"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Arms Control Today

Banning the Bomb: Smashing the Patriarchy and The Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons: How It Was Achieved and Why It Matters

November 2021

Reviving Hopes for Nuclear Disarmament

Banning the Bomb: Smashing the Patriarchy
By Ray Acheson
(Rowman & Littlefield, 2021)
438 pages

The Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons: How It Was Achieved and Why It Matters
By Alexander Kmentt
(Routledge, 2021)
272 Pages

Reviewed by Rebecca Davis Gibbons


As a former denizen of Washington working in the nuclear weapons space, I know how it can seem as though the only important conversations about nuclear weapons are happening in the U.S. capital, or Omaha, or Brussels, or in capitals of the other nuclear-armed states. Yet, two recent books on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), often called the nuclear ban treaty, demonstrate that activists around the world and diplomats from non-nuclear-weapon states have also been engaging in serious discussions about the future of these weapons. Both books make clear why so many diplomats and activists came together in 2017 to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons despite significant criticism from nuclear-armed states and their allies. Understanding their arguments matters for the future of nuclear deterrence and U.S. alliance relationships, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and global governance of nuclear weapons more broadly.

In Ray Acheson’s Banning the Bomb: Smashing the Patriarchy and Alexander Kmentt’s The Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons: How It Was Achieved and Why It Matters, readers are offered two recent histories of the movement to change the discourse surrounding nuclear weapons and bring about the TPNW. The books offer unique but complementary views from two actors involved in the process. As the director of Reaching Critical Will and a member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) steering committee, Acheson offers the insights of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) participant. Kmentt, a career diplomat who is the director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, provides the perspective of someone operating within the core group of states leading the effort. The books are rich, behind-the-scenes accounts that reveal key details of the process of trying to ban nuclear weapons. Both would be enjoyable for general audiences interested in nuclear issues. More importantly, they should be read by those in the nuclear policy space, whether they support the ban treaty or not, because the arguments behind the movement have become part of the global conversation on the future of nuclear weapons and they are not going away.

Each book provides an account of the development of the humanitarian initiative, an effort to bring humanitarian considerations into global discourse about nuclear weapons, and the TPNW. The recent origin of these efforts lies in concern over the future of the 1968 NPT. In addition to prohibiting all but five countries from having nuclear weapons, NPT Article VI calls for all treaty members to pursue effective measures toward complete disarmament. Many non-nuclear-weapon states that signed the treaty never expected the five treaty members possessing nuclear weapons (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to
retain them permanently.

Both authors point to deep dissatisfaction and impatience over the perceived lack of progress on nuclear disarmament after several disappointments in the past two decades. Kmentt highlights the 13 “practical steps” to which all NPT members agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Included in these steps were promises related to further disarmament progress, but consensus on these steps did not survive U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration.

Furthermore, the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN body for arms control and disarmament negotiations, has remained paralyzed since 1996, unable to make progress on any new agreements. Kmentt writes, “By 2008, the state of health of multilateralism in the field of nuclear disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation was bleak.” In this period, some diplomats with experience working on the anti-personnel landmine and cluster munitions ban treaties began to consider ways to bring the humanitarian framing that had been so important to the development of those conventions into the nuclear weapons arena.

In early 2009, President Barack Obama’s “Prague Agenda” renewed hope for greater change and helped bring about a consensus document at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. This time, NPT members developed a 64-item action plan for disarmament progress.

Once again, the lack of follow-through on the promises made in that 2010 NPT action plan disappointed those seeking greater progress on nuclear disarmament. That perceived failure, when added to Obama’s multibillion-dollar nuclear modernization plan, resulted in several diplomats and activists deciding to chart a new path outside of the NPT context. As Kmentt recalls, “The loss of impetus to Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons helped galvanize the disarmament-minded states and civil society towards a different type of process and a goal they could achieve without, if necessary, the involvement of the nuclear-armed states.”

Norway played a significant role in pushing this initiative forward by providing funding to anti-nuclear civil society groups in the early 2010s, in what Kmentt calls the “operational launch” of the humanitarian initiative. These organizations would focus on reframing the discourse around nuclear weapons to emphasize the devastating humanitarian effects of these weapons’ use. In April 2012, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, now the prime minister, announced that his government would host a conference on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons in March 2013.

Delegations from 127 states attended the conference in Oslo. It was followed by similar conferences in Nayarit, Mexico, and Vienna in 2014, with more states attending each time. These conferences presented diplomats from all over the world, especially those from the younger generations, with a better understanding of the effects of nuclear weapons use on human bodies, communities, and the environment. The three conferences ultimately created momentum for an open-ended working group on disarmament in 2016 and treaty negotiations in 2017, both sponsored by the United Nations.

The treaty, adopted in July 2017, bans all activities related to nuclear weapons including manufacturing, testing, transferring, stationing, using, and receiving nuclear weapons and assisting in their creation or threatening their use. No one negotiating the treaty anticipated it would quickly eliminate nuclear weapons; the aim is to create a strong normative opposition to these armaments as part of a long-term plan for their abolition. Acheson explains, “The renewed focus on the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons constituted a deliberate effort to devalue, delegitimize, and stigmatize nuclear weapons.” With 50 ratifications, the TPNW entered into force in January 2021; the first meeting of states-parties is scheduled for March 2022 in Vienna.

The two books differ in their framing of the history. Acheson in chapter 1 provides several different theoretical lenses, or “ideologies,” through which to view nuclear weapons and nuclear governance, including political economy, the social meaning of nuclear bombs, patriarchy, colonialism, and racism. In subsequent chapters, Acheson refers back to these perspectives to explain and evaluate the process of banning nuclear weapons and to illustrate why the effort is embraced by some and resisted by others. Kmentt does not employ theory to the same extent, but repeatedly returns to the concept of human security, a people-centric form of security in which individual needs are met and communities remain secure. The chapter in which Kmentt provides detailed refutations of common criticisms of the TPNW should not be missed.

Of the several themes throughout both books, three in particular stand out as being of interest to the broader nuclear community. Both argue for broadening the participation and content of nuclear discourse. Traditionally, policy discussions are limited to experts within the nuclear-weapon states with strong emphasis on nuclear deterrence, extended nuclear deterrence, strategic stability, escalation, and credibility. Underlying the humanitarian initiative is the argument that all states and all people should have a say in what happens with the world’s nuclear weapons because all states could be affected by nuclear blasts. Not only would a nuclear weapon detonated in a populated area have devastating humanitarian consequences for the population immediately affected (“To tissue. To hearts. To brains. To limbs. Skin. Eyeballs,” Acheson writes), but other nearby states could be overwhelmed by spreading radiation, terrified people fleeing across borders, and serious damage to agriculture, infrastructure, and economic systems. If several bombs were detonated, the destruction would multiply.

Because the effects of nuclear explosions do not respect sovereign borders, hypothetically all states could face horrifying ramifications from their use, and thus all states should have the right to have a say in the world’s nuclear future. Talking about nuclear weapons in terms of the humanitarian consequences expands the traditional discourse about these armaments and clarifies the reality of what they can do. Those in favor of possessing nuclear weapons argue that these effects are exactly why nuclear deterrence works, but many of those who understand the devastating consequences of these weapons’ use find it difficult to imagine that their potential use is credible.

Proponents of the humanitarian initiative not only considered the destructive consequences of nuclear weapons use, but the risk of use, whether accidental or intentional. They explored nuclear accidents and close calls. With all of this information, the initiative makes the argument that all of us should be concerned about nuclear weapons, all of us should have a say in their continued existence, and all of us should work toward abolition.

A second theme in both narratives is the perceived missteps by the United States and the rest of the NPT’s nuclear-weapon states as they tried to oppose the humanitarian initiative and the TPNW. Both authors repeatedly emphasized that the actions and rhetoric of the nuclear-weapon states reinforced the disarmament movement’s motivation to seek the nuclear ban. Perhaps the best example occurred in the lead-up to the 2013 Oslo conference on the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons. The nuclear-weapon states boycotted the conference, hosted by Norway, a NATO ally. All five NPT nuclear-weapon states issued a joint statement explaining that they thought the meeting would distract from their approach to disarmament. Given the failure of the 13 steps after the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the slow progress on the 2010 action plan, and almost 25 years without meaningful progress in the CD, it is not difficult to see why many individuals in the disarmament movement were skeptical of the approach favored by the nuclear-weapon states.

Anti-nuclear activists representing the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and other peace groups protest with the flags of 51 countries that ratified the UN Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons and a banner reading “Nuclear weapons are forbidden! More than 50 states joined. Germany didn't” in Berlin on January 22, 2021. (Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images)A final theme of the two books is the increased role of NGOs and intergovernmental organizations in global nuclear governance over the past decade. Although this is not a new concept in global politics, the level of participation was unique in the nuclear sphere. ICAN served as the umbrella organization for many anti-nuclear groups around the world and participated in the humanitarian conferences, open-ended working groups in 2013 and 2016, and the treaty negotiations. The International Committee of the Red Cross also played an important role in applying international humanitarian law to the discussions of nuclear use and in the negotiations.

Acheson and Kmentt highlight the symbiotic relationship between states and nonstate actors. For example, Norway provided funding for NGOs that would bring intellectual capital, organizational capabilities, and previous experience on humanitarian treaties to bear in aiding states and pushing them toward the ban treaty. ICAN lobbied states to participate in these conferences and working groups and held regional meetings to bring states on board that do not usually pay much attention to nuclear policy.

Although government officials and nonstate actors cooperated to bring about TPNW negotiations, in the end it was states that had the final say in the treaty text. ICAN was disappointed that some of its recommendations were not included in the final document. Nonetheless, the umbrella group was a significant political force in bringing about the ban treaty negotiations and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this effort in 2017.

After all this, what does the TPNW mean for the NPT and global governance? The fact that the TPNW came to fruition is an indictment of the NPT’s inability to foster progress on disarmament. In other words, states pursued the ban treaty in part because the NPT forum lost legitimacy after the nuclear-weapon states reneged on several disarmament commitments and pursued modernization programs to maintain and expand their arsenals for decades to come.

Maintaining the NPT and the strong nonproliferation norm it enshrines is undoubtedly in the interest of the United States and the rest of the international community. A key question for the NPT nuclear-weapon states is whether the treaty can survive in perpetuity with this loss of legitimacy. Can it continue for another 50 years when the most lethal armaments remain in the exclusive control of a select few powerful states while so many others clamor for disarmament?

Rebecca Davis Gibbons is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine. She previously served as a fellow and associate of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Her book The Hegemon’s Tool Kit: US Leadership and the Politics of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime will be published in spring 2022.


Two books explore the movement to change the discourse about nuclear weapons and bring the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons to fruition.

The Power of Women Strike for Peace

November 2021
By Kathy Crandall Robinson

On November 1, 1961, an estimated 50,000 women in 60 U.S. cities answered a call to join a one-day strike with the rallying slogan “End the Arms Race—Not the Human Race.”1 Astonishing observers and participants with its success, the strike sparked momentum that could not be contained in a single event. Women Strike for Peace (WSP) was launched, drawing even more women into a whirlwind of action to address the threat of nuclear war and stop atmospheric nuclear tests and the attendant radioactive fallout.

Dagmar Wilson and Coretta Scott King lead a march at the United Nations in New York on November 1, 1963, the second anniversary of Women Strike for Peace, and celebrate the Limited Test Ban Treaty. (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)After less than two years of prodigious activity, the WSP shared a significant victory when the Limited Test Ban Treaty, banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere and outer space and under water, entered into force on October 11, 1963. President John Kennedy’s science adviser, Jerome Weisner, later gave specific credit for persuading Kennedy to support the treaty “not to the arms controllers inside government” but to the WSP, along with the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and Linus Pauling.2

The initial call for the strike went out after a small September 22 meeting convened by Dagmar Wilson at her Washington home. Wilson and the strike organizers were alarmed by escalating nuclear dangers and dismayed by the lack of urgent response from primarily male leaders in government and peace organizations.3 They sent the strike call via informal networks using phone trees and chain letters. This impressive low-tech organizing in less than six weeks—imagine if these women had cell phones, email, and social media—reached a receptive audience ready to act.

As Ethel Taylor, who organized the Philadelphia strike, explained,

When I received the letter from Dagmar asking me to organize a strike for peace in the Philadelphia area, I immediately went into action. Her view that radioactive fallout was an emergency, not merely an issue, expressed my feelings exactly. I called a meeting at my home and invited women.… I told them what I knew of Dagmar’s motivation for calling the strike: simply put, nuclear weapons testing was dangerous to our children’s health, and could only escalate the arms race.4

Many women and more than a few men were similarly alarmed and motivated. The moment was ripe for several reasons. The danger of nuclear war felt imminent. Throughout the 1950s, bomb shelters were built, and children routinely practiced “duck and cover” drills in school. Although some people may have been falsely reassured that these activities would protect them, everyone, including young children, knew that nuclear war was a real threat.

In the weeks before the organizers planned the strike, the nuclear threat grew. On August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall went up along with U.S. and Soviet tensions. In August and September, the Soviet Union, followed by the United States, broke the testing moratorium that had been in place for almost three years. Over the next 16 months, the two countries conducted more nuclear tests than in the 16 preceding years, causing a spike in global radiation levels. On October 30, 1961, the Soviet Union conducted “Tsar Bomba,” the largest ever nuclear weapons test, with a yield of 50 megatons.5

On October 30, 1961, the Soviet Union conducted “Tsar Bomba,” the largest ever nuclear weapons test, with a yield of 50 megatons. Today, the weapon sits in a museum. (Photo by TASS via Getty Images)Along with driving the arms race, atmospheric nuclear testing produced radioactive fallout, a known and alarming public health concern. In fact, some parents were so concerned that they sent their children’s baby teeth to be checked for harmful levels of strontium-90.6

The women who launched the WSP wanted more urgent action in response to this perilous situation. Kennedy had come into office promising an end to nuclear testing and spoke of challenging the Soviet Union to a “peace race,”7 yet he deployed more nuclear weapons, increased Pentagon spending, and resumed nuclear tests.8

Many of the women strikers were involved in key peace organizations, particularly SANE. They felt hamstrung by SANE’s hierarchal structure and by male leaders who the women perceived as “less agitated, more deliberate, and more slowly moved to action.”9 Also, SANE and other peace organizations, including Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), had been targeted by anti-communist red-baiters. This did serious damage to the organizations’ reputations, hindering their effectiveness. It was another frustration for the WSP leaders who felt compelled to leave or distance themselves from SANE and the WILPF.10

WSP leaders took deliberate steps to avoid similar red-baiting. Following the strike, they formed a “non-organization” network that had no membership dues or information that could be collected by entities such as the House Un-American Activities Committee. Also, in 1962, the WSP adopted an intentionally inclusive national policy statement decreeing that “we are women of all races creeds and political persuasions.”11

Wilson summed up the feelings driving the women to act when she wrote, “We were worried. We were indignant. We were Angry.”12 They channeled that emotional commitment into relentless bold action. This included picketing, marching, and various creative demonstrations. For example, one group rented a fallout shelter, parked it in shopping center, and converted it into a “Peace Center” from which the activists distributed educational materials and called attention to the false security promised by fallout shelters.13

There were also persistent lobby activities, or as Amy Swerdlow, WSP member and historian, described, “an uninterrupted stream of visits to congressional representatives, to public officials…and to government agencies.”14 The activism extended internationally; a delegation of 50 women went to Geneva in 1962 to make the case for a test ban at the 17-nation Committee on Disarmament.15

The harmful effects of atmospheric nuclear fallout were a particular focus of education and action with “Pure Milk Not Poison” a commonly used slogan. Concerns about milk contamination included calls for boycotts of fresh milk and instructions on how to use powdered milk as a substitute. One campaign recommended that people threaten to cancel home milk deliveries if efforts to decontaminate milk were not undertaken.16

In 1961 the strikers were predominately white, middle-class women of the early Cold War era.17 They embraced traditional motherhood activities and self-identified as “ordinary housewives.” They wore skirts, hats, and white gloves to demonstrations and brought along their children. In 1962, The New York Times reported that, “[f]or the most part, they stress femininity rather than feminism.”18 In part, this feminine, maternal image helped the women garner media coverage and enabled them to push for radical change while clothed according to the expected norms of society. Although these women started out at the nadir of feminist consciousness, they became part of the rising tide of feminism’s second wave. They were empowered by working together and by the effectiveness of their actions.

Women Strike for Peace gained clout and self-confidence when activists testified at a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee on December 11, 1962.  (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)In December 1962, 14 WSP leaders were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee for hearings that marked the group’s transformative moment. In a masterful theatrical display, numerous WSP activists showed up with children in tow. They cheered the witnesses and handed them roses. The first witness, Blanche Posner, lectured the committee on the women’s maternal motivation, stating, “This movement was inspired and motivated by mothers’ love for children.… When they were putting their breakfast on the table, they saw not only the Wheaties and milk, but they also saw strontium 90 and iodine 131.… They feared for the health and life of their children.”19 The WSP effectively rebutted the committee’s charges, making the congressional accusers look foolish while empowering the women and strengthening the WSP.20

Throughout the 1960s, the WSP evolved with the times, participated in growing movements, and expanded to be what today would be called more intersectional. Key leaders joined and led the “women’s liberation,” or second wave of feminism, movement. Most prominent was Bella Abzug, the WSP national legislative leader who won a seat in Congress in 1970 and was a key voice for women’s rights and political empowerment. Coretta Scott King was also a WSP participant and was in the delegation that traveled to Geneva in 1962.

Following the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Vietnam War became the WSP’s major concern. Initiatives such as the Jeannette Rankin Peace Brigade later in the decade brought together activist strands advocating for women’s liberation, anti-racism, anti-poverty, and anti-war policies. Eventually, the WSP embraced a broader peace and human rights agenda, although for key leaders in the group, ending all nuclear testing and the nuclear arms race remained core goals.

In 1988, at a press conference marking the 25th anniversary of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, I was inspired to hear Taylor talk about her experience with the WSP and the effort to secure what she called the unfinished business of a comprehensive test ban treaty. I wondered why, even as a student of U.S.-Soviet relations and arms control, I had never heard anything about mothers who had sent their children’s teeth to be checked for strontium-90 or this huge women’s strike in 1961.

The WSP played a significant role in advocating for nuclear disarmament and in pushing forward the second wave of feminism. Sadly, this story is not told often among peace activists, feminists, or anyone else. It is a history that provides needed inspiration and proof that bold, unrelenting activism can accomplish remarkable change.

Grassroots movements ebb and flow. In recent decades, disarmament progress has continued but mostly at a slower and less momentous pace. Passionate activism has decreased, and nuclear disarmament advocacy has become more the bailiwick of a professional niche community. In the process, too much of the WSP-style sense of urgency has been lost.

Even in today’s very different environment, when atmospheric testing has ended and the threat of nuclear weapons use is not quite as imminent, we could learn from the WSP and recognize that nuclear weapons dangers are not just issues to be discussed, but emergencies that require action.

In the early 1960s, there was little question that nuclear weapons posed an existential threat. When Silent Spring was published in 1962, the harmful effects of nuclear weapons fallout described in the book were well known, although environmental harms from pesticides and other toxins were not yet understood.21 Ironically, people are now keenly aware of the harm done by environmental contaminants and climate change, but are oblivious to the health and environmental damage caused by nuclear weapons production and underground testing and to the fact that nuclear weapons use could wipe out humanity in an afternoon. To revive an old slogan, it is still true that nuclear weapons are bad for children and other living things. Those of us who know this reality should say so more clearly.

We could also take a few lessons from the first years of the WSP. That means devising a strategy with an understanding of the zeitgeist—what issues and events will get media coverage, where to find intersections on key concerns with various partners, how to build political power. There also needs to be coordinated, focused, and dogged action. Ending atmospheric nuclear testing was not the only thing women strikers wanted, but ending testing was their single most urgent goal, and it was clearly understood by most Americans.

Following the first strike, it was evident that the media and policy leaders were paying attention. By the time the bullies on the House Un-American Activities Committee came for the WSP, the women had built power and were executing their game plan. They could not be derailed as other peace organizations had been. They confidently pushed forward for the human race. Now it is our turn to pick up the pace and finish what they started.



1. Amy Swerdlow, Women Strike for Peace: Traditional Motherhood and Radical Politics in the 1960s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 247. Swerdlow, a historian and Women Strike for Peace (WSP) member who wrote its comprehensive history, notes that this number “became part of the founding legend” of the WSP based on estimates of organizers that she could not independently verify.

2. Andrew Hamilton, “MIT: March 4 Revisited Amid Political Turmoil,” Science, March 13, 1970, p. 1476.

3. Swerdlow, Women Strike for Peace, pp. 16–21, 47–48.

4. Ethel Barol Taylor, We Made a Difference (Philadelphia: Camino Books, 1998), p. 1.

5. Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, “30 October 1961 − The Tsar Bomba,” n.d., https://www.ctbto.org/specials/testing-times/30-october-1961-the-tsar-bomba (accessed October 14, 2021); Arms Control Association, “Nuclear Testing and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) Timeline,” July 2020, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/NuclearTestingTimeline.

6. Jeffrey Tomich, “Decades Later, Baby Tooth Survey Legacy Lives On,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2013, https://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/health/decades-later-baby-tooth-survey-legacy-lives-on/article_c5ad9492-fd75-5aed-897f-850fbdba24ee.htm.

7. John Kennedy, “Address Before the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 25, 1961,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, n.d., https://www.jfklibrary.org/archives/other-resources/john-f-kennedy-speeches/united-nations-19610925 (accessed October 14, 2021).

8. “Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, n.d., https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/jfk-in-history/nuclear-test-ban-treaty (accessed October 14, 2021); John Kennedy, “Special Message to the Congress on the Defense Budget, March 28, 1961,” The American Presidency Project, n.d., https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/236195 (accessed October 14, 2021).

9. Swerdlow, Women Strike for Peace, p. 48.

10. Ibid., pp. 45–47; Taylor, We Made a Difference, pp. 5–7 (recounting frustrations with the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy in their dealing with anti-communist witch hunts and how this shaped the WSP development); Harriet Hyman Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1993), pp. 157–192, 202 (addressing the struggles of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and noting how the WSP was in part “born directly out of the discontent with WILPF’s hierarchical structure and anti-Communist stance”).

11. Taylor, We Made a Difference, p. 7.

12. Ibid., p. 9.

13. Ibid., pp. 12–13.

14. Swerdlow, Women Strike for Peace, p. 81.

15. Ibid., pp. 192–198.

16. Ibid., pp. 81–84.

17. Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War, 4th ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2017) (describing the context of the Cold War in the 1960s).

18. Jean Molli, “Women’s Peace Group Uses Feminine Tactics,” The New York Times, April 19, 1962, p. 26.

19. Communist Activities in the Peace Movement (Women Strike for Peace and Certain Other Groups): Hearings Before the United States House Committee on Un-American Activities, 87th Cong. 2074 (1962) (testimony of Blanche Posner).

20. Swerdlow, Women Strike for Peace, pp. 97–124; Taylor, We Made a Difference, pp. 19–21.

21. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: First Mariner Books, 2002), pp. 6, 234. See also Mark Stoll, “Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a Book That Changed the World,” Environment and Society Portal, July 8, 2020, https://www.environmentandsociety.org/sites/default/files/rachelcarson_silentspring_version2_1.pdf.


Kathy Crandall Robinson is the chief operating officer at the Arms Control Association. For decades, she has advocated for nuclear disarmament and related policies, working with a variety of organizations, including Women's Action for New Directions, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, and Women Strike for Peace.


Time to take a page from the women who, in the 1960s, put a spotlight on disarmament and helped force action on the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

U.S. Hypersonic Capabilities Advance

November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The Pentagon continued to move forward this fall with the development and initial deployment of hypersonic capabilities as part of its race to keep pace with China and Russia. At the same time, high-ranking U.S. officials raised questions about the rationale for and affordability of these programs.

Soldiers of 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade took delivery of the first prototype Dark Eagle hypersonic missiles, also known as the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon system, on Oct. 7 with a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (Photo by U.S. Army)“The target set that we would want to address, and why hypersonics are the most cost-effective weapons for the U.S., I think it’s still, to me, somewhat of a question mark,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said on Sept. 21, adding that he is reassessing the department’s hypersonic plans.

Gen. Mark Kelley, commander of Air Combat Command, concurred with Kendall a few days later, telling reporters that “[w]e do need to make sure we have an unambiguous, well-understood [concept of operations for hypersonic weapons] as
we go forward.”

Meanwhile, Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, lodged concerns about the price of the weapons, saying on Oct. 12 that “we need to figure out how to drive towards more affordable hypersonics.”

But Mark Lewis, former acting deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, took issue with the scrutiny of the program, telling Breaking Defense on Sept. 24 that he is “puzzled that the Air Force might be pulling back because we had done extensive studies and extensive analysis that demonstrated quite clearly the effectiveness of these systems.”

These remarks came after two failed tests earlier this year of the Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle. (See ACT, September 2021.) In late September, the Pentagon successfully tested an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile, called the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), and completed deployment of prototype equipment for a ground-launched hypersonic glide vehicle.

All of the primary objectives for HAWC’s free-flight test—“vehicle integration and release sequence, safe separation from the launch aircraft, booster ignition and boost, booster separation and engine ignition, and cruise”—were met, according to a Sept. 27 statement by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The agency conducted the successful test with support from the Air Force.

“The HAWC free-flight test was a successful demonstration of the capabilities that will make hypersonic cruise missiles a highly effective tool for our war-fighters,” said Andrew Knoedler, HAWC program manager in the DARPA Tactical Technology Office. “This brings us one step closer to transitioning HAWC to a program of record that offers next-generation capability to the U.S. military.”

DARPA announced in September 2020 that it had completed two captive-carry tests of two HAWC variants, but “dumb mistakes” and “basic errors” prevented the free-flight test of one of those missiles last December, according to an Air Force Magazine report.

The Army also made recent progress by completing delivery of prototype hardware for its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system, also known as Dark Eagle, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

“Delivery of the hardware began in March 2021 and finished at the end of September 2021,” the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office said in an Oct. 7 press release. The delivery did not include missiles but rather “a battery operations center, four transporter erector launchers, and modified trucks and trailers that make up the LRHW ground equipment.” The Army plans to field an operational first battery, which would include missiles, in fiscal year 2023.

“Today marks an important milestone in equipping our nation’s first hypersonic battery,” said Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, who oversees the critical technologies office, in the press release. “Now, soldiers can begin training.” The training began the week of Oct. 18, and the Army unit will be involved in a series of upcoming flight tests, he added on Oct. 11.

The LRHW system features the common hypersonic glide body, which is shared with the Navy for its sea-launched hypersonic weapons capability, called the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) system, that is scheduled to achieve an initial operating capability in fiscal year 2025. The two services jointly tested the system in March 2020. (See ACT, April 2020.)

In October, the Pentagon also conducted three successful tests of “advanced hypersonic technologies, capabilities, and prototype systems” related to the LRHW and CPS programs in Virginia and an additional failed hypersonic weapons test as part of “a data collection experiment” in Alaska, Reuters reported.

The Pentagon has prioritized the rapid deployment of hypersonic weapons in part to compete with similar Chinese and Russian capabilities.

Moscow fielded the Avangard, a hypersonic glide vehicle, in 2019. Beijing displayed a ballistic missile designed to carry a hypersonic glide vehicle, the DF-17, during its 2019 military parade. In the summer of 2021, China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle, apparently carried on a rocket, that flew through low-orbit space and circled the globe, according to U.S. intelligence sources.

“From the perspective of proliferation, the Chinese and the Russians both have invested significant amounts and made significant progress” with respect to hypersonic weapons, said Brig. Gen. John M. Olson, the Air Force’s acting chief technology and innovation officer, on Sept. 28. “As a nation, [the United States has] taken a substantive early lead and turned that into a national effort to get…caught up and drive forward across the industrial base and the services.”


The Pentagon continued to move forward with the development and initial deployment of hypersonic capabilities as part of its race to keep pace with China and Russia.

China Tested Hypersonic Capability, U.S. Says

November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

China has tested 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, U.S. intelligence sources told the Financial Times.

The DF-17 Dongfeng medium-range ballistic missile, pictured in a military parade in 2019, may be China's most well-known hypersonic system, although it is not believed to be the one involved in the July 27 test. (Photo by Zoya Rusinova\TASS via Getty Images)Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to comment on the Oct. 16 report about the July 27 test. “What I can tell you is that we watch closely China’s development of armaments and advanced capabilities and systems that will only increase tensions in the region,” he told reporters on Oct. 18. “China is a challenge, and we’re going to remain focused on that.”

On the same day, State Department spokesperson Ned Price emphasized the need for “pursuing practical measures with [Beijing] to reduce nuclear risk.”

“We have reached out” to China, he told reporters. “We have made very clear our interest in engaging with [Beijing], as responsible countries would and do, in the context of these powerful weapons and weapons systems.”

Russia, meanwhile, dismissed any concern over the report. “We have allied and partner relationships with China,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Oct. 19. “China is developing its armed forces and weapon systems without going beyond the scope of any international commitments.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the claim it tested a new weapon. “This was a routine test of space vehicle to verify technology of spacecraft’s reusability,” said spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Oct. 18.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in September seemed to hint at China’s development of a system like the one reported by the Financial Times. He said Beijing is developing capabilities that may allow for “the potential for global strikes, strikes from space.” Kendall specifically referenced the concept of the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS), which was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and was operationally deployed in the 1970s to bring a missile into Earth’s low orbit. Such a trajectory would allow the missile system to come from the south via Antarctica and evade the Arctic, where U.S. early-warning radar detection is concentrated.

But following news of the July test, Kendall attempted to clarify his remarks. “People have been interpreting my remarks as telegraphing something…[but] the point I was trying to make, I think, was there are a lot of things that are in the realms of feasibility, and…we need to worry about that,” he said on Oct. 18.

Michael Griffin, former undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, described the test as “a really big deal.”

“I’m not one to mince words—it is an arms race,” Griffin told NPR on Oct. 20, “and critically, we didn't start it.”

Some experts suggest that the impetus for Beijing’s possible development of this system can be tied partly to its concerns about U.S. missile defenses. “This is almost certainly, on a technical and strategic level at least, motivated by concerns about a potential breakthrough in U.S. missile defense capabilities,” tweeted Ankit Panda, the Stanton Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on Oct. 18.

The Financial Times, citing two sources, reported on Oct. 20 that Beijing conducted a second test of a hypersonic system on Aug. 13, but there were no additional details.

The alleged tests come after recent revelations that China has constructed at least 250 new missile silos at as many as three locations across China, which fueled concerns of a rapid nuclear build-up in the third-largest nuclear-weapon state. (See ACT, September 2021.)

“It almost seems like we can’t go through a month without some new revelation coming about China,” said Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, on Oct. 18. “I am not surprised at reports like this. I won’t be surprised when another report comes next month.”

China has tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle, U.S. intelligence sources told the
Financial Times.

North Korea Claims to Test Hypersonic Missile

November 2021
By Julia Masterson

North Korea claims to have conducted its first test of a new hypersonic missile, an achievement of “great strategic significance,” according to state media. The Hwasong-8 missile is presumed to be capable of carrying a nuclear or conventional warhead.

North Korea claimed the successful launch on Sept. 28 of a Hwasong-8 ballistic missile with a detached hypersonic glide vehicle. (Photo by KCNA/North Korean state media)Following the Sept. 28 test, North Korean state media said that development of the hypersonic missile was “one of 5 top-priority tasks facing the strategic weapon sector” and released a photograph of the launch, which showed a vehicle resembling the shape of a hypersonic glide vehicle on top of a shortened version of an intermediate-range ballistic missile. Glide vehicles are a new type of hypersonic weapon, which can fly at least five times the speed of sound and are distinguished from traditional ballistic missiles by their ability to maneuver and operate at lower altitudes.

North Korea claimed that “the test results proved that all the technical specifications met the design requirements.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un first alluded to the new hypersonic weapon in January 2021 during the 8th Party Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea. A “hypersonic gliding warhead” featured on a longer wish list of strategic weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons, a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and a military reconnaissance satellite.

Because of their increased speed and greater maneuverability, hypersonic missiles are well equipped to evade ballistic missile defenses. In their analysis of the launch, South Korean military officials assessed that North Korea’s hypersonic missile appears to be in the early stages of development and is unlikely to be fielded in the near future. But once operational and deployed, a North Korean hypersonic missile, especially one paired with a nuclear warhead, could pose significant strategic risks to the region.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that U.S.-South Korean joint military assets remain capable of detecting and intercepting North Korean missiles.

The U.S. intelligence community is still completing its analysis of the launch, but Gen. Glen Vanherck, commander of U.S. Northern Command, said on Sept. 30 that “right now, it would be my assessment that the homeland would be safe and secure from a hypersonic capability as North Korea claims they have tested.”

The Hwasong-8 contains a fuel ampoule, a technology that allows for liquid-fueled missiles to be filled during production and stored in airtight canisters, thus rendering them launch ready. Missile experts have described North Korea’s adaptation of a fuel ampoule as a “big step” and a “significant milestone.” According to a statement released Sept. 28 by KCNA, Pyongyang’s state media, all North Korean missile fuel systems will be transitioned to ampoule use.

The Sept. 28 launch marked North Korea’s third missile test of the month. North Korea also tested new cruise missiles and ballistic missile delivery system in September. (See ACT, October 2021.)

During a meeting of defense officials on Oct. 11, Kim displayed a cache of ICBMs while condemning the United States and South Korea for causing tension in the region. Kim pledged to continue developing advanced strategic weapons systems as outlined during the January 2021 party congress, but insisted they would all be self-defensive in nature.

Pyongyang’s first hypersonic test also came in the wake of a speech by Kim Song, North Korean permanent representative to the United Nations, on Sept. 27 before the UN General Assembly.

“Our state is a growing reliable deterrent that can control the hostile forces in their attempts for military invasion,” he said. But he was careful to note that Pyongyang “would never violate nor endanger the security” of the United States and South Korea and North Korea’s other neighbors.


North Korea claims to have conducted its first test of a new hypersonic missile, an achievement of “great strategic significance,” according to state media.

North Korea Signals Interest in Talks

November 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

Recent statements by North Korea suggest that Pyongyang may be interested in restarting peace talks with South Korea despite a recent spate of missile tests.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim (L) speaks to reporters outside of the State Department in Washington on October 18 as his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk (R), looks on. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)In a Sept. 24 statement, Kim Yo Jong, vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, said that both North and South Korea want to recover “inter-Korean relations from a deadlock” and to achieve “peaceful stability as soon as possible.”

Kim, who is the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said that if both sides show respect, “several issues for improving relations,” such as reestablishing the joint North-South liaison office, holding another summit, and declaring an end to the 1950–1953 Korean War, can “see meaningful and successful solution.”

Following Kim Yo Jong’s comments, North Korea on Oct. 5 restored its hotlines and other communications with South Korea. North and South Korea resumed using the hotlines in August after a hiatus, but Pyongyang cut off communications again shortly afterward. (See ACT, September 2021.)

Kim Jong Un said on Sept. 29 that resuming communication with South Korea is part of the effort to rehabilitate inter-Korean relations and pursue “lasting peace” on the Korean peninsula. He said Pyongyang has “no purpose or reason to provoke South Korea” and encouraged Seoul to “get out of the wild dream that it must deter North Korea’s provocations.”

In an Oct. 4 statement, the South Korean Unification Ministry said that restoring the lines of communication with North Korea provides a “foundation for recovering inter-Korean relations” and expressed hope that the two countries will “swiftly resume dialogue.”

Pursing a formal end-of-war declaration seems a particular focus for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who will leave office next year. In his Sept. 21 speech to the UN General Assembly, Moon said he believed that ending the Korean War could lead to “irreversible progress in denuclearization and usher in an era of complete peace.”

In a Sept. 24 statement on state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korean Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Ri Thae Song said that such a declaration would be “premature” and that there is no indication that ending the war would “lead to the withdrawal of the hostile policy” toward North Korea. But Kim Jo Yong’s comments suggest that an end-of-war declaration may still be an option.

Meanwhile, Robert Carlin, a visiting scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and a former senior policy adviser to the special U.S. envoy for talks with North Korea, observed that North Korea may be shifting the terminology it uses for describing military dynamics on the peninsula. In an Oct. 5 commentary for 38 North, Carlin said that recent statements from North Korea “reintroduced the concept of ‘balance’ and eased off references to ‘deterrence’ in its discussions of military power.”

He said that an early, partial manifestation of this new policy “seems reflected in [North Korea’s] recent, positive stance (and actions) on inter-Korean dialogue.” He also noted that a similar shift in terminology from deterrence to balancing power occurred in 2017. At that time, North Korea was accelerating missile development while signaling it was open to diplomacy with South Korea.

The United States welcomed the restoration of North-South communications. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in an Oct. 4 press briefing that the United States supports “inter-Korean dialogue and engagement as well as cooperation.” The United States will “continue to consult closely” with its allies regarding how best to engage with North Korea to achieve shared goals, he added.

Progress on inter-Korean relations in 2017 and early 2018 paved the way for diplomacy between the United States and North Korea.

The Biden administration has made clear for several months that it is willing to start talks with North Korea without preconditions and to engage in an incremental process that builds on the 2018 Singapore summit declaration. That declaration, signed by U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim, called for a transformation of U.S.-North Korean relations, including denuclearization and peace-building on the Korean peninsula.

Although U.S. officials have declined to discuss publicly what Washington is willing to offer North Korea in the first steps of a negotiation, Price said on Oct. 4 that the United States has made “specific proposals” to North Korea and hopes Pyongyang “will respond positively to our outreach.”


Recent statements by North Korea suggest Pyongyang may be interested in restarting talks with South Korea despite a recent spate of missile tests.

45 OPCW States Demand Answers About Navalny

November 2021
By Leanne Quinn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Signals Vienna Talks to Resume

November 2021
By Julia Masterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S., Russia Establish Strategic Stability Groups

November 2021
By Shannon Bugos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Continues Controversial Arms Assistance

November 2021
By William Ostermeyer and Jeff Abramson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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