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"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."
– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
United States

Begin With New START, Not a New Arms Race


June 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Three and a half years since taking office, the Trump administration has failed to develop, let alone pursue, a coherent nuclear arms control strategy. The administration’s official nuclear policy document, the “2018 Nuclear Posture Review,” barely discusses arms control as a risk reduction tool. It passively states that “the United States will remain receptive to future arms control negotiations if conditions permit.”

A Trident II D-5 intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off from the water after being launched from the submerged nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN-734). (Photo: The U.S. National Archives)But President Donald Trump says he would like to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.” Since April 2018, Trump and his advisers have talked about somehow involving China in nuclear arms control yet they have failed to explain how to do so.

Meanwhile, Trump has rebuffed Russia’s offer to extend the only remaining nuclear arms control treaty, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Control Treaty (New START), by five years. This can be accomplished through an executive agreement that must be concluded before the treaty expires Feb. 5, 2021.

Having wasted valuable time, team Trump is now threatening to allow New START to expire and launch a new arms race unless Russia, as well as China, agree to a new and more ambitious arms control deal involving all types of nuclear weapons, strategic and nonstrategic. The Washington Post reported May 22 that senior administration officials even discussed the option of a demonstration nuclear test explosion as a way to pressure the Russian and Chinese leaders to accept the U.S. terms. This would not advance arms control; it would be an invitation for other nuclear-actors to follow suit; and it would blow apart the nonproliferation regime.

The president’s new “arms control” envoy, Marshall Billingslea, told The Washington Times on May 7 that before there is talk about extension of New START, Russia must “bring the Chinese to the negotiating table.” In remarks on May 21, Billingslea said that “any potential extension of our existing obligations must be tied to progress towards a new era of arms control.”

Serious pursuit of deep cuts in all types of nuclear weapons in the bloated U.S. and Russian arsenals and engaging other nuclear-armed states in disarmament talks are crucial. But there is no possibility of concluding a new and complex nuclear deal before New START expires, and discarding New START without a replacement agreement would be foreign policy malpractice.

Negotiations to account for, reduce, and eliminate U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons are overdue, but they will not be easy. Russian officials say they are prepared to talk about these weapons, but only if U.S. leaders are prepared to address Russian concerns, including U.S. missile defenses—an issue U.S. officials, including Billingslea, say is non-negotiable.

Leaders in Beijing have repeatedly said they are not interested in an arms control deal as long as Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals remain orders of magnitude larger than China’s. Russian officials say they are open to talks with China, but it is up to Washington to bring Beijing to the table, and they want France and the United Kingdom involved in any such talks.

Unfortunately, the administration’s entire approach seems to be based on an exaggerated and naive belief that tough talk and threats will somehow coerce Russia and China to make major unilateral concessions. In remarks broadcast on May 21, Billingslea said the United States would not hesitate to engage in a costly nuclear arms race if China and Russia do not agree to U.S. terms. “We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” he said.

Even the Trump administration’s former undersecretary for arms control and nonproliferation, Andrea Thompson, is skeptical about the administration’s tactics. “China is not going to come to the table before February of next year,” Thompson told Newsweek on May 14. “There's no incentive for them to come to the table.”

U.S. allies and U.S. military and intelligence officials greatly value the New START limits and its inspection capabilities, which provide predictability and transparency. As Adm. Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on April 29, “Put me down in the column of extension, and the reason for that is the clock is running. Certainly, in my experience, getting to the right specifics in a very complex treaty takes a long time.”

The administration’s unserious approach on New START—a pattern of behavior that led to its decisions to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Iran nuclear deal—suggests it may simply be seeking a pretext for exiting yet another valuable risk reduction agreement without a plan B.

If Trump genuinely wants to constrain and reduce the nuclear capabilities of major adversaries, the first and best step is to promptly agree to extend New START by five years. This would create the time and the right environment for follow-on disarmament talks with Russia and serious give-and-take discussions with China on risk reduction options, including a possible freeze of the size of China’s arsenal and joint stockpile declarations.

Unless the White House shifts course and soon, the United States may lose the benefits of New START, and Trump will have opened the door to a more dangerous and costly phase of the global nuclear arms race, which everyone stands to lose.

 

Three and a half years since taking office, the Trump administration has failed to develop, let alone pursue, a coherent nuclear arms control strategy. The administration’s official nuclear policy document, the “2018 Nuclear Posture Review,” barely discusses arms control as a risk reduction tool.

Reconsidering U.S. Plutonium Pit Production Plans


June 2020
By Sharon K. Weiner

U.S. efforts to produce and maintain the plutonium cores of its nuclear weapons have endured a troubled history of safety and environmental problems since the first plutonium was produced in Hanford, Washington, in 1944. These hollow metal cores, each weighing several kilograms, enable the initial, explosive chain reaction in nuclear weapons.1 The last pit production facility at Rocky Flats was closed in 1989 due to widespread contamination and negligence. In the 1990s, pit production essentially stopped as arsenals declined. Although pit production was eventually relocated to Los Alamos National Laboratory, the lab struggled to produce more than a handful, if any, pits in any given year.

Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. (left), then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, watches a demonstration of the transporters used for Minuteman III ICBMs at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in 2016. The Air Force is planning to replace all of its W87 ICBM warheads with new W87-1 warheads that will require newly produced plutonium pits. (Photo: Dominique Pineiro/U.S. Navy/Joint Chiefs of Staff)Yet, pit production ambitions persisted. The Obama administration’s nuclear modernization plans gave impetus to a variety of schemes and in the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress required the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semiautonomous nuclear weapons agency of the Department of Energy, to build a facility that could demonstrate an annual production capacity of 80 pits. Although several plans for such a facility at Los Alamos were proposed, each was postponed or abandoned because of unclear justifications, budget shortfalls, or both.

Under the Trump administration, pit production efforts have enjoyed new momentum. In 2019, Congress set the requirement not only to demonstrate capacity but to produce at least 80 pits per year by 2030. The administration also made pit production a budget priority. The Energy Department’s fiscal year 2021 budget request asks for about $1.4 billion to support plans for production of new plutonium pits, a massive increase of $570 million over the fiscal year 2020 appropriated level. The NNSA plans to build two pit production facilities: one at Los Alamos and a second, larger facility in South Carolina at the Savannah River Site.

Pit production, however, is not the requirement it is claimed to be. Current pit production plans are likely to cost significantly more than estimated, putting increased pressure on an already strained federal budget. Moreover, assessing the underlying assumptions makes clear there are credible alternatives to the scale and planned start date for pit production. Additionally, current plans and their latent potential to ramp up to larger pit production rates raise concerns that the United States is also interested in developing new types of nuclear weapons and expanding the arsenal. This may well feed the potential for an arms race with Russia or China and will also undermine long-standing U.S. commitments to arms control and to a reduction in reliance on nuclear weapons.

Cost and Schedule Problems (Again)

To meet the production goal of 80 pits by 2030, the NNSA intends for Los Alamos to make 30 pits per year, with the rest to be produced at the Savannah River Site. According to a January 2019 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, the estimated cost of NNSA pit production plans are $9 billion over the next decade.2 Yet, past performance and multiple independent assessments raise questions about the ability of the NNSA to deliver on time and within budget.

One set of concerns involves the facilities at Los Alamos. Since the closure of Rocky Flats, Los Alamos has led the charge for reconstituting pit production despite numerous setbacks to its plans and facilities. Its Plutonium Facility Building 4 (PF-4), the site of current pit production activities, is supposed to install a production capacity of 10 pits per year and then ramp up to a capability of making 30 pits per year by 2026, but the facility may not be up to the task. Los Alamos produced only five prototype pits in fiscal year 2019, which are not the “war reserve” pits that meet that standards for deployment on nuclear weapons. PF-4 is seeking to be able to produce its first such pit in 2023.

Designed in the 1970s, PF-4 lacks important safety features and has a history of safety problems. For example, in 2013, Los Alamos paused work at PF-4 for three years after the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board noted a variety of ongoing problems, including violations of rules intended to ensure the safe storage of plutonium. According to safety experts, Los Alamos lacked enough personnel “who knew how to handle plutonium so it didn’t accidentally go ‘critical’ and start an uncontrolled chain reaction.”3 In 2016 the lab had to cancel its plans to resume work at PF-4 because of concerns over safety. The lab also has repeatedly been criticized for lacking plans to mitigate risks from local forest fires and seismic activity, even though concerns about both have increased in recent years. Although pit work resumed in 2017, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board documented problems with delayed and incomplete upgrades to safety controls.4 Add in broader problems with the safety culture at Los Alamos, and this suggests that accidents will remain a concern.

Note: The chemical explosive can be a conventional high explosive or an insensitive high explosive.  Source: International Panel on Fissile Materials

 

PF-4 is also crowded because of its other plutonium missions. In addition to pit production, the facility converts excess weapons-grade plutonium into plutonium dioxide in preparation for its storage or disposition. It also supports NASA by processing plutonium-238, which is used as an energy source for space missions. Yet, there are limits on how much plutonium can be in an area at any one time. It is not clear that PF-4 can expand pit production without shortchanging disposition activities or NASA or violating safety standards.

Los Alamos’s planning of pit-related facilities has also been problematic. Technical analysis on pit sample material was to be performed at a new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility. That project was terminated in 2014 after significant cost overruns and a failure to meet environmental regulations for the handling and disposal of nuclear waste. The Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building, which provides facilities for a variety of activities related to plutonium work, was completed in 2010, but had a leak in its radioactive waste system in 2019. Prior to current pit production plans, the NNSA was criticized for pushing the adoption of Los Alamos’s “modular” plan to increase space for plutonium work without adequate analysis of the risk of failure, alternatives, or cost.5

The military’s frustration with Los Alamos’s repeated failures is rumored to be behind the addition of a second pit production facility. This larger facility, the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF), is intended make 50 pits per year. The SRPPF will be housed in a repurposed building that was to have been the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, originally intended to convert excess weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. The NNSA was finally persuaded to cancel the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel project in 2018 after its original cost of $1.6 billion ballooned to potentially more than $100 billion.6 Left behind was an unfinished concrete shell primed for plutonium work. In 2018 the building was estimated to be about 70 percent complete. About one-quarter of this construction, however, needed to be redone because of improper installation, failure to meet required regulations, and a host of other problems.7 It is unclear what other problems may arise in trying to turn this incomplete building into a pit production facility.

Independent analysis has called into question the NNSA’s ability to meet pit production requirements at Los Alamos and Savannah River. A 2019 assessment found that although redundant facilities would provide a buffer against natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or fires, or geopolitical developments leading to a more hostile international environment, neither Los Alamos nor the SRPPF could alone produce 80 pits per year.8 The assessment also concluded that because the NNSA has difficulties managing large projects, it is very risky to assume current pit production plans will be finished on schedule and without significant cost overruns.

Any pit manufacturing facility is likely to take significantly longer than anticipated, cost much more than planned, and require significant revisions to succeed. These problems may not be amenable to a better management solution. They reflect what has been identified as a larger, enduring problem at the NNSA and the Energy Department. Despite years of trying to improve project management, the NNSA remains on the Government Accountability Office’s list of government organizations that are at high risk of “fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement” due to its track record and current practices.9

Even if current plans succeed, other complications flow from the redundancies built into them. The 2019 NDAA requires Los Alamos to make plans to produce up to 80 pits per year on its own, in the event that the SRPPF is not ready in time.10 Additionally, the SRPPF is a large facility that could make 80 pits per year or more on its own.11 The potential redundancy built into the twin pit production projects could lead to an effective capacity to produce at least 160 pits per year.

There are political risks to this redundancy. Domestically, pit production has raised concerns about the ability of Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site to ensure environmental safety. Los Alamos, for example, is on or near several known earthquake faults, and the Savannah River Site is vulnerable to wind and flood damage from hurricanes. The politics of “not in my backyard” are also significant. South Carolina, for example, sued the Energy Department for failing to meet its promise of removing all plutonium from the state. Further, pit production at the Savannah River Site will require moving more plutonium across the United States. Instead of shipping pits some 300 miles from their current storage site at the Pantex Plant in Texas to Los Alamos, they will travel almost 1,000 additional miles to get to the Savannah River Site.

Internationally, the plan raises concerns that the United States may be interested in expanding its nuclear arsenal with many more weapons or a large number of warheads with new capabilities. At a rate of 160 pits per year, the United States in less than three years would be able to build as many new nuclear weapons as are believed to be in China’s current arsenal. The uncertain future of the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which limits each country to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, is a particular concern. That agreement is set to expire in 2021, and the Trump administration has resisted efforts to work toward a five-year extension. If the treaty expires with nothing to replace it, there will be no legally binding limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time in half a century.

The Argument for 80

The NNSA provides two main justifications for creating an 80-pit-per-year production capability by 2030. One rests on assumptions about pit aging, and the other on enhancing warhead safety.

The most frequent argument in support of pit production focuses on size of the U.S. stockpile as warheads age. The current U.S. arsenal is estimated to include about 3,800 warheads, of which 1,750 are currently deployed and the remainder are in a reserve in various stages of readiness.12 The pits for these warheads were all manufactured between 1979 and 1990. Even though all warheads that will remain in the arsenal are scheduled to undergo life extension programs (LEPs), current plans assume that all of these pits must be replaced before they reach an age past which they might no longer work reliably due to problems with corrosion or plutonium decay. As explained by Peter Fanta, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters late last year, “Want to know where 80 pits per year came from? It’s math. Alright? It’s really simple math. Divide 80 per year by the number of active warheads we have—last time it was unclassified it was just under 4,000—and you get a timeframe.”13

How old is too old for a pit? In the early 2000s when the NNSA was considering building a capacity for producing between 125 and 450 pits per year, the weapons labs argued that pits will perform as designed for 45 to 60 years.14 In 2006 that estimate was significantly increased based on a series of studies at the weapons labs, plus an external evaluation by JASON, an independent group of scientists who consult on technical matters related to national security. According to the JASON study, “[m]ost primary types have credible minimum lifetimes in excess of 100 years as regards aging of plutonium; those with assessed minimum lifetimes of 100 years or less have clear mitigation paths that are proposed and/or being implemented.”15 A 2012 assessment by the weapons lab at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory went even further, putting pit lifetimes at 150 years.16 In 2019, a few months after the NNSA took over the funding contract for JASON research from the Department of Defense, the group issued a letter explaining that “the present assessments of aging do not indicate any impending issues for the stockpile” but implying discomfort with pits beyond 80 years old and supporting the “expeditious” reestablishment of a pit production capacity because “a significant period of time will be required to recreate the facilities and expertise” needed to manufacture plutonium pits.17

Under the conservative estimate of 100 years of pit life before replacement, the youngest pits in the stockpile today will age out in 2090. If pit production begins in 2030, that would require 63 pits per year in order to replace all pits before the last one reaches 100 years of age sometime in 2090. At the rate of 80 pits per year, pit production need not begin until 2042 (table 1).

Another variable is the size of the nuclear arsenal. As part of the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, the military agreed that it could meet its deterrence and war-fighting requirements with about 1,000 deployed nuclear weapons.18 Each of those 1,000 deployed weapons having a backup in the stockpile would result in an overall arsenal size of 2,000 warheads, rather than the 3,800 warheads today, which relaxes even further the requirements for pit production. Assuming pits age out after 100 years, a requirement to replace all 2,000 warheads could be met by producing 33 pits per year starting in 2030 or by producing 80 pits per year starting in 2065. The arguments for pit production starting in 2030 or for 80 pits per year appear to be choices rather than requirements (table 1).

Rather than assumptions about plutonium aging, it appears that the push to begin pit production by 2030 is based on plans for the newly designed W87-1 warhead and arguments about the need for enhanced warhead safety features.19 All warhead pits are encased in an explosive shell that surrounds the pit and compresses it to begin the chain reaction that produces the explosion. Three warheads currently use conventional high explosive (CHE): the W88 and W76 warheads on submarines and the W78 warhead on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Moving to insensitive high explosive (IHE), which is less vulnerable to shock and heat, would lower the risk for accidents that could lead to the dispersal of plutonium. Because a greater weight and volume of IHE is required to drive compression in a primary, for some warhead types a shift to IHE may require a different pit design and thus the manufacture of new pits.20

The Navy has long argued that it prefers its own warheads even if they contain CHE. Shifting to IHE would have implications for missile range and the design of reentry vehicles.21 Naval resistance is one of the reasons for the demise of plans for an interoperable warhead, a suite of three new warhead designs proposed under the Obama administration that would have allowed the same IHE warhead to fit on Navy and Air Force ballistic missiles. Similarly, the Navy opted to “refresh” the CHE on the W88 rather than redesign warheads and missiles. The close quarters on a submarine, plus the periodic removal of missiles and refit of the submarine, would presumably make the Navy especially sensitive about warhead safety. Unlike the Air Force, the Navy has never had an accident that led to the dispersal of plutonium. The Navy’s safety record, plus its resistance to opting for IHE-based warheads, calls into question the merits of NNSA arguments about the need to redesign warheads and make new pits in order to increase safety.

The Air Force, which operates land-based ICBMs and has had plutonium-dispersal accidents, prefers warheads with IHE. The NNSA and the Air Force have approved replacing the W78, which contains CHE, with a new warhead named the W87-1 because it is based on the design of the W87-0, the other ICBM warhead, which already uses IHE.22 Once completed, all ICBM warheads would contain IHE. According to the NNSA, the new W87-1 is to be in place by fiscal year 2030, in time to arm the next-generation ICBM, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), which is optimistically slated for deployment starting in 2029 and lasting through 2036.23 Meeting this eight-year schedule requires the capability to produce on average 75 pits per year if the estimated 600 W78s in the current arsenal are all replaced with the new W87-1 by the time all the new GBSD missiles are deployed.24 To be ready in time, the NNSA argues that the United States has to begin building a pit production facility now, partially because it may take as long as 15 years to bring any new pit production facility into operation.25

There are several reasons why 2030 is still not a hard start date for pit production. The schedule for the GBSD program may slip; delays are not uncommon in major acquisition programs. More significantly, instead of making a new warhead, the Air Force could replace any problematic W78 warheads with W87-0 warheads. The W87-0 completed an LEP in 2004. This gave additional shelf life to the estimated 200 such warheads already deployed on Minuteman III missiles. Plus, there are believed to be enough extra W87-0 warheads in the stockpile to replace the 200 deployed W78 warheads and even have spares left over.26 The NNSA has argued that fear of a failure in an entire class of warheads means it is prudent to have at least two different designs for each delivery system. Plans to replace the W78 with a warhead based on the design of the other ICBM warhead, however, suggest there is room for compromise.

Even if all ICBMs are not outfitted with the W87, the W78 likely still has some life left, even though it is the oldest warhead in the arsenal. Manufactured between 1979 and 1982, the pits in these warheads have at least another 40 years of life before they may need to be replaced.

Pits at Any Price

Irrespective of production numbers and start date, both the NNSA and U.S. Strategic Command have stated that pit production is one of their highest priorities. Their justifications, however, are derived from ambiguous evidence that suggest judgment calls shaped by institutional self-interest rather than strict technical requirements.

A technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory manipulates plutonium as part of the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program in 2005. The laboratory has sought a major role in producing new plutonium pits despite an uneven safety record.  (Photo: U.S. Energy Department)One argument is that pit production is necessary as a hedge against the unexpected discovery of a problem that may affect an entire class of warheads. Details about such “significant findings” that might suggest issues that could mandate replacing an entire class of warheads are classified. In 1996 the General Accounting Office reported that from 1958 to 1996, there were about 1,200 significant findings of which less than 200 identified failures in some component of a weapon system.27 Unknown is how many of these problems were associated with pits. In 2001 the Energy Department’s inspector general provided an update, stating that “[s]ince 1958, more than 1200 significant findings have been identified. About 120 findings have resulted in retrofits or major design changes to the nuclear weapons stockpile.”28 Although five years had passed since the 1996 report, it seems that the number of significant findings was largely unchanged. This should suggest confidence in the Stockpile Stewardship Program rather than plans to replace all pits.

More reasons to question the need for pit production can be found in the results of warhead surveillance testing since 2001 (table 2). Even with a robust testing schedule, the number of findings that required modifications to some part of the warhead has declined over time and remains at or near zero. Moreover, according to the NNSA, some significant findings can be mitigated in ways that do not require a new pit.29

The 30-year absence of pit production capability, plus the focus on warhead LEPs instead of replacement, suggest major unexpected problems seldom or never appear. Additionally, if a technical problem goes undetected for decades but suddenly calls into question the functionality of an entire class of warheads, there are enough spares in the active and reserve stockpiles to replace those warheads or provide additional deployed warheads on other delivery systems.

The NNSA has argued that warheads need to function “as designed.”30 The nuclear weapons research and design labs have also made the case that new designs are necessary in order to maintain a cadre of experts in weapons design. Specialty nuclear weapons for niche functions, such as the mid-2000s proposal for a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, have also been a driver. Collectively, these justifications raise concerns that conservative assumptions about pit age and replacement are at least partially a function of concern for jobs and future missions.

Another area that is open to interpretation is the relationship between pit age and military requirements. Military requirements focus on the degree of certainty that a nuclear weapon will launch, arrive, and explode as planned within a defined range of planned parameters. Military requirements are also classified, but it is not clear that a warhead’s ability to meet requirements drops precipitously once it reaches a certain age. Further, it may be possible to relax requirements or modify delivery systems in other ways without jeopardizing the deterrent value of nuclear weapons. For example, in 2016 the Nuclear Weapons Council authorized an increase in the amount of tritium in U.S. nuclear weapons because of concerns about performance reliability.31

The current U.S. moratorium on explosive nuclear testing is sometimes offered as a justification for pit production. The Pentagon's “Nuclear Matters Handbook 2020” suggests uncertainties about warhead performance might be addressed by changing warhead designs. According to the Defense Department, “Eventually, all of the weapons in the legacy stockpile will need to be replaced by new warheads whose designs place a premium on yield margin so that they can be certified without the benefit of nuclear explosive testing.”32 Yet instead of setting military requirements for individual components of the warhead, those requirements could apply to the weapon system overall. This would allow for any deficiencies in yield to be compensated by improvements in accuracy or other changes.

Pits and Politics

In assessing the many justifications offered for pit production, Congress has often deferred to the self-interest of a few members. The New Mexico congressional delegation has led the charge for keeping pit production at Los Alamos, but done little to support a more rigorous investigation of environmental safety or oversight of pit production plans.33 Once the MOX fuel project was terminated, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) shifted positions to become a staunch supporter of two pit production facilities because one of these sites would be in his state.

Seen more broadly, although justifications largely focus on warhead safety and reliability, pit production plans go beyond what is necessary to replicate current nuclear arsenal capabilities. This, in turn, raises concerns that part of the driver for pit production is an interest in new warhead designs and laying the foundation for a potential expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Both would likely have adverse effects on the global nonproliferation regime and exacerbate tensions with Russia and China.

Pit production is not a policy goal in itself. The ultimate purpose of making pits is not to replace those in the current nuclear arsenal or add to this arsenal. It is to maintain a robust nuclear force and posture that can deter potential adversaries. If nuclear deterrence rather than reproducing the status quo or expanded pit replacement is the goal, current pit production plans are not a requirement but one option of many. Given the likely cost and possible adverse effects of current plans, it is important to reevaluate their underlying assumptions and justifications in order to consider the full range of alternatives.

ENDNOTES

1. U.S. Department of Energy, “FY 2021 Congressional Budget Request: National Nuclear Security Administration,” DOE/CF-0161, February 2020, p. 163.

2. Congressional Budget Office, “Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2019 to 2028,” January 2019, p. 5, https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/2019-01/54914-NuclearForces.pdf.

3. R. Jeffrey Smith and Patrick Malone, “Safety Problems at a Los Alamos Laboratory Delay U.S. Nuclear Warhead Testing and Production,” Science, June 30, 2017, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/safety-problems-los-alamos-laboratory-delay-us-nuclear-warhead-testing-and-production.

4. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, Letter to Secretary of Energy James Perry, November 15, 2019, https://ehss.energy.gov/deprep/2019/FB19N15B.PDF.

5. U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “DOE Project Management: NNSA Needs to Clarify Requirements for Its Plutonium Analysis Project at Los Alamos,” GAO-16-585, August 2016, pp. 23–27.

6. Aerospace Corp., “Plutonium Disposition Study Options Independent Assessment Phase 1 Report,” TOR-2015-01848, April 13, 2015, p. 4.

7. “Plutonium Disposition and the MOX Project,” hearing before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces of the Committee on Armed Services, 114th Cong. (2015).

8. Institute for Defense Analyses, “Independent Assessment of the Two-Site Pit Production Decision: Executive Summary,” May 2019, https://www.ida.org/-/media/feature/publications/i/in/independent-assessment-of-the-two-site-pit-production-decision-executive-summary/d-10711.ashx.

9. GAO, “High-Risk Series: Substantial Efforts Needed to Achieve Greater Progress on High-Risk Areas,” GAO-19-157SP, March 2019, pp. 217–221.

10. John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, Pub. L. No. 115–232, 132 Stat. 1636 (2018), sec. 3120.

11. Colin Demarest, “Study: Savannah River Pit Hub Could Meet National Demand for Nuclear Weapon Cores,” Aiken Standard, April 9, 2020.

12. For stockpile estimates, see Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2020,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 76, No. 1 (2020): 46–60.

13. Colin Demarest, “Why 80? Defense Leaders Discuss the Need for Plutonium Pits,” Aiken Standard, December 28, 2019.

14. U.S. Department of Energy, “Draft Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Stockpile Stewardship and Management for a Modern Pit Facility,” DOE/EIS-236-S2, May 2003, p. S-12.

15. R.J. Hemley et al., “Pit Lifetime,” MITRE Corp., JSR-06-335, January 11, 2007, p. 1.

16. Arnie Heller, “Plutonium at 150 Years: Going Strong and Aging Gracefully,” Science and Technology Review, December 2012, pp. 12, 14.

17. JASON, Letter to Todd Caldwell, November 23, 2019, p. 2.

18. U.S. Department of Defense, “Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States Specified in Section 491 of 10 U.S.C.,” June 12, 2013, p. 6.

19. Greg Mello, “U.S. Plutonium Pit Production Plans Advance, With New Requirements,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, December 23, 2019, http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2019/12/us_plutonium_pit_producti_2.html.

20. David Kramer, “Concerns About Aging Plutonium Drive Need for New Weapon Cores,” Physics Today, July 2018, p. 24.

21. Frank N. von Hippel, “The Decision to End U.S. Nuclear Testing,” Arms Control Today, December 2019.

22. GAO, “Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Has Taken Steps to Prepare to Restart a Program to Replace the W78 Warhead Capability,” GAO-19-84, November 2018, p. 3 n.9.

23. Amy F. Woolf, “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues,” CRS Report, RL33640, January 3, 2020, p. 21.

24. Kristensen and Korda, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2020,” p. 47.

25. Harold M. Agnew et al., “FY 2000 Report to Congress of the Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear Stockpile,” February 1, 2001, p. 10.

26. Kristensen and Korda, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2020,” p. 47.

27. Victor S. Rezendes, “Nuclear Weapons: Status of DOE’s Nuclear Stockpile Surveillance Program” (Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Committee on Armed Services, GAO/T-RCED-96-100, March 13, 1996), p. 2.

28. Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Energy, “Management of the Stockpile Surveillance Program’s Significant Finding Investigations,” DOE/IG-0535, December 2001.

29. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), U.S. Department of Energy, “Fiscal Year 2019 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan - Biennial Plan Summary: Report to Congress,” October 2018, p. 2–5.

30. U.S. Department of Energy, “Draft Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Stockpile Stewardship and Management for a Modern Pit Facility,” p. S-11.

31. NNSA, “Fiscal Year 2019 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan - Biennial Plan Summary,” p. 2–18.

32. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters, U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Matters Handbook 2020,” n.d., p. 254, https://www.acq.osd.mil/ncbdp/nm/nmhb/docs/NMHB2020.pdf.

33. Susan Montoya Bryan, “U.S. Lawmakers From New Mexico Hold Out on Review of Nuke Plan,” U.S. News and World Report, January 13, 2020.


Sharon K. Weiner is an associate professor in the School of International Service at American University. She thanks Frank von Hippel and Zia Mian for their comments in drafting this article.

 

The Trump administration’s plan to ramp up production of plutonium is unnecessary and likely to exceed current budget and schedule goals.

U.S. to Withdraw From Open Skies Treaty


June 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States officially notified its intent to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, prompting bipartisan opposition in Congress and expressions of regret from U.S. allies.

Danish F-16 fighter aircraft escort a Russian observation aircraft during a flight over Denmark in 20008. (Photo: OSCE)President Donald Trump justified the withdrawal decision on the grounds that Russia was violating the agreement, but he said, “There’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a May 21 statement that the withdrawal will take effect in six months. “We may, however, reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the treaty,” Pompeo added.

Pompeo cited Russian noncompliance with the accord as “making continued U.S. participation untenable.” The United States asserts that Russia has violated the agreement by requiring that observation missions over Kaliningrad limit flight paths to 500 kilometers, establishing a 10-kilometer no-fly corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and denying a requested overflight by the United States and Canada in September 2019.

Pompeo also alleged that “Moscow appears to use Open Skies imagery in support of an aggressive new Russian doctrine of targeting critical infrastructure in the United States and Europe with precision-guided conventional munitions.”

Pressed to provide further information on this allegation on May 21, Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said that he was “not at liberty to go into some of the details of why we think that this is a concern.” He then added, “[W]hile not a violation per se, it’s clearly something that is deeply corrosive to the cause of building confidence and trust.”

Asked about what Russia would need to do in order to return to compliance with the treaty, Ford said, “I would say that that’s a fact pattern we’ll have to deal with when we encounter it.”

The Defense Department said in a statement that “we will explore options to provide additional imagery products to Allies to mitigate any gaps that may result from this withdrawal.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. exit from the agreement in a May 22 statement, calling it “a deplorable development for European security.”

On the U.S. allegation that Russia is using the treaty to gather inappropriate intelligence, the statement said the “charge is being made by the party that insisted from the beginning on opening the entire territory of the participating states (above all, naturally, the [Soviet Union] and later Russia) to observation flights.”

The statement added that Russia’s future participation in the treaty “will be based on its national security interests and in close cooperation with its allies and partners.”

U.S. allies expressed varied responses to the U.S. exit from the treaty, but none of them signaled support for the move or indicated that they plan to follow the United States out of the agreement.

In a joint statement, 11 European countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden) expressed “regret” over the U.S. decision.

“We will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has a clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and cooperative security,” they said. “We reaffirm that this treaty remains functioning and useful.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia to return to compliance with the treaty after a May 22 meeting of the North Atlantic Council. He said that the United States withdrew in a manner “consistent with treaty provisions.”

Poland said in a statement that efforts to return Russia to compliance “have proved unsuccessful.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that Germany, along with France, Poland, and the United Kingdom, had previously told Washington that Russian noncompliance concerns did not justify a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

Prior to the U.S. decision to withdraw, the Trump administration consulted U.S. allies and other states-parties to the treaty, including by distributing a written questionnaire earlier this year. Throughout the process, allies expressed their support for continued U.S. participation in the treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Several Democratic and Republican members of Congress excoriated the withdrawal decision and accused the administration of breaking the law.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who sits on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, called the Trump administration's move to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty a "dangerous and misguided decision."(Photo: Pete Marovich/Getty Images)“The dangerous and misguided decision to abandon this international agreement cripples our ability to conduct aerial surveillance of Russia, while allowing Russian reconnaissance flights over U.S. bases in Europe to continue,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who sits on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) first sounded the alarm about the Trump administration’s plans to withdraw the United States from the treaty last October. (See ACT, November 2019.) Reacting to the withdrawal announcement, he said that “the president’s reckless plan…directly harms our country’s security and breaks the law in the process.”

The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act required that the Trump administration notify Congress 120 days before announcing an intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which it failed to do. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that he does “not accept the legitimacy of the administration’s reckless decision.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, echoed the legal concerns and called the withdrawal “a slap in the face to our allies in Europe.”

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who represents Offutt Air Force Base, where America’s OC-135B treaty aircraft are based, called the administration’s decision a “mistake.” He also urged that the administration adhere to the requirements in the defense authorization bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a longtime treaty critic, voiced support for the withdrawal. He said that he was “particularly heartened” that the United States would now not have to fund the replacement efforts for the two treaty aircraft.

Congress appropriated $41.5 million last year to continue replacement efforts for these aircraft, but Defense Secretary Mark Esper in March told Congress that he halted the funding until a decision on the future of the treaty was made. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Signed in 1992 and entering into force in 2002, the treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. All imagery collected from overflights is then made available to any of the 34 states-parties.

Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States. Between 2002 and 2019, more than 1,500 flights took place.

 

Citing Russian noncompliance, the Trump administration has triggered the Open Skies Treaty’s withdrawal provision.

U.S., Russia to Meet on Arms Control


June 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia have agreed to discuss nuclear arms control issues, according to U.S. President Donald Trump’s arms control envoy following a May 8 phone call.

Marshall Billingslea, shown speaking in Latvia in 2019, has been tapped to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. He outlined the Trump administration's plans at a May event at the Hudson Institute.  (Photo: Latvian State Chancellery)Marshall Billingslea, whom Trump also has nominated to serve as U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov agreed “to meet, talk about our respective concerns and objectives, and find a way forward to begin negotiations” on a new arms control agreement.

“So, we have settled on a venue, and we are working on an agenda based on the exchange of views that has taken place,” he said.

Billingslea described the conversation during May 21 remarks at a Hudson Institute event in Washington, where he also criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and sketched out some of the Trump administration’s goals for a new trilateral agreement with Russia and China.

New START expires in February 2021 unless Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years. Russia stated in December 2019 that it is ready to extend New START without any preconditions, but the Trump administration has yet to make a decision on the treaty’s fate.

“Any potential extension of our existing obligations must be tied to progress towards a new era of arms control,” Billingslea emphasized on May 21. Earlier, in a May 7 interview with The Washington Times, he also stated that the administration wants “to understand why the Russians are so desperate for extension, and we want the Russians to explain to us why this is in our interest to do it.”

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. Under its monitoring and verification regime, the treaty allows for short notice, on-site inspections.

Billingslea views the agreement as flawed. “One main failing of New START, among the many problems with it, is that it does not include the Chinese,” he told the newspaper.

Bringing China into nuclear talks would appear to be a challenging task, particularly as China has repeatedly stated that it wants no part in them. Most recently, a Chinese spokesperson told reporters on May 15 that Beijing “has no intention to take part in a trilateral arms control negotiation.” Even Billingslea’s State Department predecessor, Andrea Thompson, said on May 14 “that China’s not going to come to the table before” New START expires next February. “There’s no incentive for them to come to the table,” she said, citing China’s much smaller nuclear arsenal.

But Billingslea insisted that Beijing could be incentivized to negotiate.

“If China wants to be a great power, and we know it has that self-image, it needs to behave like one,” he said May 21. “It should engage us bilaterally and trilaterally with the Russians.”

Billingslea added that “Russia must help bring China to the negotiating table.” Moscow previously said that it
will not try to persuade China to change its position.

He further asserted that the United States would hold Russia to its “public commitments to multilateralizing the next treaty after New START.” Moscow has long said that a future arms control agreement should include additional nuclear-armed states, including U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom.

A new agreement also must include Russia’s large arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and stronger verification measures than those contained in New START, Billingslea argued.

Billingslea did not say what the United States might be prepared to put on the table in return for limits on additional Russian weapons or concessions from China, nor did he clarify what precisely the administration is seeking from China on arms control.

Russia has frequently raised missile defense as an issue that must be on the table in the next round of arms control talks, but the special envoy said that he did not foresee the United States agreeing to limitations on missile defense.

Billingslea claimed that the United States is in a strong negotiating position and could win a new arms race if necessary.

“We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” he said. “If we have to, we will, but we sure would like to avoid it.”

Russia criticized Billingslea’s May 7 interview with The Washington Times. “The unmistakable impression” is that Billingslea “has not been brought up to speed on his new job,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on May 14.

She also noted that the Trump administration’s desire to include China in arms control talks was “far-fetched.”

Trump and Putin discussed arms control on a May 7 phone call.

“President Trump reaffirmed that the United States is committed to effective arms control that includes not only Russia, but also China, and looks forward to future discussions to avoid a costly arms race,” said the White House in a statement following the call. The statement made no mention of New START.

The Kremlin said in a statement that the two presidents agreed to work to resolve “the urgent problems of our time, including maintaining strategic stability.”

The United States and Russia last held formal talks on strategic security in January. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said on May 5 that Trump had agreed to Russia’s January proposal that the heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) hold a summit to discuss a broad range of security topics, including arms control.

“It’s my understanding that the substance and logistics of such a meeting are under consideration,” said Sullivan.

On April 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that all parties agreed that the summit “must be face to face.” He added two days later that “the conceptual content” of the summit is in the works.

“There is agreement, an understanding,” Lavrov said, “that it should be devoted to all the key problems of the modern world, strategic stability, and global security in all its dimensions.”

In Washington, Billingslea could be facing a controversial Senate confirmation process before he can officially assume the position to which Trump named him on May 1. Some senators are likely to question his reputation as a critic of arms control and to examine his human rights record. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Billingslea previously served as assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department. He was an adviser to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of arms control who opposed U.S. ratification of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

In 2019, Trump nominated Billingslea for the top human rights post at the State Department, but his nomination stalled in early 2020 amid concerns about his role in promoting enhanced interrogation techniques that Congress later banned as torture while serving in the Pentagon from 2002 to 2003 during the George W. Bush administration.

 

Officials have agreed on a venue to discuss arms control, but not an agenda.

Trump Officials Consider Nuclear Testing


June 2020
By Greg Webb

Senior Trump administration officials recently discussed the possibility of resuming explosive nuclear testing, a practice the United States last undertook in 1992, The Washington Post reported on May 22. No nuclear-armed nation has conducted a nuclear test explosion since 1998 except North Korea, and U.S. resumption would threaten to raise already increasing tensions with China, Russia, and others.

The Nevada National Test Site was the location of 928 nuclear weapon detonations before the United States began its testing moratorium in 1992. (Photo: Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada)The recent consideration was taken up by a group of national security officials on May 15, but the participants reportedly did not reach a decision. The idea is “very much an ongoing conversation,” one person familiar with the national security meeting told the Post.

Despite the interest of some officials, others argued against the idea. “There are still some professionals in the room who told them this is a terrible idea, thank God,” a congressional aide told The Guardian. Defense Department official Drew Walter later said there “has been no policy change” regarding explosive nuclear testing, Defense News reported.

The justification for resuming testing would not be a technical one having to do with a design flaw in one of the existing types of warhead, but would be political. According to the Post, a senior official said that demonstrating that the United States could “rapid test” could prove useful from a negotiating standpoint as the Trump administration pushes for a new, trilateral arms control deal with Russia and China.

Such a test could take only months to prepare, Walter said. “Ultimately, if the president directed because of a technical issue or a geopolitical issue, a system to go test, I think it would happen relatively rapidly.”

At the May 15 meeting, the officials “discussed underground testing in the context of trying to bring China to the table for the trilateral agreement,” a former official said to The Guardian. “Among the professionals in the administration, the idea was dismissed as unworkable and dumb,” while the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was “definitely not on board” and the State Department likely was not in agreement either, the former official said.

Part of the discussion reportedly focused on the administration’s assessment that China and Russia may have conducted nuclear weapons activities that are inconsistent with the zero-yield standard established by the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits nuclear experiments that produce an explosive yield. The treaty is not in force, as eight specific countries, including the United States and China, have not ratified the pact.

The State Department made its allegations in its most recent annual report assessing nations’ compliance with arms control agreements. The report says some Russian activities since 1996 “have demonstrated a failure to adhere to the U.S. ‘zero-yield’ standard, which would prohibit supercritical tests.” The report added that “the United States does not know how many, if any, supercritical or self-sustaining nuclear experiments Russia conducted in 2019.” (See ACT, May 2020.)

According to the U.S. nuclear test readiness guidelines, a "simple test" with limited instrumentation could be conducted by the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency in the Energy Department, at the former Nevada Test Site within six to 10 months once the president decides to resume nuclear testing.

News of the renewed testing consideration drew widespread condemnation. “I burst into tears when I read that,” said Mary Dickson, a longtime activist for Americans who suffer health problems from decades of U.S. testing in the atmosphere. “I live every day with watching the effects that testing all those years ago had on so many people I know and love. We’re still living with the consequences of fallout from testing…. Their cancers are coming back. They are more at risk during the pandemic. But we think of doing it again,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune on May 26.

China was quick to respond to the report. “We’re gravely concerned about the report,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at a Beijing press conference on May 25. “Though [the CTBT] has not yet entered into force, banning nuclear testing has become an international norm. The CTBT is of great significance for nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and world peace and security. All five nuclear-weapon states, including the U.S., have signed the treaty and committed to a moratorium on nuclear tests.”

The administration’s openness to testing raises concern that Washington will move to “unsign” the CTBT, a pact the United States was first to sign in 1996 but the Senate has never approved. The United States has nevertheless adhered to a moratorium on testing and is the leading financial contributor to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which maintains and operates the worldwide monitoring system to verify compliance with the treaty.

The Trump administration has already worked repeatedly to pull the United States out of arms control commitments. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for example, announced May 21 that Washington would withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty in six months time. Previously, the administration withdrew the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that banned an entire class of missiles, and it also stepped away from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In addition, it has “unsigned” the Arms Trade Treaty, another pact that the United States had signed but not ratified.

U.S. national security officials discussed the possibility of resuming U.S. nuclear testing for political purposes, but have made no decision so far.

U.S. Aims to Extend Iran Embargo


June 2020
By Julia Masterson

The Trump administration is considering a range of options to prevent the October 2020 expiration of a UN embargo that restricts arms sales to and from Iran. If multilateral efforts to renew the embargo fail, the administration will likely attempt to argue that the United States remains a participant of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal so that Washington can exercise a Security Council provision to block the embargo’s expiration.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2018. He has vowed a "crushing response" if the arms embargo on Iran is extended. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)The embargo’s expiration date is included in Resolution 2231, which endorses and helps implement the 2015 nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under a resolution provision, listed participants of the nuclear deal are granted the ability to invoke a sweeping “snapback” of all UN restrictions that were lifted or would be lifted by the agreement, including the embargo. The United States formally abrogated the JCPOA in May 2018, but Resolution 2231 was never amended to reflect the U.S. withdrawal and still names the United States as among the JCPOA participants that have the right to invoke the snapback mechanism.

Reinstating sanctions and restrictions through Resolution 2231 would extend the embargo indefinitely. Doing so, by also reimposing all other UN sanctions and restrictions on Iran, would likely collapse the JCPOA and tie the hands of a future U.S. president seeking to return to the multilateral nuclear deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on May 6 that “Iran would never accept the extension of an arms embargo” and warned that “Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.”

Earlier this year, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also threatened that Iran would withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty altogether if referred to the Security Council over its nuclear program and faced with the reimposition of UN sanctions. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Whispers of the Trump administration’s plan to claim participation in the deal in order to exercise the snapback mechanism began in late 2019, when an internal legal memo that circulated within the State Department reportedly detailed “a legally available argument we can assert that the United States can initiate the snapback process” under Resolution 2231.

Washington “will exercise all diplomatic options” to extend the embargo, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 9, after receiving a congressional letter urging the administration to pursue diplomatic measures to prevent the embargo’s expiration. More than three-quarters of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed the May 4 bipartisan letter co-sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member. The House letter does not mention the JCPOA or the Resolution 2231 snapback process, but according to a May 4 statement by Engel, “[T]his letter, supported overwhelmingly by both parties in the House, represents an imperative to reauthorize this provision—not through snapback or going it alone, but through a careful diplomatic campaign.”

The administration has indicated it will pursue a standalone Security Council resolution establishing a new arms embargo on Iran first, but that measure will almost certainly be vetoed by one of the other four JCPOA participants who have permanent membership and veto power on the UN Security Council.

In that case, the United States has hinted its intent to invoke the snapback provision in Resolution 2231, which cannot be vetoed. The State Department’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, confirmed in a May 13 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal that the administration drafted a standalone Security Council resolution to extend the embargo and is hoping it will pass, but said that “if American diplomacy is frustrated by a veto, however, the U.S. retains the right to renew the arms embargo by other means.”

The United States has not yet formally introduced its draft of a standalone resolution to the Security Council.
The Trump administration reportedly shared sections of that draft with European members of the nuclear deal
in February 2020.

According to Hook, “[T]he Trump administration’s preferred strategy is for the Security Council to extend the arms embargo while the U.S. continues to apply maximum economic pressure and maintains deterrence against Iranian aggression.” But, he said, if the United Nations “doesn’t renew the arms embargo against Iran, the U.S. will use its authority to do so.”

It is not clear whether the Trump administration’s move to reinstate sanctions through Resolution 2231 would succeed. Should the United States attempt to exercise the snapback mechanism and unilaterally block the expiration of the arms embargo, it is highly likely that the remaining parties to the nuclear deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the EU) will strive to delegitimize the U.S. legal argument in order to preserve the JCPOA.

Although the Europeans appear to share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s arms trade, they have made clear they do not support steps to extend the embargo that could lead to the JCPOA’s collapse. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said on April 30 that Europe does not consider the United States a participating member of the 2015 nuclear deal. A second European official said the same day that France, Germany, and the UK would not condone extending the embargo through the Resolution 2231 snapback clause because “the arms embargo is a legitimate part of the JCPOA.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, said on May 12 that the United States “has lost any right” to snapback UN restrictions under Resolution 2231. China’s UN mission bluntly tweeted on May 14 that the United States “failed to meet its obligations under Resolution 2231 by withdrawing” from the JCPOA and that “it has no right to extend an arms embargo on Iran, let alone to trigger snapback.” Together, statements from Russia and China make clear that Moscow and Beijing will counter any U.S. efforts to extend the embargo through a standalone resolution or through invocation of the snapback mechanism.

The Trump administration appears determined to prevent the expiration of the UN embargo, but if the United States fails to do so, many key restrictions governing arms sales to and from Iran will remain in place. Iranian arms sales to nonstate actors in Yemen and Lebanon will continue to be subject to U.S. and UN restrictions, even if the embargo expires as scheduled in October 2020.

 

United States Ends Sanctions Waivers

The Trump administration has announced it will terminate some key sanctions waivers that had allowed other nations to cooperate on certain projects with Iran outlined in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Companies working on modifications to Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak have 60 days to wind down activities or face U.S. sanctions, according to a May 27 statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The waiver allowing Iran to import uranium enriched to 20 percent for its Tehran Research Reactor and to transfer out spent fuel was also terminated.

The United States had been issuing sanctions waivers allowing these projects to continue since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reimposed sanctions on Iran in May 2018.

Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran is required to modify the unfinished reactor at Arak so that when operational it would produce annually far less plutonium than is necessary for a nuclear weapon. If the reactor were finished based on the original design, it would have produced enough plutonium for about two nuclear weapons per year.

Iran said in 2019 it would revert back to the original design of the reactor if cooperative efforts, which primarily include China and the United Kingdom, cease.

The agreement allows Iran to import uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor and requires Iran to ship out the spent fuel. The parties to the agreement are required to assist Iran in obtaining the necessary fuel. Iran is also prohibited from enriching uranium to more than 3.67 percent uranium-235 for 15 years under the nuclear deal.

In past statements announcing the renewal of waivers for these sanctions, Pompeo has highlighted the nonproliferation benefits of the cooperative projects. In October, Pompeo said the United States was issuing the waivers because the projects “help preserve oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks,” and “prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes.”

In the May 27 announcement, Pompeo said that Iran has “continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities” so he “cannot justify renewing the waiver for these JCPOA-related activities.”

It is unclear what activities Pompeo is referring to. While Iran has taken steps to violate the nuclear deal in response to Trump’s reimposition of sanctions, Tehran has not announced any new actions to reduce compliance with the accord since the United States last renewed the waivers March 30.

Pompeo said the Trump administration would extend for another 90 days the waiver allowing cooperative activities at the Bushehr power reactor to “ensure safety of operations.” The Bushehr reactor was operational prior to the JCPOA’s implementation.

Waivers for several other cooperative projects were terminated in 2019.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The United States may try to claim participation in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to ensure the continuation of a UN embargo against Tehran.

U.S. Continues Intermediate-Range Missile Pursuit


June 2020
By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Defense Department is moving forward with plans to acquire conventional ground-launched missiles that fly distances previously banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The progress follows two demonstration tests of such missiles last year, but the next steps in the development process and how much the Pentagon plans to spend on the missiles is unclear. Whether U.S. allies and partners will agree to host the missiles once they are built also remains to be seen.

The USS Annapolis submarine test launches a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile off the coast of California in 2018. The Trump administration is proposing to acquire Tomahawks to launch from land which would have previously been banned by  INF Treaty. (Photo: U.S. Navy)The two 2019 tests included a prototype ground-launched ballistic missile last December (see ACT, January/February 2020) and a ground-launched variant of the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile in August, just two weeks after the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The treaty required the United States and Russia to eliminate permanently all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the agreement by producing and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile.

The fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February includes $125 million for the Marine Corps to purchase 48 Tomahawk missiles. The budget documents did not include further information about the purchase or whether the Marine Corps planned to buy additional missiles in future years.

Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5 that the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty allows the naval branch to assess the feasibility and utility of firing the Tomahawk missile from a ground launcher. The missile has an estimated range of between 1,250 and 2,500 kilometers.

Berger suggested the missile could be used to “contribute to sea control and sea denial,” but other Marine Corps officials have said the missile would be evaluated for attacking targets on land.

A February report by the Congressional Budget Office questioned whether the Tomahawk missile would be a suitable candidate for a new ground-launched system.

The “Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile, a relatively slow missile with no low-observable features, has become less effective at penetrating defended airspace,” the report stated.

Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, Marine Corps deputy commandant for combat development and integration, provided lawmakers with some additional details about the Marine Corps plans for longer-range, ground-launch systems at a March 11 congressional hearing.

The Marine Corps will work with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office “to continue design and development of a mobile launch platform in order to prototype and field a Marine Corps ground-based, long-range, land attack cruise missile capability for employment by its rocket artillery units,” he said. “Prototype launchers will undergo firing and endurance testing through fiscal year 2022, with the aim of fielding a battery of launchers to an operational unit in fiscal year 2023.”

Smith did not say how much the Marine Corps is requesting in fiscal year 2021 and beyond for the launch platform. A Defense Department spokesman told Arms Control Today in February that money appropriated in fiscal year 2020 “will complete the maturation of a conceptual cruise missile launcher.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in December 2019. He later told the committee that the United States can now assess ground-launched cruise missiles once banned by the INF Treaty. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)The Pentagon requested $96 million in its fiscal year 2020 budget to develop three types of ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. (See ACT, May 2019.) These included a ground-launched cruise missile and two types of ballistic missiles. The final fiscal year 2020 defense appropriations bill approved by Congress in December provided $40 million less than the request. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The Defense Department has provided far less information about the status of its plans for developing a ground-launched ballistic missile capability.

Department officials told reporters in March 2019 that the department was seeking a ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, April 2019.) The officials estimated that the new missile would not be ready for at least five years.

The Pentagon is not requesting new funding for either of the ballistic missile line items Congress funded in fiscal
year 2020.

One possible candidate for the weapon is the Army’s Precision Strike Missile, which the service is developing to replace the aging Tactical Missile System and “attack critical and time sensitive area and point targets.”

The range requirement for the missile is up to 499 kilometers, but that was dictated by the INF Treaty. Army officials have stated the missile could eventually fly as far as 700 kilometers. That range, however, would be far shorter than the 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers department officials previously identified as the goal for a new intermediate-range ballistic missile.

The Army is requesting $123 million for the Precision Strike Missile in fiscal year 2021. The service aims to begin fielding the missile as soon as 2023.

Other ground-launched weapons being pursued by the Army with ranges slated to exceed 500 kilometers include the long-range hypersonic weapon and the strategic long-range cannon. The budget request seeks $801 million for the hypersonic weapon, a massive increase of nearly $400 million above the fiscal year 2020 appropriated level, and $65 million for the cannon program.

The Army’s budget request does not include funding to continue development of a mobile, land-based, medium-range missile, citing an “Army realignment of funds to higher priority programs.” The fiscal year 2020 budget request contained $20 million in initial funding for the program, but Congress only provided $5 million.

The Pentagon’s request to develop missiles formerly prohibited by the INF Treaty was a controversial issue in Congress last year.

The final version of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill prohibited the use of current-year funds to procure and deploy missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty, but does not prohibit their development and testing, as the House of Representatives’ version of the bill had initially proposed. The bill also required the Pentagon to report on the results of an analysis of alternatives that assesses the benefits and risks of such missiles, options for basing them in Europe or the Indo-Pacific region, and whether deploying such missile systems on the territory of a NATO ally would require a consensus decision by NATO.

Basing new ground-launched missiles in Europe and East Asia is likely to prove challenging. Despite their concerns about Russia and China, U.S. allies have not appeared eager to host the missiles.

A senior Defense Department official told reporters on Feb. 21 that the administration has not “actually spoken to the allies about basing” such missiles “on their territory, at this time.”

The Pentagon is moving to develop once-banned missiles even as U.S. allies are not eager to host them.

U.S. Arms Deals Continue During Pandemic


June 2020
By Jeff Abramson

As the Trump administration designated the defense industry as essential, notifications of potential new international arms sales have continued during the coronavirus pandemic. In May, however, the firing of the State Department's inspector general and push for new arms sales raised controversy.

The most high-profile concerns, however, focus on a deal that has not yet been formally notified to Congress for new weapons for Saudi Arabia. In a May 27 CNN commentary, ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he had not received sufficient answers as to why the deal, details of which were not yet public, was needed and that, “Until we have an answer, Congress must reject this new multi-million dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.” The following day, The New York Times reported that the deal valued at $478 million would include 7,500 precision-guided missiles and licenses to allow Raytheon to expand manufacturing capacity in Saudi Arabia.

Menendez linked his concerns to a congressional effort to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2019, which was given greater attention when President Donald Trump fired the State Department’s inspector general on May 15. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Trump on May 18, saying, “It is alarming to see news reports that your action may have been in response to Inspector General [Steve] Linick nearing completion of an investigation into the approval of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that weapons sales to the countries needed to proceed on an emergency basis in May 2019, bypassing the 30-day notification period, both chambers passed resolutions of disapproval that the president vetoed last July. (See ACT, September 2019.) Members of Congress had asked for the inspector general to start an investigation into the arms sales.

Overall, between March 30 and May 28, Congress was notified of potential foreign military sales of approximately $7.5 billion. If annualized, that pace of $45 billion for sales notifications would be lower than the nearly $70 billion in sales that were notified in 2019.

The recent notifications included two possible attack helicopters sales, valued at either $1.5 billion or $450 million, for a bid request issued by the Duterte regime in the Philippines, as well as $2.3 billion to refurbish 43 Apache attack helicopters in Egypt and $556 million to sell 4,569 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles to the United Arab Emirates that were declared excess defense articles in 2014. Potential sales to Hungary, Taiwan, and India, valued at $230 million, $180 million and $155 million, respectively, were notified during the period, which also included Kuwait, Morocco, the Netherlands, and South Korea as possible clients.

As expected, the May 20 notification of the potential sale of 18 heavy-weight torpedoes to Taiwan for $180 million elicited Chinese opposition.

 

The Trump administration has pressed forward with foreign military sales, triggering calls of concern from some U.S. lawmakers.

German Politicians Renew Nuclear Basing Debate


June 2020
By Oliver Meier

A senior member of the German Parliament has revitalized the debate over whether the nation should host U.S. nuclear weapons on German soil. “It is about time that Germany in the future excludes the deployment” of nuclear weapons on its territory, said Rolf Mützenich, the leader of the Social Democrat (SPD) group in the Bundestag, in a May 2 interview with Der Tagesspiegel. The German Social Democrats are coalition partners of the conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU). The SPD leadership backed Mützenich's comments.

A U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft refuels in 2017. Germany is exploring acquiring 45 F-18s from the United States, 30 of which would be nuclear capable. (Photo: Trevor McBride/U.S. Air Force)The discussion followed a mid-April decision by the Defense Ministry to replace Germany’s current fleet of Tornado aircraft, some of which are dual-capable with 90 Eurofighter Typhoon and 45 U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft. Thirty of the F-18s would be certified to carry U.S. nuclear weapons.

Under nuclear sharing arrangements, NATO allies jointly discuss, plan, and train nuclear missions. According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey host up to 150 U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bombs on their territory. These countries, except Turkey, provide their own aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons in times of war. Details of the arrangements remain shrouded in secrecy, but 20 U.S. nuclear weapons are estimated to be deployed at Büchel air base in western Germany.

The Tornado replacement has been controversial for years. Washington has been lobbying Berlin to follow the example of other host nations and buy U.S. F-35 aircraft as the future nuclear weapons carrier.

France prefers a European approach, and it is jointly developing with Germany and Spain the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a sixth-generation fighter aircraft that will have a nuclear capability in the French Air Force. Germany’s selection of the F-18 was thus a political compromise which Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer presented as a “bridge solution” until the FCAS becomes operational after 2040. Germany plans to retire the Tornado between 2025 and 2030.

Kramp-Karrenbauer may have mishandled the process by not sufficiently consulting with SPD members in the parliament. She has conceded that the Bundestag would not need to make a decision until 2022 at the earliest and said that there would thus be “space for a debate” on the dual-capable aircraft decision in the campaign for the September 2021 parliamentary elections and negotiations on a new coalition government thereafter.

In a May 7 article in Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, Mützenich took up that invitation, saying that he would like “an open and honest debate about the rationale for nuclear sharing.” Social Democrats “are not calling for the immediate denuclearization of NATO,” but want to discuss the need “to spend billions on the procurement and maintenance of U.S. aircraft whose sole purpose is to drop American nuclear bombs,” he wrote.

Katja Keul, spokeswoman on disarmament policy for the Green party, told Arms Control Today in a May 14 interview that the Greens “do not want to put Germany on a path of continued involvement in technical sharing arrangements by committing to the procurement of a new nuclear-capable aircraft now.” Based on current polls, many expect the Greens to be part of Germany’s next government.

Keul, like other proponents of change, separated Germany’s role as a host nation from the continued participation in NATO political bodies associated with nuclear sharing, such as the Nuclear Planning Group. By contrast, those who have argued in favor of preserving the nuclear status quo have often conflated technical and political dimensions of sharing arrangements, equating the end of forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons with a denuclearization of the alliance or even the end of deterrence.

The idea that NATO’s consultative mechanisms provide Berlin with influence on the policies of its nuclear allies has always been a key rationale for German involvement in them.

But Mützenich argued that this concept of Mitsprache is no more than a “long-held pious hope,” arguing that “non-nuclear powers do not have any influence on the nuclear strategy, let alone when it comes to the deployment options of nuclear powers.” He cited the U.S. withdrawals from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as well as the “reorientation of U.S. nuclear weapons as a means of conducting warfare,” as examples of recent Trump administration decisions that contravene European interests.

Roderich Kiesewetter, CDU spokesman for the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Arms Control Today on May 12 that NATO’s unique nuclear sharing arrangements are important because they “guarantee trust in the extended nuclear umbrella and thus avoid nuclear proliferation in the European theater.” But he added that “it would be naive to believe that a U.S. president would grant Europeans influence on U.S. nuclear strategy or a more general say on the use of U.S. nuclear weapons in conflict.”

By contrast, Richard A. Grenell, U.S. ambassador in Berlin, in a May 14 opinion piece in Die Welt claimed that “Germany’s participation in nuclear share ensures that its voice matters.”

In dozens of commentaries, conservative decision-makers, analysts, and pundits have accused withdrawal proponents of weakening NATO cohesion. In an obvious aside to his party colleague Mützenich, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on May 4 that one-sided steps “weaken our alliances.” Georgette Mosbacher, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, in a May 15 tweet suggested that “if Germany wants to diminish nuclear capability and weaken NATO, perhaps Poland—which pays its fair share, understands the risks, and is on NATO’s eastern flank—could house the capabilities.”

In fact, there is broad agreement in Berlin that “it is important to bring this debate to the European level and to discuss it with NATO partners,” Gabriela Heinrich, deputy leader of the SPD Parliamentary Group, told Arms Control Today on May 13.

But different preferences exist on the direction and structure of a discussion with alliance partners. Keul said the Greens want “Germany to push for a new consensus in NATO that would pave the way for the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. That would be our plan A.” She cautioned that “because such a consensus will be difficult to achieve, our plan B would be to ask for understanding that Germany will end the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory once the Tornado reaches the end of its lifetime.”

Kiesewetter pointed out that “it matters who is the sender of messages on nuclear issues across the Atlantic.” He suggested that, “to avoid the impression of unilateralism, the five nuclear host nations should first among themselves discuss what their position on the future of nuclear sharing is.” Then, Kiesewetter said, “we should also consult with central and eastern European countries what package of non-nuclear defense and deterrence measures might provide complimentary reassurances and can be an effective deterrent to Russia.”

Like others, Keul believes that “the future of nuclear sharing should certainly be on the agenda of the NATO experts group” established by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at end of March. Kiesewetter agrees that “we need an informed debate, including by experts, on the future of nuclear sharing arrangements.” The group, co-chaired by former U.S. diplomat A. Wess Mitchell and former German Defense Minister Lothar de Maizière, is to discuss NATO’s political role. Heinrich suggested that it would also be “useful if the experts include civil society in their deliberations.”

Heinrich said that “there is no pressure to bring the debate on nuclear sharing to a quick conclusion,” predicting that it would be an issue in the next federal election. Another waypoint in the debate might be the modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. Mützenich stated that he is opposed to “replacing the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Büchel with new atomic warheads,” referring to U.S. plans to deploy new B61-12 weapons sometime after 2022.

Some leaders question the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on German territory.

Moon: U.S., North Korea Progress Unlikely


June 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korean President Moon Jae-in appeared to rule out progress in negotiations between the United States and North Korea until after the U.S. presidential election in November, but expressed his hope that inter-Korean projects will move forward.

Speaking on the third anniversary of his inauguration on May 10, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said there was little progress in U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks. (Photo by Kim Min-He/Getty Images)In a May 10 speech marking his third anniversary in office, Moon said continued communication between Pyongyang and Washington demonstrates the “trust and will for dialogue” on both sides. He said that it was unclear when the U.S.-North Korean process will achieve results, but he expects the current “slump” in negotiations to continue due to the “political schedule,” likely referring to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

The Trump administration continues to maintain that denuclearization of North Korea is a priority, but talks between the United States and North Korea have remained stalled since October 2019 and North Korean officials have said that Pyongyang is no longer interested in negotiations. (See ACT, May 2020; November 2019.)

In a May 3 interview, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration “will continue to work on” denuclearization of North Korea and creating a “brighter future” for the North Korean people, but did not provide any details on the U.S. strategy for resuming negotiations.

Pompeo was responding to questions about the whereabouts and health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim was not seen publicly for three weeks in April, prompting rumors about his health and speculation about who would succeed Kim in the event of his death.

Before Kim appeared publicly again May 1, Pompeo said on April 30 that the United States was “prepared for whatever eventuality there is” and that the goal of verifiable denuclearization would remain unchanged, “whoever is leading North Korea.”

Moon also said that communications between North Korea and South Korea continue but are “not smooth.”

Despite the challenges, Moon said he still hopes to pursue the proposal he laid out in January to advance inter-Korean projects. In a Jan. 7 speech, Moon said that if Seoul and Pyongyang can “identify realistic ways to implement projects to reconnect inter-Korean railroads and roads, it will not only lead to international cooperation but also provide a big boost to the resumption of inter-Korean tourism.”

He also mentioned a proposal for “joint quarantine cooperation” to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moon said the quarantine proposal did not breach U.S. sanctions, which has been a source of tension between South Korea and the United States.

During talks between North and South Korea in 2018 and 2019, Moon proposed several inter-Korean projects that required U.S. sanctions waivers. But the Trump administration maintains that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes.

 

South Korea’s president said there is “trust and will for dialogue,” but it appears no talks are scheduled.

 

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