Missile Control: An Interview With Deputy Assistant Secretary Of State Vann Van Diepen
Vann Van Diepen has been principal deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation since June 2009. He has worked for 30 years on issues relating to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their delivery systems. For more than 14 years, he directed the Department of State’s Office of Chemical, Biological and Missile Nonproliferation.
Arms Control Today spoke with Van Diepen in his office on June 18. The interview covered missile programs in countries such as Iran, North Korea, India, and Pakistan, as well as the impact and future of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
The interview was transcribed by Lauren Weiss. It has been edited for clarity. A condensed version appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Arms Control Today.
ACT: Thank you for doing this. We really appreciate it.
Estimates of the threat to the United States from ballistic missiles fluctuate over time, as new evidence emerges on different countries’ programs. How would you describe the current trends, and in particular, is the threat to the United States growing or shrinking?
Van Diepen: Strictly speaking, these threat assessments are really the job of the intelligence community [IC] rather than the policy community. But certainly what we’ve seen over time is that, for those countries that continue to be in the ballistic missile business and who are potential adversaries to the United States, they are working to expand their missile programs both quantitatively and qualitatively. And so you’ve seen, increases over time in the range capability of, say, Iranian missiles from 300-kilometer Scuds to 500-kilometer Scuds to 1,300-kilometer-range Nodongs, and now obviously they’re working on longer-range systems. You see the same kind of thing with North Korea. So that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, over the past 20 years, we’ve gotten a number of countries out of the business of [pursuing] missile programs capable of delivering WMD [weapons of mass destruction], and we’ve gotten yet other countries out of the business of supplying missile proliferation programs. So overall, there have been pluses and minuses on the historical track record, I would say.
ACT: Iran, which you mentioned, possesses the largest ballistic missile inventory in the Middle East, and ballistic missiles are considered to be a likely delivery vehicle for nuclear weapons that Iran might acquire. Estimates vary as to when Iran may deploy a long-range ballistic missile. Currently, Iran’s longest-range ballistic missile under developmental testing seems to be the Sajjil medium-range ballistic missile, with a range of about 2,200 kilometers. And they have a large space launch vehicle that contains technology that could be used for an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM], but it hasn’t been flight-tested. So what’s the current U.S. government assessment for the most likely time frame for the appearance of an Iranian ICBM threat to the United States?
Van Diepen: Again, those types of questions really are intelligence community questions rather than policy community questions, so I think I’d really have to refer you to whatever the latest public IC assessment may be on that question. 
ACT: But could you just summarize what the basic assessment is from the IC, that we have, the policy assessment?
Van Diepen: No, only because I don’t know what it is. I know what the classified assessments are, but I’m not in a position to provide those.
ACT: A similar question with North Korea but maybe we could ask it a little bit differently: Has the most recent North Korean missile flight-test failure altered the U.S. government’s assessment of North Korea’s ability to deliver a weapon of mass destruction on a long-range ballistic missile?
Van Diepen: Not that I’m aware of. Remember, for example, in roughly the same time frame that that failed test occurred, the North Koreans rolled out, literally, a road-mobile ICBM. So one can’t simply look at that one program and its checkered flight-test history to draw conclusions about the overall North Korean missile threat.
ACT: You mentioned the road-mobile ICBM. Is there anything you can say about that in terms of how you’re viewing that?
Van Diepen: Well obviously, that’s very serious. That portends the ability to have a usable, militarily effective, survivable system that can reach the United States with a significant payload. So that’s obviously a very serious and significant development.
ACT: Are you referring to the missiles that a number of nongovernmental experts have said were mock-ups?
Van Diepen: I am referring to the mobile ICBM program, of which the paraded mobile launchers and missiles are a part. 
ACT: If I can just follow up on Iran and North Korea: When Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates spoke about these issues back in 2009, he mentioned in testimony to the Hill that the threat of potential Iranian ICBM capabilities has been slower to develop than anticipated in 2006. The same might be said for North Korea, which has had these long-range flight tests, most of which have been considered to be failures. What are the factors that you see as being essential to further slowing the ability of both these countries to successfully test and field these systems in the years ahead? What kinds of barriers can we be putting in the way and the international community be putting in the way?
Van Diepen: First of all, we need to continue to find ways to make it politically uncomfortable for them to engage in this type of activity. I think it’s pretty clear that the North Koreans certainly don’t seem to be conducting their test activity on a technically driven schedule. It clearly appears to be a politically driven schedule. So the extent to which we the international community can continue to make it clear to them that that kind of behavior is unacceptable and there are consequences for that—hopefully, that will slow the pace of at least the flight-test portion of those programs. Likewise, we’ve got to continue our efforts to ensure robust implementation of UN Security Council sanctions, of restrictions like those of the Missile Technology Control Regime, and do what we can to try to make it harder for [the countries] to get better technology, force them to have to settle for less effective and less reliable technology, interdict shipments, et cetera, et cetera. So continue the ongoing efforts that we’ve been doing for really the past several decades to impede these programs, to make them take longer, cost more, be less reliable, less effective than would otherwise be the case.
ACT: Moving on to India and Pakistan: In April, India flight-tested the Agni-5 ballistic missile, which the Indian government claims has a range of some 5,000 kilometers. In reference to that test, the U.S. government “urged all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding their nuclear and missile capabilities” while recognizing India’s “solid nonproliferation record.” So, in the view of the U.S. government, why is such restraint important, particularly with respect to the Agni-5 program?
Van Diepen: Well, I’m not sure I’d single out any particular program, but obviously you know South Asia is one area where one could actually conceive of the unfortunate possibility of a nuclear war occurring between neighboring states. So for a long time, we have been counseling restraint both on the nuclear side and the missile side of both countries, to try to do whatever we can from the outside to encourage behaviors and practices that would make things more stable and make it less likely you could have such a war.
ACT: We’ll get back to that point about the arms race dynamic in a minute, but I also wanted to ask, what is the U.S. government’s assessment of India’s interest in acquiring long-range ballistic missile capabilities that would extend the range of its nuclear arsenal beyond the border of its two nuclear-armed neighbors, China and Pakistan?
Van Diepen: I’m really not in a position to comment on what we might be assessing for the future.
ACT: Then going back to the point about the reaction to the Indian missile test, is there concern in the administration that Pakistan may take the U.S. response to the India test as a green light to go ahead with testing on its own longer-range ballistic missiles?
Van Diepen: Other people may have their own assessment, but I don’t see this being a sort of action-reaction phenomenon. I think that these two countries’ programs respond to different kinds of dynamics. You know there are substantial internal dynamics on both sides that aren’t directly dependent on the other, certainly for longer-range systems. I’m sure Indian strategists would be pointing to China rather than Pakistan, so I don’t see it as literally that kind of a tit-for-tat dynamic.
ACT: But I think some people saw the U.S. reaction to the Indian test as very muted, so would other countries use that as sort of a justification or sort of a signal that there wouldn’t be a strong U.S. response if they went ahead?
Van Diepen: Again I think that overstates the impact we as an outsider could have and understates the impact of these internal factors that drive these programs.
ACT: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the MTCR, which was created to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks. How is the MTCR still relevant to U.S. efforts to curb the spread of ballistic missile technology?
Van Diepen: The main reason it’s relevant is that it’s really the only multilateral institution we have, with 34 members, that comprehensively combats the proliferation not just of ballistic missiles but of cruise missiles capable of delivering WMD. We relatively recently evolved the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, but that’s very much focused on ballistic missiles and is more of a sort of mild, normative institution rather than something that has the teeth that the MTCR has in terms of export control requirements, in terms of information sharing, policy coordination, cooperation. So the MTCR has much more of an active ability to really have a bite on the proliferation problem.
ACT: So how does the United States believe the MTCR needs to evolve or can evolve over time to address future missile proliferation challenges?
Van Diepen: Well, we have to move simultaneously on a number of different fronts, which in fact is what we’ve been doing. First of all, we’ve got to continue to try and update the regime’s technology controls to take account of evolutions in technology, take account of what we see in proliferant procurement activity.
ACT: So updating the list—
Van Diepen: Updating the list, but also augmenting that sort of export control focus with other counterproliferation tools, with cooperation in interdiction, in work on intangible technology transfers, brokering, transit, transshipment, looking at all the ways that proliferators try to evade standard export-from-country-A-to-country-B export controls and add on things that can help deal with that. Then also to do what we can to get cooperation from countries that are not members of the regime, and there the regime has been very successful in establishing itself as the global standard for missile-related export behavior. Most of the major repositories of missile technology in the world now are either members of the MTCR or are avowed adherents to the MTCR or adopt practices that are very, very close to those in the MTCR.
ACT: As you mentioned, since the MTCR was established in 1987 it has had some notable successes, but some countries, such as India, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan, continue to advance their missile programs. And all four have deployed medium-range ballistic missiles and are exploring missiles with greater ranges. So how can the MTCR affect further missile development in these and other countries that developed indigenous capabilities or formed networks for importing the necessary technology from supplier countries that are not part of the MTCR?
Van Diepen: Again, I think fundamentally what we end up doing in those cases is impeding those programs and making them take longer, be less effective and less reliable than what would otherwise be the case, and making them cost more. That does inhibit the missile proliferation problem, but the fact is that it is very difficult to prevent someone from pursuing a missile program if they’re bound and determined to do so.
ACT: But you think the MTCR still can have an effect in the cases of the countries I mentioned in slowing the growth of programs that already exist, as opposed to just preventing the starting-up of countries that are aspiring to it but don’t have the capability yet?
Van Diepen: We’re doing both of those things simultaneously, and in fact if you look at who are the countries of proliferation interest, you’re talking roughly a dozen countries. Everybody’s list might be a little bit different, but it’s roughly that magnitude. Compared to what that list could look like, I think that’s a way of gauging the impact. Doing what we can to keep it that way is important, so not only impeding the programs that we have but doing what we can to discourage countries from getting into the business is an ongoing thing. That is an area where this mild norm of the Hague Code of Conduct is helpful. It establishes a predisposition that missile proliferation is bad, missile nonproliferation is good. This is also an area where the different nonproliferation tools kind of start to meld together, where we’re discouraging countries from having chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, and we also help discourage them from having missiles capable of WMD delivery and vice versa.
ACT: You mentioned the relationship between the MTCR and interdiction efforts. To what extent is there an active integration of ideas and work between the Proliferation Security Initiative [PSI], for instance, and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 work and the MTCR? What is being done on the ground to try to affect what you’re talking about in terms of putting these efforts together to be more powerful?
Van Diepen: For 1540, I think its main contribution is this requirement that all UN member states have proliferation-related controls including on missile proliferation, and there the MTCR really provides the de facto standard. Its list was implicitly endorsed in the footnotes to UN Security Council Resolution 1540. A lot of the work that is going on in our export controls assistance programs in terms of helping other countries set up systems is setting up systems that are consistent with the lists of these different regimes. We have a lot of countries that even though they have not formally said that they adhere to the MTCR guidelines, their export control system has lists that draw from the MTCR annex, for example. 
For PSI, I think its fundamental contribution has been to raise the political profile of interdiction where people understand that it’s important, it’s something that needs to be done. When the call comes to cooperate in an interdiction, people understand that that’s not just a routine working-level activity, this is something that has a presidential imprimatur. A lot of work also has gone on in PSI in terms of exercises and other things to help people be able to conduct an interdiction when and if it’s their turn to do so.
And in MTCR, what we’ve done is build a lot of awareness of how missile proliferation works, who the proliferators are, their front companies, the techniques they engage in, so that people are in a better position to recognize activities that need to be interdicted. We’ve done a lot to build partnerships between the actual people who do this in the real world so that when the time comes, people know who to call; they’re used to cooperating with these people. And we do a lot of sharing of experiences so that people can learn from what happened to the other guy so that when it’s their turn, they can do it better the next time.
ACT: You also mentioned the Hague Code of Conduct. Do you want to talk about how that intersects with the MTCR and how the two work together, in your view?
Van Diepen: I think the major contribution of the Hague Code of Conduct is that you’ve got a widely subscribed, 134-country, quasi-norm. It’s not legally binding; it’s politically binding, but it has this normative effect that underlines the idea that the proliferation of ballistic missiles capable of delivering WMD is a bad thing and that promoting the nonproliferation of such missiles is a good thing. So in effect, it helps build an awareness of the importance of the missile nonproliferation issue and a receptivity in a wide swath of countries to the importance of this issue.
A lot of missile proliferation-related activity can occur in some of these countries that aren’t members of the MTCR but are subscribing states to the [Hague Code of Conduct]. So it helps build this awareness and receptivity to working with us on this issue and bolster the more directly pointy-end-of-the-spear kind of contributions that the MTCR and its members can make, by giving us this broader support, this broader coverage that this wider membership provides.
ACT: You mentioned earlier that the MTCR covers cruise missiles as well as ballistic missiles, but compared to ballistic missiles, it seems the MTCR has had less success in stemming the proliferation of cruise missiles apparently because of a rise in the dual uses for cruise missile technology and the simplification of the technological requirements for cruise missiles. So do you see a need to strengthen the MTCR to address this issue?
Van Diepen: Well first of all, I’m not sure I’d necessarily agree with that characterization. If you think about MTCR Category I cruise missiles, cruise missiles that were in this category of [being] inherently capable of delivering WMD, that’s still a very small set of the total population of cruise missiles out there. Most of the cruise missiles out there are medium-range, anti-ship cruise missiles that are MTCR Category II systems. Now we are starting to see relatively large land-attack cruise missiles beginning to bubble up in countries like India and Pakistan, not just countries in the traditional West, and in China. But that’s happened a lot later than a lot of people expected, so I think this is another example of the impedance function that the MTCR provides.
But because the basic technologies are very similar to aircraft technologies, and manned aircraft are specifically exempted from the reach of the MTCR, it’s not surprising that over time that technology is going to be able to move. So we need to continue looking for areas where we can have a purchase on the cruise-missile dimension of the problem that doesn’t get too far into the manned aircraft side of the problem. We continue to look for areas that we need to tighten controls up on to help us stay on that cruise missile problem, but it is a very difficult thing just because aircraft technology has become more widespread over the years.
ACT: So overall, you would say the MTCR has been largely successful in regard to cruise missiles?
Van Diepen: Well, I’d say it’s been more effective than the initial comment gave it credit for. But if someone is determined to get into this business, over time they’re going to be able to do it. If we can delay that, force them to settle for guidance, propulsion, and other technologies that are not as good as they could otherwise get, we’re still having an impact on the problem.
ACT: Are there efforts underway to rein in cruise missile proliferation to address this problem that you characterized as now, later than you expected, starting to emerge?
Van Diepen: I think we talked about this a little before. Basically it’s part of our overall effort to try and keep the regime’s controls current with technology and with the activities of missile proliferation programs. That’s not a ballistic missile-specific thing; that covers the waterfront.
ACT: With regard to another area of possible adjustments, some observers have suggested that some of the MTCR’s restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] could be loosened because UAVs are not part of the problem the MTCR was designed to address, but other people argue that they should continue to be subject to such export controls because they are able to disperse chemical or biological agents over a wide area. What is the U.S. view on this issue?
Van Diepen: The general approach the MTCR has is to restrict systems based on their inherent capability. So if a system is capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kilograms to a range of at least 300 kilometers, it’s inherently capable of delivering WMD and therefore is subject to the greatest restraint. It doesn’t matter what you call it, whether it’s a ballistic missile or space-launch vehicle, whether it’s a UAV or a cruise missile; if it’s got that level of capability, it’s inherently capable of delivering WMD and should be treated accordingly.
Now the MTCR restrictions, even the strong presumption of denial for Category I exports, are not an absolute ban, and that can be overcome on what the MTCR guidelines calls “rare occasions” that are extremely well justified in terms of the nonproliferation factors that are listed in the MTCR guidelines. So there is an ability to make certain sales under certain good circumstances, and the United States has in fact sold Category I UAV systems to some of its allies. I think there is a way of striking the appropriate balance that’s laid out there.
ACT: And what is that? You said that you have certain criteria that have to be met? How do you go about that so it doesn’t look like some people favoring friends or making special political exceptions? How do you go about striking that balance?
Van Diepen: Fundamentally, it’s applying the factors that are written out in the guidelines themselves. The whole thrust of the guidelines for these Category I systems [is that] the first answer is no and then there has to be a really good reason to be able, on what you can justify as a rare occasion, to overcome that strong presumption of denial. We’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve got sort of internal understandings and rules of the road that help us apply that on a reasonably consistent basis.
ACT: Just to follow up on one of the things you were saying, you seem to suggest that one of the keys to dealing with the cruise missile issue and the UAV issue is to maintain updated control lists. So are there ongoing plans at work within the MTCR countries to do that? Is there a schedule, are there some benchmarks that the member states are seeking to meet in order to update those lists, especially with the UAV and the cruise missile issues?
Van Diepen: No, basically this is an ongoing process, and at every annual MTCR plenary, part of what happens is debating the various proposals that various member countries make for changes to the control list. And to help drive that, there’s been a concerted effort over the past couple of years to provide information and analysis on emerging technologies and on proliferant procurement activities so that we can look for reasons to modify our list based both on how technology moves and on what the proliferators are doing, what they’re seeking, and how they’re doing it.
ACT: And to round out our questions on UAVs, is the MTCR a suitable mechanism to deal with the UAV technology, or should it be covered by some sort of separate mechanism?
Van Diepen: Right now, we’ve got two different regimes that deal with UAV technology. One is the MTCR, which of course looks at them from a WMD-driven, WMD delivery prism, and then the Wassenaar Arrangement, which looks at them through the prism of trying to prevent destabilizing accumulations of conventional weapons. UAVs with a certain performance level are controlled by the MTCR, either in Category II or Category I, and we have to look at them through that WMD prism, but then basically all military UAVs of any sort would be covered by the Wassenaar Arrangement and looked at through that prism as well.
ACT: Going to some specific countries and their interactions with the MTCR: Under a 1979 agreement with the United States, South Korea restricted its ballistic missile range to 180 kilometers. In 2001, when South Korea joined the MTCR, the United States agreed to a South Korean request to extend the capability to 300 kilometers [with a payload of 500 kilograms] for its ballistic missiles. South Korea reportedly has been in discussions with the United States about the range limit. Has the United States agreed to grant South Korea an exemption to develop longer-range missiles?
Van Diepen: South Korea joined the MTCR in 2001, based in part on understandings of the range/payload capability of its missile systems—not just range. There is an interactivity, ability to trade off range and payload, so it’s not just range in the picture. I think it’s pretty clear that we are in discussions with the South Koreans about their interest in being able to have more-capable missile systems. Basically all I can say is that we are in those discussions, and in those discussions we have to take account of both the legitimate defense requirements of our treaty ally, who is under very substantial threat, as well as our interest in upholding global nonproliferation standards. That’s kind of what’s going on right now.
ACT: So how are you weighing those? In particular, if there are exceptions made, how do you make sure that the exception doesn’t become a precedent for weakening the regime?
Van Diepen: Again, I really can’t get into the dynamics of this issue, but clearly South Korea has some distinguishing features in terms of the threat it faces from North Korea that clearly would have to be taken into account.
ACT: And on that point, what effect might an exception have on North Korea’s missile activities?
Van Diepen: North Korea’s already testing ICBM-class systems. I’m sure it can use as an excuse whatever the South Koreans do, but they’re already the world’s biggest missile proliferator. They have very extensive missile deployments of their own. They are already flight-testing ICBM-class systems. So I’m sure they could use for rhetorical purposes whatever they want, but realistically, whatever the South Koreans are doing is unlikely to be an actual driver.
ACT: The United States has launched an effort within the MTCR to accept India as a member. Given that India has already pledged to conform with the MTCR as part of the deal to exempt it from certain Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] restrictions,  what benefits to missile nonproliferation would Indian membership provide?
Van Diepen: I’m not sure about this [connection to the] NSG and whether that’s actually accurate or not—
ACT: The week before the NSG exemption was made, on September 6, 2008, the Indian government made a statement outlining the nonproliferation commitments it was making in conjunction with that, and MTCR guideline conformance was part of that. So that’s what we’re referring to.
Van Diepen: All right. Again, I’m not sure there was, strictly speaking, a linkage between those two, but basically India is a country that’s a major repository of missile technology. They’ve tested and demonstrated systems across the entire spectrum, including cruise missile systems. So bringing that repository of technology under control and taking steps to make sure it doesn’t go elsewhere is a major contribution to the missile proliferation picture. The Indians, you know, have a lot of information that could be of use to the regime. So basically, our belief is that the regime and missile nonproliferation would be better off having them in the regime rather than out of the regime.
ACT: But the question is, basically, if India has already committed to conform with MTCR guidelines, how does membership alter its behavior? How does it improve its behavior?
Van Diepen: Well, I think, from our standpoint, it’s not a question of improving their behavior. I think, from our standpoint, their behavior is such that they warrant membership in the regime. You don’t bring somebody in and hope that because they become a member, they behave better; you only bring into the regime countries whose behavior is such that it’s supportive of the objectives of the regime and thereby strengthens the regime. And we think India falls into that category.
ACT: How would you handle the issue of the range limits that countries normally have to abide by when they come into the MTCR, that is, they agree to restrictions on their own systems comparable to what the MTCR range limits are for export?
Van Diepen: Well, none of that is a regime restriction. Oftentimes, [the United States] in particular, as a condition of our agreeing to permit a certain country to enter the MTCR, will require that that country forgo Category I systems. But sort of apropos of our attitude on their membership in the NSG—it would certainly be nice if they signed up to the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], but realistically that’s not going to happen any time soon—in recognition of that, we believe we’re better off having them in than having them out. It’s sort of the same thing with the delivery systems.
ACT: Given that India already has ballistic missile systems that are beyond the 300-kilometer range and the payloads outlined in the MTCR guidelines, would Indian membership in the NSG in any way affect the behavior of MTCR member states in denying transfers to India that could aid its missile program in missiles beyond those ranges? That’s one of the things we’re getting at here because that is a concern among some about Indian membership in the MTCR.
Van Diepen: The regime is very clear in including on its website that membership in the regime does not confer an entitlement to receive technology from another member or confer a responsibility to provide technology to another member. And the MTCR guidelines are not denominated in terms of members and nonmembers. So just as we currently control MTCR annex items to essentially all countries, we would continue doing that for India just as we have continued to deny exports to a variety of programs that we don’t support in member countries. We would apply that exact same policy to India.
ACT: Moving on to China: China applied for membership in the MTCR in 2004 after pledging that it would voluntarily follow the export control guidelines laid out by the regime. Its membership, however, was rejected by the United States due to concerns that China’s participation would weaken the regime, as certain Chinese companies were believed to be supplying sensitive technology to countries such as North Korea. Would accepting Chinese membership now put more pressure on that country’s government to rein in violators?
Van Diepen: Well first of all, “rejected by the United States” sounds like we were the only country that felt that China did not currently meet the MTCR membership criteria, and I can assure you that’s not the case.
Now, China’s the kind of country where if they were following the rules, their membership would strengthen the regime, just as I laid out in the discussion on India—sort of the same thing. Unfortunately, as is manifestly clear, including in numerous U.S. sanctions impositions, right now there’s a substantial problem of Chinese entities providing missile technology to programs in places like Iran and North Korea, and until that problem is substantially addressed—right now China does not meet the membership criteria. We expect them to meet the same criteria that everyone else has met to become a member, and we would very much like them to be able to meet those criteria because that would also then mean there would be few if any missile proliferation problems emanating from China, which unfortunately is not the case right now.
ACT: With respect to these various membership issues, is there a timeline or a schedule that the United States or the other MTCR member states have in mind with respect to Indian membership consideration or a future Chinese membership consideration?
Van Diepen: No. Part of this is that any decision on anything in any of these regimes requires a consensus of all the current members, and that will develop on its own dynamic. And if you had enough agreement to have a timetable, then you’d have enough agreement to let them in. We’re working with our partners, and our objective is to try to get that consensus in the case of India as quickly as we can, but with 34 countries of a diverse composition, that may take some time.
ACT: So those discussions have begun on a formal basis, or are they still on an informal level about possible Indian membership in the MTCR?
Van Diepen: Indian membership has been under discussion in a serious way ever since we took our public position that we supported their membership [in November 2010].
ACT: On China, you mentioned the ongoing problems with regard to exports to Iran and North Korea. Do you see progress the United States and other countries are making in modifying that behavior, or how would you characterize the discussions and efforts on that topic?
Van Diepen: I think if you look at this issue on kind of a Chinese time scale, over the past 20 or 30 years, I think you can say there’s been progress on the issue in the sense that we no longer see China selling complete MTCR-class missile systems like we did in the ’80s and ’90s.
We don’t see China selling complete production capabilities for MTCR-class missile systems like we did in the ’80s and ’90s. I think most observers would say that the issue is no longer one of China, the country, the government, deliberately supporting programs of proliferation concern.
Where we continue to have problems is the ability of Chinese entities to be approached by proliferators and to provide them with equipment and technology that they need for their programs, a lot of which is dual use, a lot of which is not even necessarily listed on the MTCR annex but nonetheless is of value to these programs. From our perspective, we don’t see sufficient priority, resources, and effort being put by the Chinese authorities in bringing that under control.
ACT: But so in your view, it’s an inability of the Chinese government to control things that they’re not necessarily supporting, as opposed to these companies doing these activities with the support or complicity of the Chinese government?
Van Diepen: Right. I think most observers would say that these are not activities that are being done at the behest of the Chinese government. That said, the Chinese government has the ability to decide to devote more resources, efforts, and priority to crack down on these activities; and for whatever reason, thus far they have not chosen to do that.
ACT: By the end of the year, there is supposed to be a meeting on the WMD-free zone in the Middle East, and ballistic missiles are within the scope of the meeting. In October 2008, Russia and the United States issued a statement declaring U.S. and Russian intentions to “work with all interested countries” and “discuss the possibility of imparting a global character” to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty, which bans intermediate-range missiles. Some outside analysts have suggested that states in the Middle East should consider a ban on the development and possession of ballistic missiles capable of flying more than 3,000 kilometers, in part because it could help build momentum toward a WMD-free Middle East. Is the United States discussing a similar concept with its partners in the region or in the context of the consultations on the WMD-free zone?
Van Diepen: I’m really not in a position to get too far into the Middle East WMD-free zone issue, but I think at this point, I think it’s fair to say that we’re still looking at this in a very broad, general kind of way, looking to try to get the buy-in of all the states in the region to the general idea of having a meeting to discuss the zone. So I don’t think we’ve really gotten into the sort of 200- or 300-level [course] questions at this point.
ACT: Going back to the 2008 statement that was made at the United Nations by the United States and Russia on multilateralizing the INF Treaty, what discussions has the United States had with Russia or other countries about this concept? Is this a concept that might be applicable to certain regions like the Middle East where we have ballistic missile proliferation problems, in terms of going from the short- to medium-range level to the longer-range level?
Van Diepen: I think there are just a lot of problems in trying to transpose something that was done in a bilateral Cold War context to a multilateral post-Cold War context. From a verification standpoint, there are a lot of shortcomings in the INF Treaty that were okay in the context of everybody having lots of missiles and lots of nuclear weapons above and below the 500- to 5,500-kilometer-range prohibited zone. So the impact of cheating or inability to really nail down compliance was a lot less in that setting. For example, the definition of range in the INF Treaty is the range that’s demonstrated in a flight test, so it would be relatively straightforward to flight-test a missile to range X but know that it has the capability to go well beyond X. In the U.S.-Soviet context, that was a perfectly survivable way of doing business; but outside of that context, that could lead to lots of problems and circumvention avenues, [as could] the way that space-launch vehicles were treated in the INF Treaty and the fact that [the treaty] deliberately only dealt with land-based missile systems. So there are lots of circumvention avenues, which again were entirely understandable and appropriate in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War context, that could be very problematic in a wider context. That’s aside from all the political problems of, could you even get the buy-in from all the counties that one would have to get that buy-in from in order to be able to have such a treaty, given that some of these countries already have systems deployed well within that range band? How realistic is it to expect that they would actually be prepared to give those up where they’re not in the situation of having lots of things above and lots of things below that range band that we were in with the Soviets back in the day? So I think it’s something that, on one level, sounds good but when you really start parsing it and applying it outside of that historical context, has some shortcomings that you’ve got to think about.
1. The most recent U.S. unclassified intelligence estimate assessing Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities does not indicate a time frame in which Tehran is likely to develop an ICBM. It says that Iran continues to “move toward self-sufficiency” in its production of ballistic missiles but “certainly remains dependent on foreign suppliers” for components that are “key” to missile production. See Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, Covering 1 January to 31 December 2011,” 2012, pp. 3-4, www.odni.gov/reports/2011_report_to_congress_wmd.pdf.
3. The Equipment, Software and Technology Annex lists the items that are subject to MTCR guidelines. The annex divides the items into two categories. Category I includes complete missiles and rockets, major subsystems, and production facilities. Category II includes specialized materials, technologies, propellants, and subcomponents for missiles and rockets. MTCR restrictions for Category II exports are less stringent, largely because many items in the category also have civilian uses.
4. In the July 18, 2005, "Joint Statement Between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh" outlining the terms of their joint civil nuclear cooperation initiative, Singh pledged that India would be ready to assume a number of "responsibilities and practices" that "other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology" had. Among the practices Singh said India would follow was "ensuring that the necessary steps have been taken to secure nuclear materials and technology through comprehensive export control legislation and through harmonization and adherence to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines."
On September 5, 2008, in the run-up to the NSG decision on the proposed exemption for India from certain NSG guidelines, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee issued a statement on the "Civil Nuclear Initiative" in which he said that "India has taken the necessary steps to secure nuclear materials and technology through comprehensive export control legislation and through harmonization and committing to adhere to Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines."
Selected Export Control and Nonproliferation Regimes
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