“For 50 years, the Arms Control Association has educated citizens around the world to help create broad support for U.S.-led arms control and nonproliferation achievements.”

– President Joe Biden
June 2, 2022
Arms Control Today

Sanctions Dispute Threatens Iran Deal

May 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

Sanctions targeting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) remain the primary obstacle to reaching a deal to return the United States and Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh speaks to the media during a press conference in Tehran, on April 25. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said in an April 11 press briefing that Iran has finalized the necessary details to return its nuclear program to compliance with the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but is waiting for the United States to “show the will to return to its own obligations” and respond to the latest Iranian proposal on lifting certain IRGC sanctions.

Tehran is demanding the removal of Washington’s designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization as part of the agreement to restore compliance with the accord. The IRGC was not designated as a foreign terrorist organization until April 2019, so it is not included in sanctions that the United States would be required to remove to return to JCPOA compliance. But the Biden administration has said that, as part of an agreement to return to compliance alongside Iran, it would lift additional sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump that are inconsistent with the nuclear deal.

The U.S. negotiating team reportedly offered to remove the designation on the IRGC if Tehran provided assurances that it would deescalate tensions in the Middle East and not retaliate further for the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani, the general who headed the IRGC Quds Force, in 2020.

Iran rejected that proposal and offered its own, on which Enrique Mora, EU coordinator of the group of countries that are currently party to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), briefed the Biden administration in March. The United States has yet to respond.

When asked if the Biden administration is behind the holdup, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in an April 18 press briefing that if Iran wants to “negotiate issues that fall outside the purview of the JCPOA, then we’ll do that, but they will need to negotiate those issues in good faith with reciprocity.”

Earlier that day, Khatibzadeh suggested that the killing of Soleimani “will not go unpunished” even if the United States removes the IRGC from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. Avenging his death is a “fundamental principle” of Iran’s foreign policy, he said.

Even if the IRGC is removed from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, it will still be subject to other sanctions that would not be lifted if Washington returns to the nuclear deal. This includes recent sanctions imposed by the Biden administration on the IRGC for ballistic missile-related activities. Although removing the foreign terrorist organization designation would have little practical impact, it would be politically challenging for President Joe Biden as members of his own party are split on the issue.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told NBC on April 16 that it would be “political malpractice” for the IRGC designation to be a “sticking point” that prevents a return to compliance with the nuclear deal, but other Democrats have raised concerns about lifting the foreign terrorist organization label. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said on March 22 that the designation “should remain” because the IRGC is a terrorist organization.

Recent comments by U.S. officials suggest that the Biden administration might be hesitant to remove the designation because it shares the view that the Quds Force, a branch of the IRGC, is a terrorist group.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 7 that he did not support removing the Quds Force from the foreign terrorist organization list. The next day, Jalina Porter, State Department deputy spokesperson, said that “the president shares the chairman’s view that IRGC Quds Forces are terrorists.”

The delays caused by the dispute over the IRGC sanctions is creating space for opponents of restoring the JCPOA to build pressure against a deal in Washington and Tehran.

Conservative lawmakers in the Iranian Parliament have stated that the draft text of the deal violates Iran’s redlines because it does not provide the guarantees Iran is looking for on sanctions relief. In an April 10 letter to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, 250 members of Parliament said that a return to the JCPOA requires legal guarantees that the United States will not violate the deal in the future.

But parliamentary opposition will not pose a serious obstacle to a return to the JCPOA if Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei approves the agreement. Khamenei said on April 12 that the Iranian negotiating team “resisted” the “excessive demands” of the United States and its JCPOA negotiating partners and talks are “going ahead properly.”

The Biden administration is also facing domestic opposition. Members of Congress will likely have a 30-day window to vote to approve or disapprove any agreement reached to restore U.S. and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA under the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act. A vote of disapproval from the House and Senate would prevent Biden from lifting sanctions.

Biden is likely to retain enough support for restoring the JCPOA to stave off a vote of disapproval by both houses of Congress, but a close vote will likely undermine confidence in a restored nuclear deal.

The stalemate over the IRGC designation also risks the possibility of Iran’s nuclear program advancing past the point where the Biden administration assesses the JCPOA can be restored. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken again warned that “time is getting extremely short” to restore the JCPOA. Speaking to NBC on April 6, Blinken also said that he is “not overly optimistic” about reaching a deal but it would be in the best interest of the United States to do so.

Iran’s growing stockpile of highly enriched uranium remains one of the key factors driving the short time frame for negotiations. Iran is enriching some of its uranium to 20 percent and some to 60 percent uranium-235, each of which is below the 90 percent U-235 enrichment level commonly used in nuclear weapons but significantly above the 3.67 percent threshold set by the JCPOA. These stockpiles of uranium enriched to higher levels significantly decrease Iran’s breakout window, which is the amount of time it would take for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb. That time frame is now down to about two to three weeks.

Iran did announce in March that it would begin converting some of its stockpile of 60 percent-enriched uranium into a form not suitable for further enrichment, but such a move will not buy much time.

If a deal is reached, it is likely that Iran will ship much of its stockpile of enriched uranium to Russia, similar to the steps it took in 2015 to come into compliance with the stockpile limit set by the JCPOA. The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami, said on April 6 that Iran was in talks with Russia about sending out the materials in the event of an agreement. He said Tehran and Moscow are discussing the amount of material to be transferred, how to ship it, and what Iran would receive in return.

Eslami also confirmed that the United States has provided assurances that its sanctions targeting Russia will not interfere with nuclear cooperation between Moscow and Tehran.


A dispute over U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the main obstacle to restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

U.S. Commits to ASAT Ban

May 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

The United States has become the first space-faring nation to declare a ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons testing. In a statement on April 18, the Biden administration said the United States would commit “not to conduct destructive, direct-ascent [ASAT] missile testing, and that [it] seeks to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space.”

An Indian DRDO anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) is displayed during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi in January 2020.  (Photo by Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images)The announcement follows the Russian launch on Nov. 15 of an interceptor from a Nudol ground-based ASAT system that was used to destroy one of its own aging satellites in low earth orbit. The collision created at least 1,500 pieces of trackable debris that will pose a threat to orbiting objects for years to come.

Destructive ASAT tests “jeopardize the long-term sustainability of outer space and imperil the exploration and use of space by all nations,” the White House said in an April 18 fact sheet on national security norms in space.

“This commitment is verifiable and attributable by many parties, and we encourage other countries to make similar commitments to build international support against…destructive direct-ascent [ASAT] missile tests,” according to a series of April 18 tweets from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

Since the first Soviet ASAT test in 1968, there have been 16 destructive ASAT tests, resulting in more than 6,300 pieces of debris, according to the Secure World Foundation, which tracks space security developments.

China, India, and the United States have also demonstrated the ability to destroy satellites with ground- or air-launched missiles.

In 1985, the United States successfully tested an air-launched missile to destroy a weather satellite. In 2007, China used a ground-based SC-19 ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite. In 2008, the United States used a modified ship-based Standard Missile-3 missile defense interceptor to destroy a failed U.S. intelligence satellite. In 2019, India used a ground-based Prithvi ballistic missile to destroy one of its own target satellites.

The U.S. ASAT moratorium was announced by Vice President Kamala Harris at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. She said the United States “will engage the international community to uphold and strengthen a rules-based international order for space.”

In 2021, President Joe Biden issued the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance,” which stated that the United States “will lead in promoting shared norms on space.”

Efforts to launch talks that might produce new understandings on maintaining the peaceful use of space have long been stymied.

For many years, the United States was wary of any legally binding restrictions on ASAT systems in part because they might restrict U.S. ground-based missile defense capabilities or a possible space-based kinetic anti-missile system that could involve orbiting interceptors that provide a thin defense against intercontinental missiles.

The U.S. ASAT testing moratorium could energize an open-ended working group mandated by a 2021 UN resolution to develop rules of the road for military activities in space, including legally binding measures designed to prohibit counterspace activities that threaten international security. (See ACT, December 2021.)

In an April 21 statement, the French Foreign Affairs Ministry welcomed the U.S. move and said, “France, which has never carried out such tests, will continue to advocate for a legally binding universal standard prohibiting such actions.”

The Biden administration’s decision could energize UN-mandated discussions on rules for military activities in space.

U.S., Russia Adhering to New Start Despite War

May 2022
By Shannon Bugos

A few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and Russia exchanged data on their respective strategic nuclear forces as required by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The data shared on March 1 showed that the countries remain at or below the treaty limits on deployed strategic warheads and their delivery vehicles.

“At a time when direct contacts are being curtailed, antagonism runs high, and trust [is] completely lost, it is nothing short of amazing that Russia and the United States continue to abide by the…treaty and exchange classified information as if nothing had happened,” wrote Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists in an April 6 blog post. The data exchange was made public on April 5.

The treaty limits U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces to 1,550 warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles, which are defined as intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers assigned to a nuclear mission.

The United States deploys 1,515 warheads on 686 delivery vehicles, and Russia deploys 1,474 warheads on 526 delivery vehicles, as of the latest data exchange.

Under New START, the two sides are allowed a certain number of on-site inspections each year, but those inspections have been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, the two sides have continued to exchange various notifications on the status and basing or facility assignment of their respective strategic forces, for a total of 23,609 notifications as of April 7.

The treaty’s implementing body, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, ordinarily meets twice per year, but those meetings have also been paused because of the pandemic.

Alexander Darchiyev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North American Department, said on March 8
that “we’re preparing for the upcoming spring session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission.” Further information on when the commission may convene is unknown.

The exchange of New START data occurred after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 27 order to move his country’s nuclear forces to the heightened alert status of a “special regime of combat duty” in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (See ACT, March 2022.) Although additional such orders have not been given, Russian officials have defended Putin’s order in the ensuing weeks. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov eventually downplayed the threat of nuclear war in late March. (See ACT, April 2022.)

On April 20, Russia test-launched a new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile called the Sarmat. Although Putin called the test a warning to those in the West who “try to threaten our country,” some U.S. experts played down the impact saying Moscow notified Washington in advance as required under New START. The experts also estimated that SARMAT was initially slated to be operationally deployed in 2021, meaning the system is now behind schedule.

Russia and the United States are fulfilling their treaty commitments despite tensions over Ukraine.

Ukraine Seeks Protection Against Possible Chemical Attack

May 2022
By Leanne Quinn

Ukraine, preparing to defend against Russian capabilities, has requested bilateral assistance and protection against chemical weapons from the members of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the international treaty that bans the use of chemical weapons.

Among those responding to Ukrainian requests for help to protect against possible Russian chemical weapons attacks is Direct Relief, a California-based humanitarian organization. The group has sent more than 220,000 vials of atropine, which can counter the effects of nerve agents. (Photo by Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Western officials have repeatedly voiced concerns about the potential for a chemical incident or attack in Ukraine. (See ACT, April 2022.)

Ukraine on March 18 submitted a letter to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international chemical weapons watchdog requesting bilateral assistance from CWC states-parties to protect Ukraine against chemical weapons.

Article X of the CWC provides that any member state can request assistance and protection against the use or threat of use of chemical weapons, including riot control agents.

The letter directed states-parties to contact the Embassy of Ukraine in The Hague to coordinate the provision of assistance and detection equipment, alarm systems, protective equipment, decontamination equipment, medical antidotes and treatments, and advice on protective measures.

In a March 24 joint statement, NATO heads of state promised that the allies would “continue to provide assistance [to Ukraine] in such areas as cybersecurity and protection against threats of a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear nature.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on April 4 that the United States is providing Ukraine with “lifesaving equipment and supplies that could be deployed in the event of Russian use of a chemical or biological weapon against Ukraine.”

That same day, the United States confirmed it had contributed $250,000 to the OPCW Trust Fund for Implementation of Article X and earmarked the money to provide protection and assistance to Ukraine should chemical weapons be used in the conflict. France contributed $949,000 to the trust fund.

Direct Relief, a California-based humanitarian organization, announced on April 8 that it had fulfilled a request from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health for vials of atropine, a drug that can counter the effects of nerve agents such as sarin. More than 220,000 vials of the drug were delivered to Ukraine from a Direct Relief distribution warehouse in Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said during an April 7 press briefing that the organization was making contingency plans for “all scenarios” that could impact Ukrainians, from “treatment of mass casualties to chemical assaults.”

During that same briefing, Heather Papowitz, a WHO incident manager in Ukraine, said that WHO has trained more than 1,500 health workers and partners in Ukraine on how to respond to chemical hazards and has provided guidelines and supplies.

That same day, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven countries and the EU high representative issued a joint statement starkly warning Russia to refrain from using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

“We warn against any threat of use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. We recall Russia’s obligations under international treaties of which it is a party, and which protect us all. Any use by Russia of such weapons should be unacceptable and result in severe consequences,” the statement said.


Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Western officials have voiced concern about the potential for a chemical incident or attack in the war-torn country.

AUKUS to Collaborate on Hypersonics

May 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have agreed to collaborate on accelerating the development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities in an expansion of the initial scope of their trilateral security partnership.

An artist’s rendering of the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept system, which the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said in mid-March had been successfully tested. (Illustration by DARPA)This partnership, known as AUKUS, “committed today to commence new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as to expand information sharing and to deepen cooperation on defense innovation,” according to a joint statement by U.S. President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Johnson on April 5.

AUKUS was launched in September 2021 with a pledge by Washington and London to equip Canberra with conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines. (See ACT, November and October 2021.) The three countries also agreed to work together in four areas of advanced capabilities—cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities—in recognition of their “deep defense ties,” according to the joint statement first announcing the AUKUS partnership last year.

The inaugural meetings of the two trilateral joint steering groups were held in December 2021, during which the group on advanced capabilities “discussed other additional capabilities and agreed to identify potential opportunities for collaboration” in addition to the four existing areas. The April announcement marked the first disclosure of how the three countries plan to expand their partnership on new, emerging, and advanced capabilities and technologies.

The partnership emerged with a stated objective to “ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” Biden said in September. Thus far, the three members have been careful in not directly attributing the new partnership to shared concerns regarding China, but the connection is widely accepted. Beijing has sharply criticized the initiative from the outset and repeated its criticisms following the April announcement.

The AUKUS partnership “not only increases nuclear proliferation risks and brings shocks to the international nonproliferation system, but also intensifies the arms race and undermines peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on April 6. “Countries in the region should be on a higher alert.”

The AUKUS pledge to collaborate on hypersonic technology came on the same day as the revelation by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of a second successful test of the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) in mid-March. The agency kept news of the test quiet for about two weeks in order to avoid escalating tensions as Biden traveled to Europe for meetings with NATO, the European Union, and the Group of Seven concerning Russia’s war in Ukraine, a U.S. defense official told CNN.

The second HAWC free flight test featured the Lockheed Martin version of the system, as opposed to the Raytheon version successfully tested in September. (See ACT, November 2021.)

During the March test, the HAWC vehicle was released from a B-52 bomber off the West Coast and was accelerated by a booster engine before the air-breathing scramjet ignited and allowed the vehicle to cruise at speeds higher than Mach 5 for an extended period of time.

This test “successfully demonstrated a second design that will allow our war-fighters to competitively select the right capabilities to dominate the battlefield,” said Andrew Knoedler, HAWC program manager for DARPA.

The forward momentum with the HAWC hypersonic program was contrasted with a major delay in the schedule for the Air Force’s Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system, which was slated to be the first deployed U.S. hypersonic weapon, with an initial operational date of fiscal year 2022.

An Air Force statement provided to Bloomberg News on April 6 stated that the new operational date has been moved to sometime in the next fiscal year.

The ARRW system failed three flight booster tests, in April, July, and December 2021. The system must successfully complete booster and all-up-round test flights before a contract is awarded to Lockheed Martin to kick-start production.

The Air Force statement noted that, “due to recent flight test anomalies,” the first all-up-round test has been rescheduled to take place between October 1 and December 30 with additional tests later in fiscal year 2023. A January report by the Pentagon’s testing and evaluation office also found that the schedule for the ARRW system “could be delayed due to the limited number and availability of hypersonic flight corridors, target areas, and test support assets.” (See ACT, March 2022.)

The flood of news regarding the development of U.S. hypersonic weapons followed the confirmed Russian use of hypersonic weapons for the first time in combat and the resultant calls by some U.S. officials for the Pentagon to speed up its efforts.

Russia claimed in mid-March that it used Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles to destroy an ammunition warehouse in western Ukraine and a fuel depot in southern Ukraine. (See ACT, April 2022.) U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, head of U.S. European Command, confirmed to the Senate Armed Service Committee at a March 29 hearing that Russian forces have fired “multiple” hypersonic missiles at military targets in Ukraine.

“I think it was to demonstrate the capability and attempt to put fear in the hearts of the enemy,” said Wolters. “I don’t think they were successful.”

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on April 5 featuring Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, asserted that the United States “is behind our adversaries” with regard to hypersonic weapons, referring to Russia and China.

But Austin cautioned that “we have to be careful” when it comes to claims that the Pentagon is falling behind in developing and deploying these capabilities. “Hypersonics is a capability, but it’s not the only capability,” he responded.

After Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) also claimed that Washington is falling behind in the hypersonic race, Austin questioned the basis for the assertion, asking, “What do you mean we are behind in hypersonics?”

The defense secretary and other Pentagon officials such as Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, have met with hypersonics industry executives at least twice this year in order to quicken the pace of hypersonic weapons systems development, which the department has prioritized as a critical technology.

Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States are expanding the focus of their partnership to the development of advanced hypersonics.

North, South Korea Exchange Threats

May 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

North and South Korea exchanged threats in early April as Pyongyang continues to take steps to advance its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Kim Yo Jong (R), a senior North Korean official, seen in 2018 with her brother, leader Kim Jong Un (L), warned South Korea that its recent threats of a preemptive strike on the North are a “very big mistake.” (Photo by Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images)South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said on April 1 that Seoul can “accurately and swiftly strike any target” in North Korea. He touted “greatly improved” South Korean missile capabilities and said that the country can conduct precision strikes against the “origin of any attack and its command and support facilities.”

South Korea is also working to develop a multilayered missile defense system to ensure that the country can “respond overwhelmingly to the North’s shifting missile threats,” Suh said.

Suh's comments came a week after North Korea claimed it tested a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). (See ACT, April 2022.)

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, said in an April 4 statement that Suh’s threats of a preemptive strike on North Korea were a “very big mistake.” If South Korea “opts for military confrontation” with North Korea, “our nuclear combat force will have to inevitabl[y] carry out its duty,” she said. Pyongyang’s nuclear force is primarily for preventing war, but in the event of conflict, will eliminate the enemy’s armed forces, Kim said.

She said South Korea can avoid such a disaster by refraining from “untimely provocation.”

In addition to its recent ICBM test, North Korea is continuing to develop its short-range missile capabilities. The South Korean military confirmed that North Korea tested two short-range systems in the city of Hamhung on the eastern coast of the country on April 16. The missiles flew 68 miles, according to South Korea.

North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described the system as “a new-type tactical guided weapon” and noted that Kim Jong Un oversaw the test.

The KCNA statement credited the new system with “drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes,” suggesting that the missiles tested are nuclear capable.

The North Korean focus on long- and short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles suggests that Kim is seeking the capabilities to deter an attack on North Korea and to repel an invasion, should deterrence fail.

In an April 18 press briefing, U.S. Defense Department press secretary John Kirby called the test a provocation and urged North Korea to refrain from tests. He reiterated that the Biden administration is willing “to sit down in good faith and have a diplomatic discussion about how we denuclearize the Korean peninsula.” He said Pyongyang has answered the administration’s willingness to negotiate without preconditions, “only with more tests.”

Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, reiterated the U.S. willingness to engage in dialogue during an April 18 visit to South Korea, but said that the United States and South Korea also will “maintain the strongest possible joint deterrent capability.” He said the UN Security Council needs to send a “clear signal” to North Korea that “we will not accept its escalatory tests as normal.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for action by the Security Council after the ICBM test on March 24. She said the next day that the United States would be introducing such a resolution.

Although the Security Council has yet to act, the United States on April 1 announced new sanctions targeting the North Korean Ministry of Rocket Industry, which is involved with procuring missile components, and several organizations affiliated with the ministry.

North Korea also appears to be taking preparatory steps in case Kim decides to resume nuclear testing. Satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site shows increased activity at the main administrative area of the facility and indicates that North Korea “has continuously advanced work to restore Tunnel 3” at the site, according to an April 14 analysis from the Open Nuclear Network, a Vienna-based think tank.

North Korea last tested a nuclear weapon in 2017. In April 2018, in an effort to demonstrate North Korean willingness to engage in negotiations with the United States, Kim announced nuclear and long-range missile testing moratoriums. As part of that commitment, North Korea moved to render the site inoperable by blowing up its testing tunnels in May 2018.

Hostile words are flying as North Korea advances its nuclear weapons capabilities.


Cluster Munitions Use in Ukraine Spurs U.S. Debate

May 2022
By Jeff Abramson

Spurred by the use of landmines and cluster munitions in the Russian war on Ukraine, Democratic members of the U.S. Congress have called for changes in U.S. policy on such weapons.

After shelling in Lysychansk during the Russian war in Ukraine in April, a man walks past an unexploded tail section of a 300mm rocket which appear to contain cluster bombs launched from a BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)“We strongly believe the credible allegations of Russian use of cluster munitions necessitate a change to the administration’s cluster munitions policy,” 27 representatives said in a letter released April 21.

The group, led by Reps. Bill Keating (Mass.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), and Sara Jacobs (Calif.), argued that past justifications for current U.S. policy, which allows for use of landmines and cluster munitions, “are no longer relevant.”

They pointed to U.S. military efforts to mitigate civilian deaths in war through guided munitions as part of their appeal to President Joe Biden “to take all the necessary steps” to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).

Earlier, on April 7, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also called for the United States to join the convention in remarks on Capitol Hill marking international mine awareness day.

The United States, Russia, and Ukraine are not among the 110 states-parties to the CCM. That treaty bans the use of the weapons, which deliver smaller submunitions that often fail to explode as intended and historically have harmed many more civilians than soldiers.

Almost from the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, global concerns were raised about Russian targeting of civilian areas and use of controversial weapons, such as cluster munitions and landmines. In late March, Human Rights Watch reported on Russian use of a recently developed landmine equipped with a sensor to detect approaching persons. It ejects an explosive charge into the air that can kill and maim individuals up to 50 feet away, making it more harmful with its initial blast and more difficult to demine than many other anti-personnel mines. (See ACT, April 2022.)

The president of the Mine Ban Treaty, Alicia Arango Olmos, who is also the Colombian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, condemned landmine usage in Ukraine, saying on April 5 that it “violates key principles of international humanitarian law and further exacerbates the heavy toll being brought upon the civilian population of Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on April 18 that Ukrainian forces had used cluster munitions in Husarivka in eastern Ukraine, the first such reported use by Ukrainian forces since 2015. When asked about Ukraine’s use, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on April 18 that he was not in a position to comment and reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the United States could not independently confirm the usage.

As U.S. policymakers argued that condemnations of Moscow would be stronger if Washington would join the treaty banning cluster munitions, similar assertions were made about landmine policy. There have been no commitments by Biden to change cluster munition policy, but his administration’s responses to queries about landmines may indicate a weakening of promises to restrict their use.

A long-time champion of the Mine Ban Treaty, Leahy said in a speech on April 7 that a decision by the United States to join the treaty “would not guarantee that Russia would, but it would greatly enhance our credibility to call out their use of mines.” In June 2021, a bicameral, bipartisan group of 21 members of Congress called on the president to put the United States on the path to joining the treaty, saying it “will enhance our credibility in seeking to stigmatize the use of anti-personnel mines.”

When asked about the utility of mines during a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 7, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointed to their use in Ukraine, saying that “anti-tank or anti-personnel landmines are very effective.”

That statement appears to run counter to ones made in 2021 by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the UN, indicating that the Biden administration intended to roll back a Trump-era policy that allowed for the potential use of landmines by U.S. troops anywhere, instead of just on the Korean peninsula, as specified under Obama administration policy. (See ACT, December 2021.) A senior Pentagon official said on April 8 that a review of U.S. landmine policy is still underway and “could be informed by this conflict.”

Although the United States and Russia are not among the 164 states-parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Ukraine is. There is no evidence that Ukrainian forces are using anti-personnel landmines banned by the treaty.

In announcing $800 million in additional aid to Ukraine on April 13, the Biden administration listed among the transfers “M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel munitions configured to be consistent with the Ottawa Convention,” meaning in a command-detonated mode.

The Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, prohibits the use of “victim-activated” anti-personnel mines, which are exploded by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person. Command-detonated landmines, those for which a human decides to explode the weapon, are not explicitly banned by the treaty. These include Claymore mines in a command-detonated configuration. The treaty also does not explicitly ban anti-vehicle or anti-tank mines, which typically require heavier than human loads to detonate.

In 2020 the U.S. Defense Department argued that the United States needed to retain the use of mixed mine systems, such as those deployed via Volcano dispensers, that combine anti-personnel and anti-tank weapons in order to “discourage and delay adversaries from hand clearing of minefields intended to block, fix, or channel enemy tanks and vehicles.”

Democratic members of the U.S. Congress, spurred by the use of cluster munitions and landmines in Ukraine, have called for changes in U.S. policy on such weapons.

States Review Nuclear Security Treaty

May 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

States met for the first time to review implementation of a treaty that aims to prevent the malicious use of nuclear materials by setting security and physical protection requirements for peaceful nuclear programs.

The International Atomic Energy Agency hosted the first review conference for the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials in March at its Vienna headquarters. (Photo by Dean Calma/IAEA)The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) entered into force in 1987, but its requirements were limited to securing peaceful nuclear materials during international transit. A 2005 amendment to the treaty expanded the legally binding physical protection measures to cover nuclear materials during domestic use, storage, and transit. The amended treaty requires state-parties to meet five years after its entry into force, which occurred in 2016, to assess the adequacy of the treaty.

Representatives from 106 of the 129 states that are party to the amended convention participated in the March 28–April 1 conference at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.

In opening remarks, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi described the review meeting as a “significant milestone in international nuclear security.” He called for universalization of the amended treaty, noting that as the use of nuclear technology expands, “the atlas of opportunity and threat is being regrown in unpredictable ways and at unprecedented speed.”

In their concluding document, the states assessed that the amended treaty is adequate to meet current needs, but noted that the risk environment is changing due to the expansion of peaceful uses of nuclear materials, advanced reactors, and new technologies. States requested that the IAEA convene a second review conference at a later date to assess the treaty’s adequacy again. The amended CPPNM does not require regular reviews after the first conference, but subsequent conferences can be held after five or more years if a majority of states-parties request it.

The United States noted its strong support for a subsequent review conference in its national statement. The statement, delivered by Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said it was “essential” to continually review the global nuclear security regime and that “all states benefit from strong global nuclear security, because an act of nuclear terrorism anywhere will have grave consequences.”

The conference also served as an opportunity for states to share best practices and announce new nuclear security commitments. Several countries, including the United States, highlighted actions taken to address the risk posed by cyberattacks. Jenkins said the United States completed inspections at all U.S. nuclear power plants to ensure compliance with cybersecurity requirements and that it is committed to conducting inspections every two years.

Jenkins also announced that the United States is continuing to work with the IAEA to verify the disposition of 40 metric tons of excess plutonium and is requesting that the agency conduct an International Physical Protection Advisory Service mission. The statement said such missions are “important tools for ensuring the adequacy of national nuclear security regimes.”

The conference document encouraged all states to make use of such missions and to share good practices identified in the process.


The meeting of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material aimed to prevent the malicious use of nuclear materials.


Tuvalu and Gambia Ratify the CTBT

T hus far in this year, Tuvalu and Gambia have ratified the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), bringing the total number of countries who have both signed and ratified the treaty to 172. Honorary Prime Minister of Tuvalu Kausea Matano signed the instrument of ratification for the CTBT on January 24, and the accomplishment was officially marked in a ceremony on March 31 at the United Nations in New York City. Tuvalu signed the CTBT in September 2018. “Our Pacific region has suffered from the effects of decades of nuclear testing,” said Tuvaluan Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe By...

New Approaches Needed to Prevent Nuclear Catastrophe

April 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a massive assault on independent, democratic, non-nuclear Ukraine has unleashed a war that has killed thousands, displaced millions, and raised the risk of nuclear conflict.

At an emergency session of the UNGA March 2,141 member states voted in favor of a resolution deploring "in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” and “condemning the decision of the Russian Federation to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces."Instead of reverting to destabilizing Cold War-era behaviors, leaders and concerned citizens in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere need to embrace new thinking and strategies about nuclear weapons and disarmament that move the world from the shadow of nuclear catastrophe.

Putin and other Russian officials have made implied nuclear threats and put their strategic nuclear forces on a heightened state of readiness to ward off a direct U.S. or NATO military intervention in Ukraine. It is not a new or uniquely Russian idea. U.S. officials also claim that U.S. strategic nuclear forces create “maneuver space” to “project conventional military power.”

Nuclear threats and alerts were not uncommon and were no less dangerous during the Cold War. Such rhetoric and orders to raise the operational readiness of nuclear forces can be misinterpreted in ways that lead to nuclear countermoves, escalation, and a nuclear attack.

Biden wisely has not matched Putin’s nuclear taunts, but the risk of escalation is real. A close encounter between NATO and Russian warplanes, which could result if NATO imposed a no-fly zone in Ukraine, could lead to a wider conflict. Because Russian and U.S. military strategies reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first against non-nuclear threats, fighting could quickly go nuclear.

Russian nuclear doctrine states that nuclear weapons can be used in response to an attack with weapons of mass destruction or if a conventional war threatens the “very existence of the state.” Right now, these conditions do not exist. But if the Kremlin believes a serious attack is underway, it might use short-range, tactical nuclear weapons to tip the military balance in its favor.

Unfortunately, U.S. President Joe Biden’s new Nuclear Posture Review states that the “fundamental role” of the U.S. arsenal will be to deter nuclear attacks while still leaving open the option for nuclear first use in “extreme circumstances” to counter conventional, biological, chemical, and possibly cyberattacks.

There is no plausible military scenario, and no legally justifiable basis for threatening or using nuclear weapons first, if at all. Once nuclear weapons are used between nuclear-armed states, there is no guarantee it will not lead to an all-out nuclear exchange.

New thinking is needed. The adoption of policies prohibiting the first use of nuclear weapons would increase stability. But even that would not eliminate the dangers of nuclear deterrence strategies and arsenals, which depend on maintaining the credible threat of prompt retaliation in response to a nuclear attack.

U.S. and European citizens need to mobilize and press their leaders to pursue even bolder initiatives to steer the nuclear possessor states away from nuclear confrontation and arms racing.

For example, UN General Assembly members, particularly those who negotiated the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, should consider a “uniting for peace” resolution in response to the immediate threat of nuclear use. Such resolutions have been used in rare cases when the UN Security Council, lacking unanimity among its five permanent, nuclear-armed members, fails to act to maintain international peace and security.

Such a resolution could build on the March 2 vote in the General Assembly condemning Russia’s invasion and Putin’s decision to increase the readiness of his nuclear forces and would recall the assembly’s declaration of November 1961 that said that “any state using nuclear…weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the UN, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity and as committing a crime against mankind and civilization.”

An updated resolution could declare that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is contrary to international law and mandate negotiations on legally binding security guarantees against unprovoked attacks from states possessing nuclear weapons.

The resolution could mandate that any state that initiates a nuclear attack shall be stripped of its voting privileges at the United Nations and recommend collective measures to restore the peace under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Such an initiative would reinforce the nuclear weapons taboo at a critical juncture.

Responsible states must also come together on a meaningful disarmament plan at the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in August. Although Putin’s war has derailed U.S.-Russian talks for now on further cuts in their bloated strategic arsenals and new agreements to limit short- and intermediate-range nuclear weapons systems, they are still bound by their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT.

The last remaining U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, expires in 2026. Without commonsense arms control guardrails, the dangers of unconstrained global nuclear arms racing will only grow.

Putin’s war on Ukraine is a sobering reminder that outdated nuclear deterrence policies create unacceptable risks. The only way to eliminate the danger is to reinforce the norm against nuclear use and pursue more sustainable path toward their elimination.


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a massive assault on independent, democratic, non-nuclear Ukraine has unleashed a war that has killed thousands, displaced millions, and raised the risk of nuclear conflict.


Subscribe to RSS - Arms Control Today