"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
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
Arms Control Today

OPCW at the Crossroads: A Talk With the Chair-Designate of the Fifth Chemical Weapons Convention Review Conference

May 2023

This discussion with Henk Cor van der Kwast took place on March 21 and was hosted by the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition and the Arms Control Association in advance of the Fifth Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Review Conference, scheduled for May 15–19. Paul Walker, coalition chair, asked questions and fielded those from the audience. This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Henk Cor van der Kwast, shown here in 2021, is the chair-designate of the Fifth Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention, scheduled for May 15 at The Hague.  (Photo by Dean Calma / IAEA)Paul Walker: You've recently come from the 102nd CWC Executive Council meeting. It was quite lively and had some interesting statements by a couple dozen of the state-parties. There's also been the open-ended working group, headed by the Estonian ambassador, Lauri Kuusing, who has been active in considering what results we want out of the fifth review conference.

Henk Cor van der Kwast: I think it's very important to have these talks because the review conference will be difficult. I have no illusion on that, and I don't want to hide it. At the same time, it's quite important because the fourth review conference, in 2018, did not end with a result. So, I think that puts more pressure on us to have a result this time with which the [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] OPCW can act in the future and address its new tasks.

The OPCW is at a crossroads. We have had quite a number of good developments, and I am referring to the destruction of the chemical weapons stockpile in the United States later this year and to the new Centre for Chemistry and Technology, which gives us a lot of possibilities for further cooperation, for verification, but also in a wider international cooperation. Another thing is the addition of [central nervous system-acting] agents to the OPCW list. I'm also referring to the [OPCW] reports on [chemical weapons use by] Syria. I think the last one on Douma was quite an important one. It was an excellent report by the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team. I'm also referring to chemical use cases in the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and the Russian Federation, where Novichok was used. It's important to address those cases and give follow-up to that.

The last point I want to mention from the international framework is the current situation we have in the UN Security Council. What we see is that the Security Council is paralyzed because of one member using its veto more than ever. I've forgotten how many times, but it's quite a number. It's not serious dealing with international politics. At the same time, we've seen that Russia is trying to use the United Nations as a podium for other things. We will have a presentation this week on the abduction of children, whereby the Russians want to give what they call their side of the coin, and they use the UN for that. Having said that, I think it is at the same time fairly important not to have this as a sort of anti-Russian discussion, but to have the central question be, How can we strengthen the OPCW with the new challenges? What I see as most important is that there is a balance between verification on the one hand and international cooperation on the other hand.

The CWC, after all, is an arms control organization, and that should be the starting point. We should see how we can help other states by implementing the convention in the first place, protecting their borders, and protecting them against possible threats of chemical weapons. There are also good developments in that field. The issue of chemical weapons and terrorism, which was shared by the ambassador of South Africa, is a very good example where we have initiative from one group, which is really helping the organization further.

With regard to the presence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the review conference, we are still in discussion with the OPCW Technical Secretariat about how we can enlarge the possibilities for having NGO presentations. It's always a little bit difficult to get the OPCW from the pattern they have used over the last four and a half years to a more open pattern because for the right reasons, they're fairly careful, which is good. But we insist that it's very important to have a good and open exchange.

Walker: Terrorism and terrorist use of chemical weapons has been a big topic of discussion. It’s obviously related to the Russian assassination attempts in 2018 and 2020 and to the innumerable alleged uses of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrians, but also by ISIS. Will there be any specific resolution proposed at the review conference, perhaps strengthening national implementation or looking more closely at trade and precursor chemicals or other issues, to try to limit the availability of toxic chemicals to national and subnational groups?

Van der Kwast: Yes. There’s a bit of drive, as it was explained to me by several members of the African group, particularly because of ISIS, [which] is very active in northern Africa. There is a serious fear that that might be something that could be used. The other thing is protection. For us, the most important thing is implementation of the convention. Training programs can help, but most important is things like border control. How can we help you to do that? How can we exchange information as different states? Having read the report by the committee on terrorism, I think there are a number of good recommendations, which we can work on. I think it's also important because the report comes from the African group, which is very active at the moment in the OPCW. It's important to continue that engagement. It would be important to have a number of recommendations included in the review conference conclusions.

Walker: Is the goal of the conference to have a final consensus document and an actual vote on a final report or just a chairman's report?

Van der Kwast: That's the central question. My intention is to see how much we can do, and I will do the utmost to have a consensus report, because if you have a consensus report, the effect is the best. Having said that, it's important to realize that if we would have a very meager consensus report—for instance, if there would not be a fairly clear reference to Syria—I mean, what's the value of such a report? So, it is for member states to decide that. As most of you will know, there has been a [preparatory study] on the different possible outcomes of the CWC review conference. I thought that was a good report, and I welcomed it very much because it gave the different options. There are a number of states who say, “Well, there is only one option, and that's the consensus report.” I think there are indeed different possibilities, but we have to concentrate absolutely on a consensus report first and to see how far we get.

I am, for the moment at least, somewhat hopeful. What we have seen so far is, thanks to Ambassador Kuusing, who has done a marvelous job, very transparent, a lot of consultations with all groups sitting down, trying to incorporate as much as he could from the different groups. So, what we have on the table now as a report from the open-ended working group is quite good, but the job is not finished. We will still have some creative talks, and we'll have to see how that is balanced.

Walker: Will the size, quality, and capability of the inspectorate be raised? This is a concern as the end of the declared chemical weapons stockpile destruction winds down. The inspectorate, which used to be over 200 inspectors, now is down to 100 or so. Going forward, we need a strong and capable inspectorate that can surge quickly for challenge inspections and the like. Has that issue been raised?

Van der Kwast: Yes, that has been raised by different countries, as well as by the secretariat. As you say, there's a serious shortage, and it will only get worse. That is also related to the fact that there is a tenure policy of seven years, which often in practice means that if somebody is here for five or six years, they start looking around and if they get a good offer, they disappear to somewhere else. Particularly for inspectors, it's quite important because it takes time to train them. So, one of the things is to see whether we could have a more flexible tenure policy for inspectors, because it's so fundamental.

The other issue related to that is geographical distribution. That's a question that is brought up particularly by the Latin American group. They want to see something there also in the review conference. We have already discussed this in the open-ended working group. We will continue to do so and see if we can find certain solutions for that. We should get more people from those regions, but we should maintain quality because merit is fundamental for people in the OPCW.

Walker: If the review conference does not generate a consensus strategic outcome document, there will not be another opportunity until 2028, leaving potentially a gap of 14 years without a strong strategic document. That is an important point to make with regard to finding consensus at the end of the meeting.

Van der Kwast: I share that absolutely.

Walker: When chemical weapons use is alleged, the CWC is reliant on states-parties to request an investigation or clarification. There is no route available for an alleged use to be addressed if states-parties do not raise the issue directly. Will there be any consideration given at the review conference to finding a means for such issues to be discussed formally and even actions taken by the OPCW Technical Secretariat.

Van der Kwast: It's a very good point. This was raised in relation to the cases in Iran, where the schoolgirls were poisoned and there was also, according to the authorities, a clear link with chemical gases. It was discussed by different states-parties, but obviously, it's very difficult if Iran, one, is not going to do it itself or put the question on the table and, two, is not willing to work together with the OPCW. There have been a number of declarations by different states on this, but it is a sensitive issue. I haven't heard from states who want to bring this up, but I wouldn't be surprised if anybody does because it is an important point.

Walker: To make the new Chemical Technical Center successful, a long-term, stable central budget will be required. To build the center, we relied on 35 to 40 million euros in voluntary donations. As part of a stable budget, states-parties will need to agree on the activities the new center will conduct. How are those conversations going?

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) considers its new chemical technical center, set to open this month in The Hague, as a pathbreaking opportunity to expand training, verification activities and international cooperation in its mission to eradicate chemical weapons. (Photo courtesy of OPCW)Van der Kwast: We absolutely agree that they should not come primarily from voluntary donations but rather mainly from the central budget. At the same time, that might be difficult. I think the good thing is that we have the ChemTech Center, and it has been paid for completely by donations from different states.… [S]tates have given opportunities for the organization to work it out, and I think that's the right order because then you cannot see a situation whereby states that have donated more would direct the direction of activities of the center. That's a good starting point.

But it's important to have a good budget. There we see two developments. First, the intention by many member states, and the organization as well, to have training in the center. There is broad understanding that it is of great value for the organization, for the implementation of the convention, but also for further developing possibilities for states to deal with threats and to follow up on what their chemical industry is doing.

The last point is also important because we see a development over the last 10 to 15 years whereby more factories that are producing chemicals are moving to developing countries, sometimes with disastrous results. It's important that we will have inspections there as well and follow-up and also that the states will be in a position to control that and oversee that. The center also can have a role in educating groups from different countries, and that could help on geographical representation. If we would have special trainings for certain regions, that could help enormously. We'll have to see how the budget develops. For the moment, there is a clear will to see how we can use the center as much as possible.

Walker: The American Thoracic Society has great concerns about the rise in the use of riot control agents worldwide and the limited knowledge about their health effects. The OPCW Scientific Advisory Board has defined conditions for the safe use of riot control agents and recommended to remove certain agents from the not-controlled list. Are you aware of any efforts by states-parties and the review conference to revisit riot control agents as a category, implement the science board recommendations, or investigate the use and toxicity?

Van der Kwast: I agree that it's an issue that deserves more attention. It has been mentioned to me by one or two countries, but not as a quite important issue. I would definitely encourage nongovernmental organizations to see how we could make a point that this is on the agenda as well, because it's absolutely an issue.

Walker: There have been repeated delays in the U.S. chemical weapons destruction program, along with every other country, particularly Russia. The U.S. program, scheduled to be finished in 1994, is now looking at 2023. Are you confident that it will meet the September deadline? If they don't make it, the concern is that there could be political fallout during the review conference, particularly as part of national statements.

Van der Kwast: I think you're absolutely right. I have to say personally also, having been involved before when I was head of the Department for Nonproliferation on this, in 2008-09 we were told that it was rapidly progressing and there was a lot of progress that has not materialized. So, it's important that it happen this time. Otherwise, it will be very bad for the review conference, for the reputation of the United States as the main upholder of this treaty. On the other hand, I have positive signs. We've had presentations regularly by people from the defense ministry, including last week, and that presentation looked very good. But as we all know, you can make presentations, and Americans are particularly good at that, look very good without the results.

Despite accomplishments, CWC member states face serious challenges in the struggle to eliminate chemical weapons.

Russia Prepares Belarus to Host Nuclear Weapons

May 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia could transfer tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus as soon as July in a move facilitated by Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confer at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 6. (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)“The United States has been doing this for decades,” Putin argued on March 26, referring to the NATO nuclear sharing arrangement in which six European bases across five NATO countries host about 100 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

In 2021, Lukashenko strongly endorsed the possibility of hosting Russian nuclear weapons if the United States and NATO deployed nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe. On March 31, he reaffirmed, “We will protect our sovereignty and independence by any means necessary, including through the nuclear arsenal” and might “introduce, if necessary, strategic weapons.”

NATO strongly denied the comparison with its arrangement. “Russia’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing is totally misleading,” said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu. “NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments.”

Poland, a neighbor of Belarus, threatened that the Belarusian-Russian plan “will certainly lead to the announcement of additional sanctions [and] the level of sanctions will be much more severe for the Lukashenko regime,” according to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Last year, Poland communicated its willingness to host U.S. nuclear weapons. (See ACT, November 2022.)

Putin has yet to detail exactly when or where Russia would relocate the nuclear warheads themselves. But Boris Gryzlov, the Russian ambassador to Belarus, suggested in April that the tactical nuclear weapons “will be moved to the western border of our union state,” before shifting to the new Belarusian storage facility following its projected July 1 completion date.

The Pentagon said that it saw no sign that Putin had “made good on this pledge or moved any nuclear weapons around.”

Putin also announced in March that 10 Belarusian combat aircraft have been reequipped to carry nuclear weapons.

Russian and Belarusian officials have confirmed that Russian-made Su-25 fighter jets in service with the Belarusian air force would be retrofitted for this purpose. The Federation of American Scientists identified on April 19 that Belarus' Lida Air Base, located 40 kilometers from Lithuania's southern border, is the most likely candidate for housing the Russian nuclear warheads and the retrofitted aircraft.

Lukashenko said that Belarus completed reequipping its aircraft in August. Russia said that it began training Belarusian crews on April 3 and completed the training on April 14.

Ukraine called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on March 31 to discuss the nuclear issue. “The Kremlin is ready to threaten the world with nuclear apocalypse,” remarked Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s UN ambassador.

China, a close Russian partner, also condemned the Belarusian-Russian deal. Geng Shuang, China’s UN ambassador, said, “We call for the abolition of the nuclear-sharing arrangements and advocate no deployment of nuclear weapons abroad by all nuclear weapons states, and the withdrawal of nuclear weapons deployed abroad.”

Experts doubt that if actually under construction, the Belarusian storage site would be ready to host nuclear weapons by July or at all.

Andrey Baklitskiy of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research told NBC News on April 2 that the transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus “would not give Russia any capability it did not have before.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia potentially could transfer tactical nuclear weapons as soon as July when a special storage facility in Belarus is constructed. 

New U.S. ICBMs May Be Delayed Two Years

May 2023
By Shannon Bugos and Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program may face a delay of two years due to supply chain issues and an absence of skilled engineers, although the Pentagon aims to shorten the lag time by adjusting the program’s acquisition plan.

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile program, shown in a U.S. Air Force illustration, may be delayed two years because of supply chain issues. (U.S. Air Force illustration)The Sentinel program “may miss its goal of initial deployment in May 2029 by as much as two years, according to information presented at a high-level Pentagon review last month,” Bloomberg first reported on March 23.

The Air Force said in a statement to Bloomberg that it has “identified and is ready to execute acquisition strategy changes to reduce risk and optimize schedule, wherever possible.” Deborah Rosenblum, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 28 that the $96 billion program remains a top priority for the Pentagon.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall sparked initial speculation in November about potential delays when he told a defense event in Washington, “I am concerned about the schedule, specifically for Sentinel.”

The Pentagon requested $3.7 billion for continued research and development and $539 million for initial procurement of the Sentinel system for fiscal year 2024. The Air Force aims to purchase a total of about 650 Sentinel ICBMs and deploy 400 of them to replace Minuteman III ICBMs. In April, the Defense Department began to solicit proposals for a new reentry vehicle to carry the nuclear warhead for the Sentinel missiles.

In its 2024 budget proposal, the Biden administration requested $56.5 billion for nuclear weapons-related activities at the Defense Department, which oversees nuclear weapons delivery vehicles, and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees nuclear warheads. Overall, the Pentagon is seeking a total budget of $842 billion, a 3 percent increase from the 2023 appropriation, and the NNSA is seeking $18.8 billion, a 10 percent increase from the 2023 appropriation. (See ACT, April 2022.)

The Pentagon’s request was informed by the fact that the United States is facing for the first time “two major nuclear powers, whose vital national security interests are in competition” with the United States, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on March 29. “Both China and Russia have the means to threaten U.S. national security…but war with either is neither inevitable nor imminent.”

Two nuclear weapons capabilities endorsed by the Trump administration but denounced by the Biden administration were cut in the new budget request. This reflects the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, which stated that the Biden administration would not proceed with plans for the development of a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) or the life extension program for the megaton class B83-1 gravity bomb. (See ACT, January/February 2023; December 2022.)

Funding for the SLCM and its associated nuclear warhead, the W80-4, was eliminated in the request, although Congress could reverse this later. For fiscal year 2023, Congress appropriated $25 million for the SLCM and $20 million for the warhead despite no such request from the administration.

In a marked change from his predecessor, Gen. Anthony Cotton, head of U.S. Strategic Command, did not explicitly express support for a nuclear-armed SLCM in a February letter to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The SLCM offers “additional options and supports an integrated deterrence approach,” he wrote, but “I support funding to assess the full range of possible options to address this challenge in a rapidly changing security environment with the backdrop of multiple nuclear adversaries.”

As for the B83-1 gravity bomb, the NNSA requested $31 million, but those funds would go to sustainment efforts to ensure the bomb’s safety and reliability rather than a life extension program.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget includes a $5.3 billion request for the B-21 Raider bomber, shown here at the unveiling ceremony in December. The high-tech stealth bomber can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and is designed to be able to fly without a crew on board. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)Meanwhile, the Defense Department’s other nuclear modernization programs continue apace. The Air Force requested $5.3 billion for R&D and construction of the B-21 Raider dual-capable strategic bomber, an increase from the fiscal year 2023 authorization of $4.9 billion. The Pentagon unveiled the bomber in December, and it will have its first flight test later this year. The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 bombers.

The Air Force also requested $978 million for the new nuclear-capable Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) weapons system, which includes $67 million for a second year of procurement. The service aims to buy about 1,000 LRSO missiles, with initial deployment in 2030.

The Navy asked for $6.1 billion for R&D and procurement of what ultimately will be a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a decrease of $1 billion from the 2023 appropriation.

The request would procure “the second Columbia-class submarine, our nation’s most survivable leg of the strategic triad, and [keep] us on track for the delivery of the first vessel in” 2028, Erik Raven, undersecretary of the Navy, said in a March 13 congressional briefing.

Although not a host for nuclear delivery systems, the Army has been developing a conventional, ground-launched midrange missile, a capability previously prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This capability, known as the Typhon system, features modified Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) and Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Army received the first of four planned Typhon systems on Dec. 2.

For 2024, the Typhon program transitioned fully into the procurement phase, with the Army requesting $170 million for the procurement of 58 new Block V Tomahawk missiles.

Meanwhile, the NNSA budget seeks continued funding for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W87-1 warhead, and the W-80 air-launched cruise missile programs at $450 million, $1.1 billion, and $1 billion, respectively.

The Federation of American Scientists reported on Jan. 9 that the deployment of B61-12 bombs to the six bases in Europe, which house an estimated 100 U.S. nuclear bombs under the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement, appears imminent, if it has not begun already.

The NNSA also requested $390 million for an entirely new controversial warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the W93. The United Kingdom is pursuing a parallel nuclear warhead replacement program based on the W93 design. The Pentagon, meanwhile, requested $126 million for the warhead’s associated Mk7 aeroshell.

As for arms control and nonproliferation efforts, the NNSA requested $212 million, a 7.8 percent decrease from 2023 funding.

The NNSA is also in the midst of producing plutonium pits for nuclear weapons, an effort that has experienced significant delays in achieving the congressionally mandated goal of producing 80 pits per year by 2030. But Jill Hruby, NNSA administrator, reaffirmed to Congress on March 28 that the NNSA “remains firmly committed to achieving 80 [pits per year] as close to 2030 as possible.”

For 2024, the NNSA requested $921 million for pit production at Savannah River Site in South Carolina and $1.8 billion for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency set out its plan to continue efforts “to counter growing and more complex threats” and to improve the reliability and lethality of the Navy’s Aegis weapons system, including the SM variants.

On April 3, the agency announced the successful interception of a medium-range ballistic missile by two SM-6 interceptors fired simultaneously from an Aegis-equipped ship. The test marked the first interception of this class of missile in the terminal phase of flight by the SM-6 and the third successful test of an Aegis vessel using the SM-6.

For 2024 the agency requested a total of $1.8 billion for Aegis missile defense systems, including R&D on Aegis software and hardware, the development of land-based SM-3 missiles, and the procurement of 27 Aegis SM-3 Block IB missiles and 12 Aegis SM-3 Block IIA missiles for deployment at sea on Aegis ships and on land at the Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland.

Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, the agency director, said on March 14 that his organization is “very excited about where we are today” with the Poland site. “We completed construction, which was the major tip over into combat system installation and testing. That testing is going on now” and is scheduled to finish by this fall.

The agency also requested $2.1 billion for Next Generation Interceptor missiles, which are intended to replace the current Ground Based Interceptor missiles that are part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. The agency plans to begin supplementing the existing 44 ground-based missiles with 20 next-generation missiles no later than 2028, bringing the fleet total to 64.

The Biden administration’s request also includes continued funding of $351 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, a slight decrease from the 2023 appropriation of $352 million. This program is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus.

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program may face a delay of two years due to supply chain issues and an absence of skilled engineers. 

U.S. Scraps Purchase of Hypersonic Boost-Glide Vehicle

May 2023
By Shannon Bugos

The United States has canceled the planned purchase of the Air Force’s hypersonic boost-glide system due to a lackluster testing record. But other Pentagon hypersonic weapons programs remain on schedule, with the Army planning to field the first U.S. hypersonic weapons system this fiscal year.

A lackluster testing record doomed the U.S. Air Force's hypersonic boost-glide system known as ARRW (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon), shown on its first captive carry flight on a B-52 bomber over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. in 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)“The Air Force does not currently intend to pursue follow-on procurement of ARRW [the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon] once the prototyping program concludes,” Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, told a congressional hearing on March 29.

Less than a week before, the Air Force conducted the ARRW system’s second all-up-round test flight, with a B-52H bomber releasing a prototype missile, but did not specify if it was successful as the first test was last December. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall admitted to Congress on March 28 that the March 13 test failed.

The Pentagon has requested $150 million in research and development funding for the ARRW system in fiscal year 2024, a 30 percent increase from 2023. The program will wrap up after two more all-up-round test flights in order to gather data to inform future programs. The Air Force intended to begin procurement in 2023, but decided against it in light of three test failures in 2021. (See ACT, June 2022.)

Kendall said that the Air Force will focus instead on a program to which it is “more committed,” the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), for which it requested $382 million for 2024.

Hypersonic boost-glide weapons programs remain underway for other services. The Army plans to deploy the first operational prototype battery of the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system, also known as Dark Eagle, by the fall of 2023. The Pentagon requested $944 million for continued R&D and $157 million for procurement in 2023.

Since 2021, the Army has trained with the first LRHW training battery at Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington state. (See ACT, November 2022.) In February, the service practiced deploying the system from Washington to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Army planned to conduct a test of the LRHW system from Cape Canaveral on March 5, but aborted the test due to a battery failure during preflight checks.

The LRHW system shares a common hypersonic boost-glide vehicle with the Navy, which led its development.

The Pentagon requested $901 million for R&D on the Navy’s program, Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS), and $341 million for the procurement of an initial eight all-up-round tests in 2024. This fiscal year marks the first year of CPS weapons system procurement funding.

The missiles are scheduled for deployment on Zumwalt-class destroyers in 2025, and the Navy plans to deploy the CPS system on Virginia-class submarines in 2028. The Pentagon aims to
test-fire CPS missiles from the USS Zumwalt in December 2025. The Navy’s first CPS weapons system all-up-round test failed in June 2022.

The Navy also requested $96 million in 2024 for its other main hypersonic weapons program, the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Increment II (HALO), which marks a 37 percent decrease from 2023. HALO missiles are intended for deployment on F/A-18 fighter jets.

Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) requested funds for its ongoing R&D on hypersonic weapons systems, including $82 million for the Tactical Boost Glide system, more than double the previous year, and $30 million for the MoHAWC weapons system, a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile, half of the system’s 2023 budget.

In total, the Defense Department asked for $11 billion for hypersonic weapons programs in 2024.

President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act on March 1 to accelerate the advancement of U.S. hypersonic weapons systems in order “to avert an industrial resource or critical technology item shortfall that would severely impair national defense capability,” he wrote in a directive to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The United States pursues not only offensive hypersonic weapons systems but also defensive capabilities to defend against Chinese and Russian hypersonic systems.

DARPA asked for $29 million, $10 million more than in 2023, for the Glide Breaker program, which is intended to strike hypersonic weapons systems from long-range distance.

The Missile Defense Agency requested $209 million for the development of a regional interceptor capable of defeating hypersonic weapons in their glide phase. The United States and Japan have discussed a potential partnership on this project, which would aim to deliver the Glide Phase Interceptor in 2034.

The agency also requested $69 million for the low earth orbit Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, scheduled for launch in late 2023 with on-orbit demonstrations and testing in 2024. The agency plans to transfer the responsibility for the space sensor to the Space Force after successful demonstrations as part of its Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared system architecture.

This architecture includes layers in low and medium earth orbit to track a range of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic weapons. The 2024 budget requests for those layers came in at $1.3 billion and $538 million, respectively.

The Space Development Agency transitioned into the Space Force in October 2022. As a result, the space agency’s “Tracking Layer” is now synonymous with the Space Force’s low earth program. The 2024 funds will go toward the development of the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer, comprising 35 satellites that are slated to begin launching in 2024.

On April 2, the space agency launched 10 satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California into low earth orbit as part of Tranche 0. Two of the 10 are tracking satellites for hypersonic weapons systems. The agency plans to launch the remaining 18 Tranche 0 satellites in June.

The planned purchase of the Air Force’s hypersonic boost-glide system was canceled due to a lackluster testing record.  

U.S., South Korea Agree to Strengthen Nuclear Coordination

May 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States and South Korea announced steps to give Seoul more input into U.S. nuclear planning amid growing support in South Korea for a domestic nuclear weapons program to counter the threat from North Korea.

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shake hands during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House on April 26. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)U.S. President Joseph Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to create the U.S-South Korean Nuclear Consultative Group during Yoon’s visit to Washington on April 26. According to a declaration issued by the two leaders, the group will “discuss nuclear and strategic planning” and manage the North Korean nuclear threat.

The declaration states that the United States “commits to make every effort to consult with [South Korea] on any possible nuclear weapons employment on the Korean peninsula,” consistent with U.S. nuclear policy, and will “maintain a robust communication infrastructure” for consultations. The two countries also will plan for South Korean “conventional support to U.S. nuclear operations in a contingency.”

Yoon has long sought greater South Korea’s involvement in the U.S. nuclear planning process. He suggested in January that Seoul may pursue its own nuclear weapons in the absence of stronger U.S. extended deterrence commitments and has called for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2023.)

The Biden administration has made clear it will not redeploy U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea but the declaration says the United States will “enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets.”

Yoon reaffirmed South Korea’s commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the joint declaration, but it remains unclear if his country’s new role in U.S. extended deterrence planning will quell growing support among the South Korean public for a domestic nuclear weapons program.

Prior to the Biden-Yoon summit, North Korea demonstrated its advancing nuclear weapons capabilities by testing its first solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in April and displaying at least ten tactical nuclear warheads. The developments came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during an April 10 meeting of North Korea’s Central Military Commission, called for a more “practical and offensive” nuclear deterrent to respond to South Korean-U.S. military exercises “simulating an all-out war against” his country.

The new solid-fueled, three-stage ICBM, which North Korea calls the Hwasong-18, was tested from a mobile launcher near Pyongyang on April 13. North Korea launched the missile on a lofted trajectory, and it flew about 1,000 kilometers before splashing down between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Kim oversaw the missile test, which was intended to “confirm the performance of the high-thrust solid-fuel engines for multi-stage missiles,” according to an April 14 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA reported that Kim expressed “great satisfaction” with the launch and that the Hwasong-18 will “extensively reform the strategic deterrence components.”

A solid-fueled ICBM capability offers several advantages over the liquid-fueled ICBMs that North Korea tested in the past. Solid-fueled systems are more mobile and easier to conceal and can be launched more quickly than liquid-fueled systems. Liquid-fueled ICBMs are generally fueled shortly before launch, providing more time for an adversary to detect and respond to the launch. North Korea has tested solid-fueled systems in the past, but the Hwasong-18 is the first ICBM.

According to KCNA, Kim said that the Hwasong-18 will “radically promote the effectiveness of [North Korea’s] nuclear counterattack posture” and make the country’s “offensive military strategy” more practical.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the Hwasong-18 test “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing” the region. Watson called on North Korea to “immediately cease its destabilizing actions and instead choose diplomatic engagement.”

Japan, South Korea and the United States responded to the test with military drills and a trilateral pledge to strengthen defense cooperation and information sharing.

South Korea and the United States conducted aerial training involving B-52 strategic bombers the day after the Hwasong-18 test. The exercise demonstrated the alliance’s “combined defense capability” and “extended deterrence in the defense of the Korean peninsula,” according to an April 14 statement from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Japan and the United States also held a bilateral air exercise on April 14.

Three days later, Japan, South Korea and the United States conducted a missile defense drill focused on tracking and sharing information about North Korean missile launches. The South Korean navy described the drill as “an opportunity to strengthen security cooperation…against North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats.”

North Korean official Ri Pyong Chol criticized the military exercises in an April 17 statement and accused the United States of raising tensions and simulating a “pre-emptive nuclear strike and an all-out war.” Ri, vice-president of North Korea’s Central Military Commission, described the Hwasong-18 test as self-defensive and said the use of B-52 strategic bombers in the region is nuclear blackmail. He warned Washington against further actions that “endanger the security environment of the Korean peninsula.”

China also blamed the United States for driving regional tensions. In an April 13 press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the U.S. “deployment of strategic weapons” and “massive military drills near the peninsula” have a “negative impact.” The United States needs to “act as soon as possible to address the legitimate concerns” of North Korea and “create conditions” to alleviate tensions and resume dialogue, he said.

The United States called out China and Russia for failing to condemn North Korea’s ballistic missile launches, which violate UN Security Council resolutions.

During a Security Council meeting April 17 on the Hwasong-18 launch, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the council’s failure to take action against North Korea “undermines the credibility of this council and the entire international nonproliferation regime.” Thomas-Greenfield did not specifically reference China and Russia, but said that two council members continue to “draw false equivalences between [North Korea’s] unlawful ballistic missile launches and lawful, defensive, pre-announced” South Korean-U.S. joint military exercises.

In that meeting, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia said that Moscow opposes Security Council meetings “for the purpose of propaganda and exerting pressure.” He said that the situation on the Korean peninsula is “tense indeed” but that the United States is "directly involved in the stepping-up of the escalation.”


The allies announced steps to give Seoul more input into U.S. nuclear planning as support grows in South Korea for a domestic nuclear weapons program to counter North Korea. 

China Deploys New Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles

May 2023
By Luke Caggiano

China is equipping its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines with advanced JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that are capable of targeting the continental United States, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

China is ahead of schedule in equipping its Jin-class nuclear-powered submarines with advanced JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles capable of striking the continental United States. (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein/AFP via Getty Images)The deployment comes earlier than expected. Previous U.S. reports estimated that China would deploy the JL-3 missile along with the country’s next-generation ballistic missile submarine, the Type 096, which is believed to be still under construction. (See ACT, June 2021.)

China’s six Jin-class ballistic missile submarines “are now being equipped with the new third-generation JL-3 SLBM” capable of reaching the continental United States, said Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, during a March 8 congressional hearing.

The JL-3, which was tested first in November 2018, has an estimated range of more than 10,000 kilometers and is expected to be capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads. The new missile is a significant improvement over its predecessor, the
JL-2, which has a range of about 8,000 kilometers. (See ACT, July/August 2019.)

The JL-2 is also capable of striking the United States, but the missile’s limited range would require China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy to sail farther into the Pacific Ocean where Chinese submarines are more vulnerable to U.S. anti-submarine defenses.

According to the Pentagon’s 2022 report on Chinese military power, the JL-3’s extended range allows the Chinese navy to target the United States from the safety of “bastion” waters near China’s coast, such as the South China Sea and Bohai Gulf. This new capability will enhance the survivability of China’s sea-based nuclear deterrent, the report says.

The Type 096 submarine is expected to be much quieter than the existing Jin-class, or Type 094, submarines, which the Defense Department considers to be China’s first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent. Given the estimated 30- to 40-year service life of China’s ballistic missile submarines, the Type 094 and the Type 096 are expected to operate concurrently, which could bring China’s total number of ballistic missile submarines to 8 to 10 over the coming years, according to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The Pentagon also has confirmed that China’s Jin-class submarines are “conducting continuous at-sea deterrence patrols” for the first time. (See ACT, January/February 2023.) The patrols will ensure that at least one Chinese nuclear-armed submarine will be at sea at all times.

China has long adhered to a policy of minimum deterrence by which it maintains a relatively small nuclear force capable of a retaliatory second strike. But China’s recent expansion of its nuclear capabilities indicates that the country deems its current nuclear deterrent insufficient and intends to achieve strategic parity with the United States perhaps achieving 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by 2030. (See ACT, April 2023.)

Sooner than expected, China is equipping its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines with advanced JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles that are capable of targeting the continental United States.  

IAEA Begins to Reinstall Cameras in Iran

May 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began reinstalling cameras at certain nuclear facilities in Iran under an agreement the agency reached with Tehran in March.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in an April 1 interview with PBS NewsHour that the agency is “starting with the installment of cameras” and the “reconnection of some online monitoring systems.” He said the process will take a few weeks and will increase the agency’s visibility into Iran’s nuclear program. He described the reinstallation of the surveillance equipment as a “deescalation” of the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

A 2015 view of Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Much of it is built underground and protected by a thick concrete wall.  (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images via Getty Images.)After Iran in June 2022 removed surveillance cameras from certain facilities and the monitor that tracked uranium enrichment at its Natanz plant in real time, Grossi has raised concerns about the gap in IAEA monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program. He warned that the reduction in transparency would pose challenges for establishing baseline inventories in certain areas of the program, such as centrifuge component production. (See ACT, March 2023; July/August 2022.)

Iran suspended IAEA access to certain facilities in February 2021 as part of its campaign to push the United States to lift sanctions, but agreed to allow cameras to continue surveilling those locations. (See ACT, March 2021.) Tehran said it would turn over the data collected from the cameras to the IAEA if the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was restored. Since Tehran switched off the cameras in June, there has been no monitoring of these facilities.

Iran agreed to reinstall certain surveillance equipment during Grossi’s last visit to Tehran, on March 4. In the agreement, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) committed on a “voluntary basis” to allow the IAEA to “implement further appropriate verification and monitoring activities.”

But after the agreement was announced, the AEOI and IAEA offered different interpretations about what would be included under the agreement, raising questions about whether it would be implemented. (See ACT, April 2023.)

Despite Grossi’s confirmation that implementation is progressing, it is unclear how much the IAEA will benefit from the increased monitoring. Grossi did not say if Iran will permit the agency to install an online enrichment monitor at the Fordow enrichment facility. This was where the agency in January detected uranium enriched to a level of 84 percent uranium-235, well above the 60 percent U-235 level that previously was declared. (See ACT, March 2023.)

Under the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium at the Fordow facility for 15 years, so the IAEA did not install an online enrichment monitor there as it did for Natanz, where Tehran is permitted to enrich under the deal.

Grossi also did not comment on whether the IAEA will have access to the recordings from the cameras or whether Tehran will turn over the data only if the JCPOA is restored or a new agreement is negotiated.

The prospects for any diplomatic agreement between the United States and Iran appear bleak. Officials from Iran and the European countries that are partners in the JCPOA (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) met in Norway in March, but the discussions on Iran’s nuclear program and the JCPOA do not appear to have led to any breakthrough.

In an April 17 interview with Foreign Policy, Colin Kahl, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, reiterated the Biden administration’s preference for resolving the nuclear crisis diplomatically, but said that the JCPOA is on life support.

In an April 18 ministerial statement, the Group of Seven industrialized countries (G-7) also expressed support for a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis and referred to the JCPOA as “a useful reference.” They urged Iran to meet its nonproliferation obligations and voiced concern about the country’s nuclear advances, which have “no credible civilian justification and bring it dangerously close to actual weapon-related activities.”

The challenges are exacerbated by the political pressure on the United States and the Europeans not to engage with Iran due to its brutal crackdown on domestic protesters and support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Although the United States and the Europeans have warned Iran against continued military support for Russia, Politico reported on April 12 that Tehran is looking to obtain the chemical compounds needed for missile rocket fuel from Moscow and Beijing. The transfer of such chemicals would violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses the JCPOA and prohibits Iran from importing or exporting missiles and related components without Security Council approval.

The G-7 called on Iran to “stop supporting the Russian military in its war of aggression” and to “cease transferring armed [unmanned aerial vehicles], which have been used in Ukraine.”

Regional tensions also may complicate a return to diplomacy. In an unusual move, the U.S. Navy publicly confirmed the deployment to the Middle East of a submarine capable of carrying 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Navy Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said on April 6 that the deployment was intended to “help ensure regional maritime security and stability.” It follows a U.S. airstrike on Iranian-backed forces responsible for killing a U.S. contractor in Syria.

Israel continues to pressure the United States not to return to the JCPOA and is now pushing China to restrain Iran’s nuclear advances.

Beijing helped mediate an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March and hosted the two countries’ foreign ministers on April 6, but has shown no signs of using its influence to reduce nuclear tensions. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said he urged Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang to “exert his influence on Iran to stop the progress on the nuclear program” during an April 17 phone call.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began reinstalling cameras at certain nuclear facilities in Iran under an agreement the agency reached with Tehran in March.

IAEA Shifts Priorities for Zaporizhzhia

May 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

After months of negotiations with Russia and Ukraine to establish a protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said he is now focused on reaching a narrower agreement to protect certain areas of the facility that pose a greater risk.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visited the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine on March 29, and later said he is  focused on reaching a narrower agreement with Russia to protect the embattled facility. (Photo by Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images)IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced the shift in the agency’s priorities after visiting Zaporizhzhia on March 29 and observing the buildup of military forces in the area. In a March 30 statement, the IAEA said Grossi’s proposal evolved from creating a territorial zone around the plant to reaching an agreement on “what should be avoided” at the facility to ensure protection of the six-reactor Zaporizhzhia plant during conflict. Prior to the visit, Grossi told Associated Press in a March 28 interview that negotiations on establishing the zone were being “affected by the ongoing military options.”

Russia has illegally occupied the Zaporizhzhia plant since February 2022, but the facility is still operated by Ukrainian personnel. (See ACT, April 2022.) Moscow and Kyiv professed support for Grossi’s initial plan to establish a protection zone, but officials on both sides expressed doubt about the feasibility of establishing it. (See ACT, March 2023.)

Grossi emphasized in the March 28 interview that his approach is focused on “a series of principle[s] or commitments [that] everybody would be able to support.” He said that if Russia and Ukraine make a political commitment to protect Zaporizhzhia, it will be an agreement with the IAEA and they “are not agreeing with each other.” He characterized the nature of the agreement as “a very important element” that Russia and Ukraine should take into consideration.

In the March 30 statement, Grossi emphasized the urgency of reaching an agreement. He said it is “obvious that military activity is increasing” in the Zaporizhzhia region and that the “area is facing perhaps a more dangerous phase in terms of the ongoing conflict.” He said it is “very, very important that we agree on the fundamental principle that a nuclear plant should not be attacked.”

Prior to visiting the Zaporizhzhia plant, Grossi met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and said on March 27 that they had a “rich exchange” regarding the protection of the facility and its staff. Grossi said his trip was also focused on ensuring that IAEA personnel stationed at the facility since September can rotate in on a regular basis after a delay in February prevented a new agency team from entering the facility for nearly a month.

A Russian military truck is seen on the grounds of the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine on March 29. (Photo by Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images)Following his visit, Grossi met on April 5 in Kaliningrad with Russian officials, including Alexey Likhachev, director-general of the Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom. Although Ukrainian staff still run the Zaporizhzhia plant, Rosatom has stationed some of its personnel at the facility.

In an April 5 statement, Likhachev said he told Grossi about steps that Rosatom has taken to “ensure the safe operation” of Zaporizhzhia, including stationing new diesel generators at the facility.

The Zaporizhzhia plant has relied on generators six times over the past 13 months when power to the facility was disrupted, including after a March attack that severed power lines. Reliable external power sources are necessary to continue cooling the shuttered nuclear reactor units at the site.

Likhachev also reiterated Russian willingness to work with the IAEA to protect the nuclear facility.

Grossi said in an April 5 statement that he will continue his efforts to protect the Zaporizhzhia plant and reiterated the “urgent need to achieve this vital objective.”

In addition to the risk posed by power disruptions, Ukrainian officials are now raising concerns that Russia’s decision to drain water from the Kakhovka reservoir could make it more difficult to cool the reactor units at Zaporizhzhia. The reactor requires external water sources for cooling to prevent a meltdown.

According to Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear energy company, the level of the reservoir is typically around 16 meters, but the drainage dropped the levels to 13.8 meters in February. A fall to 12.8 meters would qualify as an emergency, according to Petro Kotin, the head of Energoatom.

Ihor Syrota, director general of the Ukrainian state-run hydropower company Ukrhydroenergo, told Reuters in a March 27 interview that there is no immediate risk and that thawing snow is helping raise the reservoir levels again.

But he warned of a water shortage later this summer if Russia continues to discharge water from the reservoir.


After months of negotiations with Russia and Ukraine to establish a protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the head of the IAEA is now focused on reaching a narrower agreement to protect certain areas of the facility that pose a greater risk.  

Russian ICBM Test Raises Questions for Kazakhstan

May 2023
By Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández

Russia’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from its territory to a test site in Kazakhstan has raised questions about Kazakhstan’s compliance with a 2017 treaty banning nuclear weapons.

After the Russians tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that landed at a test site in Kazakhstan on April 11, the U.S. Air Force released pictures that it says shows service members aboard an E-6B Mercury 'doomsday plane' initiating the test launch of an unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBM on April 19. (U.S. Air Force photo)Kazakhstan, a leader on disarmament and nonproliferation issues, ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2019. But the Russian Defense Ministry announced the launch on April 11 of a missile whose training warhead reached the designated target at the Sary-Shagan test site, which is leased by Russia from Kazakhstan.

“This [missile] launch made it possible to confirm the correctness of the circuit design and technical solutions used in the development of new strategic missile systems,” the ministry reported in a statement.

It was the first time since 2019 that Russia has used the site to test ICBMs.

The TPNW, which entered into force in January 2021, is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of their total elimination.

It bars states-parties from assisting anyone in anyway in a prohibited activity. Specifically, the treaty says states-parties promise to “never under any circumstances...assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state-party under this treaty.” In addition, they forswear to “allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.”

The Nuclear Weapon Ban Monitor, a watchdog group, noted on April 12 that Kazakhstan’s actions were not consistent with the TPNW. “This is no doubt a difficult situation for Kazakhstan, but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate the significance of the TPNW. As a state committed to the goals of the TPNW and the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, Kazakhstan should communicate its priorities to Russia and request that it refrains from all testing of nuclear-capable missiles at Sary-Shagan,” according to a group statement.

Meanwhile, Pavel Podvig, an expert on Russian strategic nuclear forces, said in an April 12 tweet that the missile launch “was an important test for the TPNW and…not an easy one.”

“Sary-Shagan is largely a missile defense site [that] was used by the Soviet Union to test various defense-related systems—radars and interceptors in particular [and]…one can argue that missile defense may be TPNW-compliant.”

But he added that the “situation with the Kapustin Yar [Russian test site] to Sary-Shagan launches is a bit different. These are tests of ICBMs.… ICBMs are very much dedicated nuclear weapon delivery systems.”

Kazakhstan insisted that it remained in full compliance with the TPNW.

“Taking into account that no nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices (or their indivisible parts) are being in any way placed, tested, or utilized on the territory of Kazakhstan (including at certain military facilities rented to third parties in accordance with existing international agreements), Kazakhstan remains in full compliance with its obligations under the TPNW,” the Kazakh embassy in Brussels wrote on April 12 when asked by EURACTIV whether the missile test constituted a breach of the TPNW.

The Kazakh-Russian leasing agreement for the test site states that “nuclear and chemical weapons” are prohibited on the test site.

The agreement was last amended in 2015 and is automatically renewed every 10 years unless one party notifies the other party in writing at least six months prior to the expiration of the agreement.

Last December, the Russian Strategic Forces announced that it planned to carry out eight launches of ICBMs in 2023, from the Plesetsk cosmodrome and from the 4th State Central Interspecific Test Site Kapustin Yar.

According to the leasing agreement, Kazakhstan and Russia agree on annual plans for research, tactical exercises with live-fire missile launches, the maintenance and repair of weapons and military equipment, and schedules for testing.

Russia’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from its territory to a test site in Kazakhstan has raised questions about Kazakhstan’s compliance with a 2017 treaty banning nuclear weapons.  

G-7 Expected to Focus on Nuclear Dangers in Hiroshima

May 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

The leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations, who will convene this month in Hiroshima, the city destroyed in 1945 by the world’s first nuclear attack, are expected to emphasize measures to address rising nuclear dangers.

Paper lanterns float on the Motoyasu River as The Atomic Bomb Dome looms in the background at the peace park in Hiroshima, Japan, which commemorates the first use of a nuclear weapon in armed conflict. Some 90,000 to 146,000 people were killed in the 1945 bombing and the entire city was destroyed. G-7 leaders will meet in Hiroshima this month. (Photo by Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who will preside over the summit, chose Hiroshima as the venue “to deepen discussions so that we can release a strong message toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.” In response to concerns that Russia might use nuclear weapons in its war in Ukraine, Kishida also said on Jan. 9 that the G-7 needs to “demonstrate a firm commitment to absolutely reject the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

By the end of 1945, an estimated 215,000 people had died from the Aug. 6 and 9 atomic bomb attacks by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and many more have suffered since then from the long-term health effects of radiation exposure.

U.S. President Joe Biden will join the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Union at the May 19–21 meeting.

In 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered an address at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. He was escorted by Kishida, who was Japan’s foreign minister at the time and who is from Hiroshima.

According to The Japan Times, the Japanese government is arranging for a meeting between the G-7 leaders and some of the remaining hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bomb attacks, during a visit to the peace museum on May 19.

In February, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue met with Kishida and proposed that the government arrange a visit by the G-7 leaders to the museum and a dialogue with atomic bombing survivors.

Kishida also met representatives from the “Civil 7” group of nongovernmental organizations from 72 countries on April 13 to hear their recommendations on how the G-7 leaders could advance progress on nuclear risk reduction and nuclear disarmament. Among other measures, the civil society group recommended that G-7 leaders meet atomic bombing survivors, unequivocally condemn threats to use nuclear weapons, and endorse urgent negotiations to achieve the complete elimination of nuclear weapons before 2045.

In a statement from the G-7 nonproliferation directors group issued April 17, the governments noted that Hiroshima and Nagasaki “offer a reminder of the unprecedented devastation and immense human suffering the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced as a result of the atomic bombings of 1945.”

The statement, which may preview a possible G-7 leaders’ statement on nuclear weapons, does not condemn unequivocally all forms of nuclear threats. Instead, it recalls the joint statement from January 2022 by the leaders of the five nuclear-armed states under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including Russia, that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The nonproliferation director’s statement also asserts that, unlike Russia, G-7 security policies “are based on the understanding that nuclear weapons, for as long as they exist, should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war and coercion.”

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden issued a statement on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings, saying, “As president, I will restore American leadership on arms control and nonproliferation as a central pillar of U.S. global leadership.” He added, “I will work to bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons, so that the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never repeated.”

The leaders of the G-7 group of industrialized nations, set to convene this month in Hiroshima, are expected to emphasize measures to address rising nuclear dangers.


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