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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
United States

U.S. Tests Second Medium-Range Missile


January/February 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States has conducted a second test of a missile formerly banned by the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Dec. 12 launch was described as “a prototype, conventionally configured, ground-launched ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California,” according to a Defense Department statement. The missile flew for “more than 500 kilometers,” a range capability prohibited by the treaty before the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty on Aug 2. (See ACT, September 2019.)

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced in December that once the Pentagon develops missile systems formerly banned by the INF Treaty, the United States will consult with allies about where to deploy them. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)The Pentagon has not disclosed the type of missile that was tested, but some experts have speculated that the test involved the Castor IVB rocket motor, which has been used in the past for military space launches and in target vehicles for the Missile Defense Agency. The joint government-industry team began work preparing for the test after the United States suspended its treaty obligations in February 2019 and “executed the launch within nine months of contract award when the process typically takes 24 months,” said a statement from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The December test followed an Aug. 18 test of a ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile just two weeks after the treaty withdrawal. Neither test demonstrated an operational system that the Pentagon plans to field, but rather showed initial capabilities.

The 1987 INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles having ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Dec. 12 that “once we develop intermediate-range missiles, and if my commanders require them, then we will work closely and consult closely with our allies in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere with regard to any possible deployments.”

Pentagon officials said in March that the department would pursue the development of a mobile, ground-launched cruise missile that has a range of about 1,000 kilometers and a mobile, ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, April 2019.)

The Defense Department requested $96 million in its fiscal year 2020 budget to develop three types of intermediate-range missiles. (See ACT, May 2019.) The final fiscal year 2020 defense appropriations bill approved by Congress in December provides $40 million less than the request.

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

Whether the Pentagon could base the missiles in Europe and East Asia remains to be seen. Despite their concerns about Russia and China, U.S. allies have not appeared eager to host them.

Russia and China reacted negatively to the ballistic missile test. Russia has “said more than once that the United States has been making preparations for violating the INF Treaty. This [missile test] clearly confirms that the treaty was ruined at the initiative of the United States,” according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Dec. 13.

Russia also claimed that the test vindicated its charge that the United States violated the INF Treaty in the past by using targets for missile defense tests with similar characteristics to treaty-prohibited missiles. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Dec. 26 that the test was “enabled by technology…which was earlier used to launch target missiles” and provided “direct proof of what we had been talking about for many years.”

A Chinese spokesperson said Dec. 13 the test “confirms…that the U.S. withdrawal is a premeditated decision. The real aim is to free itself to develop advanced missiles and seek unilateral military advantage.”

The Trump administration has now conducted two flight tests of missiles that were banned by the INF Treaty.

Trump Officials Threaten Open Skies Treaty


January/February 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration reportedly alerted NATO allies in mid-November that the United States may withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty unless its concerns regarding Russian compliance are allayed.

A U.S. OC-135 aircraft used to conduct overflights for the Open Skies Treaty lands at Offut Air Force Base, Nebraska.  (Photo: U.S. Air Force)According to a Nov. 21 report in Defense News, Trump administration officials raised several concerns about the treaty at a meeting with NATO partners in Brussels and asked allies to provide their assessment of the benefits and risks of the treaty.

“This is a U.S. position—that we think this treaty is a danger to our national security. We get nothing out of it. Our allies get nothing out of it, and it is our intention to withdraw,” a senior administration official told Defense News.

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states-parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency of military activities, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territories of its participants for information-gathering purposes. The parties have annual quotas on overflights and must make the information they acquire available to all treaty parties.

U.S. critics of the treaty have raised concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty, citing, in particular, Russia’s refusal to allow observation flights within 500 kilometers of Kaliningrad or within a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The United States has reciprocated by restricting flights over the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii and the missile defense interceptor fields in Fort Greely, Alaska. Critics have also argued that Russia is using treaty flights to collect intelligence on critical U.S. military and civilian infrastructure and that the flights are redundant for the United States because Washington has the most advanced reconnaissance capabilities of any country.

The administration’s threat to withdraw from the treaty, first publicized on Oct. 7 in a letter from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, has prompted an outpouring of support for the agreement from allies and other treaty partners. (See ACT, November 2019.)

Defense News additionally reported that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom issued a joint démarche in support of the treaty and that Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist sent an Oct. 24 letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper citing “deep concern” about reports of the treaty’s potential demise.

“A well-functioning Open Skies Treaty contributes to the ability to hold states, including the Russian Federation, accountable for breaches against the norms and principles that underpin the European security architecture. The treaty is vital as one of very few remaining confidence and security building measures,” Hultqvist wrote.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers also continue to raise concerns about a potential U.S. withdrawal.

Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) introduced legislation on Nov. 18, co-sponsored by Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), to prevent President Donald Trump from unilaterally withdrawing from the pact. “In discussions with the Pentagon, I know the Defense Department values our continued participation in this treaty, and I have yet to hear a compelling reason to end our participation,” Bacon said in a statement accompanying the act’s introduction. The legislation would require the administration to certify that exiting the treaty would be in the U.S. national security interest before it acts to withdraw.

That same day, Engel and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) wrote to O’Brien “seeking clarity regarding the administration’s intentions” toward the treaty. They expressed concern “that the White House may have used biased analysis as it pertains to potential treaty withdrawal, failing to ensure an objective process and neglecting to properly coordinate with the departments and agencies responsible for the treaty’s implementation.”

On Nov. 19, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment held a hearing titled “The Importance of the Open Skies Treaty.” The witnesses included Amy Woolf, a specialist in nuclear weapons policy at the Congressional Research Service; Jon Wolfsthal, director of the Nuclear Crisis Group and senior adviser at Global Zero; and Damian Leader, former chief arms control delegate for the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, approved by Congress in December, requires the secretaries of defense and state to notify Congress at least 120 days before a U.S. notification of an intent to withdraw from the treaty. The bill also funds continuing efforts to replace the aging U.S. OC-135B aircraft that the United States uses for Open Skies Treaty flights.

 

Washington warns NATO allies of possible treaty withdrawal.

Congress OKs Trump Nuclear Priorities


January/February 2020
By Kingston Reif

On January 24 we updated this story to change the fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Missile Defense Agency from $10.4 billion to the correct amount of $9.4 billion.

Congress voted in December to continue to fund the Trump administration’s plans to expand U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities despite the strong opposition of the Democratic-led House.

The U.S. Air Force tests a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile in Oct. 2019. The U.S. Congress provided most of the funds sought by the Trump administration to develop the Minuteman's replacement. (Photo: J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Air Force)Most notably, lawmakers approved the deployment beginning this fiscal year of a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) as proposed in the administration’s report of its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which was released in February 2018. (See ACT, March 2018.)

The final outcome on the warhead deployment was one of several conclusions that reversed actions taken by the House in 2019 to counter the administration’s nuclear weapons policy and spending proposals.

In addition to prohibiting the fielding of the low-yield SLBM warhead, the House versions of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization, defense appropriations, and energy and water appropriations bills denied funding to begin a study of a low-yield warhead for a new sea-launched cruise missile. The House bills also reduced funding to sustain the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb, expand the production of plutonium pits, and build a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and associated W87-1 ICBM warheads.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has been sharply critical of the NPR report and maintained that the United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs for its security or can reasonably afford. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

The White House and Republican-led Senate resisted the House policy and funding provisions, and the final authorization and appropriations bills did not include the House-sought restrictions.

Congress is providing nearly $30 million, the same as the budget request, to move forward with deployment of the low-yield SLBM warhead. President Donald Trump signed the defense and energy and water appropriations bills into law as part of two larger appropriations packages on Dec. 20. He also signed the defense authorization bill into law on Dec. 20.

The outcome of the SLBM warhead issue was one of several that “were not resolved to the satisfaction of me and the Democratic Party,” Smith said in a late December interview with Defense News.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also expressed regret that the prohibition on the deployment of the warhead was not included in the final bill.

“I maintain that this is one weapon that will not add to our national security but would only increase the risk of miscalculation with dire consequences,” he said in Senate floor speech on Dec. 17.

Triad Fully Funded

The defense appropriations law approved nearly the entirety of the Trump administration’s proposed budget request for programs to sustain and rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their supporting infrastructure, including $2.2 billion to build a fleet of 12 new ballistic missile submarines, $3 billion to build a fleet of at least 100 new long-range bombers, $558 million to build a new ICBM system, and $713 million to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile. (See ACT, March 2019.)

The House had proposed to reduce the budget request of $571 million for the program to build the new ICBM system, known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent system, by $109 million. This cut would have prevented the program from moving to the main development phase. (See ACT, September, 2019.)

The energy and water law provided $12.5 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an increase of $49 million above the budget request and $1.4 billion more than last year’s appropriation.

In contrast, the House had proposed $11.8 billion for weapons activities, a decrease of about $650 million below the budget request of $12.4 billion.

The authorization and appropriations laws also require several reports intended to provide Congress with additional information about several key nuclear policy issues and modernization programs. The authorization law requires independent studies on the benefits and risks to the United States of adopting a no-first-use policy, the risks of nuclear terrorism and nuclear war, and the plan to replace the W78 ICBM warhead with the W87-1.

In addition, the energy and water law requires the NNSA to report on the risks to executing the W87-1 program, the estimated cost and impact on the NNSA’s workload of the options under consideration to build a sea-launched cruise missile warhead, and the current status and future plans for the B83-1 gravity bomb.

Overall, Congress provided $746 billion for national defense programs, an increase of $8 billion above the revised 2011 Budget Control Act spending cap for fiscal year 2020 agreed by Congress last summer.

Missile Defense Oversight Increased

The final authorization law retained several provisions contained in the House version of the bill designed to restrain the role of missile defense and enhance congressional oversight of it.

The law updates U.S. national missile defense policy to state that the U.S. homeland missile defenses are intended to defend against rogue states and that the United States will rely on nuclear deterrence for near-peer adversary ballistic missile threats such as Russia and China.

The new policy comports with the text of the 2019 Missile Defense Review report, released in January 2019, which limits the purpose of U.S. homeland defenses to defending against limited missile attacks from North Korea and Iran, not Russia and China. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

But the new policy contradicts the role for these defenses outlined by Trump. In remarks at the rollout of the Missile Defense Review report, Trump stated that the goal of U.S. missile defenses is to “ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States—anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”

The new policy also revises the role for U.S. homeland defenses set in the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization law, which stated that it shall be “the policy of the United States to maintain and improve an effective, robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat.” (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

In addition, the authorization law retains a House provision eliminating a requirement established in the fiscal year 2018 law requiring the development of a test bed for missile defense interceptors in space. The 2020 law does not alter the 2018 law’s requirement to pursue development of a space-based missile defense interceptor layer. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The defense appropriations law zeros out the Pentagon’s $34 million request to begin developing a neutral particle beam, a space-based laser weapon to destroy ICBMs during their boost and midcourse phases of flight, and cuts $10 million from the $30 million request to study the development of interceptors in space. (See ACT, April 2019.)

The authorization law also requires an independent study mandated by the House assessing the benefits and costs of U.S. missile defense development on the security of the United States.

The appropriations law provides $10.5 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, an increase of $1 billion from the budget request of $9.4 billion. The increase includes more than $500 million in unrequested funding to sustain the existing Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system based in Alaska and California and design a new homeland defense interceptor in the wake of the demise of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle program. (See ACT, October 2019.)

The law also funds the administration’s request to test in 2020 the Standard Missile-3-IIA interceptor against an ICBM-class target. The House had proposed to eliminate funding for the test.

 

Comparisons Among the House, Senate, and Final Versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 on U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Policy

Republicans rejected many House Democratic efforts to limit U.S. nuclear weapons spending.

CEND Establishes Two-Year Work Program


January/February 2020
By Shannon Bugos

Participants in a U.S. disarmament initiative agreed in November to pursue a two-year program of work. First proposed by the United States in 2018, the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative has established three working subgroups meant to make headway on disarmament issues in advance of this year’s review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2019. Ford is spearheading the U.S. initiative to discuss the security rationales for retaining nuclear weapons. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)The primary CEND working group held its second session in London on Nov. 20–22. (See ACT, September 2019.) According to the U.S. State Department, 62 participants from 31 countries gathered to continue “their open and realistic dialogue on improving the security environment and advancing further progress on nuclear disarmament.” Participants included nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, as well as some countries not party to the NPT.

Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, told the working group that the “conceptual foundation” of the initiative was based on “the insight that disarmament can and will move forward only to the degree that the international community is able to address the security issues that underlie states’ rationales for retaining nuclear weapons.” This “fraught” security environment, Ford later said during a Dec. 2 event at the Stimson Center in Washington, is “one in which the challenges of traditional bilateral approaches to arms control mechanisms are no longer adequate.”

The CEND initiative aims to bring together “a wide range of diverse countries” to consider “how to bring security conditions to the point where disarmament will finally be achievable—and how to move forward toward that objective as best we can in a still highly imperfect security environment,” Ford said in London. “The objective of CEND is thus two-fold: to identify the questions that need to be asked to this end and to start doing the work of trying to answer them.”

In pursuit of that objective, the group’s initial plenary meeting in July established three subgroups to each tackle a specific issue: the reduction of the perceived incentives for states to acquire or increase their nuclear stockpiles, the functioning and effectiveness of existing nuclear disarmament mechanisms and institutions, and potential interim measures to reduce risks related to nuclear weapons. During the November meeting, the three subgroups set to work in order to each develop terms of reference and then a program of work. All three established that their respective programs of work will “include deliverables that would be completed within roughly two years,” according to documents obtained by Arms Control Today.

The first subgroup, focused on understanding incentives for nuclear weapons programs and chaired by the Netherlands and Morocco, determined in London that its program of work would include developing recommendations for improved dialogue among states on threat perceptions. It also decided to focus on identifying concrete measures conducive to disarmament, developing approaches for better addressing noncompliance, and recommending avenues for future dialogue on nuclear deterrence and the humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons.

Chaired by South Korea and the United States, the second subgroup turned its attention to identifying the best practices of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament mechanisms and institutions, as well as developing proposals to maintain and improve the functioning of those bodies. In addition, the subgroup aims to identify opportunities in which to build capacity, such as encouraging the next generation of leaders and civil society at large.

The third subgroup, led by Germany and Finland, aims to explore nuclear risk reduction measures and analyze the practicality of those identified measures. Its program of work also includes considering “a menu of concrete and actionable options for risk reduction measures” and conducting a dialogue on the “viability and desirability” of the options.

The third meeting of the CEND initiative is not yet scheduled, but is expected early this year, before the NPT review conference kicks off April 27.

In their second meeting, participants in a U.S. initiative identified working objectives for three subgroups.

Senator Refreshes Hold on Firearms Export Changes


January/February 2020

Trump administration proposals making changes to how certain firearms are exported were put on hold in December, just days before they could have been published. It was the second time in 2019 that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, asked the administration to delay the changes.

His Dec. 10 request came one day after the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act was announced, which dropped a House-approved amendment to prohibit the changes. (See ACT, December 2019.) The latest version of the revised rules had been sent to Congress on Nov. 12, starting a 30-day clock before they could be formally published. The administration can now choose to ignore the hold, risking upsetting Menendez and others.

Under the proposed rules, export controls for semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition, as well as certain other weapons, would be moved from the State Department-led U.S. Munitions List to the Commerce Department-led Commerce Control List. In making such a change, Congress would no longer receive notifications of proposed sales.

As he did in a letter dated Feb. 22, when he first had placed a hold on the proposed rules, Menendez insisted that Congress continue to be notified. He indicated, however, that he would no longer insist on a hold related to 3D printing concerns. Revised rules proposed in November said that the Commerce Department would mandate licenses for online publication of 3D printing plans. Menendez still indicated concern and demanded that Commerce “maintain a policy of ‘presumption of denial’ for any license application."—JEFF ABRAMSON

Senator Refreshes Hold on Firearms Export Changes

Putin Puts Ball in Trump’s Court on New START Extension | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, December 2019

Putin Puts Ball in Trump’s Court on New START Extension Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear this month that Moscow is open to unconditionally extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), but the Trump administration remains undecided about the future of the accord. “Russia is willing to immediately, as soon as possible, before the year is out, renew this treaty without any preconditions,” Putin told a meeting of defense ministry officials. He noted that Moscow has not received a response from Washington to its proposal to renew the treaty. Putin reiterated his offer...

Assessing the Risk Posed by Iran’s Violations of the Nuclear Deal

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Volume 11, Issue 9
Updated January 29, 2020

(This issue brief was originally published December 17, 2019. It was updated to reflect Iran's fifth breach of the 2015 nuclear deal.)

Since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in May 2019 that Tehran would reduce compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has breached limits imposed by the agreement every 60 days. While none of the violations pose a near-term proliferation risk, taken together, Iran’s systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal.

Under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is subject to stringent limitations on its nuclear program and intrusive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, the P5+1 (the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, the EU and, formerly, the United States) committed to waiving sanctions imposed on Iran. United Nations Security Council also endorsed the deal in Resolution 2231 (2015), which lifted UN sanctions on Iran and levied restrictions on Iranian conventional arms and ballistic missile transfers.

Despite acknowledging Iran’s compliance with the multilateral agreement, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. A White House press release issued May 8, 2018, condemned the Iran deal and cited Iran’s “malign behavior” and its support for regional proxies as an impetus for the U.S. withdrawal. Trump also ordered the reimposition of sanctions that had been lifted or waived under the JCPOA, violating U.S. obligations under the accord. Since May 2018, the Trump administration continues to aggressively deny Iran any benefit of remaining in compliance with the nuclear deal and is pressing the P4+1 to join Washington’s pressure campaign.

The P4+1 continues to support the JCPOA and engage in efforts to maintain legitimate trade with Iran, but the extraterritorial nature of the U.S. sanctions eliminated most of the benefits to Tehran envisioned by the deal. The P4+1’s failure to deliver on sanctions relief in the year after Trump’s announcement drove Rouhani to announce that Iran would begin violating the JCPOA, and would continue to breach limits every 60 days, until oil sales, banking transactions, and other areas of commerce were restored.

Since Rouhani’s announcement in May 2019, Iran has breached JCPOA limits on uranium enrichment, research and development on advanced centrifuges, and stockpile size. When announcing the fifth breach in January 2020, Iran stated that its uranium enrichment program no longer faced any restrictions. To date, the actions Iran has taken in violation of the JCPOA appear to be calculated steps designed to increase pressure on the P4+1 to deliver on sanctions relief and are not indicative of a dash to a nuclear bomb. While concerning, the breaches do not pose a near-term risk and are quickly reversible, supporting Rouhani’s assertion that Iran will return to compliance with the JCPOA if its conditions are met. Iran’s continued implementation of the more intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms put in place by the JCPOA further support the assessment that Iran is seeking leverage in negotiations with the P4+1 and is willing to return to compliance if its demands are met, not dashing for a bomb.

1) Breaching the Stockpile Limits on Enriched Uranium and Heavy Water

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared in a May 8 speech that Tehran would no longer observe JCPOA restrictions on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpile. Rouhani said the decision was a reaction to the U.S. reimposition of sanctions and that “once our demands are met, we will resume implementation.”

The JCPOA caps Iran’s stockpile at “under 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms.” 300 kilograms of UF6 equates to 202.8 kilograms of uranium (Annex I, Section A, para. 7).

On July 1, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, announced that Iran exceeded that limit. A report released by the IAEA on the same day verified that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235 totaled 205.0 kilograms, constituting Tehran’s first breach of the JCPOA.

Iran has continued to grow its stockpile since first breaching the limit in July. Most recently, the IAEA reported in November that Iran’s stockpile had reached 372.3 kilograms of uranium enriched to less than 4.5 percent.

At present, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile continues to pose a relatively low proliferation risk, and its breach of the JCPOA stockpile limits has only marginally shortened the one-year nuclear breakout time established by the deal. To manufacture one nuclear bomb, Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (under five percent uranium-235) and would then need to further enrich this material to weapons-grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235).

However, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Salehi, has indicated that Iran intends to produce close to five kilograms of enriched uranium per day. If true, Iran’s stockpile could hit 1,050 kilograms in less than four months. The breakout time would be longer, however, as additional time would be needed to enrich the material to weapons-grade. The time it would take to reach weapons-grade would depend on how many centrifuges are use and the efficiency of the machines.

Iran did not breach the 130 metric ton heavy water limit until November. The IAEA reported Nov. 17 that Iran’s stockpile measured 131.5 metric tons. Heavy water, which contains the isotope deuterium, is used as a coolant in some types of reactors, including the Arak heavy water reactor currently under construction. Heavy water itself does not pose a proliferation risk. However, heavy water reactors are generally considered a proliferation-sensitive technology because they typically produce higher amounts of weapons-grade plutonium-239 in the spent fuel.

Both of the stockpile breaches are quickly reversible. Iran could easily blend down or ship out excess low-enriched uranium and sell or store overseas the excess heavy water.

If the 40-megawatt Arak reactor had been completed as originally designed, it would have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for two bombs on an annual basis. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to collaborate on rebuilding and modifying the Arak heavy water reactor to mitigate the proliferation risk. (Annex I, Section B) Under the modified design, the 20-megawatt reactor will run on low-enriched uranium, resulting in the production of about a quarter of the plutonium-239 necessary to produce a nuclear weapon on an annual basis. Tehran also agreed to ship out the spent fuel from the reactor for 15 years.

In January 2016 the IAEA verified that Iran had removed and cemented the original reactor core and has subsequently reported that Tehran has not resumed construction on the reactor based on its original design. Iran threatened in July 2019 to resume activities at the heavy water reactor based on the original design, but given that work modifying the reactor continues, there is no proliferation risk posed by Iran’s breaching of the heavy water stockpile limit at this time.

If the United States ends sanctions waivers allowing cooperative work on the Arak reactor to continue, Iran may follow through on its threat to abandon modifications and resume construction on the original design. If so, it would still take years for the reactor to become operational.

2) Breaching the Limit on Uranium Enrichment

Behrouz Kamalvandi, Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced July 7 that Iran would exceed the 3.67 percent uranium-235 enrichment level imposed by the JCPOA for 15 years. (Annex I, Section F, para. 28). On July 8, Kamalvandi told reporters that Iran began enriching uranium to about 4.5 percent uranium-235.

The IAEA verified that Iran was enriching uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) to greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235 at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant July 8, according to an agency report released that day.

The IAEA’s Nov. 11 report indicates that Iran’s enriched uranium remains at or below a 4.5 percent uranium-235 enrichment level, and that of Iran’s 372.3-kilogram low-enriched uranium stockpile, about 159.7 kilograms have exceeded the JCPOA-designated 3.67 percent enrichment limit.

The extent to which this modest increase in the enrichment level poses a proliferation risk is dependent upon how many centrifuges are used for higher-level enrichment and how much material is stockpiled.

Uranium-235 is a fissile isotope that occurs in only 0.07 percent of naturally occurring uranium. Uranium enrichment is a process through which natural uranium, which is 99.3 percent uranium-238, after conversion into gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6), is enriched to increase the concentrations of uranium-235. Uranium enriched to less than five percent is typically used to fuel nuclear power reactors.

A sophisticated uranium-based nuclear bomb requires approximately 12 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium (greater than 90 percent uranium-235). The IAEA uses 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium as the threshold for a “significant quantity,” and given that Tehran has never produced HEU for a bomb, this higher threshold is likely a more accurate estimate of what Iran might need if it chose to pursue a nuclear weapon.

A large stockpile of low-enriched uranium, once amassed, would shorten the time needed to enrich up to weapons-grade. The quantity that Iran has produced to date is not considered a near-term proliferation risk. Though provocative, this breach is easily reversible and did not substantially shorten the one-year window of time that it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

3) Abandoning Limits on Advanced Centrifuges

On Sept. 5 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that “all of our commitments for research and development under the JCPOA will be completely removed by Friday.”

Under the nuclear deal, for 10 years, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is limited to output from 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant. The deal allows for Iran to continue research and development (R&D) on a limited number of advanced machines for the first 10 years, so long as such activities do not contribute to an accumulation of enriched uranium.

Specifically, for 10 years after implementation (or until the year 2025), Iran is permitted to conduct R&D on a specified number of IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 model centrifuges. R&D on cascades of up to 30 IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges is only permitted 8.5 years after the deal’s implementation (Section G, para. 35-37).

The IAEA verified on Sept. 7 that Iran had installed or was in the process of installing 22 IR-4 centrifuges, one IR-5 centrifuge, 30 IR-6 centrifuges, and three IR-6s centrifuges. On Sept. 8, Iran alerted the Agency of its intention to install piping to accommodate two cascades: one of 164 Ir-4 centrifuges and one of 164 IR-2m centrifuges.

On Sept. 25, the IAEA observed that three cascades: one of 20 IR-4 centrifuges, one of 10 IR-6 centrifuges, and one of 20 IR-6 centrifuges “were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium.” The IAEA also reported that the installation of 164 IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing. The IAEA later verified in November that operational cascades of 164 IR-2m and 164 IR-4 centrifuges were accumulating enriched uranium.

In October, Iran alerted the IAEA of its intention to install additional advanced machines, including new IR-7, IR-8, IR-9, and IR-s model centrifuges. Iran is permitted under the JCPOA to develop new machines using computer modeling but requires approval from the body set up by the accord to oversee its implementation before testing. Iran does not appear to have obtained that permission. Tehran indicated that these new machines, once installed, would be used to further accumulate enriched uranium.

Taken together, Iran’s actions breached both the R&D testing limitations and the prohibition on accumulating enriched uranium from advanced machines imposed by the JCPOA.

With advanced machines, Iran can enrich uranium faster and more efficiently. However, Iran’s initial introduction of a limited number of advanced machines for research and for low-enriched uranium production did not, by itself, constitute a near-term proliferation risk. Similar to Iran’s earlier steps to breach the accord, this action is also quickly reversible, should Iran choose to return to compliance with the accord. Iran will have gained knowledge about advanced centrifuge performance that cannot be reversed, but the advanced machines can be quickly dismantled and put in storage under IAEA seal.

Whether enrichment using advanced machines will pose a long-term proliferation risk is dependent upon the number of machines used and their efficiency, the level of enrichment, and the amount of enriched uranium accumulated. It appears that Iran intends to continue installing and operating advanced machines, but the efficiency of the advanced models is not reported by the IAEA.

The introduction of additional advanced centrifuges, coupled with enrichment to levels higher than 4.5 percent uranium-235 or resulting in a substantial accumulation of low-enriched uranium, would pose a heightened proliferation risk. At present, however, due to the relatively small size of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile and the small number of operating advanced centrifuges, enrichment using these models does not significantly shorten the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

4) Resuming Enrichment at Fordow

Rouhani announced Nov. 5 that Iranian technicians would begin injecting uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into centrifuges at the Fordow facility. Specifically, Behrouz Kamalvandi said that Iran would enrich uranium using 696 of the IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow and use the remaining 348 for the production of stable isotopes. Iran requested that the IAEA monitor the resumption of enrichment.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is permitted to conduct uranium enrichment only at the Natanz Enrichment Facility. Fordow, where Iran once enriched uranium up to 20 percent uranium-235, is to be converted into a nuclear, physics, and technology center in accordance with the deal (Annex I, Section H). The deal requires the P5+1 to assist Iran with the conversion and the Russian nuclear energy company, Rosatom, was working with Tehran on stable isotope production.

According to a Nov. 11 IAEA report, a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) was transferred from Natanz to Fordow Nov. 6. On Nov. 9, the Agency verified that Iran had fed UF6 into two cascades of IR-1 centrifuges and commenced uranium enrichment at Fordow.

The IAEA reported that Iran continues to comply with intrusive agency inspection and verification practices. If Iran increases uranium enrichment at Fordow or begins enrichment to levels greater than 4.5 percent, inspectors will quickly detect the deviations.

Enrichment at Fordow contributes to Iran’s growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium and the slowly decreasing window of time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb. But similar to the earlier steps, it is quickly reversible.

While the increased enrichment capacity at Fordow does not pose a near-term risk, the international community considers the Fordow facility to pose a greater proliferation risk than Natanz because Fordow is nestled deep within a mountainous range and its location renders it relatively invulnerable to a military strike. While military action would only set Iran’s program back several years and would likely encourage Tehran to openly pursue nuclear weapons, U.S. presidents have repeatedly stated that the military option is on the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

While Iran has stated its intention to continue isotope production at Fordow, it is unclear if that work will go forward. After the breach, the U.S. Treasury terminated a sanctions waiver that allowed Rosatom to work with Iran on the Fordow facility conversion. On Dec. 9, Rosatom formally suspended nuclear cooperation with Iran, citing technical issues impeding collocated stable isotope production and uranium enrichment.

5) Abandoning Operational Restrictions

Iran announced Jan. 5 that its nuclear program will no longer be subject to “any operational restrictions” put in place by the JCPOA and that going forward Iran’s activities will be based on its “technical needs.” Zarif, however, specified that Iran will continue to fully cooperate with the IAEA, indicating that Tehran intends to abide by the additional monitoring and verification requirements put in place by the JCPOA. Zarif also said that, like the prior four breaches, the Jan. 5 measures are reversible if its demands on sanctions relief are met.

The extent to which this fifth violation increases the proliferation risk posed by the Iran’s nuclear program depends on how Iran operationalizes the announcement. Unlike prior breaches, Tehran did not provide specific details as to what steps it planned to take that would violate JCPOA limits. The Jan. 5 statement referenced the cap on operating centrifuges as the “last key component” of the nuclear deal’s restrictions that Iran was adhering to, suggesting that Tehran will breach the limit on installed IR-1 machines enriching uranium.

Under the JCPOA, Iran’s uranium enrichment is limited to 5,060 first generation IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz facility (Section A, para. 1-7). The nuclear deal also permitted Iran to keep 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow for isotope research and production. The IAEA confirmed in November that Tehran was still abiding by these limits on installed IR-1 centrifuges (as noted above Iran is enriching uranium at Fordow using some of the machines at that site in violation of the 15 year prohibition set by the deal, but the IAEA has not reported that Iran installed any machines in excess of the permitted 1,044 IR-1s).

Prior to the JCPOA, Iran had installed about 18,000 IR-1 centrifuges, of which about 10,200 were enriching uranium, and about 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges, none of which were operational. Fordow housed about 2,700 of the IR-1 machines, of which 700 were enriching uranium. The remaining machines, including the IR-2s, were installed at Natanz. The JCPOA required Iran to dismantle excess machines and store them at Natanz under IAEA monitoring.

Iran’s statement that its nuclear program will now be guided by “technical needs” provides little insight into how many additional centrifuges Tehran may choose to install and operate in violation of the JCPOA’s limits, or if Iran will take other steps to further violate restrictions breached in 2019. Iran has no need for enriched uranium at this time; its nuclear power reactor at Bushehr is fueled by Russia and the JCPOA ensures that Iran will have access to 20 percent enriched uranium fuel for its research reactor. The Trump administration has continued to waive sanctions allowing the transfer of reactor fuels.

The ambiguity of Iran’s announcement gives Tehran considerable flexibility in calibrating its response. Slowly installing and bringing online additional IR-1 centrifuges to produce uranium enriched to less than five percent would keep Iran on its current trajectory of transparently chipping away at the 12 month breakout established by the JCPOA. This action would also be quickly reversible as Tehran could shut down excess machines in a relatively short time and then dismantle them to return to compliance with the agreement.

If Iran wants to ratchet up pressure more quickly, Tehran could further increase its enrichment level beyond 4.5 percent uranium-235, or more rapidly accumulate a large amount of low-enriched uranium. These steps would decrease more rapidly the window of time it would take for Iran to produce the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon and increase the proliferation threat.

The E3’s Decision to Trigger the Dispute Resolution Mechanism

The remaining parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the EU) responded to Iran’s first four violations by condemning Tehran’s actions, but continuing to express support for the JCPOA. After the fifth violation, however, the E3 triggered the dispute resolution mechanism laid out in the JCPOA to address issues of noncompliance.

According to the process laid out in the JCPOA,

  • The Joint Commission, which is set up by the JCPOA to oversee implementation and is comprised of the parties to the deal, will have 15 days to resolve the issue, although that period can be extended by consensus. (It appears that the parties have already agreed to extend the time period, as the dispute resolution mechanism was triggered in January and the Joint Commission is not set to meet until mid-February.)
  • If the Joint Commission fails to address the issue, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the participating states have 15 days to resolve the issue, although that period can be extended by consensus.
  • Instead of, or in parallel to the Ministerial Review, an advisory board can be appointed to provide a non-binding opinion on how to address the allegation of noncompliance. The board will be comprised of three members, one appointed by each side of the dispute and a third independent member. The advisory panel has 15 days to deliver an opinion and the Joint Commission then has five days to consider it.
  • If, at the end of the process, the dispute is not resolved, the complaining party can notify the UN Security Council. The Security Council then has 30 days to adopt a resolution to continue lifting the UN sanctions. Failure to pass such a resolution snaps UN sanctions back into place.

The E3 have made clear that their intention is to resolve the dispute and preserve the JCPOA, so it is unlikely that they intend to refer the matter to the Security Council. Referral to the Security Council is almost certain to snapback of UN sanctions, which would collapse the deal.

The E3 calculus could change, however, if Iran reduces compliance with inspections or takes steps that significantly increase the proliferation risk posed by the nuclear program, such as resuming enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235 and stockpiling that material. These actions would increase the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program and further negate the security benefits that the deal provides to Europe.

Iran threatened to pull out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if the E3 refer Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA to the Security Council. This step would be a significant escalation that would only isolate Iran and subject the country to international pressure. Even states such as China and Russia, which opposed the E3’s decision to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism and the U.S. pressure campaign, would likely join efforts to pressure Iran back into the NPT.

Implications Going Forward

While any breach of the JCPOA is concerning, Iran’s current nuclear activities do not pose a near-term proliferation risk. Though the window of time it would take for Iran to produce the fissile material necessary to manufacture a nuclear weapon is slowly decreasing, the JCPOA imposes a permanent prohibition on weaponization activities. Tehran also continues to comply with the IAEA’s intrusive monitoring and verification safeguards, including the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, allowing the agency to ensure with a high degree of confidence that fissile materials are not being diverted for weapons production and giving inspectors access to any site to investigate evidence of illicit activity.

While Iran’s systematic breaches of the JCPOA limitations are serious violations of the agreement, the objectives of the deal itself remain uncompromised. Iran’s nuclear program is, at present, exclusively peaceful, and poses far less of a proliferation risk than it did in 2013 when Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium gas was more than 7,000 kilograms and it would have taken just 2-3 months for Tehran to produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb. This gives the remaining parties to the deal time to continue working with Tehran to bring Iran back into compliance with the deal.

However, taken together and placed in the context of Tehran’s mounting dissatisfaction with the P4+1’s failure to offer relief promised under the JCPOA, a growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium, increased output from advanced centrifuges, and additional, fortified, enrichment facilities are cause for concern. Having already breached many of the explicit limitations and restrictions designated by the JCPOA, Iran’s next step to breach the deal in early January will likely compound the severity of its violations and jeopardize the future of the deal.

A collapsed JCPOA would have severe implications for regional stability and international security. Dissolution of the JCPOA would significantly compromise the likelihood of Iran engaging in future nuclear nonproliferation agreements and could also spur other states in the region to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Without the deal, the international community could be faced with a similar crisis to that which prompted JCPOA negotiations. It is critical that the remaining parties to the JCPOA continue efforts to deliver on sanctions relief envisioned by the deal and press Iran and the United States to return to compliance with their obligations.—JULIA MASTERSON, research assistant, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

 

 

Description: 

Since May 2019, Iran has breached limits imposed by the JCPOA every 60 days. While none of the violations pose a near-term proliferation risk, taken together, Iran’s systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal.

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Nuclear False Warnings and the Risk of Catastrophe


December 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball

Forty years ago, on Nov. 9, 1979, the U.S. Defense Department detected an imminent nuclear attack against the United States through the early-warning system of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). U.S. bomber and missile forces went on full alert, and the emergency command post, known as the “doomsday plane,” took to the air.

The 1979 incident was one of the most dangerous false alarms of the nuclear age, but it was not the first or the last. Within months, three more U.S. system malfunctions set off the U.S. early-warning systems.

Former Titan II Missile in its silo, Sahuarita, Arizona. Source: The Titan Missile Museum.On June 3, 1980, at 3 a.m., National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was awakened by a call from his military assistant. He was told that NORAD computers were reporting that 2,200 Soviet missiles had been launched against the United States. According to Brzezinski, just one minute before he planned to call President Jimmy Carter to recommend an immediate U.S. nuclear retaliatory response, word came through that the NORAD message was a false alarm caused by software simulating a Soviet missile attack that was inexplicably transferred into the live warning system at the command’s headquarters.

The Soviet Union also experienced false alarms. On Sept. 26, 1983, a newly installed early-warning system erroneously signaled that the United States had launched a small salvo of missiles toward the Soviet Union. Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, the officer in charge that night, would later report that he defied standard military protocol and refused to pass the alert to Moscow because “when people start a war, they don’t start it with only five missiles.”

On Jan. 25, 1995, a large weather rocket launched off the coast of Norway created the appearance on Russian radars of an initial phase of a U.S. nuclear attack. Russian President Boris Yeltsin reported that the launch prompted him to activate Russia’s mobile nuclear command system.

Although the Cold War standoff that gave rise to massive U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals ended decades ago, the nuclear strategies that could lead to the firing of hundreds of nuclear weapons remain susceptible to false alarms.

Today, each side deploys some 1,400 strategic nuclear warheads on hundreds of sea- and land-based missiles and long-range bombers—far greater than is necessary to deter an attack and more than enough to produce catastrophic devastation. Each side maintains hundreds of warheads that can be fired within minutes of a launch order from the president, and both leaders retain the option to retaliate before they confirm that nuclear weapons have been detonated on their territory. These dangerous launch-under-attack postures perpetuate the risk that false alarms could trigger a massive nuclear exchange.

Complicating matters, Washington and Moscow each reserve the option to employ nuclear weapons first in a crisis or conventional conflict. Each possesses hundreds of so-called tactical nuclear bombs, which produce relatively smaller explosive yields, for use on the battlefield. Both sides regularly conduct drills and exercises involving their respective nuclear forces.

Today, U.S. and Russian leaders have a responsibility to pursue immediate and decisive actions to reduce these grave risks. To start, they should invite all nuclear-armed states to affirm the 1985 pledge made by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Given the risks of escalation, no plausible circumstance could justify legally, morally, or militarily the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat. All nuclear-armed states should announce policies that rule out the first use of nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear weapons before nuclear use on their soil has been confirmed.

In fact, the dangerous launch-under-attack policies of the United States and Russia are unnecessary because a large portion of their nuclear forces could withstand even a massive attack. Given the size, accuracy, and diversity of their forces, the remaining nuclear force would be more than sufficient to deliver a devastating blow to any nuclear aggressor.

Another key line of defense against nuclear catastrophe is dialogue. Washington and Moscow can and should resume a regular military and political dialogue on strategic stability. Such talks can avoid miscalculation over issues such as the use or nonuse of cyberattacks against nuclear command-and-control systems, missile defense capabilities and doctrine, nuclear launch exercises, and more. Similar talks with China should also be pursued.

Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin also should promptly agree to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by five years, as allowed by the treaty, and begin talks on a follow-on deal to set lower limits on all types of nuclear weaponry. Without the treaty, which expires in 2021, there would be no legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972; and the likelihood of a dangerous, all-out nuclear arms race would grow.

We were lucky the false alarms of the Cold War did not trigger nuclear war. Because we may not be so lucky in the future, our leaders must act now to take the steps necessary to reduce and eliminate the nuclear danger.

*Author's note: this essay was updated on March 16, 2020 to take into account information from newly declassified documents published by the National Security Archive.

*Updated: March 16, 2020

Four decades ago, the U.S. Defense Department detected an imminent nuclear attack against the United States through the early-warning system of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Pentagon Board Issues AI Guidelines


December 2019
By Michael Klare

On Oct. 31, after 15 months of private deliberation and public meetings, the Defense Innovation Board (DIB), an independent advisory arm of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, issued a set of recommendations on “ethical principles” for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) by the Defense Department.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google's parent company Alphabet Inc., speaks during a National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence conference on Nov. 5. He chaired the Defense Innovation Board which recently issued recommendations on the military use of artificial intelligence. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)The DIB had originally been asked in 2018 to devise such recommendations by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis following a revolt by workers at Google over the company’s AI work for the department. Some 4,000 employees signed a petition calling on Google to discontinue its work on Project Maven, a pioneer Pentagon effort to employ AI in identifying suspected militants, possibly for elimination through drone attack. Google subsequently announced that it would not renew the Maven contract and promised never to develop AI for “weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.”

Knowing that the military would have to rely on Silicon Valley for the talent and expertise it needed to develop advanced AI-empowered weapons and fearful of further resistance of the sort it encountered at Google, the Defense Department leadership sought to demonstrate its commitment to the ethical use of AI by initiating the DIB study. This effort also represents a response of sorts to growing public clamor, much of it organized by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, for a treaty banning fully autonomous weapons systems.

The DIB, chaired by Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, held three closed-door meetings with academics, lawyers, company officials, and arms control specialists in preparing its recommendations. A representative of the Arms Control Association submitted a formal statement to the board, emphasizing the need to ensure human control over all weapons systems and for the automatic deactivation of autonomous systems that lose contact with their human operators.

In its final report, the DIB appears to have sought a middle course, opening the way for expanded use of AI by the military while trying to reassure skeptics that this can be done in a humane and ethical fashion.

“AI is and will be an essential capability across [the Defense Department] in non-combat and combat functions,” the board stated. Nevertheless, “the use of AI must take place within the context of [an] ethical framework.”

The military has long embraced new technologies and integrated them in accordance with its long-standing ethical guidelines, the DIB indicated. But AI poses distinct problems because such systems possess a capacity for self-direction not found in any other weapons. Accordingly, a number of specific “AI ethics principles” are needed when employing these technologies for military purposes. Specifically, such systems must be “responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable, and governable,” the DIB wrote.

Each of these five principles seeks to address concerns raised by meeting participants over the use of AI in warfare. The DIB report led with the principle of ultimate human responsibility over all AI systems deployed by the Defense Department. Similarly, in response to concerns about biases built into AI target-identification systems—one of the issues raised by rebel workers at Google—it offers equity. The Defense Department,
it affirmed, should “avoid unintended bias in the development and deployment of combat or non-combat AI systems that would inadvertently cause harm to persons.”

The precepts of traceability and reliability are responses to scientific critics who worry that AI-empowered machines may act in ways that humans cannot understand or behave erratically, causing unintended harm. Accordingly, those principles state that it is essential that AI systems’ decision-making processes be traceable, hence correctable, by humans and that any programming flaws be detected and repaired before such munitions are deployed on the battlefield.

The final principle, governability, is of particular concern to the arms control community as it bears on commanders’ ability to prevent unintended escalation in a crisis, especially a potential nuclear crisis. The original text stated that all AI systems must be capable of detecting and avoiding unintended harm and disruption and be able to “disengage or deactivate deployed systems that demonstrate unintended escalatory or other behavior.” Some DIB members argued that this left too much to chance, so the final text was amended to read that such systems must possess a capacity “for human or automated disengagement or deactivation” of systems that demonstrate escalatory behavior.

The DIB recommendations will be forwarded to the defense secretary, where their fate is unknown. Nevertheless, the principles articulated by the board are likely to remain a source of discussion for some time to come.

Panel produces recommendations on “ethical principles” for use of artificial intelligence by the U.S. military.

Move Signaled for Firearm Exports Changes


December 2019
By Jeff Abramson

The Trump administration formally notified Congress last month that it would move ahead with controversial changes to regulations on how certain firearms are exported, starting a 30-day clock before final rules could be published. The move pushes past a hold that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) had put on the changes in February and sidesteps efforts in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prevent them.

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) has criticized a Trump administration effort to modify oversight of certain U.S. firearms exports.  (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)Under the proposed rules, semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition, as well as certain other weapons, would be removed from the first three categories of the U.S. Munitions List (USML), a State Department-administered list of weapons. Sales of weapons from that list that meet certain dollar-value thresholds are notified to Congress, and a complex set of rules governs the reasons for which they may be transferred to and used by foreign recipients. Under the proposed changes, exports of these weapons would be transferred to a list administered by the Commerce Department, known as the Commerce Control List (CCL). The CCL does not trigger congressional notification requirements and allows for more streamlined arms transfer approvals.

In a Nov. 12 press release critical of the changes, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) said the rules "will remove critical oversight mechanisms that will increase the probability that U.S. firearms will be misused to create violence and instability around the world." In March, Bera led a hearing on the changes as chair of the House Foreign Affairs oversight subcommittee. Menendez also cited the lack of congressional oversight as one of two primary concerns in his February hold on the changes.

But the administration attempted to address concerns about 3D gun printing technology transfers by adding new rules to the CCL that would require a license for online distribution of 3D printing plans. Currently, such plans are regulated under the USML and deemed an exportable item. The administration’s original proposal did not address the 3D printing issue, which was a second reason for concern highlighted in Menendez's hold and in legislative proposals to address the issue that he and others led. (See ACT, March 2019.)

An amendment passed in July to the House version of the NDAA, patterned after stand-alone legislation introduced by Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif), would prohibit changes to the relevant USML categories. The NDAA conference committee has not reconciled the House bill with the Senate version, which did not include the Torres amendment. Menendez has not indicated if he would attempt to place a hold on the changes again.

Export rule changes have not been as high profile as some other domestic efforts related to assault-style weapons, but Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have explicitly called for export authority to remain with the State Department. Robin Lloyd, managing director at the Giffords campaign to prevent gun violence, said on Nov. 13, "This White House clearly is more concerned with appeasing the gun lobby than making it harder for exported firearms to contribute to international violence and crime.”
 

 

Planned shift to Commerce Department reviews for certain U.S. arms transfers triggers strong congressional criticism.

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