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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
United States

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Compliance with Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation Norms Is Eroding, New Study Finds

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All nuclear weapons possessor states failed to make progress to reduce their nuclear arsenals; Key states’ records in nine of 10 nonproliferation & disarmament categories have deteriorated.

For Immediate Release: July 10, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—A new, 80-page study published by the Arms Control Association evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states, as well as several states of proliferation concern and finds that respect for key nuclear nonproliferation norms and internationally-recognized obligations and commitments is eroding.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2016-2019," is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition of the Arms Control Association’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Report Card covering the 2013–2016 period.

The study comprehensively evaluates the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possesses nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern, from 2016 through March 2019.

“Each of the states that possess nuclear weapons is taking steps to invest in new delivery systems and several are expanding the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines," noted Alicia Sanders-Zakre, a co-author of the report. "These trends increase the risk of nuclear weapons use,” she warned.

“Our review of actions—and inactions—by these 11 states suggest a worrisome trend away from long-standing, effective arms control and nonproliferation efforts," warned Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report. "By documenting the policies of these states over the last decade, we hope this report will demonstrate that support for critical nonproliferation and disarmament norms is eroding.”  

Several of the key findings include:

  • The United States and Russia: The overall grades for both the United States (C+) and Russia (C+) dropped, due partly to Russia’s violation of a key bilateral arms control treaty and the U.S. decision to withdraw from that treaty in response. Both states also expanded the circumstances under which they would use nuclear weapons and are investing in new, destabilizing delivery systems.
     
  • France and the United Kingdom: These two states received the highest overall grades (B) of the 11 states assessed, but neither country has taken steps during the period covered in this report to make additional nuclear force reductions.
     
  • China, India, and Pakistan: All three of these states are increasing the size of their nuclear arsenals and are investing in new nuclear-capable delivery systems. New missiles being developed and fielded by all three suggest that these countries are now storing warheads mated with certain missiles or moving toward that step, which increases the risk of use. China’s overall grade was a C+; India and Pakistan both scored C.
     
  • North Korea: North Korea scored the worst of the states assessed in this report with an overall grade of F. Pyongyang continues to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal and is the only state to have tested a nuclear weapon during the timeframe covered. However, North Korea continues to abide by a voluntary nuclear and missile testing moratorium declared in April 2018 and appears willing to negotiate with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.
     
  • Iran: Through the period covered by this report and until June 2019, Tehran continued to adhere to the restrictions on its nuclear activities put in place by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal over the course of this report, despite the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement last year and its decision to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments. Iran, however, has transferred ballistic missile components in violation of international norms and Security Council restrictions, causing its overall grade to drop to C-.
     
  • Israel: Israeli actions over the past several years in support of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty earned it a higher grade on the nuclear testing criteria, but its inaction on the Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and backsliding on negative security assurances caused its overall grade to drop to a C-.

The report reviews implementation and compliance with existing internationally-recognized obligations and commitments.

“The standards and benchmarks in our report do not necessarily represent our ideal strategy for addressing the nuclear weapons threat,” noted Davenport. “New and more ambitious multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament strategies will be needed to meet to future nuclear challenges,” she remarked.

Last week, the U.S. State Department convened a meeting involving more than three-dozen countries, including the five original nuclear weapon states, to discuss steps to improve the environment for nuclear disarmament.

“We hope this report card can serve as a tool to help hold states accountable to their existing commitments and encourage effective action needed to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons,” noted Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. 

“We encourage all states who are serious about strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament enterprise to commit themselves to meet and exceed the existing goals and objectives to reduce and eliminate the nuclear danger,” he urged.

The full report can be accessed at www.armscontrol.org/reports

Description: 

A new report details the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime. 

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United States

July 2019

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of April 2019, the United States possesses 3,800 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,385 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total of 6,185 nuclear warheads. On Feb. 2, 2018, the Trump administration released its Nuclear Posture Review, detailing its strategy for the role of U.S. nuclear forces. The United States has destroyed about 90.6% of its chemical weapons arsenal as of 2017 and is due to complete destruction by September 2023. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention and has destroyed its biological weapons arsenal, although Russia alleges that U.S. biodefense research violates the BWC.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
  • New START
  • Nuclear Reductions Beyond New START
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons

 

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1982

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

- - -

2015

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2015

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 1998, entered into force January, 2009.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with Russia

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Founder

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

The United States has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of April 2019, the United States possesses 3,800 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,385 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total arsenal of 6,185 warheads. In April 2019, the Defense Department stated it would no longer declassify the number of U.S. nuclear warheads.

Under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the United States can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable strategic warheads on 700 deployed delivery systems until February 2021 when the treaty expires. According to the March 2019 New START data exchange, the United States deploys 1,365 strategic nuclear warheads on 656 strategic delivery systems.

The United States also deploys an additional 150 tactical (non-strategic) nuclear warheads based in Europe. While the United States and Russia maintain similarly sized total arsenals, the United States possesses a much larger number of strategic warheads and delivery systems while Russia possesses a much larger number of non-strategic (or tactical) nuclear warheads.

The United States is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons against another country, dropping two bombs (one apiece) on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Delivery Systems

(For a detailed overview of current and planned U.S. nuclear modernization programs, see our fact sheet here.)

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  •  As of April 2019, the United States Air Force deploys 400 LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBMs.
    • The Minuteman III has a range of over 6,000 miles (9,650-13,000 km).
    • Each missile is equipped with either one 300 kt W87 warhead or one 335 kt W78 warhead.
  • Under New START, the United States reduced the number of deployed ICBMs from 450 to 400. 50 excess silos have not been destroyed but have been kept in a “warm” operational status and can be loaded with missiles relatively quickly if necessary.
  • In 2015, the United States concluded a multibillion dollar, decade-long modernization program that will extend the service life of the Minuteman III to beyond 2030.  
  • The U.S. Air Force is also developing a new ICBM, known as the ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD), which is intended to replace the Minuteman III between 2029 and 2035.

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • The U.S. Navy operates 14 Ohio-class SSBNs submarines, two of which are undergoing overhaul of their nuclear reactors at any given time. The remaining 12 are available for deployment. However, since some operational SSBNs also undergo minor repairs at any given time the actual number of SSBNs at sea usually numbers at around 10.
  • 7 submarines are based out of Bangor, Washington and 5 submarines are based out of Kings Bay, Georgia.
  • The submarines originally had 24 missile tubes for Trident II D5 SLBMs, but under New START, the Navy deactivated 4 tubes on each submarine, finishing this process in 2017.
  • The Ohio-class submarines have a life-span of 42 years.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs):

  • The Trident II D5 was first deployed in 1990 and has an operational range of 7,400-12,000 km.
  • The Trident II D5 missile can hold up to eight warheads (but usually holds an average of four to five) and carries 3 variants:
    • the W88—a 475 kt Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) warhead.
    • the W76-0—a 100 kt MIRV warhead.
    • the W76-1—a 100 kt MIRV warhead.
  • To comply with New START, the Navy will not deploy more than 240 missiles. As of February 2018, 203 submarine-launched ballistic missiles were deployed. 
  • An ongoing life extension program is expected to keep the Trident II D5 in service until  2042.
  • The Trident II D5 is the only MIRV’ed (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle) strategic missile remaining in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Bombers

  • As of April 2019, the Air Force deploys 46 nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers and 20 nuclear-capable B-2A Spirit bombers.
  • The Air Force plans to deploy no more than 60 nuclear-capable strategic bombers under New START.
  • An estimated 850 nuclear warheads are assigned to the strategic bombers, but only about 300 are typically deployed at bomber bases.
    • B-52H Stratofortress bombers: dual-capable; can carry 20 AGM-86B cruise missiles. The AGM-86B has a range of 2,500 km and is equipped with a 5-150 kt W80-1 warhead
    • B-2A Spirit bombers: dual capable; can carry 16 B61-7, B61-11, or B83-1 gravity bombs.
  • The United States also maintains several fighter-aircraft that serve in a dual-capable role. The F-15E and F-16C have been the cornerstone of this aspect of nuclear deterrence, carrying the B61 gravity bomb. The new stealth F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, will replace the F-16 as the U.S. Air Force’s primary nuclear capable fighter-aircraft.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

The United States develops and deploys several ballistic missile defense systems around the world. To learn more, see: "U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance." 

Fissile Material

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The United States has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material for weapons purposes. It stopped production of HEU in 1992.
  • In March 2016, the United States announced the declassification of its national inventory of highly enriched uranium (HEU) of 585.6 tons, as of September 30, 2013.
  • The United States halted the production of HEU for weapons in 1964 and ceased plutonium separation for weapons in 1992.
  • Estimates from 2016 place the U.S. HEU stockpile at around 600 metric tons, including 253 metric tons of military HEU and 264 metric tons of fresh and spent naval HEU.
  • According to the 2015 Global Fissile Material Report, the United States has about 40 metric tons of HEU remaining to be downblended of the 187 metric tons it declared as excess to defense requirements and has committed to dispose.

Plutonium

  • The United States ended production of separated plutonium in 1988.
  • At the end of 2014, U.S. military plutonium stockpiles amounted to a total of 87.6 declared metric tons (49.3 metric tons of which are declared as excess military plutonium).
  • In October 2016, citing U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, Russia suspended its own implementation of the deal. Russia refuses to resume the agreement’s implementation until U.S. sanctions against Russia are lifted and NATO forces in Europe are reorganized along lines favorable to Russia. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into MOX fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because doing so would fail to change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor grade. 
  • The United States possesses no separated civilian plutonium but at the end of 2014, an estimated 625 metric tons of plutonium were contained in spent fuel stored at civilian reactor sites.
  • Under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), finalized with Russia in 2000, the United States committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium beginning in 2018. The agreement was amended in 2010 to change the agreed disposition methods in which Russia abandoned using mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in light-water reactors in favor or irradiating plutonium in its fast-neutron reactors. The amendment also expressed renewed U.S. commitment to provide $400 million towards the Russian disposition program. Russia suspended cooperation with the agreement in November 2016.

 Proliferation Record

  • A close relationship exists between U.S. and British nuclear weapons programs. The United States supplies the United Kingdom with the Trident II D5 SLBM.
  • Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey all host U.S. tactical nuclear gravity bombs as part of NATO nuclear sharing agreements. The estimated 180 weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime, but some may be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war.
  • Beginning with President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 “Atoms for Peace” initiative, the United States has engaged in extensive worldwide trading and exchanging of fissile materials and technical information for nuclear science research and the peaceful use of nuclear technology. In 1954, an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act allowed bilateral nuclear agreements with U.S. allies to proceed, with the intent of exporting only low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel; however, this soon expanded to include HEU.
  • Under the “Atoms for Peace” program a number of former, aspiring, and current nuclear-weapon states such as South Africa, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Israel all received, directly or indirectly, training and technology transfers utilized in their nuclear weapons programs. For example, in 1967, the United States supplied Iran with a 5 megawatt nuclear research reactor along with HEU fuel. Iran admitted to using the reactor in the early 1990s for the production of small amounts of Polonium-210, a radioactive substance capable of starting a chain reaction inside a nuclear weapon.
  • Since the end of the Cold War the United States has tried to mitigate the adverse effects of the “Atoms for Peace” initiative and returned exported HEU and plutonium to the United States.

Nuclear Doctrine

Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, in a Feb. 2, 2018 press briefing, claimed that the 2018 NPR “reaffirms that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear policy is deterrence.” Critics of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) argue that the NPR reverses previous policy to reduce the role and number of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Declaratory Policy

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” For more on declaratory policy, see: Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances.

Negative Security Assurance

The NPR also includes a negative security assurance that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapons states that are “party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and are in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” The review caveats this negative security assurance by retaining “the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat.” For more on negative security assurances, see: U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

Testing
 
The United States has conducted 1,030 nuclear weapons tests. The first test was conducted on July 16, 1945 and the last test occurred on Sept. 23, 1992. The United States was the first country to conduct a nuclear test. 

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Biological Weapons

  • In the early 1970s, the United States destroyed its entire stockpile of biological weapons, which had been developed between 1943 and 1969.
  • The United States ratified the Biological Weapons Convention in 1975.  However, in 2001, the Bush administration opposed and killed an effort dating back to 1995 to augment the Biological Weapons Convention with a legally binding verification protocol. U.S. officials said the protocol would be too burdensome on legitimate governments and private biodefense programs, while at the same time failing to deter cheaters.
  • According to a 2016 State Department report, “In December 2015 at the annual Meeting of States Parties to the BWC, the delegation of the Russian Federation asserted that the United States had knowingly transferred live anthrax spores to a foreign country for use in open-air testing, and that this constituted a ‘grave violation’ of Articles III and IV of the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention].”
  • The United States maintains that these transfers were a blunder. The report also notes that, “All U.S. activities during the reporting period were consistent with the obligations set forth in the BWC. The United States continues to work toward enhancing transparency of biological defense work using the BWC confidence-building measures.”

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Chemical Weapons

  • Behind Russia, the United States has declared the second-largest stockpile of chemical agents.
  • As of 2017, the United States had destroyed about 25,154 metric tons, or about 90.6 percent, of its declared Category 1 chemical weapons stockpile. The United States has completed destruction of all its Category 2 and 3 chemical weapons. 
  • The United States received several extensions on its initial deadline for chemical weapons destruction under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and it now due to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal by September 2023.
  • Destruction of the United States’ largest remaining stockpile of chemical weapons began in 2016 at Colorado’s Pueblo Chemical Depot. Upon completion, the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky will have the last remaining chemical agent stockpile in the United States.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities  

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.
 
However, in July 2014 the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In February 2019 the United States announced its intention to suspend its obligations and withdraw from the treaty, beginning a six-month withdrawal period that will end in August.  For more information on the INF Treaty visit our "INF Treaty at a Glance" fact sheet.
 

New START
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor agreement to the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) accord. The 2010 agreement, known as New START, commenced on Feb. 5, 2011. It requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICBMs, SLMBs, and bombers by Feb. 5, 2018 and both sides met the limits by the deadline. In addition, it contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement. President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of New START, calling it a “one-sided” agreement.

New START allows for a five-year extension subject to the agreement of both parties. The Trump administration has begun an interagency review on whether to extend the treaty and is weighing several factors, including the lack of China’s participation in the agreement, Russia’s new and developing strategic systems, and Russian tactical delivery systems currently not covered by the treaty. Though no official decision has been made yet regarding the Trump administration’s decision to extend, National Security Advisor John Bolton called it “unlikely” in June 2019.

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions. In the spring of 2019, the White House told reporters that the administration is seeking a new trilateral arms control agreement that limits all types of nuclear weapons and includes China in addition to the United States and Russia. 

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
The Conference on Disarmament was established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community. At the 65-member CD, the United States has expressed support for continuing discussions on the CD's core issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), and negative security assurances. The United States has been a prominent supporter of a proposed FMCT.

In March 1995, the CD took up The Shannon Mandate which established an ad hoc committee directed to negotiate an FMCT by the end of the 1995 session. A lack of consensus over verification provisions, as well as desires to hold parallel negotiations on outer space arms control issues, prevented negotiations from getting underway. Later, in May 2006, the United States introduced a draft FMCT along with a draft mandate for its negotiations. However, following an impasse in negotiations on a FMCT in 2010, the United States (and others) signaled its desire to look at alternative approaches outside the CD and called for negotiations to be moved to the United Nations General Assembly where the agreement could be endorsed by a majority vote. However, the United States no longer makes comments to this effect.

The United States does not support negotiations on PAROS, deeming it unnecessary because there are no weapons yet deployed in outer space. China and Russia continue to articulate a desire to hold parallel negotiations, a point which has further stalled efforts to begin FMCT negotiations.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The United States has ratified a protocol to the Latin America and the Caribbean Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) treaty pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the contracting parties. The U.S. has declined to ratify similar additional protocols to any of the remaining NWFZ treaties for Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. 

Nuclear Security Summits
In April 2010, the United States hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC. Participants included 47 countries, 38 of which were represented at the head of state or head of government level, and the heads of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Union. At the summit, the participants unanimously adopted the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in the next four years. The United States also attended the NSS in Seoul, South Korea, on March 26-27, 2012 and the third NSS on Mar. 24-25, 2014. Washington hosted a fourth summit in the Spring of 2016 where attendees developed action plans for five global organizations to continue the work of the summits.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
Under the Obama administration the United States played the central role in the brokering of the July 2015 JCPOA, better known as the “Iran deal,” which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Congress in September 2015 debated a resolution that would have blocked implementation of the accord, but it failed to receive enough votes to pass the Senate. In January 2016, sanctions on Iran, including those targeting the financial and oil sectors, were lifted and $100 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets were released after international inspectors confirmed that Iran had rolled back large sections of its nuclear program and met more intrusive monitoring requirements.

On May 8, 2018 President Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the agreement, despite the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Iran was adhering to its commitments under the deal and over objections from the remaining parties to the agreement. Since the U.S. decision to withdraw, the remaining parties to the deal have reiterated their commitment to the JCPOA and taken steps to bypass U.S. sanctions and preserve legitimate trade with Iran.
 

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, United States reached an agreement with Russia to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. Before the deal was reached, the United States was planning to use airstrikes to punish the perpetrators of the attack, which the United States blamed on the Syrian government. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, the United States has raised concerns about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to suggest that the Assad regime was the likely perpetrator of the chlorine gas attacks; Russia, however, was hesitant to assign blame. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. U.S. President Donald Trump responded by immediately blaming the regime of Bashar Assad and launching 59 Tomahawk missiles targeting the airfield that had allegedly launched the attack. Following the launches, Trump stated that “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” As a justification for the U.S. response, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “If you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”  

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

 

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Bolton’s Attempt to Sabotage New START


July/August 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Last year, President Donald Trump told reporters that he wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”

Unfortunately, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, stiff-armed a proposal supported by the Defense and State departments to engage in strategic stability talks with Moscow. Bolton also persuaded Trump, without a viable plan B, to terminate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in response to alleged Russian violations of the treaty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with John Bolton, National Security Adviser to the U.S. President, at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 23, 2018. (Photo: Maxim Shipenkov/AFP/Getty Images)Worse yet, Trump’s national security team has dithered for more than a year on beginning talks with Russia to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) before it expires in February 2021. It is now apparent that Bolton is trying to steer Trump to discard New START.

In an interview published June 18, he spoke of a New START extension, saying, “[T]here's no decision, but I think it's unlikely.”

Without New START, there would be no legally binding, verifiable limits on the U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century. Today, the treaty caps the number of deployed warheads at 1,550 for each side; if that ceiling expires, Russia and the United States could upload hundreds of additional nuclear warheads to their long-range delivery systems.

Bolton argued that a key flaw of New START is that it has no provisions or limitations on tactical, or nonstrategic, nuclear weapons. “So simply extending it,” he said, “extends the basic flaw."

New START was designed to focus on the long-range nuclear weapons that pose the greatest threat to the United States and Russia. Talks on eliminating both countries' short-range tactical nuclear weapons are overdue, but would not be easy. If U.S. negotiators seek limits on Russia’s estimated 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons that are kept in central storage, Russia is sure to press the United States to remove the 180 tactical nuclear bombs it now deploys in five European NATO countries. Also, Russia will likely seek to limit French and UK nuclear arsenals.

Bolton further suggested that new strategic weapons being developed by China and Russia, including hypersonic glide vehicles, and other new delivery vehicles “are simply not effectively covered by New START.”

In fact, if Russia deploys its Avangard hypersonic weapon, which is launched by an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the weapon would be covered by New START, according to the State Department. Also, Washington could insist that any new Russian strategic nuclear delivery system, whether a long-range torpedo or missile, also be subject to New START limits.

Bolton also argued that Trump wants to bring China into trilateral negotiations with Russia on a new agreement to limit nuclear weapons not covered by New START.

Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states and trying to limit all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, but such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming. It would be malpractice to discard New START in the hopes of negotiating a more comprehensive, ambitious nuclear arms control agreement with Russia and China and getting it ratified and into force.

There is no realistic chance a new agreement along these lines could be finalized before New START expires. The first step should be a five-year extension of New START, which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

Bolton’s malign influence on U.S. arms control and international security objectives requires that Congress make it clear that the evisceration of common-sense arms control is unacceptable.

A bill introduced by a bipartisan coalition led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, calls for extending New START as long as Russia remains in compliance, or until a new treaty that“provides equal or greater constraints” enters into force. It would also require intelligence assessments of how New START’s expiration would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and of the additional intelligence capabilities that would be needed to compensate for losing the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

Meanwhile, Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have launched a bill to prohibit any funding for nuclear weapons that would violate New START limits as long as Russia continues to stay below treaty ceilings. Such an approach would guard against a breakout by either side and help to maintain strategic stability.

If Trump continues to listen to Bolton’s advice and allows New START to expire, he will likely become the first president since John Kennedy to fail to conclude at least one agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear dangers, and he will have opened the door to a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.

Last year, President Donald Trump told reporters that he wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”

Seeing Red in Trump’s Iran Strategy


July/August 2019
By Eric Brewer and Richard Nephew

Since Iran’s May 2019 announcement that it would no longer abide by some nuclear restrictions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Trump administration has sought to push back against these moves by citing the imperative of the JCPOA’s constraints. The JCPOA created limits on Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle that mean Tehran would need a year to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb, and the agreement established enhanced transparency and inspector access throughout the entire fuel cycle.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks to reporters at the White House April 30. Bolton has linked any Iranian expansion of enrichment activities to a deliberate attempt to shorten the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons.  (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)The U.S. push for Iran to adhere to the deal’s terms has drawn some international incredulity given how the United States withdrew from agreement in May 2018 while noisily alleging many JCPOA flaws. More subtly, the Trump administration has begun to lay the groundwork for what can be described as its first real redline for the nuclear program: that any reduction in Iran’s one-year breakout timeline, the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb, is unacceptable.

It is unclear how much reduction the administration would tolerate, what its response would be, and given President Donald Trump’s avowed preference for a deal and to avoid another conflict in the Middle East, whether it would be enforced at all. Yet, National Security Advisor John Bolton in late May linked any Iranian expansion of enrichment activities to a deliberate attempt to shorten the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons, which would suggest that a severe response, perhaps even military force, would be on the table to prevent Iran from a nuclear restart. At the very least, the United States is shifting the traditional definition of what is unacceptable from a weapon or having the ability to produce one quickly to any deviation from JCPOA baseline restrictions.

A renewed nuclear crisis with Iran is now likely. Not only would Iran’s announced steps from May shorten the breakout timeline, only modestly at the start, but Iran has set a deadline that expires in early July for the restart of other nuclear activities that might reduce the timeline considerably faster.

Nevertheless, Iran’s nuclear actions so far do not merit this redline or the military response that could follow, nor do they rise to the level of an unacceptable threat to the United States or its interests. Rather, they are a signal that, although some in the Trump administration believe otherwise, Iran will not consent to being pushed via sanctions without seeking leverage of its own.

To be fair to the Trump administration, there is some utility in setting out a clear marker for Iran as to what constitutes unacceptable nuclear behavior. In fact, one of the biggest concerns over Trump’s Iran policy thus far is that the Iranians have seen little clarity from the White House as to what the United States wants from Iran. U.S. objectives have varied over time and, depending on who is articulating the policy, have involved everything from regime change to a renegotiated JCPOA. It would be valuable to give Iran and the rest of the world a clearer sense of U.S. intentions, expectations, and the seriousness with which the United States would treat certain Iranian nuclear actions. A firm stance now could also potentially head off a more dangerous situation down the road, and for the Trump administration, there is a palpable desire to avoid being identified as the cause of this new nuclear crisis.

Despite these potential benefits, the particular redline that appears to be in the process of being established is profoundly unnecessary, unwise, and dangerous for four reasons.

Iran’s Restart Will Be Gradual

First, establishing the one-year breakout timeline as a redline makes little sense in terms of the nuclear program itself. The JCPOA was designed to give governments at least a year to mount a strategy to react if Iran started to exit its obligations and dash to a weapon. For this reason, the JCPOA built in restrictions on Iran’s centrifuges, its uranium stockpile, and spare parts and materials for the program, as well as intrusive transparency steps that ensure the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the international community would quickly become aware of any deviation from Iran’s agreed steps.

Iran has said it will expand its enrichment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and heavy water and will consider additional steps as well, perhaps as soon as July 6. Iran’s decision to restart these nuclear activities will eventually erode the breakout time barrier of a year, but this will occur, at least at the start, relatively slowly and incrementally. The reasons are political and technical. Politically, Iran’s main goal is to regain negotiating leverage and force Europe to provide economic benefits or risk the deal falling apart, not to race to a bomb. As Iran has done in the past, it will likely calibrate the pace and scope of its nuclear activities based in part on how the international community responds.

From a technical standpoint, Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile will probably expand gradually. Iran has said it will exceed the JCPOA’s 300-kilogram limit by June 27, which IAEA reporting suggests would be a major increase in the pace of enrichment operations but not impossible. That said, even at the rate of enrichment that this would suggest, as much as 30 to 50 kilograms per month, it would take many months before Iran would have enough LEU, which would need further enrichment, for a bomb. Of course, enriching uranium further from its current level would be noticed by the IAEA and time consuming.

Iran’s buildup of heavy water is less concerning from a nuclear weapons perspective. Even if Iran fulfills its threat to abandon its JCPOA-mandated requirement to redesign the Arak reactor to produce less plutonium in July, the path to actually completing and starting its old reactor design would be a long and uncertain one.

In early 2016, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had removed the core of its heavy-water reactor at Arak, as required by the 2015 nuclear deal. Restoring the reactor to maximize its plutonium-production capability would be a lengthy process.  (Photo: President of the Islamic Republic of Iran)More worrying would be if Iran acts on its threat to increase enrichment levels as early as July. Depending on how high Iran goes, such as resuming enrichment to near 20 percent uranium-235, this could have a seriously adverse affect on Iran’s breakout timeline as this material accumulates. A U.S. decision to end sanctions waivers that allow Iran to import 20 percent-enriched fuel for its research reactor would make
it easy for Tehran publicly to justify higher enrichment.

Some of these steps are more concerning than others, but none would indicate a breakout, and they do not suggest that the world is facing an imminent Iranian nuclear weapons threat. Indeed, unless Iran starts to curb IAEA access, which in and of itself would be a major concern, all of these measures will be done in full view of inspectors, which is exactly how Iran wants it. There is time to resolve the crisis diplomatically before using military force. A year was judged to be a reasonable but not necessarily minimum amount of time to do so. Indeed, prior to the JCPOA, Iran only needed a few months to produce a bomb’s worth of material. Even then, the United States determined that it could stop an Iranian breakout with the use of force if necessary.

An Ambiguous Redline

Second, for this redline to work, Iran would have to know when it is nearing that threshold so that if it wants, it can refrain from doing so. Because Iran possessed a large LEU stockpile, not to mention its near 20 percent-enriched uranium, for many years prior to the JCPOA, Iran may not perceive its renewed possession of this material as now representing a casus belli for Washington. In fact, Israel even set a redline for Iran’s enrichment program that could be interpreted to permit up to 200 kilograms of near 20 percent-enriched uranium, suggesting that what Iran is presently doing is far below the Israeli threshold for action.

Moreover, breakout timelines are based on a range of assumptions, and even among U.S. allies, there was some ambiguity about those timelines as the JCPOA was negotiated. It is therefore unlikely that Iran and the United States would have a common definition of where that tipping point occurs. This presents a high risk of miscalculation.

Advocates of Trump’s redline approach may believe that this works to the U.S. advantage: by laying out extreme positions, Iran can be deterred from undertaking any nuclear expansion. This view, however, ignores two facts. First, Iran will judge what is tolerable to the West based on past experience, and higher levels and amounts of uranium may not be seen as such. Second, Iran’s perspectives on U.S. deterrence are informed by the full range of U.S. responses to Iranian behavior. With North Korea and Iran, Trump has a history of issuing grand yet vague threats and then not following through on them, a practice that is likely to undermine U.S. credibility on this redline. In addition, Trump’s own attempt to walk back his administration’s hawkish stance toward Iran in late April and early May with respect to the deployment of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf has likely confused the Iranians. Offers to restart negotiations on a more limited slate of issues than U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “12 demands”—a list he laid out in May 2018 for Iran to fulfill, including elimination of its nuclear fuel cycle, severe restrictions on its missile program, and the end of its relationships with Hezbollah and other proxies—probably have done likewise. It certainly has led Iran to try to convince Trump that he is being manipulated into conflict via the “B team,” a term Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has used to describe those he says are war advocates, including Bolton, Emirati Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayad, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even in the likely event that this ploy fails, the dynamic means that Iran is unsure as to where the president stands in all of this. In such an atmosphere of confusion and ambiguity, dangerous mistakes can be made by both sides.

Fewer Peaceful Options

Of course, Trump administration officials and their advocates may stress that no one has mentioned the word “force” in any official capacity and that this is a conclusion being inappropriately drawn. Yet, the third problem with the redline approach being articulated is that Trump administration actions have reduced the scope of nonmilitary responses. Most options short of war have already been expended by this administration and arguably are why this predicament exists in the first place. This includes walking out of the JCPOA and reimposing and expanding sanctions.

Some additional sanctions could be imposed against Iran. Recent actions, such as designations of Iranian petrochemical companies and sectoral sanctions targeting other activities, such as Iran’s metal sector, may help U.S. sanctioners build momentum against Iran. Their value as a deterrent to Iran increasing its nuclear activities, however, is limited because the administration is already aggressively seeking to eliminate Iranian oil exports and has implemented widespread financial sanctions, which are far more damaging measures. If history is a guide, more pressure will likely cause Iran to accelerate its program if there is no realistic diplomatic off-ramp. At this point, Iran’s apparent calculus is that there is little more that Washington can do to punish Tehran from pushing back against the United States by rolling back its JCPOA commitments, at least in part and in stages. Iran sees very little difference between the sanctions pressure Washington is applying now and what more it could generate if Iran builds up its nuclear program. Without this perception, Iran would not have broken a year’s worth of restraint to act now.

The absence of specific and discrete response options for enforcing the redline runs the risk of creating a hollow commitment on the part of the United States. As the United States has learned to its chagrin in recent years, unenforced redlines carry risks and consequences. In this case, it would make it more difficult for the United States to deter Iranian nuclear threats that really do matter in the future. The United States would be ill advised to issue such pronouncements and fail to make good on the promises inherent within them. This is why setting appropriate, sober, and well-considered redlines, if redlines are set at all, is so imperative.

A Bigger Risk Ignored

Finally, although what Iran is doing to retaliate for the U.S. pressure campaign may ultimately create some breakout risk, a redline focused on protecting a one-year breakout timeline focuses on the wrong part of the problem. Iran’s most plausible and likely weapons development scenario would involve a covert program rather than relying exclusively on its known facilities and materials. Iran knows that IAEA oversight, enhanced by the JCPOA, enables rapid detection of any major steps toward breakout. Even if Iran is able to erode breakout time to the two-to-three-month range that predates the JCPOA, this is still sufficient time for the United States to detect and respond militarily, and Iran knows it.

For these reasons, the most important step the United States can take to prevent moves toward a nuclear weapon using the very facilities and materials about which Bolton is now concerned would be to ensure the transparency and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program that the JCPOA provides. These same transparency and monitoring tools that help detect a breakout can give confidence that Iran is not presently in possession of covert facilities and that they would be detected long before they can deliver a nuclear weapon.

A Better Approach

The United States does need to demonstrate its readiness to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. For this reason, showing a willingness to use all the means of U.S. power, including diplomacy, to prevent such an eventuality is reasonable and prudent. Indeed, diplomacy is the only means that the United States has employed in the last two decades that has proven capable of limiting Iran’s nuclear program to a significant degree and for a sustained period of time.

Trump has repeatedly said that he wants a better deal than the JCPOA. It is an ambition that people across the political spectrum can endorse, but it seems unlikely that a significantly better deal is available in the current climate. A better deal will not come from issuing ill-founded redlines that increase the risk of miscalculation while targeting the wrong threats. Rather, the Trump administration should invest itself in developing a realistic negotiating agenda and getting back to the table with Iran to avoid this crisis while it still can.
 


Eric Brewer is a fellow and deputy director of the Project on Nuclear Issues with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He served a decade in the U.S. intelligence community, including as deputy national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction with the National Intelligence Council. Richard Nephew is a senior research scholar with the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. He has held positions at the Department of Energy and Department of State and on the National Security Council.

The Trump administration’s apparent redline with Iran is unnecessary, unwise, and dangerous.

No Rush to Enrich: Alternatives for Providing Uranium for U.S. National Security Needs


July/August 2019
By Frank N. von Hippel and Sharon K. Weiner

In October 2018, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced its decision to reestablish a domestic uranium-enrichment capability in the United States.1 As described in its fiscal year 2019 Stockpile Stewardship Management Plan, the NNSA said there is a pending shortage of U.S.-origin low-enriched uranium (LEU) needed to fuel the nuclear reactors that produce the tritium gas used in U.S. nuclear weapons. The NNSA initially estimated a need for new supplies of LEU by 2027, but after an internal review identified additional materials, this date was deferred until at least 2038.2

Unit 1 of the Watts Bar Power Plant, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, is the only reactor producing tritium for U.S. nuclear weapons. A second reactor at the site is expected to begin supplementing tritium production in 2020. (Photo: Tennessee Valley Authority)The U.S. Department of Energy, in which the NNSA operates, also sees a need to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU)3 for the new, small, modular power reactors it argues are central to reviving the U.S. nuclear energy sector. In the longer term, the NNSA argues that an enrichment facility will be needed by 2060 to produce the highly enriched uranium (HEU) used to fuel the reactors that power the Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers.4

There are a number of reasons to question the NNSA’s urgency to build an enrichment facility. The United States still has a large surplus of Cold War-era HEU that could be blended down to LEU and could significantly delay the need to enrich LEU for tritium production. Additionally, it might be possible to purchase LEU from the European enrichment services company, Urenco, which operates the only uranium-enrichment plant in the United States. An agreement could be made, as France and Urenco have done, to allow the United States to use Urenco-enriched uranium for military but non-explosive purposes. Urenco also has announced that it plans to produce HALEU, which it could do at a much lower price than the Energy Department’s proposed small, expensive facility that could cost $10 billion or more.

The NNSA’s plans also ignore arguments for fueling future naval propulsion reactors with LEU, which would negate the need for HEU production. Making more HEU for naval reactors sets an undesirable precedent for non-nuclear-armed states such as Brazil, Iran, and South Korea, which are developing nuclear submarines or considering doing so. Unlike LEU, HEU can be used to make nuclear weapons directly, even by terrorist groups.

Credible alternatives exist. The United States should seriously consider those alternatives before investing in a new uranium-enrichment capability.

The NNSA Case for Enrichment

The NNSA argument for building a national enrichment capability begins with tritium, a gas used in two-stage nuclear weapons to boost the power of fission-based triggers, ensuring the ignition of the fission-fusion second stage. With a radioactive half-life of 12.3 years, tritium needs to be regularly replenished in U.S. weapons to maintain the intended yield.

Some of the supplies to meet current and future needs come from the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal after the end of the Cold War. The NNSA has downblended the HEU from dismantled weapons into LEU that is used for tritium production.

New tritium is produced in a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reactor at the Watts Bar Power Plant in Tennessee; a second reactor there is expected to start producing in 2020. Tritium-producing burnable absorber rods containing lithium-6 are inserted into the reactor fuel assemblies, where they stay for about 18 months. When the reactors are refueled, the rods are removed, and the tritium is extracted at a facility at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

At issue is the availability of “unobligated” LEU to fuel the tritium-production reactors. The NNSA and the Department of State insist that peaceful-use trade agreements prevent the United States from using LEU that has been produced from foreign uranium, or enriched in a foreign-owned plant or in a U.S. plant using foreign enrichment technology. The NNSA argues that any tritium generated from these “obligated” sources is off-limits and therefore more unobligated LEU is needed.

The United States stopped making HEU for nuclear weapons in 1964 and ended the production of unobligated LEU in 2013 when it closed the last of its Cold War gaseous-diffusion uranium-enrichment plants. The LEU used for current tritium production comes from uranium previously enriched in these facilities, including some of the 374 metric tons of HEU the United States declared excess to its weapons requirements in 1994 and 2005. Of this excess Cold War HEU, 152 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium were set aside to fuel Navy nuclear reactors, and 28 metric tons have been made available to be diluted down to LEU fuel for tritium production.5

This Cold War enriched uranium is a finite resource. The NNSA projects that the United States will run out of unobligated LEU for tritium production between 2038 and 2041 and that the HEU that has been set aside for naval reactors will run out around 2060.6 Because the United States does not have experience building modern gas-centrifuge enrichment facilities, the NNSA argues that it would be wise to start building soon.

Centrus Energy installed 120 AC100 centrifuges, each about 12 meters tall, in a demonstration project completed in 2016. The NNSA has estimated that using this centrifuge design to enrich uranium to use for tritium production would cost up to $11.3 billion.  (Photo: Centrus Energy)The NNSA established the mission need for a domestic uranium-enrichment facility in fiscal year 2017 and has funded development of two technologies.7 One would use AC100 centrifuges developed jointly by the NNSA and the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and USEC’s successor, Centrus Energy. The AC100 is the world’s largest gas centrifuge and has a capacity to produce about 340 separative work units (SWUs) per year.8

USEC, a private corporation, operated two U.S. gaseous-diffusion plants and acted as a broker for down-blended Russian HEU from 1993 until 2013, when USEC went bankrupt. Renamed Centrus Energy and with former Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman as its president and chief executive officer, the company continues as a uranium broker for Russian LEU while lobbying for Energy Department funding to build a gas-centrifuge enrichment plant. In 2009 the Energy Department turned down a USEC request for a $2 billion loan guarantee to build a commercial enrichment facility, but has issued a notice of intent to contract with Centrus Energy to develop the capability to produce HALEU using AC100 centrifuges.

The NNSA is also funding the development of smaller, more conventional centrifuges designed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

According to NNSA estimates, building a domestic enrichment capability for tritium production would cost between $3.1 billion and $11.3 billion using the AC100 centrifuge and between $3.2 billion and $6.8 billion using the smaller centrifuge. Adding capacity to produce HEU for naval reactor fuel would increase the cost significantly.

A 2018 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) raises some concerns about NNSA plans and cost estimates. The GAO states that the NNSA’s preliminary analysis of options for meeting enrichment needs was biased toward establishing a new enrichment capability and did not sufficiently consider alternatives.9 In addition, the GAO found that the NNSA cost-estimating process did not meet best practices. The NNSA has consistently been on the GAO list of agencies with projects at “high risk” for cost increases and schedule delays because of contract management problems. If past NNSA cost overruns are any indicator, a domestic enrichment capability could cost significantly more than current NNSA estimates.10

This makes it even more important to consider three credible alternatives. First, the need for a new, national uranium-enrichment program could be delayed by declaring additional HEU to be excess to U.S. weapons needs. Second, it might be made altogether unnecessary if the NNSA were willing to purchase uranium-enrichment services from Urenco. Finally, the United States could eliminate any future need for producing additional weapons-grade uranium by designing future nuclear submarines to be fueled by LEU.

Declaring Additional HEU Excess

The NNSA’s review of potential alternative sources of unobligated LEU was not authorized to consider the possibility that the United States might be in a position to declare as excess additional HEU-containing weapon components.

The NNSA has not issued recent public information, but an estimate of the amount of HEU currently in the U.S. weapons stockpile can be made from past declarations by using a detailed report on U.S. stocks of HEU available for weapons as of September 30, 1996, and subtracting material declared to be excess for weapons in 2005 and an estimate of the amount of scrap HEU declared to be excess in 2015. This data suggests the United States has in nuclear weapons, weapons components, and reserves available for nuclear weapons between 216 and 240 tons of weapons-grade HEU containing about 200 to 225 tons of uranium-235.11

Based on the official September 2017 declaration that the U.S. nuclear stockpile contained 3,822 operational warheads, less than half of this HEU is used in operational U.S. nuclear warheads. If each of these operational warheads contained an average of 25 kilograms of HEU, a conservatively high estimate, then today’s entire arsenal would contain about 93.5 tons of U-235. That would leave more than 100 tons of weapons-grade uranium not in operational warheads.

If the United States declared 40 tons of weapons-grade uranium from this reserve to be excess and blended it down with natural uranium to 1,000 tons of 4.5 percent-enriched LEU, that would be sufficient to fuel the two Watts Bar tritium-production reactors for another 20 years, until about 2060 when the Navy’s reserve of HEU would be depleted as well.

Enrichment Services From Urenco

The Energy Department argues that the United States cannot fuel its tritium-producing reactors with LEU enriched in foreign-owned plants because all foreign material is obligated not to be used for weapons purposes under international supply agreements. Interestingly, Urenco does not agree.

The peaceful-use article in the treaty among the United States and the three nations (Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) that own Urenco’s commercial enrichment plant in New Mexico states that “[a]ny centrifuge technology, equipment and components transferred into the United States subject to this agreement,… any nuclear material…, any special nuclear material produced through the use of such technology, any special nuclear material produced through the use of such special nuclear material…shall only be used for peaceful, non-explosive purposes.”12 “Special nuclear material” is defined in the agreement as “plutonium, uranium-233, and uranium enriched in the isotopes U-233 or U-235.” Tritium is not included.

A 2014 GAO report on the topic stated that it was Urenco’s position that the use of Urenco-produced LEU to fuel the TVA tritium-production reactors would be allowed by the treaty: “Urenco has consistently informed TVA that it places no restrictions on TVA using [Urenco’s] LEU in its tritium-producing reactors.”13

Therefore, although the seller is willing, the buyer is not.

The GAO noted that the strict U.S. interpretation of its peaceful-use commitments was established in 1998 when USEC was still producing LEU. It also noted that the key agencies involved in this discussion, the Energy and State departments, argued that having a national enrichment plant would further U.S. nonproliferation and national security goals. According to the GAO, the Energy Department argued, for example, that “if the United States were to permanently lose its domestic enrichment capability, it could cause concern among other countries that the United States may not be able to ensure a guaranteed LEU supply, and other countries may then seek to acquire their own indigenous enrichment capability. This could, in turn, create new proliferation concerns, as the use of sensitive nuclear fuel enrichment technologies that are used to develop LEU for nuclear fuel could also be used for a clandestine nuclear weapons program.”

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the mostly recently commissioned U.S. aircraft carrier, is powered by two nuclear reactors fueled with weapon-grade uranium. Some other nations use low-enriched uranium to fuel their nuclear-powered naval vessels, and the U.S. Navy has assessed that it could also use low-enriched uranium for its aircraft carriers. (Photo: Christopher Delano/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)On the other hand, it could be argued that the United States could strengthen the nonproliferation regime by setting the example of forgoing a national enrichment program in favor of a multinational program. The current international supply of enrichment services is quite diverse (China, France, Russia, Urenco), and supply significantly exceeds demand. Currently, only three non-nuclear-armed states have active enrichment programs: Brazil, for its nuclear submarine program; Iran, with a program that has been a major focus of proliferation concern; and Japan. Each of these programs is uneconomic and currently too small to support even one large power reactor.

The Energy Department has suggested that a government-funded facility created for national security purposes could have surplus capacity to produce LEU for the commercial market.14 Given the Energy Department’s estimated costs for building and operating the plant, however, even without the huge cost overruns typical for new nuclear facilities, the production cost per SWU for the NNSA plant would be 15 to 40 times greater than the current market price.15

The NNSA argues that, in the long run, the United States will need a national enrichment facility to make HEU for naval reactor fuel. Even here, however, foreign centrifuges might be used. France, for example, already enriches uranium for its naval reactors with centrifuges produced by Enrichment Technology Company (ETC), a company owned jointly by Urenco and France’s fuel-cycle corporation, Orano. The peaceful-use paragraph in the Treaty of Cardiff under which France bought a share of ETC appears to have been designed to allow this: “The Government of the French Republic shall ensure that any organization which builds plants for the enrichment of uranium on the territory of the French Republic using or otherwise exploiting Centrifuge Technology owned by, held by, or deriving or arising from the operations of, ETC, or operates such plants, shall not produce weapons-grade uranium for the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”16

This limitation would appear to allow uranium enrichment for naval reactor fuel even up to the level of weapons grade. Because it did not want to go to the extra expense of higher enrichment just for its naval reactors, however, France fuels its nuclear submarines and nuclear aircraft carrier with LEU produced at Orano’s Georges Besse II plant, which produces primarily LEU for power reactor fuel. Enrichment of the LEU produced at Georges Besse II is limited to 6 percent.

In principle, if the United States could get the same terms with Urenco and Orano as France did, this could open up the possibility of buying enriched uranium for U.S. naval reactors from Urenco as well. Some would argue that Urenco and ETC, which produces its centrifuges, are foreign-controlled companies, but the controlling governments are all U.S. allies. Urenco’s U.S. subsidiary is incorporated in Delaware, its plant is in the United States, and virtually all its employees are Americans. The risk that somehow the United States would be cut off from its naval fuel supply seems remote.

In any case, the U.S. supply of enriched uranium for national security missions could be buffered by large stockpiles that would provide ample time for the United States to build an alternative enrichment plant if something should go awry. If this is not sufficient assurance, a U.S. company might be encouraged by the government to buy a share of Urenco. The Netherlands, the UK, and the two utilities that own Germany’s share of Urenco have been expressing an interest in selling for years.17 The market value of $10 billion estimated for the company in 2013, is within the $3.1–11.3 billion range estimated by the Energy Department for construction of a facility equipped with AC100 centrifuges with an enrichment capacity of 0.4 million SWUs per year. Urenco’s enrichment capacity is nearly 50 times larger.18

Future Submarines and LEU

All U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers are fueled by weapons-grade uranium containing 93.5 percent U-235. There are technical advantages to HEU fuel, including more compact, longer-lived reactor cores. Yet, global trends are moving away from the use of HEU because the material can also be used directly to make nuclear weapons, even by terrorist groups. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States led a largely successful global campaign to end the use of HEU to fuel research reactors.

The technical trade-offs for the benefits of moving naval reactors to LEU fuel would be acceptable.19 France has quietly switched its submarines and aircraft carrier to use LEU fuel, mostly for cost reasons, and China has reportedly always used LEU.20 That leaves the United States; the UK, which bases its naval reactors on U.S. designs; Russia; and India, which bases its naval reactors on Russian designs.

The U.S. nuclear navy believes that it could switch its aircraft carriers to LEU but argues that it would have to design its future submarine reactors to hold larger cores or go back to midlife refueling.21 So, there is a trade-off between strengthening nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts by banning the production of HEU for any purpose and continuing to design future U.S. submarine reactors to run on HEU fuel.

If the United States designed its future naval reactors to operate on LEU, that could provide an extra incentive for the Urenco countries and France to renegotiate the treaty terms between the United States and Urenco. Rather than the 6 percent-enriched level that France has adopted for its naval reactor fuel, the United States could use the same fuel to which research reactors were converted to use: 19.75 percent-enriched, just below the 20 percent HEU threshold.

Uranium Enrichment Can Wait

In 1964, as part of an effort to reduce tensions with the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced parallel reductions in the production of fissile materials. In addition to promoting a more peaceful “post-Cold War era,” Johnson warned that the United States must not operate a nuclear project “just to maintain employment.”22 That same year, Johnson ordered an end to the production of enriched uranium for weapons purposes. For Johnson, the focus had shifted from weapons production to concerns about more countries getting the bomb.

Since 1974, when India tested a nuclear explosive made with plutonium separated for its civilian nuclear research and development program, the United States has discouraged non-nuclear-armed states from launching plutonium-separation or uranium-enrichment programs and argued for a shift from HEU to LEU in research reactors so as to minimize their proliferation potential and reduce terrorist access to nuclear materials. Given the options of down-blending more excess HEU and Urenco’s offer to supply LEU for U.S. tritium-production reactors and the feasibility of designing future U.S. naval reactors to use LEU fuel, the United States can afford to wait and consider the alternatives before building a national enrichment plant.
 


The authors would like to acknowledge Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center for his work on this subject. See https://www.weeklystandard.com/henry-sokolski/national-security-and-crony-nuclear-capitalism.


ENDNOTES

1. U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), “Fiscal Year 2019 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan - Biennial Plan Summary: Report to Congress,” DOE/NA-0072, October 2018, pp. 2–16.

2. U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “NNSA Should Clarify Long-Term Uranium Enrichment Mission Needs and Improve Technology Cost Estimates,” GAO-18-126, February 2018, p. 14.

3. Instead of the 4 to 5 percent-enriched fuel of conventional power reactors, this uranium would be closer to the 20 percent-enrichment level above which enriched uranium is officially considered weapons usable.

4. U.S. Department of Energy, “Tritium and Enriched Uranium Management Plan Through 2060: Report to Congress,” October 2015, p. 26, http://fissilematerials.org/library/doe15b.pdf.

5. Ibid., fig. 2. All of the 174 tons of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) declared to be excess in 1994 was restricted to peaceful uses and therefore is not available for tritium production. Twenty tons of HEU declared to be excess in 2005 has been committed to be down-blended to high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) for research reactors.

6. NNSA, “Fiscal Year 2019 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan,” pp. 3–38.

7. GAO, “NNSA Should Clarify...,” pp. 23–27.

8. Separative work units (SWUs) are used to measure enrichment capacity and embedded enrichment work. It takes about 200 SWUs to produce a kilogram of 90 percent-enriched HEU, 8 SWUs for a kilogram of 5 percent-enriched low-enriched uranium (LEU), and 40 SWUs for a kilogram of 19.75 percent-enriched HALEU.

9. GAO, “NNSA Should Clarify...”

10. Lydia Dennett, “Nuke Agency Needs Budget Accountability,” Project on Government Oversight, May 1, 2018, https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2018/05/nuke-agency-needs-budget-accountability/; David Kramer, “DOE Uranium Contract Raises Fairness Concerns,” Physics Today, Vol. 72, No. 3 (2019), pp. 28–30.

11. Frank von Hippel, “Declaring More U.S. Weapon-Grade Uranium Excess Could Delay by Two Decades the Need to Build a New National Enrichment Plant,” April 5, 2018, http://fissilematerials.org/library/fvh18.pdf.

12. “Agreement Between the Three Governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Government of the United States of America Regarding the Establishment, Construction and Operation of a Uranium Enrichment Installation in the United States,” February 1, 1995, art. III.

13. “Urenco has consistently informed [the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)] that it places no restrictions on TVA using [Urenco’s] LEU in its tritium-producing reactors.” GAO, “Department of Energy: Interagency Review Needed to Update U.S. Position on Enriched Uranium That Can Be Used for Tritium Production,” GAO-15-123, October 2014, p. 30.

14. U.S. Department of Energy, “Tritium and Enriched Uranium Management Plan Through 2060,” p. 33.

15. The NNSA estimated that the capital cost of a facility built by Centrus Energy with a capacity of 400,000 SWUs per year would be $3.1 billion to $11.3 billion, with an annual operating cost of $112 million to $195 million. U.S. Department of Energy, “Tritium and Enriched Uranium Management Plan Through 2060,” pp. 32–38. Assuming a 30-year lifetime for the facility and a real inflation rate of 1.5 percent, the annual capital charge would be about 4 percent, and the cost of an SWU would be $590 to $1,600. For comparison, during 2018–2019, the average spot price for enrichment contracts was about $40 per SWU.

16. “Agreement Between the Governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic Regarding Collaboration in Centrifuge Technology,” July 12, 2005, art. IV.2.

17. Stanley Reed, “Powerhouse of the Uranium Enrichment Industry Seeks an Exit,” The New York Times, May 27, 2013.

18. Urenco’s annual enrichment capacity is 18.6 million SWUs. Urenco, “Global Operations,” n.d., https://urenco.com/global-operations (accessed June 14, 2019).

19. Sebastien Philippe and Frank von Hippel, “The Feasibility of Ending HEU Fuel Use in the U.S. Navy,” Arms Control Today, November 2016, pp. 15–22.

20. Hui Zhang, “China’s Fissile Material Production and Stockpile,” International Panel on Fissile Materials Research Report, No. 17 (December 2017), p. 16, http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr17.pdf.

21. NNSA, “Conceptual Research and Development Plan for Low-Enriched Uranium Naval Fuel: Report to Congress,” July 2016.

22. “Design for Peace,” The Washington Post, April 21, 1964, p. A14.

 


Frank N. von Hippel is a professor emeritus of public and international affairs in Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. During 1993–1994, he served as assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Sharon K. Weiner is an associate professor in American University’s School of International Service. During 2014–2017, she worked in the National Security Division of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

The United States wants to enrich uranium domestically for defense purposes, but there are better options.

U.S. Questions Russian CTBT Compliance


July/August 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball

A top U.S. intelligence official publicly accused Russia in May of not complying with the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), raising concerns that the Trump administration may be considering withdrawing from another multilateral arms control agreement. The allegation is a significant shift from recent U.S. government and intelligence community assessments.

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testifies to Congress on January 29. Speaking at a May event in Washington, Ashley accused Russia of not adhering to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)“Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard” outlined in the CTBT, said Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), in remarks to the Hudson Institute May 29.

Article I of the treaty requires its parties “not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,” and the issues of low-yield, zero-yield, and subcritical tests were debated at length during the treaty’s negotiation.

The new allegation veers from recent U.S. assessments. In December 2015, for example, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the House Armed Services Committee that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons...in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” More recently, no charge of a Russian CTBT violation was made in the State Department’s annual compliance report released in April.

The allegation raises a number of key questions and poses significant new challenges for states that support the CTBT, including how the Trump administration plans to address the compliance concern and whether officials believe low-yield nuclear explosions to be militarily significant.

Following the charges, some Republican U.S. senators urged the administration to remove the United States from the list of 184 signatories of the treaty, an action that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, once advocated when he held a senior State Department position in 2002. Whether the Trump administration will seek to exit the CTBT, which it has already said it does not support, is not yet clear. Unlike Russia, the United States has not ratified the pact, a step needed for the treaty to enter into force.

Ambiguous Charges

Asked by a journalist at the Hudson Institute briefing if Russian officials have only “set up at their test site at Novaya Zemlya in such a way that they could conduct experiments in excess of a zero-yield ban in the CTBT” or have actually conducted nuclear test explosions, Ashley said only that Russia had the “capability” to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty.

He also implied that China may not be complying with the CTBT, saying that “China’s lack of transparency on their nuclear testing activities raises questions as to whether China could achieve such progress without activities inconsistent” with the treaty. He did not provide any evidence that China has violated the treaty.

A White House official sought to clarify Ashley’s comments later at the same event. “I think General Ashley was clear,” said Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council. “We believe Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities that run counter or contrary to its own statements regarding the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

Responding to a flurry of inquiries sparked by Ashley’s comment, the DIA said in a statement June 13, “The U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”

This statement did not clarify whether the assessment is a joint intelligence community assessment, how much confidence the community has in the assessment, or if the charge is based on very recent intelligence findings or is a new interpretation of older intelligence.

Russia, which signed the CTBT in 1996 and ratified it in 2000, has vigorously denied the allegation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the accusation “a crude provocation” and pointed to the U.S. failure to ratify the treaty. “We are acting in full and absolute accordance with the treaty ratified by Moscow and in full accordance with our unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests,” he said on June 12.

Treaty Status and Verification

The United States signed the CTBT the day it opened for signature in 1996, but the Senate declined to provide its advice and consent for ratification in 1999 after a short and highly partisan debate. In 2009, President Barack Obama said his administration would pursue reconsideration of the pact, but he concentrated early arms control efforts on the negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. By 2012, Republicans regained control of the Senate, making CTBT ratification unlikely.

To enter into force, the treaty requires ratifications from 44 specific states, and eight of those (China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States) have still not taken that step. Nevertheless, the treaty has established a de facto global moratorium on nuclear testing; and the treaty’s verification tools, the International Monitoring System (IMS) and the International Data Center, have been completed and are fully operational.

The treaty drafters anticipated that the pact would need additional means to detect and deter violations, particularly involving nuclear test explosions at very low yields. If and when the treaty formally enters into force, a state-party may request a short-notice, on-site inspection to investigate a possible violation. The request can be based on information collected by the IMS or through national technical means. Such inspections require the approval of at least 30 members of the treaty’s 51-nation Executive Council, which must decide on inspection requests within 96 hours. An inspection team would arrive at the suspected nation within six days of the council’s receipt of the inspection request.

Under Article VI of the treaty, which addresses the settlement of disputes before or after entry into force, “the parties concerned shall consult together with a view to the expeditious settlement of the dispute by negotiation or by other peaceful means of the parties’ choice, including recourse to appropriate organs of this treaty.” Such measures could involve mutual confidence-building visits to U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address compliance concerns.

‘Zero-Yield’

The DIA assessment that “Russia probably is not adhering” to the CTBT echoes longtime charges by test ban opponents that Russia does not share the U.S. interpretation of what the treaty prohibits and may be conducting extremely low-yield nuclear tests in a containment structure at its Soviet-era nuclear test site on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

In his May 29 remarks, Ashley said the DIA assessment was partly based on the view that Russia “has not affirmed the language of zero yield.” This assertion contradicts State Department fact sheets published in 2011 that report that Russia and all other nuclear-weapon states recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) have publicly affirmed the CTBT prohibition on all nuclear test explosions, no matter the yield.

“At the time the treaty opened for signature, all parties understood that the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty as advocated by the United States in the negotiations,” according to a September 2011 publication from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

“The United States led the efforts to ensure the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty, after the parties had negotiated for years over possible low levels of testing that might be allowed under the agreement,” according to the document. “Public statements by national leaders confirmed that all parties understood that the CTBT was and is, in fact, a ‘zero-yield’ treaty.”

Under this zero-yield interpretation, supercritical hydronuclear tests, which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are banned by the treaty. Subcritical hydrodynamic experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted.

Stephen Ledogar, chief U.S. negotiator of the CTBT, testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 7, 1999, that Russia and the rest of the NPT nuclear-weapon states had committed themselves to the zero-yield standard.

For example, a March 1996 statement from Sha Zukang, the lead CTBT negotiator for China, said that “the Chinese delegation proposed at the outset of the negotiations its scope text prohibiting any nuclear-weapon test explosion which releases nuclear energy.” The future CTBT, he said, “will without any threshold prohibit any nuclear-weapon test explosion.”

More recently, Russia has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to this standard. On July 29, 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that, “under the global ban on nuclear tests, we can only use computer-assisted simulations to ensure the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.”

In an April 2017 essay, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov wrote that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.” Ashley said at the Hudson Institute event that he was not aware of Ryabkov’s essay.

‘Unsigning’ the Treaty

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), John Cornyn (Texas), and James Lankford (Okla.) sent a letter in March to Trump asking him whether he would consider “un-signing” the CTBT, The Washington Post reported June 13.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), speaks at the U.S. Capitol April 4. With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and two other senators, Cotton asked President Donald Trump in March to consider “unsigning” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)If the United States were to formally withdraw its signature from the treaty, it would lose access to the nuclear test monitoring provided by the IMS, consisting of more than 300 seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide sensor stations.

According to the Trump administration’s 2017 budget request, the United States “receives the data the IMS provides, which is an important supplement to U.S. National Technical Means to monitor for nuclear explosions (a mission carried out by the U.S. Air Force). A reduction in IMS capability could deprive the U.S. of an irreplaceable source of nuclear explosion monitoring data.”

According to CTBT rules, only treaty signatories can access IMS monitoring information, and only treaty signatories have voting rights in meetings of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

A decision by the Trump administration to formally exit the CTBT would lead to international condemnation. In November 2018, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on the CTBT that “urges all states that have not yet signed or ratified, or that have signed but not yet ratified...to sign and ratify it as soon as possible.” The resolution was approved 183-1 with four abstentions. Only North Korea, whose recent nuclear tests were condemned in the resolution, voted against the resolution. The United States abstained.

 

U.S. accusations raise concerns that the Trump administration may withdraw from another multilateral arms control pact.

Bolton Declares New START Extension ‘Unlikely’


July/August 2019
By Shervin Taheran and Daryl G. Kimball

Prospects for extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) dimmed in late June as U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton criticized the pact that is due to expire in February 2021.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks outside on the White House on April 30. In a June interview, Bolton said “it’s unlikely” that New START will be extended. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)“There’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely,” he told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview published June 18. His comments came less than a week after top U.S. and Russian arms control diplomats met in Prague to discuss the resumption of talks on strategic stability and the future of New START.

In his interview, Bolton said most Republican senators who voted to approve New START in 2010 actually opposed the treaty, primarily because the pact has no provisions or limitations on tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons. “That flaw remains today,” he said, “so simply extending it, extends the basic flaw.”

The treaty was negotiated to last 10 years after its entry into force, but it can be extended by up to five years by mutual agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on June 6 that Russia is prepared to let New START lapse if the Trump administration is not interested in extending the agreement. Russia has “already said a hundred times that we are ready to do so, but no one is willing to talk about it with us,” he said. Putin and President Donald Trump are expected to briefly meet at a late-June Group of 20 summit in Japan.

U.S. and Russia Reach ‘Starting Point’ for Dialogue

A June 12 meeting in Prague between Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov was their fourth meeting this year, but the first where “strategic security issues on which the United States would like to engage in a more constructive dialogue with Russia” were discussed, according to the State Department.

Senior U.S. and Russian officials last met for a dialogue on strategic stability in Helsinki in September 2017, but a subsequent conversation scheduled to take place in early 2018 was canceled. (See ACT, October 2017.) The previous meetings between Ryabkov and Thompson this year were largely focused on the narrower issue of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The recent discussion followed a May meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Putin in Sochi. Pompeo told reporters after the meeting that the two nations would soon “gather together teams” to discuss New START and its potential extension, as well as “a broader range of arms control issues.” (See ACT, June 2019.)

After his latest meeting with Thompson, Ryabkov told Russian journalists that it was a “starting point” for further conversations and negotiations and that both sides recognized the importance of continued dialogue. Prior to the meeting, Ryabkov said on June 7 that Russia intended to discuss New START, prospects for next year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, U.S. allegations about Russian compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the prospect of space-based weapons and U.S. missile defense systems.

The two diplomats also discussed the Trump administration’s recently stated desire for a more comprehensive nuclear arms control agreement that would include China, according to Ryabkov’s June 12 statement to reporters. (See ACT, June 2019.) He added that although a multilateral process was a good idea, it must involve all five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the NPT, including France and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Russia had sent several proposals to the United States over the past year on strategic stability and arms control, according to Lavrov. Russia “expects specific responses” to proposals that “cover the entire range of issues of strategic stability,” as well as “control over nuclear and other strategic offensive and defensive weapons,” he said, adding that one of the proposals “of fundamental importance” is for both countries to reaffirm “at the top level” that “a nuclear war cannot be won, and therefore it is unacceptable.”

Congress Urges New START Extension

Eight Senate and House Democratic committee leaders sent a June 4 letterto Trump encouraging him to extend
New START.

Forgoing “the benefits of New START by failing to extend the agreement would be a serious mistake for strategic stability and U.S. security,” they wrote.

The letter praised the administration’s “effort aimed at bringing both China and Russia into new arms control talks,” but stressed that, in light of “the challenges inherent to reaching new agreements with Russia and China, we strongly believe the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs.”

The letter was signed by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.); the House and Senate armed services committees, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.); the House and Senate intelligence committees, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.); and the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

Engel and the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), also continue to pursue House approval of their bill which expresses the sense of congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START so long as Russia remains in compliance. Their bill would also 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.

Eleventh Hour for the INF Treaty

The United States and Russia have continued to set the stage for the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, slated to expire Aug. 2 after the U.S. announcement of its withdrawal plans in early February.

The Defense Department has requested nearly $100 billion in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the treaty, but the Democratic-led House of Representatives has expressed concern about the rationale for the missiles.
The House versions of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and defense appropriations bill zeroed out the Pentagon’s funding request for the missiles. On June 18, House Democrats defeated an attempt by Republicans on the floor of the House to restore the funding by a vote of 225–203.

On June 18, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov reiterated Russia’s position that it will not deploy INF Treaty-range missiles until the United States does. The United States alleges that Russia has already deployed the treaty-noncompliant 9M729 missile, also known as the SSC-8. (See ACT, March 2019.) Ryabkov made his comments as the Russian State Duma supported legislation submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin to suspend Russia’s participation in the INF Treaty. The upper parliamentary body, the Federation Council, is expected to approve the legislation soon.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on June 26 to discuss defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia fails to resolve U.S. allegations of treaty noncompliance. In remarks to reporters June 25, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “Russia has until 2 August to verifiably destroy its SSC-8 missiles, which violate the treaty. But unfortunately, we have seen no indication that Russia intends to do so.”

Stoltenberg said the ministers “will decide on NATO’s next steps, in the event Russia does not comply. Our response will be defensive, measured and coordinated. We will not mirror what Russia does. We do not intend to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. We do not want a new arms race. But as Russia is deploying new missiles, we must ensure that our deterrence and defense remains credible and effective.”—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control prospects are fading despite new talks between senior diplomats.

Iran Moves Toward Breaching Nuclear Limits


July/August 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran is moving closer to the limits on its nuclear program set by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal after threatening in May to breach certain caps, but Tehran has not yet crossed those thresholds. The United States, however, has already accused Iran of violating the accord, an assertion disputed by other parties to the agreement.

Iranian workers smile at the nation’s newly opened heavy water production plant in Arak in 2006. Iran has moved closer to storing more heavy water than allowed by the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)Iran announced on May 8 that it would no longer adhere to stockpile limits for low-enriched uranium and heavy water set by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The announcement was a response to the U.S. decision in May 2018 to reimpose sanctions and withdraw from the agreement. (See ACT, June 2019.)

According to a May 31 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran moved closer to the caps on enriched uranium and heavy water set by the deal, but did not exceed them.

The agency reported that as of May 20, Iran had stockpiled 174 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235, which is less than the 202 kilograms permitted by the JCPOA. In its previous report in February, the IAEA reported that the stockpile was 168 kilograms.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said on June 17 that Iran was quadrupling its uranium-enrichment capacity and would breach the limit set by the deal within 10 days.

Exceeding the limit of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent U-235 would reduce the so-called breakout time, or the time it takes Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a weapon, but it does not pose an immediate risk. Currently, due to restrictions put in place by the nuclear deal, the United States estimates that timeline at 12 months.

Any reduction in the 12-month timeline will depend on how quickly Iran continues to enrich and stockpile uranium. Tehran would need to produce about 1,050 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 3.67 percent U-235 to produce enough weapons-grade material (more than 90 percent-enriched U-235) for one bomb.

Kamalvandi also said that Iran was increasing its production of heavy water and would exceed the JCPOA’s 130-metric-ton cap in two-and-a-half months. According to the IAEA, Iran had 125 metric tons as of May 26.

Heavy water is used to moderate the reactions that occur in certain types of reactors, including Iran’s unfinished reactor at Arak.

The IAEA also reported that Iran had installed 33 advanced IR-6 centrifuges, of which 10 are being tested with uranium, at its Natanz plant. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in April that Iran would install 20 additional IR-6 machines at the facility.

Past IAEA reports have not indicated the specific number of IR-6 centrifuges installed at the facility, but stated that Iran was conducting its research and development (R&D) activities using advanced centrifuges in accordance with a confidential plan submitted to the agency.

That language did not appear in the May report, which stated that technical discussions on the IR-6 centrifuges are “ongoing.”

Citing the number of installed IR-6 centrifuges, Jackie Wolcott, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said on June 11 that Iran “is now reported to be in clear violation of the deal.” Other countries still party to the agreement argue that Iran’s actions fall into a gray area not explicitly covered by the accord.

According to the JCPOA, Iran is permitted to conduct mechanical testing on up to two IR-6 centrifuges and can test with uranium using “single centrifuge machines and its intermediate cascades.” Iran cannot withdraw any enriched material from the centrifuges.

The deal does not specify what constitutes an intermediate cascade, but states that, after eight-and-a-half years, or beginning in July 2024, Iran can “commence testing” of up to 30 IR-6 centrifuges.

Additional detail is likely found in the confidential R&D plan that Iran submitted to the IAEA. Alleged copies of the plan leaked in 2016 suggest that Iran can test about 10 IR-6 centrifuges for the first four years of the deal and then move to a cascade of 20 machines until year eight and a half, when it is permitted to test up to 30.

It does not appear to be clear in either the nuclear deal or leaked copies of the R&D plan how far ahead of those time frames Iran is permitted to install the additional IR-6 machines.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 6 that inspectors have not found “a single violation” of Iran’s nuclear commitments.

An official from a country party to the JCPOA told Arms Control Today on June 13 that Tehran is “pushing the limits” of the deal but the IR-6 installation is not likely a violation. The official said that it is for the JCPOA Joint Commission to “resolve any ambiguities or compliance questions” and it is premature for states to make judgments on the IR-6 dispute before the commission can consider the issue.

The commission was set up to oversee implementation of the deal and resolve any compliance issues. It is comprised of the parties to the deal, so the United States is no longer a participant. The next commission meeting is scheduled for June 28.

Wolcott said the commission is “treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves.”

 

Iran Rejects Trump Outreach

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rebuffed a message from U.S. President Donald Trump in June, saying he would not send a response because Trump is not “deserving to exchange messages with.”

Trump’s message was delivered to Khamenei by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Tehran on June 12-13. The content of the message has not been disclosed, but Khamenei told Abe that Iran believes that its “problems will not be solved by negotiating” with the United States and that there is no sense in talking with Washington after the United States has “thrown away everything that was agreed upon,” referring to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal in
May 2018.

During a May 27 visit to Tokyo, Trump supported Abe’s decision to travel to Tehran and said he is “not looking to hurt Iran at all” and that he thinks “we’ll make a deal.”

On June 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is “prepared to engage in a conversation [with Iran] with no preconditions.”

Since then, tensions between the United States and Iran have increased. The United States accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. Iran denied that it was behind the attack, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif suggested that a foreign country might have conducted the attack and is trying to blame Iran.

Iranian officials did publicly acknowledge shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone on June 20. Iran claimed that the drone was shot down in Iranian airspace, but the United States argued that the drone was in international airspace.

Trump sent mixed messages in response to Iran shooting down the drone. He tweeted on June 20 that “Iran made a very big mistake!” Later in the day, Trump said that he found it “hard to believe” that Iran’s action was intentional. The Trump administration discussed a possible retaliatory strike, but Trump said on June 21 that he did not give final approval for military action.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also visited Tehran recently. In a June 9 press conference with Zarif, Maas said that Germany remains committed to finding solutions that provide Iran with the economic benefits envisioned by the nuclear deal, but admitted that “we can’t perform miracles.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in May that Iran will return to compliance with the nuclear deal and refrain from further actions to breach the accord, currently planned for early July, if Europe, Russia, and China can facilitate oil and banking transactions.

Maas’s delegation included representatives from INSTEX, the mechanism set up by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to bypass U.S. sanctions and facilitate trade with Iran. INSTEX has yet to conduct a transaction, but a statement from the three countries after the visit said they are working to complete the first transaction “as quickly as possible.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran is increasing its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water, nearing the limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

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