“Your association has taken a significant role in fostering public awareness of nuclear disarmament and has led to its advancement.”
– Kazi Matsui
Mayor of Hiroshima
June 2, 2022
Arms Control Today

U.S. Says North Korea Shipped Arms to Russia

November 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States accused North Korea of shipping military equipment to Russia for use against Ukraine in violation of UN sanctions.

A worker stands before a boat in Najin, a port city in North Korea near the border with Russia. The United States has accused North Korea of shipping military equipment from the port to Russia for use in the Russian war against Ukraine.  (Photo by Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)The U.S. mission to the United Nations said on Oct. 13 that North Korea shipped more than 1,000 containers of arms and munitions to Russia “in recent weeks.” The transfers “directly violate” UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korea from exporting arms and munitions, the statement said.

The same day, the White House released images of 300 shipping containers in Najin, a port city in North Korea near the border with Russia. It said the containers arrived in Russia via ship on Sept. 12, the day before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia’s far eastern region. The containers were then shipped across Russia to a city near the Ukrainian border.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Oct. 13 that the arms will help “further Russia’s illegitimate war” and that the growing military partnership between Russia and North Korea “undermines regional stability and the global nonproliferation regime.”

The announcement is the first time that the United States accused North Korea of providing large-scale assistance to Russia, despite Kim’s support for the invasion of Ukraine. Prior to Kim’s meeting with Putin in September, U.S. officials said there was no evidence of active North Korean military assistance to Russia, but they warned that Pyongyang would pay a price if it transferred arms to Moscow. (See ACT, October 2023.)

Matt Miller, State Department spokesperson, said on Oct. 18 that the United States will take “whatever steps we can to hold” North Korea to account, but did not provide details.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied that Russia received arms from North Korea. He told reporters on Oct. 17 that the United States has never provided any evidence to support the allegations. Moscow will continue building ties with Pyongyang, he said.

In a further demonstration of growing bilateral ties, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pyongyang, where, during an Oct. 18 reception, he expressed “solidarity” with Pyongyang and gave thanks for its “principled support” of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Kirby said the United States is “monitoring closely” whatever assistance that Russia may provide to North Korea in return for the military assistance. Kim expressed interest in Russia’s space program during his Russia trip. He has announced ambitious plans for North Korea’s space program, but recent attempts to put a satellite into orbit have failed. (See ACT, September 2023.)

Kirby said that the United States assesses that North Korea also may be interested in fighter aircraft, equipment for producing ballistic missiles, and surface-to-air missiles.

The reports of North Korean assistance to Russia come amid U.S. joint military drills in the region that Pyongyang long has described as provocative. In early October, the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan participated in a trilateral exercise with South Korea and Japan, which the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) decried as the United States “advertising” that it could “fight a war” on the Korean peninsula and “goes to prove…the U.S. scheme for a nuclear attack” on North Korea.

In an Oct. 13 statement, KCNA said the U.S. decision to introduce “various nuclear strategic assets into the Korean peninsula [when the] danger of outbreak of a nuclear war is rampant” is an “undisguised military provocation.”

South Korea’s new defense minister, Shin Won-shik, said that recent efforts to integrate South Korea’s conventional forces with U.S. nuclear deterrence forces remain the top priority for countering North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Shin threatened swift retaliation if North Korea “carries out military provocations.” He said it is a “fantasy” to believe that South Korean goodwill can “transform North Korea” and called for immediate, strong punishment in response to any North Korean military provocations. Seoul must punish Pyongyang “until the end” to break the “enemy’s will and capacity” to threaten South Korea, he said.

South Korean officials said in October that North Korea halted its five-megawatt electric nuclear reactor at the Yongbyon complex, likely to extract the spent fuel.

North Korea separates plutonium from the spent reactor fuel to use in nuclear weapons.

On Sept. 29, International Atomic Energy Agency member states passed a resolution at this year’s general conference urging North Korea to “halt all such activities and any efforts” to expand nuclear activities “aimed at the production of fissile material.” The resolution expressed support for diplomatic engagement and dialogue with Pyongyang to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

It is the first time that Washington had accused Pyongyang of such large-scale assistance to Moscow.

Russia ‘Deratifies’ Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

November 2023
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

President Vladimir Putin signed a law revoking Russia’s ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has helped keep a lid on nuclear testing for 27 years.

Cable is laid on Wake Island as part of a complex hydroacoustic system that allows the Preparatory Commission for Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to monitor potential nuclear tests by means of sound waves in the water. (Photo courtesy of CTBTO Public Information)

The law, signed on Nov. 2, reflects worsening tensions with the United States over Russia’s war in Ukraine and a further crumbling of the international arms control architecture. Putin’s move was expected after the Russian Duma’s lower house passed the bill in a 415-0 vote on Oct. 17; the upper house, in a 156-0 vote on Oct. 25.

Russia remains one of the 187 signatories to the treaty and, according to Russian officials, will continue to cooperate with the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and its International Monitoring System, which was established to verify compliance with the treaty. But the Russian decision to deratify its membership is clearly a setback to long-running efforts to achieve entry into force of the treaty, which still requires ratification by China, the United States, and six other treaty-specified states for that to happen.

Russia’s deratification move has raised inevitable questions about whether it actually will resume nuclear testing. Asked about this on Oct. 5 at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Putin replied, “I’m not ready to say now whether we really need or don’t need to conduct tests.”

Putin reiterated a longtime grievance with the United States, which signed the treaty in 1996 but did not ratify it, while Russia ratified the CTBT in 2000. "As a matter of principle, we can offer a tit-for-tat response in our relations with the United States," he stated.

In response, a State Department spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal the following day that the Russian move “needlessly endangers the global norm against nuclear explosive testing" and that Washington will continue to adhere to its nuclear test moratorium, which it has observed since 1992.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the Duma speaker, told the lower chamber on Oct. 17 that, “[o]ur vote will be a response to the United States for its boorish attribute towards its responsibilities to maintain global security.”

Ahead of the Duma vote, senior Russian Foreign Ministry officials asserted that Russia would continue to observe a nuclear test moratorium. “Withdrawing ratification by no means undermines our constructive approach to the CTBT and does not mean that our country intends to resume nuclear tests,” Vladimir Yermakov, head of the Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department, was quoted by Tass as saying on Oct. 16.

He reaffirmed that Russia’s position on the resumption of nuclear explosive testing was set out in February when Putin said that Russia would only conduct a test if the United States did so first.

Speaking to the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi in October, Russian President Vadimir Putin is noncommittal about whether his country might resume nuclear testing. (Getty Images)But on Oct. 10, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the United States of carrying out preparations at its nuclear test site in Nevada, according to Reuters.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson rejected the allegation, calling it “a disturbing effort by Moscow to heighten nuclear risks and raise tensions in the context of its illegal war in Ukraine.” They reiterated that Washington has no plans to abandon a 1992 moratorium on nuclear test explosions.

Satellite imagery shows that China, Russia, and the United States are all making improvements to military and experimental facilities at their former nuclear test sites. (See ACT, October 2023.) Independent analysts say the deratification is not necessarily an indication that Russia plans to resume nuclear explosive testing for development of its nuclear weapons programs.

Although the Duma vote is a concern, “neither the announcement nor actual withdrawal from the CTBT would change the fundamental calculus of nuclear threat and risk because they would not modify Russia’s incentives, nuclear doctrine or force posture,” according to a commentary published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on Oct. 17. But others were not so sanguine. On Oct. 16, the Canadian delegation to a UN meeting in New York said in a statement that Russia’s deratification “undermines the treaty’s objective” and this action “stands in contrast with the recent Article XIV conference,” where states reaffirmed their commitment to the treaty.

In a statement issued on Oct. 19, CTBTO Executive Secretary Robert Floyd called the Duma’s decision “very disappointing and deeply regrettable” and said that “this decision goes against renewed global determination to see the CTBT enter into force.”

Floyd added that Russia “has stated that revoking its ratification does not mean it is withdrawing from the CTBT and that it remains committed to the treaty, including the operation of all CTBTO monitoring stations on its territory and the sharing of that data with all states.” Russia hosts 30 of the 300-plus seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide monitoring stations that compose the treaty’s global verification network.

In the context of the CTBT, Russia’s move to withdraw its ratification has no precedent.

Some Russian officials say the country will adhere to its nuclear testing moratorium but President Vladimir Putin is noncommittal.

Ukraine Uses New U.S. Missile Against Russia

November 2023
By Carol Giacomo

U.S. missiles known as ATACMS have arrived in Ukraine and been used with initial success on the battlefield against Russian forces, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ukraine, in a tough war against Russian invading forces, has received a version of the U.S. Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) that it has been pushing the United States to provide. The system is shown during South Korean-U.S. training exercises in 2022. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)“Our agreements with President [Joe] Biden are being implemented, and very accurately. ATACMS have proven themselves,” he said in a video shared on social media on Oct. 17.

Zelenskyy made the comments after Ukrainian strikes on the Berdyansk and Luhansk airfields in Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, confirmed that the ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missiles were instrumental in the attacks when he posted footage of the launch on his Telegram channel.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said that the strikes destroyed nine helicopters, an air-defense launcher, vehicles, and ammunition depots and damaged airstrips.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the ATACMS decision “another mistake by the United States.”

“War is war,” he said on Oct. 18, “and, of course, I have said that [ATACMS] pose a threat…. But what counts most is that they are completely unable to drastically change the situation along the line of contact. It’s impossible.”

For more than a year, Ukrainian officials had pushed the Biden administration to supply long-range ATACMS missiles that can travel nearly 200 miles. They argued that the weapons could alter the course of war, provoked by Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, by holding at risk high-value targets behind the front lines.

Some U.S. officials were concerned that providing the missiles would cause Putin to escalate the conflict.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Gen. Mark Milley resisted sending the missiles, arguing that the United States had a limited inventory and needed to ensure they had enough weapons to meet potential emergencies elsewhere in the world, according to Politico on Oct. 17.

The stalemate was resolved when Biden agreed to quietly send Ukraine an older, medium-range ATACMS known as Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel missile, Politico reported. The missiles are designed for use with cluster munitions, which carry warheads with hundreds of bomblets, that Biden started sending Ukraine in July.

Cluster munitions are banned under an international treaty to which Russia, Ukraine, and the United States are not members. Although the weapons can be devastating against an adversary, they often lay dormant long after the fighting and cause serious injury to civilians who inadvertently come upon them.

The Biden compromise with Ukraine may not satisfy Congress. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said on Oct. 17 that he was not satisfied by the announced supply of the weapons system. Without the longer-range variant of the weapons, McCaul said that “Congress won’t let up pressure on the Biden administration.”

After long resisting, the United States delivered ATACMS, which Ukraine’s president said were used successfully on the battlefield.

U.S. Formalizes Agreements With the Marshall Islands

November 2023
By Chris Rostampour

The United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, after months of haggling, finalized a new 20-year agreement that would provide the strategic Pacific Island nation with $2.3 billion in economic provisions.

After months of difficult negotiations, the United States and the Marshall Islands signed a new Compact of Free Association governing their relationship. At the ceremony in October are, from left, Carmen Cantor, U.S. assistant secretary of the interior for insular affairs; Joseph Yun, U.S. negotiator for the compact; Jack Ading, the Marshall Islands trade and foreign affairs minister; and Phillip Muller, the Marshall Islands chief negotiator. (Photo courtesy of The Republic of the Marshall Islands Port Authority)Joseph Yun, the U.S. special envoy for compact negotiations, and John Ading, the Marshall Islands minister of foreign affairs and trade, signed three agreements related to the Compact of Free Association on Oct. 16 in Honolulu after reaching what both sides have called a “compromise.”

The package must be approved by the U.S. Congress and the Marshall Islands Parliament.

The extension of the compact with the Marshall Islands, and earlier compacts with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau, will guarantee the United States exclusive military rights over large areas in the Pacific region at a time of increasing tension and competition with China. It also guarantees a continuation of federal services and rights for citizens of the island nations. (See ACT, March 2023.)

Negotiations with the Marshall Islands had stalled over a dispute on how the United States would address environmental and health damages to the Marshallese caused by 67 nuclear atmospheric tests conducted by the United States between 1946 and 1958. (See ACT, November 2022.)

The three nations were formerly U.S. territories that came under the direct administration of the United States during World War II. Combined, they cover a maritime area larger than the continental United States, including some 1,000 islands and atolls, and have a population of roughly 200,000 people.

The newly signed agreements include an amendment to the Marshall Islands compact, a new fiscal procedures agreement, and a new trust fund agreement, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

The statement offered no specifics, but draft legislation submitted to Congress shows that the package includes $700 million to underwrite a new Marshall Islands trust fund. Whether this amount is included in the $2.3 billion total economic package or separate is not clear in the draft bill, but Marshallese officials and media have reported it as an “additional” amount.

Phillip Muller, the Marshall Islands chief negotiator, said the nation aims to “repurpose” this fund to be used for its citizens “who have suffered because of U.S. nuclear or other military activities,” according to The Marshall Islands Journal.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Ading described the negotiations as “long and difficult” and said “there have been times when communications had almost broken down entirely,” according to Pacific Island Times.

Ading said that he and his colleagues were “not able to work toward resolving our nation’s nuclear legacy” but still achieved “substantial increases” in promised U.S. funding, the Honolulu Civil Beat reported.

Congress has resumed consideration of a draft bill submitted in June 2023 to amend and appropriate funding for all three compacts, totaling $7.1 billion over two decades.

At a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee on Oct. 19, Yun called for urgent approval of the legislation. But Amata Coleman Radewagen, American Samoa’s U.S. House delegate, referring to the Marshall Islands agreement, said “there is much in these agreements that is ambiguous, subject to further interpretation and discretion of the parties.” She urged Congress to “prescribe boundaries on interpretation” in a way that would serve the interests of both sides.

Yun admitted that including language related to nuclear testing in the agreements helped resolve the impasse in the Marshall Islands negotiations. As to how the amended agreements would impact the Marshall Islands nuclear claims tribunal, known as Section 177, Yun said, “We completely believe Section 177 remains in effect.”

The United States asserts that the compact and the tribunal “constitute the full settlement of all claims, past, present, and future, of the government, citizens and nationals of the Marshall Islands related to the nuclear testing program.” But the Marshallese do not consider the tribunal to be fully adjourned and claim roughly $3 billion in “uncompensated damages.”

The United States retains exclusive military rights in the region while the island nation receives economic assistance.

A New U.S. Strategy Against WMD Threats

November 2023
By Mohammadreza Giveh

The U.S. Defense Department has released a new strategy for countering weapons of mass destruction (WMD) around the world, arguing that the threats from nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons have increased and changed significantly since 2014.

A Chinese H-6K bomber, which has nuclear strike capability, arrives at Zhuhai Air Show Center in Guangdong Province in 2022. China is aggressively expanding its nuclear arsenal. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)“For nearly two decades, the security environment required the department to focus on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations [and] prioritize managing WMD risk emanating from hostile, fragile or failed states and safe havens,” according to the strategy document released on Sept. 28.

But now the United States is facing a “pacing” challenge from China and an “acute” threat from Russia while Iran and North Korea are considered “persistent” threats and such adversaries “seek to leverage [weapons of mass destruction] to influence and constrain the United States across the spectrum of conflict,” the document said.

It argued that “the department must now recapitalize, and in some cases reconstitute, its ability to conduct large-scale joint operations within a WMD-contested battlespace.”

The document, entitled the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Strategy, expands on the Biden administration’s 2022 National Defense Strategy. It lays out four priorities: defending the homeland from WMD attacks; deterring WMD use against the United States and its allies and partners; building a joint force to prevail in an environment where chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats are contested; and preventing new WMD threats.

The United States is set to undertake these activities “in an integrated approach along with military, diplomatic, and economic instruments of power” to diminish the political advantage gained from WMD use in an adversary’s decision calculus and “demonstrate the undesirable costs [the adversary] will face should it use” these weapons, it said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin drove home this point in his introduction to the strategy document. “We will sustain and broaden our work in collaboration with other U.S. departments, agencies, allies and partners to deter [WMD] use,” he wrote. “If deterrence fails, we will field a force that is resilient and prepared to prevail in a [WMD] contested environment.”

U.S. extended deterrence is one tool that underlies the new strategy. An example cited by Richard Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and countering weapons of mass destruction policy, was the Washington Declaration in April 2023 between U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. He said that the declaration reflected a U.S. effort to integrate its nuclear forces with South Korea to prevent an unintended escalation of tensions with North Korea and to enhance deterrence. Johnson, speaking at an event in Washington on Oct. 18, said this approach prevents proliferation, presumably referring to South Korean support for developing its own nuclear weapons. (See ACT, May 2023.)

The strategy document notes the global availability of dual-use technologies, particularly biotechnology, and said that adversaries are adapting to U.S. counterproliferation measures. These two defining features of the evolving global security environment must be addressed.

In a noteworthy addition to the last strategy published in 2014, the new document recognizes emerging technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence, multidomain WMD misinformation pursuits by China and Russia, and the complexity of determining a biological weapons attack as exacerbating new features of WMD activities.

The WMD document assesses the risk from China in the context of the People’s Liberation Army’s aggressive expansion and modernization of its nuclear forces in combination with the ambiguity about the conditions under which China would act outside of its declared policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. It also expresses concern that China violated the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention.

The different strategic approaches in the 2014 and 2023 defense strategy documents reflect a shift toward a more dynamic, proactive, and comprehensive approach to weapons of mass destruction, considering a wider array of factors and resources.

The U.S. Defense Department says nuclear, chemical, and biological threats have changed and increased significantly since 2014.

Congress Aims to Fund Nuclear Weapon Opposed by Biden

November 2023
By Shannon Bugos

For the second consecutive year, Congress is poised to fund the development of a new U.S. nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) despite the Biden administration’s effort to end the controversial program.

Senator Deb Fischer (D-Neb.) and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) are among the lawmakers opposing the Biden administration in arguing that the low-yield nuclear sea-launched cruise missile “fills the gap” in the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal. (Photo from the Office of Senator Deb Fischer)Since Congress staved off a government shutdown with a continuing resolution in September, the House and Senate have continued to iron out differences in their respective versions of the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House version allocates $260 million and the Senate $265 million for the development of the missile and its associated warhead, suggesting that the final version likely will reflect something similar.

The Biden administration did not request any funding for the SLCM in 2024. (See ACT, May 2023.) The missile “has marginal utility and would impede investment in other priorities,” the White House said in a policy statement in July. “The [United States] has sufficient current and planned capabilities for deterring an adversary’s limited nuclear use through conventional and nuclear armaments.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, similarly has emphasized that the program would walk “us down a path of spending enormous amounts of money on a capability that we don’t really need,” according to a June 21 article in Defense News.

But other lawmakers view the SLCM as essential to U.S. national security. “The nuclear threat environment is changing rapidly,” stated Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), chair of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, in defense of the SLCM in the same Defense News story. “We must adjust our nuclear posture.”

Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Angus King (I-Maine) argued in an op-ed in The Washington Post in September that the low-yield nuclear SLCM “fills th[e] gap” in the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal and “can be a critical part of maintaining the credible deterrent that has protected us all these years.”

In 2023 the Biden administration also did not request funds for the nuclear SLCM, although Congress ultimately authorized a total of $45 million for the development of the missile and its warhead. (See ACT, January/February 2023.)

Another Biden administration policy decision that the House and Senate have pushed back on is the retirement of the megaton B83 gravity bomb fleet by limiting funds until the completion of a related report mandated in 2023. The B83 fleet was slated for retirement until the Trump administration indefinitely postponed it in 2019, and now the Biden administration aims to resume the initial retirement plans. (See ACT, April 2019.)

The House passed its NDAA on July 14, and the Senate passed its version on July 27. The September continuing resolution will keep the government open through Nov. 17.

In addition to reconciling their respective versions of the NDAA, the two chambers are working to pass 12 appropriations bills. Although the NDAA authorizes funding, the defense and energy and water appropriations bills allow actual spending on nuclear weapons-related programs and activities.

Some lawmakers argue that the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile “fills the gap” in the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal.

Test Failures Put Hypersonic Program in Doubt

November 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Further recent testing disappointments with the U.S. Air Force hypersonic boost-glide vehicle likely have solidified the official end of the program in fiscal year 2024.

An AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon on the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress bomber in an undated Air Force photo. (Photo by Ethan Wagner/U.S. Air Force) The House and Senate versions of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act zero out the Biden administration’s request of $150 million for continued research and development of the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system.

Senate Armed Services Committee budget documents state that, “in light of testing failures and statements from Air Force leadership in support of the competitor program, the committee is concerned that continued testing at the scale originally planned in the budget request seems unlikely to deliver persuasive results.”

The Air Force intended to begin procuring the weapon in 2023, but the program’s lackluster testing record in 2021 prompted the service to delay procurement. (See ACT, May 2023.)

On Aug. 19, the Pentagon conducted a test release of an all-up-round ARRW prototype missile from a B-52H bomber off the coast of southern California, but did not specify whether the test proved successful. After an ARRW system flight test in March, the Air Force did not detail its outcome until weeks later, when the service admitted it was unsuccessful.

“This test acquired valuable, unique data and was intended to further a range of programs,” such as the ARRW and Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile systems, said an Air Force spokesperson after the August test, referring to the service’s other hypersonic weapons program. The Army planned to field the ARRW system by the end of September, but now aims to deploy it by the end of the calendar year, which defense experts view as still unlikely.

Meanwhile, the Air Force conducted a “hypersonic weapon familiarization training” at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Sept. 28 in an effort to prepare multiple crews on “the fundamentals of hypersonics, operational and logistics considerations, and in-depth tactical discussions,” according to a statement.

The Pentagon’s hypersonic weapons effort stumbled again with the second cancellation this year of a scheduled test of the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system “as a result of pre-flight checks” on Sept. 6 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The LRHW program shares the same hypersonic boost-glide vehicle as the Navy’s hypersonic weapons program, the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) missile, which will be deployed on Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers and Virginia-class submarines.

The USS Zumwalt arrived in Mississippi on Aug. 19 to begin a two-year installation process for four CPS launch tubes, each of which can hold three missiles. The Navy aims to deploy the CPS system on the destroyer in 2025.

The string of failures and delays across the Pentagon’s various conventional-only hypersonic programs highlights the disorganization of the effort, which was founded largely to keep pace with Chinese and Russian hypersonic programs. Beijing and Moscow have both conventional and nuclear hypersonic programs.

“There wasn’t a strategy during my time at the Pentagon,” Will Roper, the former Air Force acquisition chief, told The Wall Street Journal in September. “And from what I can see from the outside, there doesn’t appear to be one now.”

The House and Senate versions of the 2024 defense authorization act zero out the Biden administration request for R&D on the ARRW system.

U.S. Conducts Test Ban Verification Experiment

November 2023

A team led by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) conducted an experiment using chemical high explosives and radiotracers in an underground tunnel on Oct. 18 to “validate new predictive explosive models” to improve the U.S. ability to detect low-yield nuclear explosions around the world.

In a statement issued shortly after the experiment, Corey Hinderstein, NNSA deputy administrator for defense nonproliferation, said, “These experiments…will help reduce global nuclear threats by improving the detection of underground nuclear explosive tests.”

According to the NNSA, seismic data collected from such experiments are made available to researchers around the globe.

The experiment at the government’s former nuclear test site in Nevada took place as Russia announced that it would withdraw its ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits nuclear test explosions.

As reported by Interfax, the deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Konstantin Kosachyov, said on Oct. 20 that there should be an international assessment to determine whether the NNSA’s announced experiment was compliant with the CTBT. “We do not know what exactly the Americans have blown up underground,” he said.

In response to a question about the experiment, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Oct. 20 that if the experiment was an underground explosion using chemical explosives and “if this information is true—it is presently being verified—this does not involve a nuclear weapons testing, and this blast does not contradict either the U.S. moratorium on nuclear tests or the provisions” of the CTBT.

Senior U.S. officials, including NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby, have said that they are open to working with others to develop a regime that would allow reciprocal observation with radiation detection equipment at each other’s subcritical nuclear experiments to allow confirmation that the experiment was consistent with the CTBT. To date, such a dialogue has not begun.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

U.S. Conducts Test Ban Verification Experiment

States Pass Resolution to Reform IAEA Board

November 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) member states have approved a resolution to give all states the opportunity to run for a seat on the agency’s Board of Governors.

The resolution, introduced by Kazakhstan, was adopted on Sept. 27 by a vote of 99-2, with 16 states abstaining, during the annual IAEA General Conference.

Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister, Kairat Umarov, welcomed the adoption of the resolution and called it a step toward “restoring justice” at the agency.

Serving on the Board of Governors gives a state more influence in the IAEA. The board has specific responsibilities for setting policy, including appointing the agency’s director-general, making recommendations on the budget, and approving safeguards agreements.

Under the IAEA statute, 13 of the 35 seats on the board are allocated to states with the most advanced nuclear programs. The General Conference elects the remaining 22 members from predefined regional groupings, with each group allocated a certain number of seats.

The statute does not include an automatic process to assign new states that did not join the IAEA in its original wave to regional groups or create new blocks. The regional groups can vote to admit new states, but some reject additional members because increasing the size of a geographic group can make vying for a board seat more competitive. Kazakhstan, for instance, was blocked from joining regional groups in the past, likely because its uranium export industry would make it a strong contender for a board seat.

As a result, 17 IAEA member states cannot be elected to one of the 22 board seats allocated by geographic distribution. The 17 states primarily include Central Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Island countries.

Kazakhstan described the current system as a “violation of the fundamental principle of equality.”

The resolution does not immediately assign the 17 states to a regional group, but it calls on member states to adopt an amendment to the IAEA statute that would require the board to adopt new regional lists that would include all member states. The amendment was introduced in 1999, but only 64 states have approved it. The amendment requires approval from two-thirds of the IAEA’s 174 members before it will enter into force. The resolution also expressed support for a “Group of Friends of Arealess States,” which is focused on finding opportunities for including the 17 states to participate in the existing regional groups.

China, Russia, and the United States supported the resolution. Laura Holgate, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, commended Kazakhstan for drawing attention to the problem and said all states should be able to join a geographic group. Other states have called for expanding the IAEA board to reflect the agency’s growth.


Kazakhstan, a leader of the effort, said it is a step toward “restoring justice” to the agency

China Continues Nuclear Buildup

November 2023

China continues to accelerate its military buildup, including expanding its nuclear stockpile beyond previous projections, and is engaging in provocative actions that raise the stakes in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the latest U.S. Defense Department report on China’s military power.

China had more than 500 operational nuclear warheads in May, compared to 400 in 2022, and is expected to have 1,000 or more by 2030, the report said. (See ACT, January/February 2023.)

"Compared to the PLA's [People’s Liberation Army] nuclear modernization efforts a decade ago, current efforts dwarf previous attempts in both scale and complexity," the report said. Regardless, China’s arsenal is dwarfed by those of Russia, which has 4,500 warheads, and the United States, which has roughly 3,800 warheads.

At a press briefing on Oct. 20, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning dismissed the report as “nonfactual and biased” and said the United States calls China a threat to “sustain its military hegemony.” China has “always kept our nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required by national security, and we have no intention to get involved in any nuclear arms race with any country,” she said.

The report revealed that China probably completed construction in 2022 of three new silo fields, consisting of at least 300 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, and has loaded at least some missiles into these silos.

More broadly, the report asserts that the PLA has “adopted more coercive actions in the Indo-Pacific region.” In 2021-2023, the United States “documented over 180 instances of PLA coercive and risky air intercepts against U.S. aircraft in the region, more in the past two years than in the previous decade,” the report said. In the same period, the PLA conducted around 100 instances of coercive and risky operational behavior against U.S. allies and partners in an effort to deter the United States and others from conducting lawful operations in the region.

Despite the tensions, China “largely denied, canceled, and ignored recurring bilateral defense engagements, as well as [Pentagon] requests for military-to-military communication at multiple levels,” the report said.

China Continues Nuclear Buildup


Subscribe to RSS - Arms Control Today