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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
United States

GAO Seeks Light on Nuclear Cooperation Talks


June 2020
By Shannon Bugos

The U.S. State Department may not have notified Congress regularly about its efforts to negotiate a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, raising questions about whether the Trump administration has been as transparent as required, according an April report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks in Washington in November 2019, shortly before he left office. Two months earlier, Perry sent a letter to Saudi energy officials demanding that the nation agree to abstain from nuclear fuel cycle activities in exchange for receiving U.S. technical cooperation.  (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)“State officials stated that they consistently provide information to Congress, but the limited information they provided to us does not support this position,” the GAO report said.

The 1954 Atomic Energy Act (AEA) requires that the State Department, the lead agency for negotiating nuclear cooperation agreements, with assistance from the Energy Department, keep Congress “fully and currently informed of any initiative or negotiations” for those agreements. The GAO report stated that it is “unclear” whether the relevant agencies have done so in the case of Saudi Arabia.

The GAO determined that formal negotiations on a 123 agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia took place in 2012 and March 2018. Named after the section of the AEA requiring it, a 123 agreement sets the terms and authorizes cooperation for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

The auditors identified eight further interactions in which the two countries discussed nuclear cooperation and another five interactions in which a discussion was likely. These additional interactions include bilateral meetings in Washington and Riyadh throughout 2018 and 2019 and a September 2019 letter from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to his Saudi counterpart, parts of which Bloomberg reported on at the time. (See ACT, October 2019.)

The GAO requested information from the State and Energy departments, as well as the National Security Council and National Nuclear Security Administration. But the report stated that, “[o]verall, the agencies provided us with limited information in response to some categories we requested and did not provide information in other categories.” Furthermore, the exact roles played by these various agencies in the U.S.-Saudi negotiations “remain unclear” because the GAO did not receive “information to clarify or corroborate such roles.”

Saudi Arabia solicited bids in 2017 from companies in China, France, Russia, South Korea, and the United States for its first two nuclear power reactors, but the kingdom has yet to award a contract. Riyadh plans to build 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. (See ACT, April 2018.)

When contacted by the GAO for information specifically on dates or details of congressional briefings on U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation negotiations, the Energy Department did not respond, and only after reviewing a draft of the GAO report in January 2020 did the State Department provide a list of briefings more broadly on U.S. nuclear cooperation initiatives since 2013. Still, “State officials declined to discuss the details of any congressional briefings” with the GAO, leaving the office unable to “establish the extent and substance of information the agencies provided to Congress on U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation negotiations.”

Of the information that was provided to the GAO, neither the State nor Energy departments “provided documentation within the time frame of our review to support” their claims that they kept Congress informed of U.S.-Saudi negotiations. In order to receive any information, current and former congressional staff interviewed by the GAO said that they learned of developments in the negotiations from the media or representatives of the nuclear industry. One former congressional staff committee member told the GAO that, “since late 2017, the agencies have only provided information to Congress about the negotiations in response to forceful measures, such as holds on nominations or legislation.”

The GAO said that U.S.-Saudi negotiations on a nuclear cooperation agreement have stalled due to two main unresolved issues.

First, Saudi Arabia has not agreed to sign an additional protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement. A party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Riyadh has had a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA since 2009, but has not signed an additional protocol, which provides the IAEA with a broader range of information on nuclear and nuclear-related activities. The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision that countries that want to sign a 123 agreement with the United States must first sign and implement an additional protocol.

Second, Saudi Arabia has not agreed to U.S. demands to refrain from enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium, politically and militarily sensitive activities that can be used to make nuclear weapons. (See ACT, December 2019.) The report also said that the United States might be “willing to accept a temporary restriction on enrichment and reprocessing in its negotiations with Saudi Arabia.”

In addition, the GAO report stated that Saudi Arabia has been resisting nonproliferation conditions required by the AEA, which lists a total of nine nonproliferation conditions in Section 123. Although “Saudi officials accepted ‘the vast majority’ of the conditions” in the 2012 negotiations, the report said, the areas of disagreement from 2012 “remained unresolved as of January 2020.”

The GAO report ultimately recommends that Congress eliminate broad interpretations of the AEA’s requirement to keep Congress fully informed by amending the act to “require regularly scheduled briefings, for instance, on a quarterly basis, and specify expectations for the content of such briefings” on nuclear cooperation initiatives and negotiations. The report also recommends that the secretary of state commit to holding those regularly scheduled, substantive congressional briefings.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and committee member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) requested this GAO report in March 2019. Following the report’s release, the senators said that “it is clear Congress must reassert its critical role in reviewing nuclear cooperation agreements to ensure these agreements do not pose an unnecessary risk to the United States.”

The Government Accountability Office reports that the Trump administration has failed to provide Congress with regular information.

Panel Vets U.S. Plutonium Disposal Plan


June 2020
By Shannon Bugos

The U.S. plan to dilute and dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium at the deep-underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico is technically viable so long as the Energy Department addresses certain concerns, according to a top-level scientific review released April 30.

Workers prepare machinery used to move nuclear waste into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. A technical review found that a U.S. plan to store surplus plutonium at the site is conditionally viable. (Photo: Kelly Michals/Flickr)The dilute-and-dispose process replaced the controversial mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel program, which was designed to turn the surplus material into fuel for civilian power reactors but ran into major cost increases and schedule delays. Since 2014, the Energy Department has sought to end the MOX fuel program in favor of the cheaper process of dilution and disposal, which blends down the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal at WIPP.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine determined that the dilute-and-dispose process provided “a technically viable disposition alternative to the MOX [fuel] plan, provided that implementation challenges and system vulnerabilities that currently exist within the plan are resolved.” The determination was based on the success of earlier demonstrations of the individual steps of the dilute-and-dispose process through other Energy Department programs.

In 2018, the National Nuclear Security Administration estimated that the process would cost $19.9 billion, or 40 percent of the $49.4 billion cost of continuing the MOX fuel program.

For fiscal year 2020, Congress appropriated $220 million for the Energy Department to close down the program. (See ACT, May 2019.) The Trump administration has requested $149 million for fiscal year 2021 to continue the dilute-and-dispose program.—SHANNON BUGOS

Panel Vets U.S. Plutonium Disposal Plan

Lawmakers Press Esper on Landmine Policy


June 2020
By Jeff Abramson

More than 100 members of Congress expressed their “disappointment” over a new U.S. landmine policy in a May 6 letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The message noted that reductions in landmine use and casualties could be put in jeopardy.

Rather than geographically restricting landmine use and setting a notional goal of one day joining the Mine Ban Treaty, the new Trump administration policy announced at the end of January allows for using landmines outside the Korean peninsula. The updated policy also allows combatant commanders to authorize landmine emplacements, a power that was previously held only by the president. (See ACT, March 2020.) Thirty-four senators, led by Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and including Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, signed the congressional oversight letter. In addition, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined 105 Democrats on the message, led in the House by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

The letter asks Esper a list of 27 questions, grouped into sections. The initial six questions on “specific policy issues” are particularly pointed about whether circumstances have recently changed in terms of threats, weapons technology, and the decision-making process to use landmines. Other questions focus on Pentagon reports that might explain the rationale for the new policy, where landmines might be used, alternatives to the weapons, production, transfer, and stockpiling.

Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has indicated he would reverse the Trump policy, Vox reported in February.—JEFF ABRAMSON

 

Lawmakers Press Esper on Landmine Policy

Trump’s Withdrawal From the Open Skies Treaty Is Reckless and Self-Defeating

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Originally published in World Politics Review, June 1, 2020.

President Donald Trump's recent decision to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, which has helped keep the post-Cold War peace, raises the long-term risk of armed conflict in Europe. While unfortunate, abandoning this 34-nation confidence-building measure is consistent with Trump's years-long policy of confidence-demolition.

First proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 and negotiated under the George H.W. Bush administration, Open Skies allows signatories, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory. This helps build a measure of transparency and trust regarding each countries' military forces and activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

Under the terms of the treaty, every detail of each flight is agreed to ahead of time by both the surveilling and the surveilled party, from the flight plan to the plane's airframe to the type of camera. These flights allow short-notice coverage of territory that is not readily photographed by satellites, which cannot be immediately shifted from fixed orbits and which cannot penetrate cloud cover optically.

No treaty adherent has benefited more from its transparency than the United States, which together with its allies overflies Russia far more often than Russia can overfly NATO countries.

The administration's May 22 notification that it will formally leave the treaty in November is fundamentally at odds with the interests of the US and its allies. In response to Trump's decision, 10 European nations, including prominent NATO allies like France and Germany, issued a statement expressing "regret" and said they will continue to implement the treaty, which "remains functioning and useful."

The administration is correct that Russia has violated the treaty by restricting overflight of certain areas, namely the Kaliningrad exclave and Russia's borders with the contested regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, which only Moscow recognizes as independent states. Those violations, while they must be addressed, do not negate the fundamental value of the treaty and certainly do not justify withdrawal.

As some members of Congress have pointed out, the notification of withdrawal is also illegal. The Open Skies Treaty was the brain-child of Republican presidents and enjoyed bipartisan support, so Congress last year included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act—which Trump himself signed—requiring the administration give 120 days' notice before announcing intent to withdraw from the treaty. The deliberate decision to ignore this requirement is yet another sign of the Trump administration's willingness to flout congressional authority.

Even setting questions of legality aside, the substance of the announcement is internally inconsistent.

The administration simultaneously argued that the treaty is not useful because Open Skies aircraft can't detect anything that is not already visible from satellites, but also that Russian planes were vacuuming up valuable information about nonmilitary infrastructure in the US. It argued that Russia's activities were inconsistent with the "spirit"—not the letter—of the treaty, while ignoring the fact that the US and its NATO allies have collected similar information in more than 500 flights over Russian territory since the treaty came into force.

Exiting the treaty will further isolate Washington from its NATO allies, all of whom urged the Trump administration to remain. Indeed, the decision seems intended to reinforce the message Trump has been sending to NATO throughout his presidency: that the 70-year-old alliance cannot rely on the United States.

NATO members that possess less advanced intelligence capabilities than the US have placed great value on the mandatory sharing among all Open Skies signatories of the images collected from surveillance flights. No NATO ally is likely to join the US in withdrawing.

There may be little immediate effect from the US withdrawal. In fact, there were no Open Skies flights conducted at all in 2018, yet this did not provoke any military disaster. Still, in the long run, withdrawing from the treaty will undoubtedly damage the national security of the US as well as its allies and partners in Europe.

The treaty's value has been demonstrated repeatedly during moments of crisis, as when Open Skies flights observed a massive Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine in 2014. The sharing of such images, unlike those obtained by satellites, is immediate, and in this case may have deterred a more open Russian invasion of Ukraine. The next time crisis strikes, such as heightened tensions on Russia's borders with Georgia or Ukraine, NATO will not be able to mobilize an overflight as rapidly as it could with advanced US aircraft.

All the national security benefits of withdrawing from the treaty will accrue to Russia, which will be able to schedule more collection flights over its neighbors and NATO members, including over US bases and military deployments in Europe. And NATO's diminished capability to fly over Russia means Moscow will have greater latitude to deploy forces to its borders.

This will pose a particular risk for Ukraine, which is still in an active conflict with Russian-backed separatists in its eastern regions, and which pleaded with Washington to remain in the treaty. Russia, meanwhile, can continue to argue—with increasing credibility—that it is the United States that is stoking a new arms race.

Of still greater concern is what this decision reveals about the Trump administration's approach to the very concept of arms control.

When Russia violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, I acknowledged that US withdrawal from the treaty could be justified as a result. But I also argued that withdrawing from the INF without any action plan to redress Russia's violations was ill-advised, and only served Moscow's propaganda interests. The same critique applies doubly in this case.

Russia's violations of Open Skies are marginal, preventing coverage of less than 1% of Russian territory, and they are not central to the treaty's objectives, as was the case with Moscow's violations of the INF. In that case, Russia was not just playing games with the rules, but was repeatedly found to be building the very types of missiles whose elimination was the entire point of the INF.

The administration has made clear that it is ready to withdraw from any treaty that is not being implemented fully. Of course, it is also prepared to withdraw from agreements that are being implemented fully, as with the Iran nuclear deal. It appears to believe—despite the complete absence of evidence to support it—that this approach increases pressure on Russia and will force it to compromise on this and related nuclear issues.

The same preference for confrontation over restraint seems also to be the motivating factor for the administration's dithering on the urgent need to renew the New START Treaty, the only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the strategic deployed nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia.

Trump says he would prefer a better deal involving not just Russia but also China. But because a complex new agreement simply cannot be concluded before the treaty's expiration in February 2021, many experts suspect Trump's rationale is simply a pretext for leaving New START.

In another sign that Trump's team is prepared to escalate tensions, The Washington Post recently reported that White House officials discussed the potential of resuming US nuclear weapons testing, which would break a moratorium that has been in place since 1992.

A senior official speaking to the Post claimed that by demonstrating the US ability to "rapid test" a nuclear device, it could put pressure on Russia and China in future arms control negotiations. In fact, such a move would instead give a green light to China, Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan to break their own nuclear test moratoriums, which could help them develop new and more dangerous warhead designs. This would unquestionably undermine American and global security, and yet the Trump team considers it a feasible option.

Trump has brought to crucial arms control issues the same approach he has brought to domestic politics, not to mention his personal legal and business issues: petulance, egomania, bullying and short-sightedness. Members of Congress from both parties have an opportunity in the coming days and weeks to take a principled stand, not only in favor of continued Open Skies adherence, but also against reckless tests of nuclear weapons for the purpose of political messaging.

Thomas Countryman is chair of the board of directors at the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C. He was a career U.S. Foreign Service officer for 35 years until retiring in 2017, having most recently served as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Read the original article on World Politics Review, June 1, 2020.

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Trump's decision to ditch another treaty with Russia is a reckless own goal

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Originally published in World Politics Review, June 1, 2020.

President Donald Trump's recent decision to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, which has helped keep the post-Cold War peace, raises the long-term risk of armed conflict in Europe. While unfortunate, abandoning this 34-nation confidence-building measure is consistent with Trump's years-long policy of confidence-demolition.

First proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 and negotiated under the George H.W. Bush administration, Open Skies allows signatories, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory. This helps build a measure of transparency and trust regarding each countries' military forces and activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

Under the terms of the treaty, every detail of each flight is agreed to ahead of time by both the surveilling and the surveilled party, from the flight plan to the plane's airframe to the type of camera. These flights allow short-notice coverage of territory that is not readily photographed by satellites, which cannot be immediately shifted from fixed orbits and which cannot penetrate cloud cover optically.

No treaty adherent has benefited more from its transparency than the United States, which together with its allies overflies Russia far more often than Russia can overfly NATO countries.

The administration's May 22 notification that it will formally leave the treaty in November is fundamentally at odds with the interests of the US and its allies. In response to Trump's decision, 10 European nations, including prominent NATO allies like France and Germany, issued a statement expressing "regret" and said they will continue to implement the treaty, which "remains functioning and useful."

The administration is correct that Russia has violated the treaty by restricting overflight of certain areas, namely the Kaliningrad exclave and Russia's borders with the contested regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, which only Moscow recognizes as independent states. Those violations, while they must be addressed, do not negate the fundamental value of the treaty and certainly do not justify withdrawal.

As some members of Congress have pointed out, the notification of withdrawal is also illegal. The Open Skies Treaty was the brain-child of Republican presidents and enjoyed bipartisan support, so Congress last year included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act — which Trump himself signed — requiring the administration give 120 days' notice before announcing intent to withdraw from the treaty. The deliberate decision to ignore this requirement is yet another sign of the Trump administration's willingness to flout congressional authority.

Even setting questions of legality aside, the substance of the announcement is internally inconsistent.

The administration simultaneously argued that the treaty is not useful because Open Skies aircraft can't detect anything that is not already visible from satellites, but also that Russian planes were vacuuming up valuable information about nonmilitary infrastructure in the US. It argued that Russia's activities were inconsistent with the "spirit" — not the letter — of the treaty, while ignoring the fact that the US and its NATO allies have collected similar information in more than 500 flights over Russian territory since the treaty came into force.

Exiting the treaty will further isolate Washington from its NATO allies, all of whom urged the Trump administration to remain. Indeed, the decision seems intended to reinforce the message Trump has been sending to NATO throughout his presidency: that the 70-year-old alliance cannot rely on the United States.

NATO members that possess less advanced intelligence capabilities than the US have placed great value on the mandatory sharing among all Open Skies signatories of the images collected from surveillance flights. No NATO ally is likely to join the US in withdrawing.

There may be little immediate effect from the US withdrawal. In fact, there were no Open Skies flights conducted at all in 2018, yet this did not provoke any military disaster. Still, in the long run, withdrawing from the treaty will undoubtedly damage the national security of the US as well as its allies and partners in Europe.

The treaty's value has been demonstrated repeatedly during moments of crisis, as when Open Skies flights observed a massive Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine in 2014. The sharing of such images, unlike those obtained by satellites, is immediate, and in this case may have deterred a more open Russian invasion of Ukraine. The next time crisis strikes, such as heightened tensions on Russia's borders with Georgia or Ukraine, NATO will not be able to mobilize an overflight as rapidly as it could with advanced US aircraft.

All the national security benefits of withdrawing from the treaty will accrue to Russia, which will be able to schedule more collection flights over its neighbors and NATO members, including over US bases and military deployments in Europe. And NATO's diminished capability to fly over Russia means Moscow will have greater latitude to deploy forces to its borders.

This will pose a particular risk for Ukraine, which is still in an active conflict with Russian-backed separatists in its eastern regions, and which pleaded with Washington to remain in the treaty. Russia, meanwhile, can continue to argue — with increasing credibility — that it is the United States that is stoking a new arms race.

Of still greater concern is what this decision reveals about the Trump administration's approach to the very concept of arms control.

When Russia violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, I acknowledged that US withdrawal from the treaty could be justified as a result. But I also argued that withdrawing from the INF without any action plan to redress Russia's violations was ill-advised, and only served Moscow's propaganda interests. The same critique applies doubly in this case.

Russia's violations of Open Skies are marginal, preventing coverage of less than 1% of Russian territory, and they are not central to the treaty's objectives, as was the case with Moscow's violations of the INF. In that case, Russia was not just playing games with the rules, but was repeatedly found to be building the very types of missiles whose elimination was the entire point of the INF.

The administration has made clear that it is ready to withdraw from any treaty that is not being implemented fully. Of course, it is also prepared to withdraw from agreements that are being implemented fully, as with the Iran nuclear deal. It appears to believe — despite the complete absence of evidence to support it — that this approach increases pressure on Russia and will force it to compromise on this and related nuclear issues.

The same preference for confrontation over restraint seems also to be the motivating factor for the administration's dithering on the urgent need to renew the New START Treaty, the only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the strategic deployed nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia.

Trump says he would prefer a better deal involving not just Russia but also China. But because a complex new agreement simply cannot be concluded before the treaty's expiration in February 2021, many experts suspect Trump's rationale is simply a pretext for leaving New START.

In another sign that Trump's team is prepared to escalate tensions, The Washington Post recently reported that White House officials discussed the potential of resuming US nuclear weapons testing, which would break a moratorium that has been in place since 1992.

A senior official speaking to the Post claimed that by demonstrating the US ability to "rapid test" a nuclear device, it could put pressure on Russia and China in future arms control negotiations. In fact, such a move would instead give a green light to China, Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan to break their own nuclear test moratoriums, which could help them develop new and more dangerous warhead designs. This would unquestionably undermine American and global security, and yet the Trump team considers it a feasible option.

Trump has brought to crucial arms control issues the same approach he has brought to domestic politics, not to mention his personal legal and business issues: petulance, egomania, bullying and short-sightedness. Members of Congress from both parties have an opportunity in the coming days and weeks to take a principled stand, not only in favor of continued Open Skies adherence, but also against reckless tests of nuclear weapons for the purpose of political messaging.

Thomas Countryman is chair of the board of directors at the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C. He was a career U.S. Foreign Service officer for 35 years until retiring in 2017, having most recently served as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Read the original article on World Politics Review, June 1, 2020.

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Video Short: The United States and Nuclear Testing

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I am Daryl Kimball. I am executive director of the Arms Control Association.

Is the United States considering resuming nuclear weapons tests?

Yes, some very senior White House officials have actually proposed resuming nuclear weapons testing which would break the 28-year-long U.S. moratorium on such behavior.

It was on May 22nd that the Washington Post reported that senior Trump officials discussed whether to set off a nuclear test explosion, a demonstration nuclear test, to try to put pressure on Russia and on China. One senior official said that such a test could prove useful from a negotiating standpoint as the Trump administration tries to engage China in talks and to change Russia's position on certain nuclear issues. The idea was opposed by a number of other senior officials but the Post reports that the idea is still under active consideration.

How will new U.S. nuclear tests affect global security?

Let's be clear: the resumption of U.S. nuclear weapons testing would not advance the cause of arms control; it would be an invitation for other nuclear-armed countries to follow suit. A resumption of U.S. nuclear testing would lead the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, perhaps the North Koreans to resume nuclear testing. It would allow them to proof-test new and more dangerous types of nuclear weapons. It would be the starting gun for an unprecedented global nuclear arms race that would hurt U.S. and international security for years and years to come.

Can the President really do that, and how quickly?

Yes, he can and relatively quickly. The National Nuclear Security Administration is currently poised to conduct a simple nuclear test within six to ten months if so ordered by the president. Such a test would not be designed to fix some technical problem with an existing U.S. nuclear warhead nor would it be to proof-test a new nuclear warhead design. It would be a simple demonstration test with little instrumentation. It would be conducted underground at the former Nevada Test Site just outside of Las Vegas. But Congress can act to deny funding for tests and to prevent the president from doing so.

Haven’t we ended nuclear testing permanently?

The United States ended nuclear test explosions in 1992 and led the way in the negotiation of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which today has 184 states signing the treaty. Even though the treaty is in existence, the door to nuclear testing is still open. The United States and China are among the eight states that have not yet ratified the treaty and they must do so to bring the treaty into force to make sure that the monitoring and verification and inspections regime is as strong as possible.

To learn more, visit ArmsControl.org/Factsheets for what you should know about the history of nuclear testing and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

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Executive director Daryl Kimball describes recent discussions by senior Trump administration officials to resume U.S. nuclear weapons testing and the effect such would have on global security and arms control.

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U.S. to Withdraw from Open Skies Treaty | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, May 27, 2020

U.S. to Withdraw from Open Skies Treaty The United States officially gave notice of its intent to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty in May, prompting bipartisan opposition in Congress and expressions of regret from U.S. allies. President 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 Michael Pompeo said in a May 21 statement that the withdrawal will take effect in six months. “We may, however,...

Open Skies Treaty Pullout An Irresponsible National Security Misstep, Warn Experts and Former Officials

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For Immediate Release: May 21, 2020

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—The Trump administration reportedly will announce that it intends to pull the United States out of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, a valuable arms control and security agreement intended to reduce risks to the United States and its European allies.

“The Open Skies Treaty has helped preserve the post-Cold War peace. It allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another’s territory. This helps preserve a measure of transparency and trust, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict,” says Thomas Countryman, the former U.S. acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and now chair of the board of the Arms Control Association.

“A unilateral U.S. exit from Open Skies would undermine our security and that of our European allies, all of whom strongly support the treaty,” Countryman added. “It has the effect—and perhaps this is the intention—of signaling a diminished U.S. commitment to its NATO allies.”

“U.S. and allied treaty flights over Russia provide valuable information about Russian military activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict in Europe,” says Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association director for disarmament and threat reduction policy. "The treaty has been an especially important tool in responding to Russia's aggression against Ukraine." 

“There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for maintaining U.S. participation in Open Skies,” Reif notes. “The administration’s announcement of withdrawal is a slap in the face to Congress as it violates notification requirements written into law last year.”

The administration told reporters the formal notification of withdrawal would be effective immediately and the withdrawal itself will take effect in six months. However, such action violates Sec. 1234 of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the administration to notify Congress 120 days ahead of a U.S. notification of an intent to withdraw.

The Trump administration cites Russian noncompliance as a motivating factor for its decision. Disputes have arisen because Russia has imposed a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast for treaty flights, refused access to observation flights along its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and denied planned U.S.-Canadian flights over a Russian military exercise in September 2019.

However, Russia recently approved and allowed a joint U.S.-Estonian-Latvian treaty flight over Kaliningrad this year that was not subjected to the earlier Russian restrictions. In addition, Jim Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said March 2 that Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises.”

As President Reagan’s former Secretary of State, George Shultz, former Senator Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry wrote in October 2019 in the Wall Street Journal: “As with any treaty, implementation disputes arise. Current disagreements are related to underlying territorial and political issues between Russia and some of its neighbors. But these problems can be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

“Today’s announcement is part of a troubling pattern. The Open Skies Treaty is not the first, and may not be the last, nuclear or conflict risk reduction agreement this administration has withdrawn from without a viable strategy for replacement,” observes Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“Failure to take up Russia’s offer to extend by five years the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the administration has threatened to do, would compound the damage and further heighten the risk of unconstrained military and nuclear competition between the United States and Russia at a time when the world can ill afford it,” he warns.

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The treaty allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory, helping preserve a measure of transparency and trust and enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

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Global NGOs Urge Nonproliferation Treaty States to Comply with Obligations

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For Immediate Release: May 11, 2020

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext.107; Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext 110

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—More than 80 national and international peace and nuclear disarmament nongovernmental organizations delivered a joint statement Monday to key government leaders urging them to fulfill unmet obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), particularly on nuclear disarmament, and to realize their agreed commitment to the goal of the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons.”

The joint statement marks the 25th anniversary of the package of decisions that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT and urges world leaders to act with greater urgency and cooperation to reduce nuclear risks and advance progress on disarmament per their commitment under the treaty.

“We’re not only at a pivotal point in the struggle against the fast-moving coronavirus; we are also at a tipping point in the long-running effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war and eliminate nuclear weapons,” the joint statement from more than 80 organizations from around the globe, including the Arms Control Association, warns.

“Tensions between the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising; the risk of nuclear use is growing; billions of dollars are being spent to replace and upgrade nuclear weapons; and key agreements that have kept nuclear competition in check are in serious jeopardy.”

“This environment,” the organizations write, “demands bolder action from all states to reduce nuclear risks by eliminating nuclear weapons; action that is rooted in ‘deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.’”

The NPT entered into force in 1970 and now has 191 states parties. It is considered the foundation of global efforts to address the risks posed by nuclear weapons. The NPT is not simply a nonproliferation treaty. It is also a treaty that requires action on disarmament.

“For the long-term viability of the NPT, all countries must fully implement their obligations. The body of previous NPT Review Conference commitments and action steps still apply. This includes the benchmarks agreed to at the historic 1995 Review and Extension Conference and further commitments made at the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences. These remain largely unfulfilled, and some are at risk of being reversed or lost entirely.”

Implementing past action plans must be the floor and not the ceiling for taking forward the NPT’s provisions,” they write in the statement, which has been delivered to diplomats from most of the 191 states parties of the NPT.

The postponement of the 2020 NPT Review Conference offers an unprecedented opportunity to change the current course,” they argue.

“The current situation requires new and bolder leadership from responsible states to work together to build majority support for a plan of action to advance NPT Article VI [disarmament] goals and create much needed momentum for further progress on disarmament, and to save humanity from the scourge of nuclear war,” they write.

The full statement and the list of endorsing organizations are available online via Reaching Critical Will.

Responses to Audience Questions from April 29 New START Briefing

Top former U.S. administration officials last week expressed support for a five-year extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ), the last remaining arms control agreement between the United States and Russia that is set to expire in February 2021. “Put me down in the column of extension, and the reason for that is the clock is running,” said Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an April 29 event hosted by the Arms Control Association. Rose Gottemoeller, lead U.S. negotiator for the treaty, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank...

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