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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
United States

Saudi Nuclear Permissions Granted After Murder

Two controversial authorizations for the transfer of nuclear information to Saudi Arabia were granted by the U.S. Department of Energy to private companies after the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and commentator for The Washington Post, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) revealed June 4. (See ACT, May 2019.)

A candlelight vigil is held for Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul on October 25, 2018. His murder in the Saudi consulate there has led some U.S. lawmakers to question U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s nuclear energy plans. (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)Kaine received the information after more than two months of requests and a direct appeal from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) to the Energy Department for the approval dates of seven so-called Part 810 authorizations, particularly inquiring as to whether any authorizations occurred after the Khashoggi murder.

“The alarming realization that the Trump Administration signed off on sharing our nuclear know-how with the Saudi regime after it brutally murdered an American resident adds to a disturbing pattern of behavior,” said Kaine.

Part 810 authorizations are routinely issued, especially when negotiations for a broader civil nuclear cooperation agreement with another country are ongoing, as is the case with Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration’s lack of transparency regarding those negotiations, however, combined with restricting access to the authorizations, has caused growing concern in Congress. Many members of Congress and nonproliferation experts are also concerned about Saudi actions in the Middle East, including in the war in Yemen, and Saudi leaders’ statements about wanting nuclear weapons if Iran were ever to obtain them.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Saudi Nuclear Permissions Granted After Murder

U.S. Confirms Saudi Ballistic Missile Production


U.S. intelligence agencies have told Congress that Saudi Arabia is developing a domestic ballistic missile production program with Chinese support, CNN reported June 5. The official confirmation followed open-source reporting in January that disturbed some members of Congress, who questioned if that information had been deliberately omitted from earlier Trump administration briefings. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Saudi Arabia has deployed Chinese-supplied ballistic missiles for decades, and Beijing has said that the missiles were modified to carry only non-nuclear explosives. In January, imagery analyses by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey indicated that Saudi Arabia had expanded its al-Watah missile base, where the Chinese missiles were stored, to include a rocket-engine production and test facility. U.S. officials have now confirmed to Congress that the expansion in missile infrastructure and technology was facilitated through recent purchases from China. Saudi production of ballistic missiles would run counter to long-established U.S. policy to limit missile proliferation in the Middle East. —SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S. Confirms Saudi Ballistic Missile Production

Senate Confirms U.S. NPT Ambassador

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Jeffrey Eberhardt, a career government official who has served at the Pentagon and most recently at the State Department, to serve as special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation. The June 20 confirmation put Eberhardt in place to support administration policy going into the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which will mark the 50th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. His portfolio will cover many nonproliferation-related issues, including Iran and North Korea, as well as other treaty noncompliance allegations. Most recently, Eberhardt served as director of the State Department’s Office of Multilateral and Nuclear Affairs in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

Regarding Iran, Eberhardt said during his Senate nomination hearing that “Iran’s standing as a non-nuclear-weapon state-party to the NPT cannot be described as good.” Reacting to that statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a June 3 interview that he “did not want to comment on that.” Andrea Thompson, the State Department’s top arms control diplomat, initially tried to dodge answering the question in Senate testimony on May 15 before acknowledging that Eberhardt’s statement was “correct” and “what we laid out in the [State Department arms control] compliance report.” The 2019 compliance report, issued in April, expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but offered no evidence at that time of Iranian noncompliance with its NPT obligations or with its commitments to the 2015 multilateral deal that curbed its nuclear activities.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Senate Confirms U.S. NPT Ambassador

U.S. and Iranian Actions Put Nuclear Deal in Jeopardy

Sections:

Body: 


Statement by Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy
and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: June 27, 2019

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102 (print/radio only); Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—Iran’s announcement that it may soon breach the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal is an expected but troubling response to the Trump administration’s reckless and ill-conceived pressure campaign to kill the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It is critical that President Donald Trump does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Any violation of the deal is a serious concern but, in and of itself, an increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched at that level, further enrich it to weapons grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235), and then weaponize it. Intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections would provide early warning of any further moves by Iran to violate the deal.

Tehran is not racing toward the bomb but rather, Iran’s leaders are seeking leverage to counter the U.S. pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran any benefits of complying with the deal. Despite Iran’s understandable frustration with the U.S. reimposition of sanctions, it remains in Tehran’s interest to fully comply with the agreement’s limits and refrain from further actions that violate the accord.

If Iran follows through on its threat to resume higher levels of enrichment July 7, that would pose a more serious proliferation risk. Stockpiling uranium enriched to a higher level would shorten the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb–a timeline that currently stands at 12 months as a result of the nuclear deal’s restrictions.

The Trump administration’s failed Iran policy is on the brink of manufacturing a new nuclear crisis, but there is still a window to salvage the deal and deescalate tensions.

The Joint Commission, which is comprised of the parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Iran) and oversees implementation of JCPOA, will meet June 28. The meeting is a critical opportunity for the state parties to press Iran to fully comply with the nuclear deal and commit to redouble efforts to deliver on sanctions-relief obligations.

For its part, the White House needs to avoid steps that further escalate tensions with Iran. Trump must cease making vague military threats and refrain from taking actions such as revoking waivers for key nuclear cooperation projects that actually benefit U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

If Trump does not change course, he risks collapsing the nuclear deal and igniting a conflict in the region.

Description: 

An increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the JCPOA-mandated limits does not in itself pose a near-term proliferation risk, and it is critical that the Trump administration does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Country Resources:

U.S. Accuses Iran Prematurely of Violating Nuclear Deal | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, June 14, 2019

U.S. Accuses Iran Prematurely of Violating Nuclear Deal Tensions over the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran continue to rise after the Trump administration accused Tehran of violating one of its commitments under the agreement, but Iran’s decision to install additional advanced centrifuges appears to fall into a gray area not covered by the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Despite the lack of clarity, the United States urged Iran to return to compliance even though U.S. President Donald Trump violated the deal by reimposing sanctions in May 2018 and...

Strengthening Nuclear Security With a Sustainable CPPNM Regime


June 2019
By Samantha Neakrase

In late 2015, investigators discovered chilling surveillance video in the possession of a suspected terrorist alleged to have been involved in the November 2015 attacks in Paris.1 The Islamic State took credit for those attacks, and the video footage suggested it had been watching a high-ranking Belgian nuclear official who had access to secure areas of a Belgian nuclear research facility.2

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano (second from left) visits the Belgian Nuclear Research Facility SCK-CEN in 2018.  The site was one of those accessible to a Belgian official who was reportedly surveilled by terrorists in 2015. (Photo: SCK-CEN/IAEA)The video’s existence raised concerns that the group was seeking to acquire materials for a primitive nuclear device or a dirty bomb. Was there a plan to abduct the official and ransom him for nuclear or radioactive materials or to bribe or coerce the official to turn him into an unwilling insider?

Other evidence gathered in the same investigation pointed to additional terrorist plans to “do something involving one of [Belgium’s] four nuclear sites,” which include two nuclear power plants, a company that produces medical isotopes, and the nuclear research facility.3 Despite these concerns, authorities had not taken additional measures to protect the facility beyond cautioning employees to “increase their vigilance,” The New York Times reported.4

The intent of the terrorist surveillance remains unclear, but the discovery served as an important reminder that nuclear facilities and materials continue to be targets of interest to terrorists. There are many other incidents tracked by organizations such as Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Incident and Trafficking Database.5 The CNS Global Incidents and Trafficking Database, a tool launched in June 2013 to track incidents of theft or loss of nuclear and other radioactive materials, contains hundreds of incidents of loss, theft, and unauthorized possession of those materials in 2017 and 2018 alone. Three illicit trafficking incidents were reported in the database in 2017 involving nuclear materials, including one case involving the sale of plutonium-239 and plutonium-241.

More broadly, terrorist attacks continue across the globe, including by the Islamic State and others, and the threat is constantly evolving. New technologies, such as cyberweapons that could disrupt nuclear facility security systems, and access to greater financial resources enable terrorist groups to become more sophisticated.

These continuing threats and documented incidents show that nuclear terrorism is today’s problem. Addressing this threat is an urgent priority. Just as terrorists have not lost focus on their desire to acquire and use a nuclear or radiological bomb, neither can the international community, especially governments, lose focus on the need to prevent such a catastrophic event from happening. Protecting nuclear materials and nuclear facilities from the threats posed by terrorists and other nonstate actors is too important a mission to let slide into complacency and neglect.

The CPPNM Regime

One of the most important tools in the fight against nuclear terrorism is the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). A 2005 amendment to the convention entered into force in 2016, making it the only legally binding treaty requiring countries to protect nuclear materials and facilities.6 Opened for signature in 1980, the CPPNM today has 155 states-parties, while only 102 have ratified the amendment.

This foundational international treaty is even more important now that the nuclear security summits, the biennial gatherings of more than 50 heads of government that were held between 2010 and 2016, have ended. The summits were convened to focus attention on nuclear terrorism, encourage action and commitments to prevent nuclear theft and sabotage, and strengthen the global nuclear security architecture. Unfortunately, high-level attention has waned since the summits, but 2021 provides an opportunity to reinvigorate global nuclear security efforts at the review conference for the amended CPPNM.

Article 16 of the amended CPPNM requires the IAEA, the treaty’s depositary, to convene a review conference five years after the amendment’s entry into force. States should use the review conference to create a forum for parties to engage in regular dialogue on how the treaty is being translated into on-the-ground nuclear security progress, monitor and identify gaps in implementation, review progress, promote continuous improvement, and discuss emerging nuclear threats. Parties can turn the amended CPPNM into a living, breathing tool for dialogue and progress and demonstrate their commitment to building a strong, effective, and sustainable CPPNM regime.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the 2021 review conference would be a decision to hold regular review conferences in the future with intervals of not less than five years, as allowed by Article 16. Because the terrorist threat will continue to evolve, the treaty must also be dynamic and evolve. This will require parties to meet regularly to discuss how the treaty’s implementation must change to reflect changes in the threat environment, advances in states’ ability to protect materials and facilities, development of best practices, and emerging technologies. The treaty’s own language, that the purpose of the review conference is to review the implementation of the treaty “in the light of the then prevailing situation,” acknowledges this reality. Continuity of the review process, particularly opportunities for regular dialogue on nuclear security, will enable the treaty to maintain its long-term relevance.

After the CPPNM entered into force in 1987, one review conference was held five years later, but the participants did not exercise their option to call for further review conferences. Repeating this history for the amended CPPNM would ignore the valuable opportunity the treaty offers to review this essential tool. Parties should instead agree at the 2021 review conference to hold review conferences regularly as a standing arrangement, instead of waiting for a request of the majority of parties to do so on an ad hoc basis. Without a decision at the 2021 review conference, there is a risk that it will be the last, as was the case with the original CPPNM.

Ideally, treaty parties would agree to hold review conferences every five years, as permitted by the treaty. It is difficult to imagine that a five-year review cycle would not be warranted given that significant changes in the threat environment, technology, and the tools to address threats are likely. In reality, allowing flexible frequency may be appropriate to account for other international conferences and events, such as the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS), and to respond to developments in the global security environment. For instance, if ICONS is held every three years, it may make sense for a review conference on the amended CPPNM to be held every six years. Whether parties agree to a fixed period of five or six years, parties could agree that they would be able to adjust the date of the subsequent review conference to account for factors that would affect its timing. At a minimum, parties at the 2021 review conference should set the date for the following review conference and require that each successive review conference will set a future review conference date. In other words, states would agree to hold review conferences in perpetuity, but not on a predetermined schedule. To avoid review conferences being set too far into the future and to reflect the reality of fast-evolving threats, however, parties should agree that the time between review conferences will not exceed a set period, such as seven or eight years.

There is precedent for regularizing a treaty review process when regular review conferences are not required by the treaty. The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), for example, contains similar review conference language to the CPPNM and the amended version. At each of the early NPT review conferences, parties requested the convening of the next review conference in five years’ time. At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the parties agreed to continue holding such review conferences every five years.

A Unique Forum for Sustained Dialogue

Regular review conferences are an integral part of many treaty regimes to ensure the treaty’s viability in light of changing circumstances.7 This is even more important when the treaty’s purpose is to address a threat that will continue to evolve. Review conferences can strengthen a treaty regime by developing a common understanding of key provisions and help states set goals for implementation. Given that most major treaties have regular review conferences, it would be an odd omission for a treaty as vital to global security as the amended CPPNM not to be supported by regular review conferences. When it comes to addressing one of the most dangerous threats worldwide, why should the amended CPPNM be treated differently? To the contrary, a regular, substantive review conference for the amended CPPNM will provide unique benefits not available in any other forum. Regular review conferences will have a different character and purpose from other nuclear security forums, such as ICONS or the annual amended CPPNM points of contact meetings that are convened by the IAEA.

The 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., was the last in the summit series. A regular review conference for the amended CPPNM could provide nations with a forum to discuss nuclear security issues. (Photo: Ben Solomon/U.S. State Department)First, the review conference is the only legally mandated forum for enduring nuclear security dialogue. ICONS, which is approved by IAEA member states in an annual nuclear security resolution, was first held in 2013 and is currently on a three- or four-year cycle. Although ICONS covers a range of nuclear security-related topics and informs the work of the IAEA in the area of nuclear security, it is not based on a concrete set of legal obligations. The point of contact meetings, while also useful technical meetings, are not specifically mandated under the treaty and have only been convened since 2016. The legal basis for the review conference provides a stronger mandate for sustained dialogue on nuclear security and greater durability than other conferences and meetings that rely on the continued interest and resources of IAEA member states.

Second, the amended CPPNM can offer a different level of interaction than ICONS and point of contact meetings. ICONS features a one-day ministerial session attended by relatively few actual ministers, and the bulk of ICONS is dedicated to technical sessions attended by diplomats, technical experts, academics, and representatives from nongovernmental organizations. The point of contact meetings are attended by technical experts, usually regulators. In contrast, the appropriate level of participation for the review conference would be senior officials who can go beyond technical discussions and discuss policies and priorities for nuclear security. They would be knowledgeable about nuclear security and empowered to make decisions.

Third, the purpose of the review conference and its agenda should be different from ICONS and point of contact meetings, neither of which provide for a high-level, multiday dialogue on forward-looking policies and priorities for nuclear security. At the ICONS ministerial, senior officials make national statements and issue high-level principles for nuclear security, but the meeting is quite limited in scope. At the technical sessions, experts give presentations on a range of nuclear and radiological topics. The point of contact meetings similarly are much more limited in scope. These one- or two-day meetings focus on the technical aspects of implementation of the amended CPPNM, but do not assess nuclear security progress or set priorities for the future and are not aimed at taking forward-looking action to strengthen the CPPNM regime. In contrast, the review conference provision is broad and flexible enough to provide for a multiday, substantive, policy-level discussion of a range of themes and topics relevant to the treaty, such as the threat environment, nuclear security progress, gaps and challenges to implementation, and priorities for future progress.

Finally, the review conference can be a forum for countries to commit to nuclear security progress and further strengthen implementation of their treaty obligations. Just as nuclear security is never finished and requires continuous improvement, implementation of the treaty requires constant attention and committed action. Parties could pledge to host peer reviews, participate in international workshops and trainings, implement IAEA nuclear security guidance, and share best practices and lessons learned. Commitments made at the review conference would be more specific and tailored to each country’s own circumstances than the broad commitments made in the ICONS ministerial declaration; the point of contact meetings have no decision-making or commitment-making component.

A Vision for the Review Conference

The amended CPPNM provides almost no guidance for the review conference, only stating that it will “review the implementation of this Convention and its adequacy as concerns the preamble, the whole of the operative part and the annexes in light of the then prevailing situation.” This minimal guidance allows parties to design a review conference with outcomes that are most likely to achieve the objectives of a strong, effective, and sustainable treaty regime. States should be ambitious and take advantage of this singular opportunity.

The review conference should have a robust, substantive agenda designed to allow for an in-depth dialogue on themes or topics derived from the treaty’s operative text and preamble, a more effective approach than taking a narrower provision-by-provision approach. These themes could be incorporated into a plenary agenda and supported by additional breakout sessions to facilitate in-depth discussions about topics relevant to subsets of countries or specific regions.

One theme could cover the IAEA’s role in nuclear security. Such a dialogue would be productive and appropriate given the agency’s role as the treaty depositary and convener of the review conference. The discussion could build awareness of and promote significant IAEA nuclear security resources, including its Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plans and its peer reviews such as the International Physical Protection Advisory Services, which support member states’ implementation of the treaty’s provisions. Promoting implementation of IAEA nuclear security guidance would also be a positive step toward building common, international nuclear security standards and would be consistent with the treaty’s reference to “internationally formulated recommendations” in the preamble and the fundamental principles in the operative text. Countries could also share success stories of IAEA assistance in implementing nuclear security, which could encourage additional financial and political support for the IAEA’s important nuclear security mission.

Emerging technology is ripe for discussion, including offensive use of technology that could lead to theft or sabotage and defensive use of new technology to protect materials and facilities. As technology evolves, so must the assessment of those technologies as potential security assets and risks. Cybertools, for example, can be used to enhance security as technology becomes more sophisticated and reliable, but they can also be used to defeat digital security systems designed to protect nuclear materials and facilities.8 Building awareness of cyber capabilities and the need to develop measures to prevent or mitigate cyber-mediated theft and sabotage would be a significant contribution to nuclear security.

In another thematic discussion, countries could consider whether physical protection includes protection against cyberattacks. There are strong arguments for doing so. Cyberweapons are just one of many types of weapons or tools, such as guns, bombs, or other traditional weapons, that could be deployed to defeat physical security measures, and efforts to defend against cybertools link directly to physical protection. A flexible definition of physical protection means the CPPNM regime will remain relevant as the threat evolves and as adversaries adapt their tools to defeat security.

The review conference should devote time to discuss the risk environment. Review conferences should not occur in a vacuum but in light of current, evolving, and predicted future threats. Consistent with Article 16’s reference to reviewing implementation “in light of the then prevailing situation,” a discussion of the risk environment would be an opportunity to assess how implementation and interpretation of the treaty need to adapt to reflect contemporary and emerging threats and to maintain the treaty’s relevance as a long-term tool for nuclear security.

Another item to be addressed at the review conference could be Article 14, which requires states to submit information to the IAEA on “the laws and regulations which give effect to” the convention. An important outcome for the 2021 review conference would be for all states to submit their reports at or before the meeting and to discuss best practices in reporting, including a possible reporting template. States could go beyond their Article 14 obligation by making nonsensitive portions of their reports public, as some countries have done already. They also voluntarily could provide broader information on their nuclear security programs and the steps they are taking to continuously improve security.9 In fact, Article 5 encourages information sharing among parties for the purpose of “obtaining guidance on the design, maintenance, and improvement of its national system of physical protection of nuclear material.” Sharing information on nuclear security practices, while protecting sensitive information, provides valuable opportunities for states to learn from one another and build confidence in the security of their nuclear materials. Releasing information to the public also helps to build confidence in nuclear security, which “may contribute to the positive perception, at a national level, of peaceful nuclear activities, globally,” according to the resolution on nuclear security adopted by the 2018 IAEA General Conference.10

2021 and a Unique Opportunity

The amended CPPNM invites states to be ambitious by providing a broad, flexible basis on which to design a robust agenda for nuclear security dialogue. This is vital for building on significant nuclear security achievements and preventing international complacency over nuclear terrorism. This can be achieved with a robust and meaningful, outcome-oriented review conference in 2021. The 2021 review conference will be an important, and perhaps the only, opportunity to establish the building blocks for a strong, effective, and sustainable CPPNM regime for combating nuclear threats, now and in the future. Seizing this opportunity requires vision, ambition, and strong leadership. This is too great a chance to squander when the collective mission to prevent nuclear terrorism is so consequential.

 

ENDNOTES

1. Alissa J. Rubin and Milan Schreuer, “Belgium Fears Nuclear Plants Are Vulnerable,” The New York Times, March 26, 2016, p. A1; Milan Schreuer and Alissa J. Rubin, “Video Found in Belgium of Nuclear Official May Point to Bigger Plot,” The New York Times, February 18, 2016.

2. Milan Schreuer and Alissa J. Rubin, “Video Found in Belgium May Point to Bigger Plot,” The New York Times, February 19, 2016, p. A4.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. For a list of other incidents, see Matthew Bunn, Nickolas Roth, and William H. Tobey, “Combating Complacency About Nuclear Terrorism,” Project on Managing the Atom Policy Brief, March 2019, https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/2019-03/NuclearSecurityPolicyBrief_2.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3OcJ37tRb4y-Qpk1PCtFChMXE8lWrzrhLTT9VA1_3-IWh1Sg6ZK8EvEj8. For the database, see “CNS Global Incidents and Trafficking Database,” April 25, 2019, https://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/cns-global-incidents-and-trafficking-database/.

6. The CPPNM covers only physical protection of nuclear materials in international transport, but the 2005 amendment significantly expands the treaty’s scope to require protection of all nuclear materials against theft and of nuclear facilities against sabotage. See Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), October 26, 1979, 1456 U.N.T.S. 24631, art. 2. Compare this to article 2A of the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM. See International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Nuclear Security - Measures to Protect Against Nuclear Terrorism: Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material,” GOV/INF/2005/10-GC(49)/INF/6, September 6, 2005. There are two other international legal instruments relevant to fighting nuclear terrorism: the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize and cooperate in the prosecution of acts of terrorism, and UN Security Council Resolution 1540.

7. Jonathan Herbach and Samantha Pitts-Kiefer, “More Work to Do: A Pathway for Future Progress on Strengthening Nuclear Security,” October 2015, Arms Control Today.

8. Another example is drones, which have the potential to enhance security by providing additional eyes and ears to supplement guard force capabilities at facilities and in transport convoys. They can also be used by bad actors to carry out surveillance or attacks.

9. For states that already feel a heavy reporting burden, the Consolidated National Nuclear Security Report offered as a template by the Dutch government at the 2016 nuclear security summit can be a useful tool. See “Consolidated National Nuclear Security Report,” n.d., https://static1.squarespace.com/static/568be36505f8e2af8023adf7/t/570511498259b5e516e16689/1459949897436/Joint+Statement+on+Consolidated+Reporting+Appendix.pdf; Nuclear Security Summit, “Joint Statement on Consolidated Reporting,” April 5, 2016, http://www.nss2016.org/document-center-docs/2016/4/1/joint-statement-on-consolidated-reporting.

10. IAEA General Conference, “Nuclear Security: Resolution Adopted on 20 September 2018 During the Seventh Plenary Meeting,” GC(62)/RES/7, September 2018.

 


Samantha Neakrase (formerly Pitts-Kiefer) is senior director for materials risk management at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. She has been writing and presenting on the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material regime for several years, including for the 2016 International Atomic Energy Agency International Conference on Nuclear Security.

 

Holding regular review conferences for the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials would serve to keep nuclear security in the spotlight.

Trump Arms Control Plans Draw Criticism


June 2019
By Kingston Reif and Shervin Taheran

Amid growing concern about the future of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control efforts, the Trump administration is still evaluating a potential extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and appears to lack a clear plan to achieve a newly announced goal of negotiating more comprehensive agreements with Russia and China.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 14. The two agreed that the United States and Russia will hold meetings to discuss a broad range of arms control issues. (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)A decision on whether to extend New START is one that President Donald Trump “will make at some point next year,” said Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council, in May 29 remarks at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

Administration officials have repeatedly downplayed the risks of the treaty expiring in February 2021 with nothing to replace it. They also have provided few details on how they would persuade Russia to limit broader categories of weapons and China to participate in arms control talks for the first time.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters following a May 14 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia, that the United States and Russia “agreed that…we will gather together teams that will begin to work not only on New START and its potential extension, but on a broader range of arms control issues that each of our two nations have.”

It remains unclear when such talks will begin, how frequently they will take place, who will lead the negotiating teams, what the Trump administration would be willing to offer for concessions from Russia and China, and whether New START would be extended in the absence of progress on a more comprehensive deal.

New START, which caps deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 missiles and bombers each, allows the two sides to extend the pact for up to five years until 2026 without requiring U.S. Senate approval.

U.S. officials, notably National Security Advisor John Bolton, have criticized New START because it limits deployed strategic nuclear weapons only. Before joining the Trump administration, Bolton was a frequent and vocal critic of New START, castigating the agreement as unilateral disarmament.

“What we need to focus on is the comprehensive nuclear threat,” Morrison said. “The higher priority is the totality of the Russian and Chinese [nuclear] programs, because we have so much time left on the clock for New START.”

New START Review Ongoing

Several issues would affect the administration’s treaty extension decision, said Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 15. They include Russia’s development of new types of strategic weapons systems and modernization of its large stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, its “record of being a serial violator and selective implementer of the arms control obligations and commitments that it undertakes,” and “China’s lack of transparency regarding the scope and scale of its nuclear modernization program” and unwillingness to discuss nuclear weapons issues with the United States.

Thompson and David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, largely refused to provide the administration’s views on what the implications would be for U.S. security without New START. Trachtenberg testified alongside Thompson at the May 15 hearing.

Asked by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the senior Democrat on the committee, whether Russia could target the United States with “hundreds or perhaps thousands of additional nuclear warheads” in the absence of the treaty, Thompson replied, “That is a great question for Russia.”

The testimony from Thompson and Trachtenberg on New START disturbed the Democratic committee members.

“Extending New START would be, in my mind, an easy decision,” said Menendez. “It's very difficult to understand why the administration would discard the robust constraints, transparency, and verification measures of New START with nothing to replace them.”

Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) strongly criticized any treaty extension. “Under present circumstances with [Russia’s] cheating and other things that they do, I'm opposed to extension,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in an extension, but it has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability. (See ACT, March 2019.)

“The extension of the New START is not a simple technicality that could be resolved in a couple of weeks,” Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, said on May 6 at the University of Pennsylvania. “Serious issues must first be settled.”

These concerns have not been well received by the White House. “We shouldn’t presuppose that the Russians are interested in extending the treaty,” Morrison said. “If they were, they wouldn’t be creating false narratives about U.S. compliance with the treaty.”

Broader Talks Scrutinized

The Trump administration’s desire to negotiate new arms control agreements with Russia and China has drawn criticism.

Russia has expressed a willingness to begin a dialogue with the United States on arms control and strategic stability, but it has its own list of concerns about U.S. policies and weapons systems, including missile defense systems, cyberweapons, weapons development in space, and advanced conventional arms.

The Trump administration has shown no indication that it would be willing to limit these weapons in an agreement with Russia or China. Even if it were willing to do so, it is highly unlikely an agreement could be reached before New START expires in less than two years.

Trump told reporters on May 3 that he had already spoken to China about a trilateral nuclear arms control deal and that “they very much would like to be a part of that deal.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on May 6, however, that China “will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement.”

China is estimated to possess about 300 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. In contrast, the United States and Russia are believed to possess more than 6,000 warheads each. China has never been a party to any agreement that limits the number or types of its nuclear weaponry.

In a May 6 interview in Finland, Pompeo acknowledged that a trilateral deal involving China and that covers all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons might be “too ambitious.” He noted that there are “just a couple years left before New START expires” and that it may be necessary to address the expiration of the treaty “on a bilateral basis.”

Asked at the May 15 hearing why he believed that China would want to engage in disarmament talks with the United States and Russia given Beijing’s much smaller nuclear arsenal, Trachtenberg replied that he could not “get into the mind of the Chinese leadership.” He said that “China should accept the responsibilities of a major power in the world today” by “engaging with respect to its nuclear arsenal.”

Menendez welcomed the administration’s interest in expanding the scope of arms control, but warned that “the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs.”

New START Bills Proposed

Democrats and one notable Republican have proposed several pieces of legislation in support of extending New START.

On May 9, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s top Republican, introduced a bill titled “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces.” The bill expresses the sense of Congress that New START should be extended by five years unless Russia is determined to be in material breach of the agreement or the treaty is replaced by a pact that contains equal or greater verifiable constraints on Russian nuclear forces.

The legislation also would require several briefings and reports, including an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

The bill mirrors a similar piece of legislation introduced in March by Menendez and Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) titled “New START Policy 5 Act of 2019.”

In addition, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill on May 2 called “Save Arms Control and Verification Efforts (SAVE) Act” that calls for extending New START and would specifically prohibit any funding to increase the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear arsenal above the treaty limits through Feb. 5, 2026, if the president does not extend or attempts to withdraw from the treaty.

Opponents of New START have also introduced legislation on the treaty. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill on May 13 that would prohibit the use of funding to implement an extension of New START or any successor agreement unless the agreement includes China and covers Russia's entire inventory of strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) introduced companion legislation in the House.

The Trump administration has expressed interest in new strategic arms control talks, but specific suggestions remain unknown.

Kim Missile Tests Draw Muted U.S. Reaction


June 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

U.S. President Donald Trump played down North Korea’s decision to test a new short-range ballistic missile in May, and administration officials said the United States remains committed to negotiations with Pyongyang over the North’s nuclear weapons program. Neither Washington nor Pyongyang, however, appears willing to show a more flexible approach to talks, making it unclear when negotiations might resume.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) waves with China's Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Li Zhanshu following a September 2018 military parade which featured a missile that North Korea apparently tested May 4. (Photo: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)North Korea’s May 4 flight test of the new mobile missile marked the country’s first ballistic missile launch since it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the test, and the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported his “great satisfaction” with the drill. The missile, designated the KN-23, was tested again May 9.

The solid-fueled KN-23 can travel about 400 kilometers and appears to be the same system displayed in a 2018 North Korean military parade, according to missile analysts. Although North Korea has developed and deployed ballistic missiles with similar ranges, the KN-23’s features provide Pyongyang with new capabilities. The use of solid fuel makes the missile easier to transport and quicker to launch because the missile can be stored with the fuel loaded. North Korea’s other short-range ballistic missiles are mostly liquid-fueled systems that typically need to be fueled at the launch site.

The missile also flies at a lower trajectory and appears to be capable of maneuvering in flight, according to analysts and U.S. officials, making it more difficult to intercept using ballistic missile defenses. Development of a missile with this trajectory and maneuvering capability may be a response to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense systems that the United States deployed in South Korea in 2017.

North Korean media condemned a recent THAAD training exercise in South Korea on May 10, calling it “a military provocation” and saying that if the United States “truly wishes for peace on the peninsula,” it should “stop all acts of hostility” toward North Korea.

The May missile tests violate UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit any ballistic missile development or testing by North Korea, but the launches do not violate the voluntary moratorium on long-range ballistic missile testing that Kim announced in April 2018.

The Trump administration has touted the lull in missile testing and the announced moratorium as positive outcomes of the diplomatic process, and its response to the May tests has been subdued.

Trump said on May 10 that he did not consider the missile tests a “breach of trust” between himself and Kim and said the relationship remains strong. Trump said he knows that North Korea wants to negotiate but may not be ready to resume talks right now.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the missile tests did not pose a threat to the United States or its allies in the region. Pompeo said that there is still “an opportunity to get a negotiated outcome” on denuclearization, but did not provide any detail on the U.S. approach to advance diplomacy.

Kims' decision to test the new missile was likely intended to send signals to the Trump administration, as well as a North Korean audience. After returning from the Hanoi summit without sanctions relief, Kim may have felt compelled to shore up domestic support and silence critics in North Korea that were skeptical of his approach to negotiations by demonstrating his resolve and continued commitment to North Korea’s security.

Components of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system arrive at Osan Air Base in South Korea in March 2017. The ballistic missile tested recently by North Korea may be designed to avoid interception by such defenses. (Photo: U.S. Forces Korea/Getty Images)The decision to resume missile testing without breaching the April 2018 moratorium may also have been designed to demonstrate that Kim’s ultimatum for negotiations is serious. Kim said in April that the United States must change its negotiating approach by the end of the year or face a “bleak and very dangerous” situation. Specifically, he called on the United States to pursue a new “methodology” for talks, likely a reference to North Korea’s rejection of the Trump administration’s preference for a comprehensive deal. (See ACT, May 2019.)

The test followed new U.S.-South Korean military drills that replaced larger, annual exercises that North Korea regularly criticized as provocative. Trump canceled those maneuvers in March, but Kim still denounced the scaled-down exercises in April and warned that North Korea was likely to respond to the exercises in kind.

Although the missile test may have been intended to signal North Korea’s resolve, it does not appear to have altered Trump’s approach to negotiations. It remains unclear how the administration plans to bridge the divide between the U.S. and North Korean negotiating positions.

The Trump administration continues to reiterate its preference for a comprehensive agreement that would require North Korea to agree to the end goal of the negotiations and dismantle its entire nuclear weapons infrastructure before receiving any U.S. sanctions relief.

In a May 19 Fox News interview, Trump again denounced North Korea’s preference for an incremental approach to denuclearization and provided some further insight into the differences that caused the abrupt end of the Hanoi summit in February. Trump said he wanted North Korea to dismantle five nuclear sites, whereas Kim was only willing to close one or two sites, and that offer was “no good.”

This detail supports commentary from U.S. and North Korean officials that Trump wanted a more comprehensive “big deal,” while Kim sought a more limited agreement on the Yongbyon nuclear facility. (See ACT, April 2019.)

The U.S.-North Korean relationship was further strained by the U.S. Justice Department’s May 9 announcement that the United States had seized a North Korean vessel, the Wise Honest, for its role in evading U.S. and UN sanctions. According to the May 9 press release, the vessel, which had been detained a year earlier in April 2018, had been involved in illicitly transporting coal and heavy machinery since 2016.

North Korea condemned the U.S. seizure as an “illegal and atrocious act of robbery” and said that Washington was acting in “complete denial of the basic spirit” of the Singapore summit declaration agreed by Trump and Kim at their first meeting in June 2018. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) North Korea said the United States should “return the vessel without delay” and consider “what kind of consequences will be caused by its gangster-like behavior.”

The Trump administration has consistently stated that it will enforce all sanctions on North Korea during negotiations. Nothing in the Singapore summit joint statement specifically states that Washington should refrain from sanctions enforcement.

The U.S.-North Korean stalemate has also slowed the inter-Korean process, but the two Koreas have begun preparations for a fourth summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim.

Moon also downplayed the impact of the missile launches on North Korea’s negotiations with the United States and the inter-Korean process. He said it does not violate the Panmunjom agreement between North and South Korea and characterized the test as an expression of “discontent” by Pyongyang. He said North Korea is “being careful not to disrupt the atmosphere for talks.”

 

Recent North Korean missile tests violate UN Security Council resolutions, but President Trump appears eager to maintain talks.

NATO Ministerial to Discuss INF Treaty


June 2019
By Shervin Taheran

NATO defense ministers will meet June 26 to prepare defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia does not come back into compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to a European official speaking with Arms Control Today.

The meeting will come just weeks before the United States is expected to withdraw from the treaty, alleging that Russian deployment of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile constitutes a treaty violation. NATO believes the missile can strike targets in Europe. (See ACT, March 2019.)

The INF Treaty bans the testing and deployment of land-based missiles that can fly distances of 500 to 5,000 kilometers. The agreement, concluded by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, significantly eased tensions in Europe over Soviet and U.S. deployments of these systems, which can reach their targets rapidly and with little warning. The likely termination of the treaty on Aug. 2 opens the door to the possible redeployment of INF Treaty-range missiles in Europe, which experts say could increase escalation risks and the potential for miscalculation in a crisis.

In an April 4 press statement following a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Washington, the ministers discussed “Russia’s ongoing violation” of the INF Treaty, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO “has no intention” to deploy “ground-launched nuclear missiles in Europe.” This does not preclude deploying conventionally armed INF Treaty-range missiles in NATO countries, which is what the Trump administration has announced it is seeking to develop. (See ACT, May 2019.)

The United States is “moving forward with developing ground-launched INF [Treaty]-range missile capabilities,” senior administration officials reiterated on May 15 to Congress. The work is “designed to be reversible should Russia return to compliance by verifiably destroying its INF Treaty-violating missiles, launchers, and associated support equipment,” said David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, in written testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also noted that the system ultimately developed would be “driven by our assessment of military requirements and in consultation with Congress and with our allies
and partners.”

Although the annual congressional funding process is ongoing, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee already released its version of the fiscal year 2020 budget, which effectively eliminated the requested funding for the three new INF Treaty-range missiles that the administration announced it would be pursuing following its withdrawal from the treaty. The House Armed Services Committee, led by Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), is expected to follow suit in the annual defense authorization process, but Senate Republicans are expected to support the administration’s plans.

NATO defense ministers are set to discuss how to handle the impending termination of the INF Treaty.

U.S., UK Complete Largest HEU Repatriation


June 2019
By Tien-Chi Lu

The United Kingdom has completed the transfer of nearly 700 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to the United States, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced May 3. The multiyear project removed the U.S.-origin material from Scotland’s Dounreay nuclear facility, which is undergoing decommissioning. The uranium has been moved to the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where it will be blended down and used as fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors.

Safety foreman Leslie Jones works at the construction site of the Dounreay fast reactor in 1957. Now undergoing decommissioning, the nuclear complex has returned 700 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to the United States. (Photo: Central Press/Getty Images)“The successful completion of the complex work to transfer HEU signaled the conclusion of an important part of the program to decommission and clean up Dounreay Site,” said David Peattie, chief executive officer of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Among other activities, the Dounreay facility historically used HEU to produce materials needed to manufacture isotopes for medical purposes. In conjunction with the repatriation project, the United States has agreed to provide nuclear materials to other European facilities to support the continued production of medical isotopes.

HEU contains at least 20 percent of the uranium-235 isotope, and percentages above this threshold are considered potentially useful for nuclear weapons if available in sufficient quantities. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, international concerns rose about security measures at civilian facilities using HEU, such as university research reactors, and the United States and Russia agreed in 2009 to consolidate and secure HEU the two nations had provided to friendly nations in earlier decades.

“As a nonproliferation measure, the UK transfer is modest in the sense that it is moving weapons-usable material between two nuclear-weapon states. Nonetheless, the consolidation and ultimate down-blending of this material will yield important nuclear security benefits,” said Miles Pomper, a nuclear security specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The Dounreay transfer is the largest amount of material to have been repatriated from a single facility. To date, 6,713 kilograms of HEU from 47 countries plus Taiwan have been disposed of or repatriated, an NNSA spokesperson told Arms Control Today. Thirty-three countries and Taiwan are now HEU-free, which is defined as possessing less than one kilogram of HEU. Plans call for completing nearly all repatriations to the United States this year and to Russia by 2022.

Seven hundred kilograms of highly enriched uranium return to the United States in a multiyear nuclear security project.

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