaty review process. They also linked it to the establishment of a set of principles and objectives on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament to hold NPT states-parties, particularly the nuclear-weapon states, accountable to their commitments. Although only a majority of states-parties was required to approve the indefinite extension, the agreed package of decisions obtained enough support that such a vote was not required. In short, there was a consensus that a majority existed for the indefinite extension.

The “Package Deal”

The conference resulted in three decisions and a resolution that the parties heralded as a “package deal.” The integrated nature of the package deal—a feature insisted upon by Indonesia, South Africa, and many other states—gave the review process a sharper focus and clarified its ends. Certain positive steps by the nuclear-weapon states before the conference, including a consistent pattern of strong U.S. support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), likely contributed to the successful outcome.

Decision 1—Strengthening the Review Process

This decision provided for five-year review conferences, each preceded by three sessions of a Preparatory Committee of states-parties. These conferences would have three main committees, which could have “subsidiary bodies” on specific issues. It also clarified that in the future the review process would examine “principles, objectives, and ways,” including those in Decision 2, and would “look forward as well as back.” As Canadian Ambassador Christopher Westdal put it, the goal was “permanence with accountability.”

Decision 2—Principles and Objectives

The second decision set forth some “principles and objectives” for assessing progress in the following areas: universality; nonproliferation; disarmament; nuclear-weapon-free zones; security assurances; safeguards; and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

For example, the decision laid out a “program of action” for disarmament, including:

  • the completion of negotiations on the CTBT by September 1996;
  • negotiations on a fissile materials treaty;
  • the “determined pursuit” by the nuclear-weapon states of “systematic and progressive efforts” to reduce nuclear arsenals; and
  • “further steps” to assure non-nuclear-weapon states-parties against the threat of nuclear attack.

Five years later at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, states parties went a few steps further, setting forth 13 “practical steps” relating to disarmament.2 The 2010 NPT Review Conference adopted a consensus final document that identified 22 agreed “Actions” to pursue nuclear disarmament.3

At the 1995 conference, states-parties also clarified that the treaty’s “inalienable right” to peaceful uses of nuclear energy must be applied “in conformity with Articles I, II as well as III of the [t]reaty,” which relate to nonproliferation and compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. They expanded support for the principle that new nuclear “supply arrangements” should require full-scope IAEA safeguards “as a necessary precondition” (i.e., safeguards over all nuclear materials of the importing, non-nuclear-weapon state). India and Pakistan—both NPT nonparties—had been seeking to avoid this precondition, which was later ignored by many nuclear supplier states after the U.S. initiative in 2005 to allow for expanded nuclear cooperation with India.

Decision 3—Indefinite Extension

The crucial third decision was based on a simple declaratory statement that, “as a majority exists” among the parties to extend the treaty indefinitely, the treaty shall continue in force indefinitely. The decision’s preamble contained language “emphasizing” the other decisions, which further affirmed the linkages in the package deal.

Resolution on the Middle East

The last key component of the package deal was the Resolution on the Middle East, which, inter alia, endorsed the creation of a Middle Eastern “zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction,” (WMD) including “their delivery systems.” The NPT’s indefinite extension without a vote would not have been possible without addressing this issue—a long-standing goal of the Arab states and many other parties.

A quarter-century later, global support for the NPT is strong, but its long-term viability cannot be taken for granted, especially if the agreed goals and objectives from 1995 are not achieved.

ENDNOTES

1. Portions of this summary include excerpts from Rydell’s article “Looking Back: The 1995 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference,” in the April 2005 issue of Arms Control Today. See also Jayantha Dhanapala and Randy Rydell, Multilateral Diplomacy and the NPT: An Insider’s Account (UNIDIR, 2005), https://www.unidir.org/publication/multilateral-diplomacy-and-npt-insiders-account.

2. See https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt2000/final-documents

3. See https://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2010/


Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association. Randy Rydell serves on the Arms Control Association board and is a former senior adviser to the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs.

 

The fifth NPT review conference was pivotal to the treaty’s legacy.

OPCW Blames Syria for 2017 Attacks


May 2020
By Julia Masterson

The new investigative team for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded in its inaugural report April 8 that Syria's air force was responsible for a series of chemical weapons attacks using sarin and chlorine in March 2017.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley holds up photos of victims of the Syrian chemical attack during a meeting of the UN Security Council on, April 5, 2017. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team began its work in June 2019 with a mandate to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria, which has continued throughout the Syrian civil war and despite the destruction of the vast bulk of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile following its accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 2013.

The OPCW began investigating instances of chemical use in Syria in 2014 through its Fact-Finding Mission, which was created as an impartial body mandated to confirm only the use or nonuse of chemical weapons. In 2015 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2235 establishing the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to attribute responsibility for the chemical attacks identified by the mission.

But after the JIM implicated the Syrian government in four of the six chemical incidents it investigated, Russia vetoed the extension of the UN Security Council mandate in 2017. (See ACT, December 2017.)

In response, the majority of OPCW states-parties sought new ways to continue investigative work and hold CWC violators accountable. In 2018, two-thirds of the OPCW Conference of States Parties voted to establish the investigative team. Now, the team continues the attribution work of the JIM under the sole authority of the OPCW, seeking to name the perpetrators responsible for the chemical attacks identified by the mission but not previously investigated by the joint UN-OPCW body. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

The team’s first report focuses on chemical attacks on March 24, March 25, and March 30, 2017, in the rebel-held town of Ltamenah, Syria. Through interviews with witnesses, analyses of flight data, and other investigative methods, the team concluded that the Syrian air force released sarin on March 24 and March 30 and chlorine on March 25 from military airplanes and helicopters.

The team also identified a key chemical component linking the sarin dropped over Ltamenah to sarin produced by the Syrian government. During a 2017 JIM investigation into chemical weapons use in Khan Shaykuhn, Syria, inspectors compared recovered chemical munitions to samples retained in OPCW labs after Syria’s chemical weapons destruction and identified the shared presence of an impurity called phosphorus hexafluoride. The OPCW established that Syria uses phosphorus hexafluoride in its production of methylphosphonyl difluoride, which is a precursor chemical of sarin and creates the volatile nerve agent when combined with isopropyl alcohol and hexamine.

According to a JIM report released in October 2017, the OPCW regards the impurity as a “marker chemical” for methylphosphonyl difluoride produced in Syrian labs. During its investigation into the Ltamenah attacks, the team compared a sample of a munition recovered from the March 30 attack to the methylphosphonyl difluoride in Syria’s stockpile and found a strong correlation, indicating that the sarin used in Ltamenah was created using chemicals originating in the Syrian stockpile.

The team confirmed that the attacks could only “occur pursuant to the orders from the highest levels of the Syrian Arab Armed Forces” and that the commander in chief of the armed forces, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was the “lead decision maker.” The team also learned during its investigation that senior Syrian military officials involved with the country’s chemical weapons program were ordered March 21, 2017, to “prepare items for use in the defense of the Hama,” the area within which Ltamenah is located.

Following release of the report, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in an April 8 press release commended the team’s work and called on “other nations to join our efforts to promote accountability for the Syrian regime and uphold the norm against chemical weapons use.”

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic preventing an in-person meeting of the OPCW Executive Council, the German Foreign Ministry urged in an April 15 statement that the council meet at the earliest possible opportunity to “take up the case” of Syrian noncompliance.

Despite widespread support for the OPCW team, efforts by some nations to undermine the OPCW’s credibility and question its findings continue. In an April 9 statement broadcast by the Syrian Arab News Agency, the Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry disputed the team’s findings and said that Syria “condemns, in the strongest terms, what has come in the report of the illegitimate so-called Investigation and Identification Team, and rejects what has been concluded in it, in form and content.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry also denounced the team’s findings, claiming on April 9 that the report’s authors are “accomplices in the consistent violation of the basic principles and procedures of objective and unbiased investigations stipulated in the CWC.” According to Wyn Bowen, a former weapons inspector who now heads the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, “Moscow’s statements and actions around the OPCW appear to constitute a concerted effort to undermine the CWC and norms against chemical weapons development, ownership, and use.”

Russia’s endeavors to systematically discredit the OPCW may pose a problem as the international community seeks to hold perpetrators identified by the team accountable for their actions. Given the chemical signature confirming that the sarin used March 24 and 30, 2017, was produced in a Syrian lab and the flight data attributing all three incidents to Syrian military aircraft, the team’s report leaves little room for doubt about the role of the Syrian government in the March 2017 chemical attacks.

The team’s mandate extends to some 33 chemical incidents in Syria that were identified in prior investigations by the Fact-Finding Mission and where perpetrators were not named by the JIM. The April 8 report marks the first of several attribution reports by the new investigative body.

Investigators identified Syria's air force as responsible for March 2017 sarin attacks against rebel-held communities in Syria.

Future of Open Skies Remains Bleak


May 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States could officially submit its intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty by the end of September, despite strong support for the treaty in Congress and from allies and former U.S. officials.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in Washington on March 5. He has reportedly recommended a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have decided to move forward with a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, the Guardian reported on April 5. The report indicated that a statement of intent would be forthcoming soon, with an official notification to withdraw coming likely by the end of September. Per the treaty text, the U.S. decision would take effect six months after the official notice.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested on April 23 that, “based on contacts with the Americans” and other states-parties to the treaty, the United States has decided to withdraw from the treaty. Russia’s response to the move will “depend on the wording of this decision, on what it exactly means,” Lavrov added.

On April 7, four leading congressional Democrats released a statement urging the Trump administration not to withdraw. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) were joined on the statement by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“This decision would have far-reaching, negative repercussions for our European allies, who rely on this treaty to keep Russia accountable for its military actions in the region,” they wrote. “During a time when we need to push back against Russian aggression, we cannot continue to undermine our alliances—which is exactly what U.S. withdrawal from this treaty would do.”

On April 6, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) made public a March letter to President Donald Trump, Pompeo, Esper, and National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien expressing their recommendation that the United States remain party to the treaty.

Schulz, Perry, and Nunn argued that concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty “can and should be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

The United States asserts that Russia is violating the agreement by “imposing and enforcing a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast” and by establishing a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, according to the latest State Department report on arms control compliance. 

According to an April 8 report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, a treaty flight by Estonia, Lithuania, and the United States in February over the Kaliningrad enclave flew for more than 500 kilometers for the first time since Moscow imposed the sublimit in 2014.

Pompeo and Esper are proceeding with the process to withdraw even though a meeting of top officials on the National Security Council (NSC) on the issue has not taken place, according to an April 12 report in The Hill. NSC meetings on the future of the treaty had originally been planned for February and March, but were canceled.

According to a House aide cited by The Hill, the apparent “decision to withdraw prompted strong objection from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Poland.”

A State Department official told the news outlet that the administration is “currently reviewing the costs and benefits associated with our participation and considering all options under the treaty to achieve our national security objectives.”

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan stated on April 22 that “all options” remain on the table with regard to the treaty’s future.

Signed in 1992, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in January 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States, although flights were suspended at the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic and at press time there was no indication that flights would resume in May.

 

The Trump administration appears close to announcing a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, possibly by the end of September.

Pandemic Disrupts Security Meetings


May 2020
By Julia Masterson and Shannon Bugos

The global spread of the novel coronavirus has thrown into disarray the schedule of numerous international convenings on arms control and nonproliferation planned for this year.

Argentine diplomat Gustavo Zlauvinen, the president-designate of the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, speaks to the UN Security Council on Feb. 26. He announced in April that he was seeking to postpone the review conference until January 2021. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)One of the largest conferences that has been postponed is the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which will now take place no later than April 2021. (See ACT, April 2020.) Previously scheduled to begin April 27 at UN headquarters in New York City and last a month, the conference usually involves dozens of side events and the participation of hundreds of government officials from the 191 states-parties to the treaty, nongovernmental organizations, and meeting support personnel.

In a message dated April 17 to NPT states-parties, the president-designate of the review conference, Gustavo Zlauvinen, said, “Unfortunately, the lack of clarity surrounding when the current circumstances will end, combined with the number of General Assembly-mandated meetings that have been postponed, as well as the already heavy schedule of meetings for 2021, has led to significant constraints on the availability of rooms and conference services for the foreseeable future.”

Zlauvinen said that, “in light of those constraints, the only option that meets the requirements of States Parties between now and August 2021 is to hold the Review Conference at UN Headquarters from 4–29 January 2021.” He said he will seek a formal decision from states-parties to hold the review conference on those dates. Other options, he said, would require “significant downsizing, both in terms of the number of weeks for the Conference and the number of parallel meetings.”

The fourth conference of nuclear-weapon-free zones and Mongolia, scheduled to be held April 24, 2020, at the United Nations in New York, was also postponed. The group has met prior to NPT review conferences since 2005 to “analyze ways of cooperating that can contribute to achieving the universal goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Participation in the conference is open to states-parties of the five extant free zones and Mongolia, which declared itself a nuclear-free territory in 2000. (See ACT, October 2012.) According to UN General Assembly Resolution 73/71, the conference planned for 2020, when held, will focus specifically on enhancing “consultations and cooperation” among the nuclear-free states. The April 24 conference has not been rescheduled.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), located in Vienna, postponed its third Science Diplomacy Symposium likely until November. The CTBTO, which operates the International Monitoring System and data center to verify compliance with the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), holds this symposium every two years in order to highlight the CTBT’s contribution to international peace and security. The 2020 symposium aims to spotlight the value of increasing access to and use of scientific advice in policymaking and collaboration and cooperation between scientists and policymakers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) postponed the 35th meeting of its Advisory Group on Nuclear Security scheduled to be held April 20–24 in Vienna. The group is comprised of experts who collaborate with the IAEA director-general to strengthen IAEA efforts to deter, detect, and react to nuclear and radiological terrorism. The group meets two times each year.

In the conventional arms space, Carlos Foradori of Argentina cancelled the April working group and preparatory meetings for the 6th Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force in 2014 and currently has 104 states-parties. The conference is still scheduled for August 17–21. As president of the conference, Foradori made the decision based upon UN guidelines and said he will develop “a plan that will allow our work to continue remotely in the intersessional period to ensure necessary decisions can be taken by [the conference] guiding the work of the next … cycle.”

Meetings regarding emerging technologies have also been modified due to pandemic-related public health restrictions, including the Berlin Forum on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, originally scheduled for April 1–2, 2020. Instead, the German Foreign Ministry opted to convene the meeting virtually, drawing participation by 300 governmental and nongovernmental representatives of 70 countries worldwide. A statement published April 2 by the ministry reminds that, “in times of crisis, it is crucial that we continue to address urgent issues through international cooperation.”

The forum met to exchange ideas on guiding principles for a future framework governing the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Participants discussed definitions of the human role in the use of lethal force and norms surrounding these systems. According to a readout of the virtual meeting published by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the ministry intends to detail key points from the forum and to hold a follow-up conference in November 2020.

The majority of international events and conferences scheduled for late May or later have not yet officially addressed whether they will still take place. The second part of this year’s session of the Conference on Disarmament, for instance, remains scheduled to begin May 25. A meeting of the group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems
is still planned for June. But the United States has shifted the 46th Group of Seven summit on June 10–12 to a video conference due to coronavirus concerns. The heads of state summit was originally intended to take place at Camp David, Maryland.

The coronavirus has forced the delay or cancellation of a wide range of arms control and nonproliferation meetings in the months ahead.

Coronavirus Affects U.S. Nuclear Forces


May 2020
By Kingston Reif

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the nation, the Defense Department is taking special measures to ensure the continued readiness of U.S. nuclear forces.

Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, center, reviews dive procedures in the control room the ballistic missile submarine USS Florida in the Mediterranean on Oct. 15, 2019. To maintain readiness, U.S. ballistic missile submarine crews were taking special measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  (Photo: Drew Verbis/U.S. Navy)Department officials have expressed confidence that these steps have helped to ensure that the virus does not compromise the ability of the nuclear arsenal to perform its intended mission.

But over time, the rising human and financial toll inflicted by the disease could exacerbate the affordability and execution challenges facing the government’s ambitious plans to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters March 17 that “our strategic nuclear forces remain ready to execute the nation's strategic deterrence mission” and “to this point, we have had no impact to our ability to accomplish our mission.”

In the ensuing weeks, Pentagon officials have detailed some of the protocols that have been put in place to safeguard the health of U.S. military personnel that operate nuclear delivery systems.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on April 14 that the crews of 12 deployed ballistic missile submarines “are going into isolation” for 14 days and “are being tested prior to setting sail, as tests become available.”

The Air Force has also adjusted “operations in the nuclear missile fields,” Gen. David Goldfein, the chief of staff of the service, told Air Force Magazine on April 15.

Goldfein said that the crews for Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are now spending 14 days or more at their posts, compared to two or three days at a time previously. All of the roughly 400 deployed U.S. ICBMs are maintained in a state of launch-ready alert, meaning they can be launched within minutes of a decision by the president to do so.

“We’re operating in what we call the new abnormal, operating with the virus,” Goldfein said. He told reporters during a virtual press conference on April 22 that no ICBM or nuclear bomber crews have tested positive for the virus.

The Pentagon announced that day that it is instituting a tiered system for testing personnel for the virus, with top priority given to personnel supporting “critical national capabilities like…our nuclear deterrent.”

“I’m knocking on wood right now [but] so far our measures are working,” Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, deputy commander of Global Strike Command, told Politico on April 23. “We're still flying sorties, the ICBM forces are still on 24 hours, we’re still doing training.”

As of the end of April, the Defense Department reported nearly 7,000 total cases of the coronavirus among department personnel, dependents, and contractors had tested positive for the coronavirus, with hundreds of new cases being reported every day.

The Pentagon in late March stopped reporting the number of positive cases at individual bases and installations. As of early April, more than 150 bases in 41 states had positive cases, including nearly every base that hosts U.S. nuclear delivery systems, according to an April 9 Newsweek report.

The Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reported 40 active cases of the virus at the agency as of the end of April. Nearly all NNSA production facilities had reduced to a minimum mission-critical level of operations as of mid-April, Exchange Monitor Publications reported on April 10. Mission-critical employees include the personnel needed to assemble nuclear weapons and components, maintain key infrastructure, or provide security.

Although U.S. nuclear forces personnel to have largely avoided the virus, the threat to worker safety and health posed by the disease is straining the defense industrial base and is likely to prompt schedule delays to major defense acquisition programs.

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters on April 20 that the Defense Department is “seeing the greatest impacts in the aviation supply chain, ship-building, and small space launch.”

She added that the department projects “about a three-month slowdown at slower rates in terms of execution” for major acquisition programs and is “just now looking at key milestones that might be impacted.”

Lord said the Pentagon is planning to ask Congress for “billions and billions” in additional funding as part of a future emergency stimulus package for fiscal year 2020 to address possible schedule delays.

Congress provided the Defense Department with $10.5 billion in emergency supplemental funds as part a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump in March. The additional funding brought total appropriations for national defense in fiscal year 2020 to $756.5 billion.

The potential impact of workforce and supplier slowdowns on the Pentagon’s nuclear delivery system modernization programs remains to be seen.

“We are confident the services, along with industry partners, are able to keep production related to modernization of our nuclear forces on track, while taking appropriate precautions to keep their workforces safe and healthy,” Richard said in March.

But the Congressional Research Service warned in March that the risks of delays at shipyards could be particularly problematic for the program building a new fleet of Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, due in part to the “tight schedule for designing and building the lead boat.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force is slated to award a contract to Northrop Grumman to begin development of a new ICBM system via the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program before the end of the summer. (See ACT, October 2019.)

Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said on April 16 that the Air Force might actually award the GBSD development contract earlier than planned.

At the NNSA, major warhead and infrastructure modernization programs are continuing as planned, a congressional source told Arms Control Today.

In the longer term, many prominent defense experts believe that the financial havoc wreaked by the coronavirus will prompt reductions in military spending. Such cuts could increase the financial burden of the Trump administration’s nuclear modernization plans.

The administration is requesting $44.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 for nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization, an increase of about $7.3 billion, or 19 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 level.

Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, predicted on April 6 that “we are going to see enormous downward pressure on defense spending because of other urgent American national needs like health care that the pandemic is going to raise.”

Pentagon officials, however, maintain that nuclear modernization will remain a top priority even amid declining defense budgets.

“As the budget comes down, there will be more tough choices ahead,” Roper said. “My worry—concern—is less about any program in the nuclear triad. It’s more outside of that: Where would we find that bill payer?”

To prevent the spread of the virus, the Pentagon has announced new health protocols for its personnel staffing U.S. nuclear weapons systems.

Iran Announces Nuclear Goals


May 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran’s nuclear agency announced that it has developed a new type of centrifuge and described an ambitious plan for expanding its uranium-enrichment program, but it is unclear if or when Tehran’s leaders will take steps to scale up the country’s enrichment capacity.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran speaks to the media in June 2018. In April, he said Iran would continue its uranium enrichment activities. (Photo: Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA)In a March 27 announcement, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said that a new generation of centrifuge machines will be unveiled at the Natanz enrichment facility “in the near future.”

Under the terms of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is permitted to design new centrifuges, but must seek approval before building prototypes and testing new models.

It does not appear that Tehran sought or received authorization to build the new centrifuges from the Joint Commission, the body set up by the JCPOA to oversee implementation of the deal. Iran announced in September that it would no longer be bound by the JCPOA’s restrictions on centrifuge research and development and has taken steps since then to breach the accords’ limits on installing and operating advanced machines. (See ACT, October 2019.)

Breaching the research and development limitations on centrifuges was the third step Iran took to reduce compliance with the JCPOA in response to the U.S. decision to violate the nuclear deal by reimposing sanctions and withdrawing from the accord in May 2018. (See ACT, June 2018.)

Iran may have intended to display the new centrifuge during an April 8 ceremony marking the country’s National Nuclear Technology Day, an annual event during which officials recap accomplishments over the past year and set priorities for the nuclear program. But Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the AEOI, announced that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani decided to delay the April 8 ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic.

AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi delivered a speech on April 8 marking National Nuclear Technology Day and outlining the priorities for the country’s nuclear program in the coming year. Salehi said that Iran would accelerate R&D projects and continue enrichment activities over the next year. He did not provide any details, but Kamalvandi claimed on April 8 that Iran can produce up to 60 advanced centrifuges each day.

Kamalvandi also said that achieving an enrichment capacity of 250,000 separative work units (SWUs) is attainable but that Iran’s goal is one million SWUs.

An SWU is the measure of work required to enrich uranium. Under the JCPOA, Iran is limited to enriching uranium with 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, which equates to less than 5,000 SWUs, for 10 years.

It is unclear why Iran would set such a high goal for its enrichment program or what the time frame is for achieving one million SWUs. Iranian officials consistently state that Tehran is willing to return to compliance with the JCPOA if its sanctions relief demands are met.

The terms of the JCPOA limit Iran’s uranium enrichment through 2031, and even after that, it is not clear that Tehran will need to produce one million SWUs to meet its need for enriched uranium fuel.

Iran’s current nuclear power reactor is fueled by Russia, and the JCPOA requires the parties to the deal to ensure Iran can access fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Future nuclear reactors under construction at Bushehr have lifetime fueling contracts with Russia.

Additional priorities that Salehi spelled out in his April 8 address include the continued construction of the two new reactor units at Bushehr and modification of the Arak reactor as required by the 2015 nuclear deal. Modifying the Arak reactor to a design that produces significantly less plutonium is required by the JCPOA.

The U.S. State Department announced on March 30 that it was renewing sanctions waivers allowing certain nuclear cooperation projects outlined in the nuclear deal to continue for another 60 days. The announcement did not specify the projects, but it is likely that the Arak reactor modification project is covered by the waivers, and it noted that the United States “can adjust these restrictions at any time.”

Construction of the two new units at Bushehr, however, is not covered by U.S. sanctions waivers. In May 2019, the State Department announced that activities to expand the Bushehr site “will be exposed to sanctions.” It does not appear that the U.S. announcement has stopped Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom from continuing to work on the new units at Bushehr.

In November 2019, Salehi and Alexander Lokshin, deputy head of Rosatom, participated in a ceremony when concrete was poured for the base of the second reactor unit.

 

Inspections Continue in Iran Despite Virus

International inspectors will continue to have access to Iran’s nuclear facilities during the coronavirus pandemic, Tehran confirmed in March.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (left) greets Iran's ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi at a Jan. 30 reception. The IAEA and Iran have pledged to maintain the agency's inspection activities in Iran. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)As of mid-April, Iran had confirmed more than 75,000 cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Despite limitations on travel, Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on March 20 that “there are no limitations” for inspectors traveling to Iran and throughout the country monitoring the nuclear program.

The IAEA said in an April 7 press release that “safeguards inspections worldwide are continuing but with some travel disruption.” The release did not specifically mention Iran.

In addition to on-site inspections, the IAEA uses remote monitoring technologies, such as cameras and online enrichment monitors, to track Iran’s nuclear activities.

In a March 23 video, the IAEA noted that it continues to use satellite imagery to implement safeguards and it can continue to monitor stockpiles of nuclear material remotely.

In the video, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that “safeguarding nuclear materials all over the world will not stop for a single minute.”

The IAEA is providing more than 40 countries with kits and resources to test for the coronavirus. Gharibabadi said on April 3 that the IAEA was sending equipment to Iran that will be useful in containing the country’s outbreak.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced it would unveil a new generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges.

North Korea Spurns Diplomacy With United States


May 2020
By Julia Masterson

Pyongyang is no longer interested in diplomatic dialogue with Washington, according to a March 31 statement published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “We will go our own way. We want the U.S. not to bother us. If the U.S. bothers us, it will be hurt,” the statement asserted.

President Donald Trump speaks in the White House on April 28. He has reportedly reached out to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the coronavirus pandemic, but North Korea has said it wants no more nuclear dialogue.  (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)The statement, authored by the unnamed director-general of North Korea’s new Foreign Ministry for Negotiations With the United States, was written in response to U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s plea to world leaders at the Group of Seven summit in March to “stay committed to applying diplomatic and economic pressure over [North Korea’s] illegal nuclear and ballistic missile program.”

Days before the summit, North Korea announced on March 22 through the KCNA that U.S. President Donald Trump had penned a personal letter to leader Kim Jong Un offering support through the coronavirus pandemic. North Korea has rejected such assistance from the United States, but accepted humanitarian assistance from other states.

Pompeo’s remarks on the heels of Trump’s offer led Pyongyang to “misjudge who the real chief executive is” in the United States. According to the March 31 statement, “[H]earing Pompeo’s reckless remarks, we dropped the interest in dialogue with further conviction, but have become more zealous in our important planned projects aimed to repay the U.S. with actual horror and unrest for the sufferings it has inflicted upon our people.”

An April 14 statement published by the KCNA notes that North Korea’s recently implemented annual state budget calls for “increasing the capability of national defence, by adjusting and reinforcing the economy as a whole, and concentrating investment in the training of talents and developing science and technology.” Changes to the national budget are reflective of North Korea’s ideological drive for self-reliance and self-defense.

At a meeting of the 7th Central Worker’s Party of Korea in December 2019, Kim said that “the huge and complicated work of developing the ultramodern weapon system possessed only by countries with advanced defence science and technology presupposed [Pyongyang’s] own innovative solution in terms of the scientific and technical aspect without anyone’s help.” Kim announced North Korea’s planned possession of a “promising strategic weapon” that would guarantee the country’s sovereignty and right to existence.

North Korea’s criticism of U.S. calls for maintaining international sanctions and its declaration of intent to improve its military capabilities are likely designed to show the regime’s frustration with what it sees as the inflexible position of the United States on denuclearization and peace talks following the unsuccessful Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi.

North Korea also continues to test new missile systems, including on April 14, the eve of the birthday of the North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, and South Korea’s general election. According to preliminary assessments by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the round of tests on April 14 are believed to have been North Korea’s first launch of a cruise missile since June 2017.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency on April 15 that Washington “continue[s] to call on North Korea to avoid provocations, abide by obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearization.”

Other U.S. officials, however, have downplayed the significance of the North Korean missile tests. Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley noted in an April 14 Pentagon briefing that the missile tests were not “particularly provocative or threatening” to the United States. Rather, he said they may have been “tied to some celebrations that are happening inside North Korea, as opposed to any deliberate provocation” against the United States.

Since announcing it would no longer be bound by its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, North Korea has conducted five rounds of tests of shorter-range missiles in 2020. (See ACT, April 2020.) North Korea has not tested a long-range missile since ending its moratorium, but many independent missile experts assess that Pyongyang’s continued testing of its shorter-range systems are an indication that North Korea is also pursuing the further development of longer- and possibly intercontinental-range missiles.

North Korea has continued to test new missile systems and develop other new weapons as the United States aims to press sanctions.

Pentagon Invests in AI, Issues Principles


May 2020
By Michael Klare

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 Defense Department budget request prioritizes spending on artificial intelligence (AI) research and procurement of AI-enabled weapons systems, including unmanned autonomous ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles. Among these requests is $800 million for accelerated operations by the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), the Pentagon’s lead agency for applying AI for military purposes, and for Project Maven, a companion project that seeks to employ sophisticated algorithms in identifying potential military targets among masses of video footage. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks at the Pentagon on March 5. He announced in February that the Pentagon would adopt a set of ethical principles for using artificial intelligence in military applications. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)In February, when presenting the Pentagon’s proposed budget, Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist indicated that some existing weapons programs would be cut or trimmed to free up funds for increased spending on sophisticated systems needed for what he called the “high end” wars of the future. Such engagements, Norquist suggested, will entail intense combat with the well-equipped forces of great power competitors, notably China and Russia.

If U.S. forces are to prevail in such encounters, he added, they will need to possess technological superiority over their rivals, which requires ever-increasing investment in “critical emerging technologies,” especially AI and autonomous weapons systems.

In advocating for these undertakings, senior Defense officials have consistently emphasized the need for speeding the weaponization of AI and autonomous weapons systems.

“Leadership in the military application of AI is critical to our national security,” Gen. John (“Jack”) Shanahan, the commander of JAIC, told reporters last August. “For that reason, I doubt I will ever be entirely satisfied that we’re moving fast enough when it comes to [the Defense Department’s] adoption of AI.” At the same time, however, top leaders insist that they are mindful of the legal and ethical challenges of weaponizing advanced technologies. “We are thinking deeply about the ethical, safe, and lawful use of AI,” Shanahan insisted.

The Pentagon’s recognition of the ethical dimensions of applying AI to military use stems from three sets of concerns that have emerged in recent years. The first encompasses fears that as human oversight diminishes, AI-enabled autonomous weapons systems could “go rogue” and engage in acts that violate international humanitarian law. (See ACT, March 2019.) The second arises from evidence that facial-identification algorithms and other AI-empowered systems often contain biases of some sort that could result in unfair or illegal outcomes. Finally, analysts worry that it can be very difficult to identify and trace the algorithmic flaws that might result in such outcomes.

In recognition of these concerns, the Defense Department has taken a number of steps to demonstrate its awareness of the risks associated with hasty AI weaponization. In 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asked the Defense Innovation Board (DIB), a semiautonomous body reporting directly to senior Pentagon leadership, to develop a set of “ethical principles” for the military application of AI. After conducting several meetings with lawyers, computer scientists, and representatives of human rights organizations, the DIB delivered its proposed set of principles last Oct. 31 to Secretary Mark Esper. (See ACT, December 2019.) After an internal review, Esper’s office finally proclaimed its acceptance of the DIB formula Feb. 24.

In announcing his decision, Esper made it clear that the rapid weaponization of AI and other emerging technologies remains the department’s top priority. The United States, he declared, “must accelerate the adoption of AI and lead in its national security applications to maintain our strategic position [and] prevail on future battlefields.” At the same time, he noted, adoption of the new AI guidelines will buttress “the department’s commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards.”

Of the five ethical principles announced by Esper, four, covering the responsible, equitable, traceable, and reliable use of AI, address the risk of bias and the need for human supervisors to oversee every stage of AI weaponization and be able to identify and eliminate any flaws they detect. Only the final principle (governable) addresses the risk of unintended and possibly lethal action by AI-empowered autonomous systems. Under this key precept, human operators must possess “the ability to disengage or deactivate deployed systems that demonstrate unintended behavior.”

If fully implemented, the five principles adopted by Esper in February could go a long way toward reducing the risks identified by critics of rapid AI weaponization. But this will require that all involved military personnel be educated about these precepts and that contractors abide by them in developing new military systems. When and how this process will unfold remain largely unknown. Devising the five principles, Shanahan explained on Feb. 24, “was the easy part.”

“The real hard part,” he continued, is “understanding where those ethics principles need to be applied.” At this moment, that process has barely begun, but the acquisition of AI-enabled weapons systems seems to be advancing at top speed.

The U.S. Defense Secretary made clear the Pentagon will pursue military artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies as a top priority.

U.S. Makes Noncompliance Charges


May 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

The United States cited a number of concerns about other states’ compliance with major nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons agreements in a summary of the State Department’s annual compliance report, which was issued April 15. The report, “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” assesses activities during 2019 and was prepared by the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance with input from the intelligence community.

On April 16, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China remains committed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)The report says that, in 2019, “the United States continued to be in compliance with all of its obligations under arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements.” Other states, including China, North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Russia, and Syria, are not meeting all of their obligations, the report says.

The most significant charge relates to earlier U.S. claims that Russia and China have engaged in activities that are inconsistent with the “zero-yield” standard regarding nuclear testing, established through the negotiations on the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits all nuclear test explosions regardless of yield.

The report says that the United States “assesses that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons-related experiments that have created nuclear yield,” but appears to walk back earlier claims.

May 2019, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency claimed that Russia had violated the zero-yield standard at its former nuclear test site in Novaya Zemlya. The State Department had earlier made this charge in its compliance report on 2018 activities. That report stated that, “during the 1995–2018 timeframe, Russia probably conducted nuclear weapons-related tests” at Novaya Zemlya. Further information was not provided, however, and many experts cast doubt on the allegation.

The latest State Department compliance report asserts that some Russian activities since 1996 “have demonstrated a failure to adhere to the U.S. ‘zero-yield’ standard, which would prohibit supercritical tests.” The report added the caveat that “the United States does not know how many, if any, supercritical or self-sustaining nuclear experiments Russia conducted in 2019.”

Russia, like the United States, signed the CTBT in 1996. Russia ratified the CTBT in 2000. The United States has not ratified the treaty.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov responded to the report on April 16, asserting that Russia “did not take any steps that would include elements of deviation from our obligations stemming from our unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing and from our ratification” of the CTBT. He countered by alleging that the United States “may well be bringing their test site in Nevada on high alert.”

The State Department report notes that Russia is still adhering to its commitments under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is scheduled to expire in February 2021. The Trump administration has not yet decided whether to take up Russia’s offer to extend the treaty by another five years.

The report also claims that certain activities at China’s former nuclear testing grounds at Lop Nur “raise concerns” that Beijing might not be complying with the zero-yield nuclear weapons testing. It mentions China’s “use of explosive containment chambers and extensive excavation activities at Lop Nur.” It also accuses China of “blocking the flow of data from the monitoring stations” set up in China by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to verify compliance with the CTBT.

But these interruptions were part of the normal process of certifying the stations. According to The Wall Street Journal, a CTBT spokeswoman said that “[d]ata transmission from all certified stations was interrupted in 2018 after the testing and evaluation and certification process was completed.” She said that, “[i]n August 2019, ongoing negotiations on post-certification activity contracts with Chinese station operators were concluded and data transmission resumed for all five certified stations.”

These stations are part of the global network of more than 300 test ban monitoring stations worldwide. If and when the CTBT formally enters into force, states-parties can also request short-notice, on-site inspections to resolve compliance concerns. A number of experts have also suggested that former nuclear testing states, including China, Russia, and the United States, could agree to confidence-building measures to resolve questions about test site activities.

On April 16, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian replied to questions about the U.S. charges. “China was among the first group of signatories to the CTBT. It supports the purpose and objective of the treaty, stays committed to the nuclear testing moratorium, and has made important contribution[s] to the work of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization,” he said.

“In recent years, the U.S. has stated explicitly in the Nuclear Posture Review report that it will not push for the ratification of the treaty and will even resume underground nuclear explosive testing if called upon to do so,” he added. “The international community should stay on high alert to this dangerous tendency and urge the U.S. to change course.”

Regarding Iran, the State Department report notes that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in November 2019 that agency inspectors detected particles of chemically processed uranium at an undeclared site and that as of March 2020, the matter is still unresolved.

The report says that “Iran’s intentional failure to declare nuclear material subject to IAEA safeguards would constitute a clear violation of Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement required by the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)] and would constitute a violation of Article III of the NPT itself.” (See ACT, April 2020.)

Concerning the Open Skies Treaty, the report repeats earlier charges that Russia was not in compliance in 2019 for imposing a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast for treaty flights, for refusing access to observation flights along Russia’s border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and for denying planned U.S.-Canadian flights over a Russian military exercise in September 2019.

U.S. officials have indicated the United States may unilaterally withdraw from the treaty over these issues.

But the report fails to note that Russia recently approved and allowed a joint U.S.-Estonian-Latvian treaty flight over Kaliningrad this year. In addition, on March 2, Jim Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises.” (See ACT, April 2020.)

The State Department renews concerns that China and Russia may have conducted prohibited nuclear testing activities.

Trump Appoints Special Arms Control Envoy


May 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

President Donald Trump has officially appointed a special envoy to negotiate an unprecedented trilateral arms control deal with Russia and China as the fate of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control agreement, hangs in the balance.

Marshall Billingslea, then assistant secretary of treasury, speaks in Washington in March 2019. He was named as the State Department's special presidential envoy for arms control on April 10. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Marshall Billingslea, previously assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, will lead arms control negotiations on behalf of the United States as special presidential envoy for arms control, according to an April 10 statement by the State Department.

“President Trump has charged this Administration with beginning a new chapter by seeking a new era of arms control that moves beyond the bilateral treaties of the past,” the department said. “The appointment of Marshall Billingslea reaffirms the commitment to that mission.”

On May 1, Trump also announced his intent to nominate Billingslea to fill the vacant post of under secretary of state for arms control and international security. Billingslea was an advisor to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of arms control who opposed U.S. ratification of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and supported U.S. withdrawal in 2002 from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, strongly denounced Billingslea’s appointment, stating, “This is not who should be put in charge of our nuclear diplomacy.”

Trump first proposed a trilateral approach to arms control more than a year ago, but the administration has yet to unveil a specific proposal and provided no timeline for when it might do so. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, outlined the Trump administration’s priorities for “next-generation arms control” with Russia and China in an April 6 paper.

Ford, who is currently serving the functions of undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that the next stage of arms control must continue to control Russia’s deployed strategic weapons currently limited by New START and address new Russian strategic delivery systems and Russia’s large and growing arsenal of nonstrategic weapons. Ford also said that a future agreement must “rein in” China’s “destabilizing nuclear buildup.”

Ford did not explain how the administration plans to convince Russia to limit additional types of nuclear weapons, convince China to participate in arms control for the first time, or describe what the United States would be prepared to include in a new agreement.

China is strongly opposed to multilateral arms control talks and has yet to respond to a December 2019 U.S. offer for a bilateral dialogue on strategic security.

Ford also did not address the future of New START, which will expire in February 2021 unless Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years.

New START limits U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads on 700 missiles and heavy bombers. Under the treaty, the United States and Russia exchange data every six months on the exact number of limited warheads and delivery systems.

The latest data exchange, current as of March 1 and publicly released April 1, demonstrates that the treaty is working, as Moscow and Washington fall at or under the imposed limits. As of March 1, the United States deployed 1,372 warheads on 655 missiles and heavy bombers. Russia deployed 1,326 warheads on 485 delivery systems.

The treaty also allows the United States and Russia to conduct on-site inspections. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both countries agreed in late March to suspend inspections until May 1. The suspension has been extended until June 1, a congressional source told Arms Control Today. The next meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the implementing body of the treaty, has been postponed until this fall. (See ACT, April 2020.)

April marked 10 years since the signing of New START by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on April 8 on the anniversary, urging the United States to issue “a speedy response in the affirmative” to Moscow’s offer to unconditionally extend the treaty.

“We are convinced that this would meet the interests of both Russia and the United States, as well as those of the entire international community, guarantee predictability in the nuclear weapons sphere, and help maintain strategic stability,” the ministry wrote.

But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated in an April 17 call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “that any future arms control talks must be based on President Trump’s vision for a trilateral arms control agreement that includes both Russia and China.”

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan commented on April 22 that the administration was still reviewing a possible extension of New START. “There will be movement and discussion soon that will illuminate this issue more for all of us,” he added.

Citing the Trump administration’s continued indecision on the future of the treaty, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov said on April 16 that “all the signs” indicate the United States “is on the threshold of making a decision not to extend this document.”

Trump and Putin held a call on April 12, during which they discussed “current issues of ensuring strategic security,” according to a statement from the Kremlin. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later clarified that New START was a point of discussion.

Although the United States and Russia remain at odds over the future of New START, the countries could soon resume their dialogue on strategic security, with a specific focus on space security. The last round of the U.S.-Russian strategic security dialogue took place Jan. 16 in Vienna. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Ryabkov said on April 11 that the two sides had agreed to establish a working group to discuss space issues. Additional details, such as a time and date for the discussion, have not been publicly shared.

“The Russian side has handed in its proposals on the essence of this work to the U.S. side and now expects the response,” he said.

The selection of Marshall Billingslea as special presidential envoy for arms control has drawn criticism from arms control proponents.

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