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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
United States

Trump Arms Control Plans Draw Criticism


June 2019
By Kingston Reif and Shervin Taheran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New START Review Ongoing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broader Talks Scrutinized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New START Bills Proposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim Missile Tests Draw Muted U.S. Reaction


June 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

NATO Ministerial to Discuss INF Treaty


June 2019
By Shervin Taheran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S., UK Complete Largest HEU Repatriation


June 2019
By Tien-Chi Lu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentagon Shifts Nuclear Funds for Wall

June 2019
By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department plans to help fund President Donald Trump’s goal of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border by transferring $54 million appropriated by Congress in fiscal year 2019 to sustain U.S. nuclear missiles.

The United States conducts a May 1 test of a Minuteman III ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Pentagon plans to transfer funds from a Minuteman III upgrade program, among other U.S. nuclear weapons activities, to support Trump administration plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. (Photo: Aubree Milks/Defense Department)Although the amount is a fraction of the more than $24 billion Congress appropriated for nuclear forces at the department this year, the funding shift appears to contradict repeated statements from Pentagon officials that nuclear weapons are the Pentagon’s top priority.

Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, told Congress on May 1 that “[t]hree secretaries of defense have called nuclear deterrence the [Defense Department's] number one priority. It's very clear.”

The May 9 reprogramming transfers $24.3 million, out of an appropriation of $125 million, from the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile Launch Control Block Upgrade program. A document outlining the details of reprogramming states that funds are available due to a “slip in the production schedule for” the program.

The reprogramming also transfers $29.6 million, out of an appropriation of $47.6 million, for sustaining the nuclear air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). According to the department, money is “available due to contract savings” and “lack of executable requirements.”

The Air Force has initiated programs to replace the Minuteman III and the ALCM with a new fleet of missiles.

The transfers are part of a larger $1.5 billion reprogramming of appropriated department funds for the wall and come on top of shifts of $1 billion in funding from Army personnel accounts and $3.6 billion in funding for military construction projections that the Pentagon is repurposing for the wall.

In addition to transferring money from the two nuclear missile projects, the Pentagon also intends to shift $251 million from the Chemical Agent and Munitions Destruction program, a long-running effort to destroy the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. Congress provided the department with $887 million for chemical destruction in fiscal year 2019.

The reprogramming document states that money is “available due to unexpected prior year funding plus current
year appropriation that was found to be more than sufficient to cover the…program[’]s funding needs.”

The United States has been destroying its declared arsenal of 28,000 metric tons of chemical agents, second in size to Russia’s, since the 1990s. It has destroyed about 90 percent and is scheduled to complete destruction by 2023. The United States, which has completed destruction of five of its stockpiles, currently operates a chemical weapons destruction facility in Colorado and plans to open one in Kentucky in a few years. (See ACT, November 2017.)

According to the Pentagon, the transfer of funds “does not inhibit the ability to pursue efforts/technologies to accelerate the destruction of the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile.”

To pay for expanding the U.S.-Mexican border wall, the Defense Department is moving funds from nuclear weapon projects, once called the Pentagon’s top priority.

Trump War Powers Veto Survives Override

 

The U.S. Senate failed to override President Donald Trump’s April 16 veto of a congressional resolution to assert authority over direct U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. The 53–45 vote taken May 2 did not get the 67 votes needed to overcome Trump's veto of the War Powers Act resolution, which had passed the House of Representatives on April 4 and the Senate on March 13. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shown speaking in Texas in April, introduced the resolution restricting the U.S. military's involvement in the war in Yemen, later vetoed by President Donald Trump. (Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images)“The bad news today: we were unable today to override Trump’s veto regarding U.S. intervention in this horrific war in Yemen,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced the Senate resolution, said following the vote. “The good news: for the first time in 45 years, Congress used the War Powers Act to reassert its constitutional responsibility over the use of armed forces.”

The override vote closely mirrored the Senate vote of 54–46 to approve the resolution in March, with the same five Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the resolution. Two senators did not vote on the veto override, one on each side of the issue.

Asserting authority over war on arms control issues was a congressional theme in May as many legislators raised flags about possible U.S. military intervention in Iran. “Congress has not authorized war with Iran, and the administration, if it were contemplating military action with Iran, must come to Congress to seek approval,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on May 15.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Trump War Powers Veto Survives Override

B61 Bomb Production Delayed

 

Technical problems have prevented production of a new variant of the U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bomb, according to Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), in May 8 testimony to the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. The project was scheduled to be ready for full-scale production by March 2020, but the problems have delayed work on the first unit of the “mod-12” version of the bomb, she said, offering no estimate on the length of the delay.

An Air Force F-16C carries an inert B61-12 bomb during a development flight test on March 14, 2017. Production of electrical components of the weapon's warhead has hit technical snags. (Photo: Brandi Hansen/U.S. Air Force)The delay is caused by defects with some of the new warhead’s electrical capacitators, according to a May 9 ExchangeMonitor report. Gordon-Hagerty told the publication that it would take several months to look at the issue before the agency decides how to proceed. The NNSA plans to build 480 B61-12 bombs, according to the Federation of American Scientists. The new B61-12 bombs are supposed to lead to the retirement of the B83 gravity bombs, the most powerful nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, as well as the previous variations of the B61 bombs. (See ACT, June 2017.)

The B61-12 is slated to be one of the most expensive life extension programs undertaken by the NNSA, estimated to cost around $10 billion and originally scheduled to be completed by fiscal year 2027, according to an independent cost estimate reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in May 2018. It has been called a “smart” bomb in that it will come with an advanced guided tail kit, making it easier to “steer” the bomb to increase its accuracy. The tail kit upgrade is managed by the Air Force.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

B61 Bomb Production Delayed

U.S. Reverses Nuclear Stockpile Transparency

 

The Trump administration refused in April to release information describing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the number of weapons dismantled as of the end of fiscal year 2018. The decision reversed a practice established by the Obama administration in 2010 and followed for one year by the Trump administration.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) requested the data in October 2018, as it has annually. The Energy Department denied the request on April 5 with no explanation. Any disclosure also requires Defense Department approval, and FAS nuclear stockpile expert Hans Kristensen said he was told later the decision was made “higher up” than the defense secretary’s office.

The move was an “unnecessary and counterproductive reversal of nuclear policy,” said Kristensen. He said the new policy would lead to a number of negative consequences, including placing the United States at a disadvantage in the upcoming nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference and putting other nuclear-armed allies in the awkward position of having to reassess their own transparency policies.

A May 2010 Defense Department fact sheet accompanying the then-new release of information said such transparency is “important to nonproliferation efforts, and to pursuing follow-on reductions” to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Since then, France and the United Kingdom have increased their own stockpile transparency, although they have not yet disclosed the entire history of their inventories.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S. Reverses Nuclear Stockpile Transparency

Congress Seeks Decision on Missile Defense Site

 

House Democrats and Republicans continue to press the Defense Department to designate a preferred location for a third long-range ballistic missile defense interceptor site.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan testifies to Congress in March. He has not announced where the Pentagon would like to build a third missile defense site in the United States. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on May 1 that a decision on a preferred site had been made and that he would share the result with Congress later that day. Shanahan has yet to announce a decision.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has similarly pressed the Pentagon to make a final designation.

The current system to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California.

In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Defense Department to conduct a study to evaluate at least three possible new long-range interceptor sites that could augment the GMD system, including at least two on the East Coast.

The Defense Department announced in 2016 that it had completed a draft environmental impact statement of three possible locations: Fort Drum in New York, Camp Garfield Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.

Fort Drum is located in Stefanik’s congressional district while Ryan represents Camp Garfield.

The fiscal year 2016 and 2018 defense authorization bills directed the Pentagon to designate a preferred location for a third site. Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s “2019 Missile Defense Review” report, published in January, said that no decision has been made to deploy a third GMD site and that the location for a potential site “will be informed by multiple pertinent factors at the time.” (See ACT, March 2019.)

The Missile Defense Agency has repeatedly stated that the estimated cost of $3–4 billion to build such a site would be better spent on improving the capabilities of the existing GMD system.—KINGSTON REIF

Congress Seeks Decision on Missile Defense Site

Trump’s Failing Iran Policy


June 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

One year after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the multilateral 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the deal is in deep trouble. Known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal has successfully rolled back Iran’s nuclear capabilities and put its activities under tighter monitoring, easing international concerns about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2018. (Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)Not surprisingly, Trump’s ill-conceived “maximum pressure” campaign, which involves reimposing sanctions that were lifted when Iran met key JCPOA requirements, has done nothing to force changes in Iran’s regional behavior or push Iran into accepting new U.S. demands. Rather, the policy has sharply increased tensions in the Persian Gulf and decreased Iran’s incentives to continue compliance with the JCPOA.

In response to U.S. moves to further tighten sanctions earlier this spring, Iran announced on May 8 that it would no longer adhere to JCPOA limits on stockpiling heavy water and low-enriched uranium. Iran also gave the other parties to the agreement (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union) 60 days to help it thwart U.S. sanctions on oil sales and banking transactions, or else it will take additional measures with more significant proliferation implications.

With its existing heavy-water production and uranium-enrichment capacities, Iran could soon breach some of these limits. Any violation of JCPOA restrictions is cause for concern, but Iran’s plan to exceed the agreement’s limits on storing more than 130 metric tons of heavy water and 300 kilograms of 3.67-percent enriched uranium-235 would not pose an immediate proliferation risk. By comparison, in June 2015 Iran had a stockpile of approximately 11,500 kilograms of LEU in all forms. It takes roughly 1,050 kilograms of LEU in gas form and enriched to weapons-grade to produce a significant quantity for one bomb.

A bigger problem would arise if Tehran resumes enriching uranium to 20-percent levels or restarts construction of the unfinished Arak heavy-water reactor. Although the reactor is years away from completion, it could provide enough plutonium for two nuclear weapons every year if the plant’s original blueprints are followed. More worrisome would be the resumption of enrichment to 20-percent levels, which would significantly decrease the time needed to acquire enough material for a bomb.

What is most tragic about the growing crisis is that Trump’s decision to violate U.S. commitments under the JCPOA appears to be based on a set of falsehoods and misconceptions that Trump and his senior officials continue to repeat.

In May 27 comments to reporters, Trump said, “I’m looking to have Iran say, ‘No nuclear weapons.’ If you look at the deal that [Vice President Joe] Biden and President [Barack] Obama signed, [Iran] would have access, free access, to nuclear weapons.”

Nonsense. Through the JCPOA, Iran reaffirmed its obligation never to pursue nuclear weapons and, more importantly, agreed to restrictions and a monitoring system that far exceed Tehran’s obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed that Iran is implementing the terms of the JCPOA.

The JCPOA’s limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities block Iran’s pathways to the bomb and prevent the nation from being able to amass enough bomb-grade nuclear material for one explosive device in less than one year. Moreover, any Iranian efforts to ramp up its fissile material production for weapons would be detected by the IAEA and national means of intelligence well in advance.

The JCPOA is not perfect, but it is a strong agreement that provides a solid basis for negotiating a follow-on agreement to extend key nuclear limits in ways that advance international security.

Instead, team Trump has chosen to reimpose sanctions to destroy Iran’s economy and, his pro-war national security advisor, John Bolton, hopes, the regime itself. But Trump’s strategy has failed to persuade anyone in Iran or any of the U.S. partners to the JCPOA that they come back to the table to negotiate a new, “better” deal.

Sadly, Trump does not seem to understand that his administration’s campaign to dismantle the most effective and durable barrier against an Iranian nuclear bomb—the JCPOA—only heightens the risk that Iran will leave the JCPOA and greatly expand its nuclear capacity.

The most responsible path forward in the face of the Trump administration’s gross violations of the nuclear deal is a more robust and effective effort by the JCPOA’s remaining parties to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran. It is also in Iran’s interests to exercise nuclear restraint, continue to cooperate with the IAEA, and refrain from taking further steps that increase the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

If the remaining parties can keep the JCPOA alive, then it may be possible for the next U.S. president to rejoin the JCPOA in 2021 and pursue a new round of talks on a follow-on agreement that addresses mutual issues of concern. If not, Trump may well have reignited a proliferation crisis in the volatile Middle East.

 

 

One year after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the multilateral 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the deal is in deep trouble.

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