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"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
March 2021
Edition Date: 
Monday, March 1, 2021
Cover Image: 

North Korea Displays New Missiles


March 2021
By Julia Masterson

North Korea unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and a host of other missiles at its annual military parade on Jan. 14. The display of military hardware came only three days after the conclusion of the 8th Congress of the Worker’s Party of Korea, during which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to “further strengthen the nuclear war deterrent while doing our best to build up the most powerful military strength.”

The Pukguksong-5 SLBM introduced at military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea on Jan. 14. (Source: Rodong Sinmun)The display of North Korean ballistic missile technology comes as the incoming administration of U.S. President Joe Biden begins a review of U.S. policy regarding North Korea.

North Korea’s new SLBM, dubbed the Pukguksong-5, bears structural similarities to the nuclear-capable Pukguksong-4 and Pukguksong-3 SLBMs, which were unveiled in 2020 and 2019, respectively. According to Michael Elleman, director for nonproliferation and nuclear policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a leading expert on North Korea’s missiles, “These dimensional similarities indicate North Korea is still in the process of settling on a specific design for its next-generation SLBM.”

Elleman suggested in a Jan. 15 analysis for the website 38 North that he believes the Pukguksong-5 “remains on the drawing board.” The Pukguksong-5 is not known to have been tested, so its exact capabilities and specifications remain unclear. Elleman also noted indicators that suggest the Pukguksong-5 could be solid-fueled, based on its structural design.

North Korean state media published on Jan. 15 called the Pukguksong-5 “the world’s most powerful weapon.”

The Jan. 14 parade in Pyongyang also featured several short-range tactical missiles, including one that appears to have solid-fueled rocket motors. North Korea already boasts solid-fueled missiles, but ongoing development of those systems is demonstrative of North Korea’s progress toward refining that capability. Solid-fueled missiles are generally considered to be more strategic than liquid-fueled missiles because solid-fueled systems can be stored together and can be mobilized or launched in a shorter period of time.

North Korea did not reveal any new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at the January military parade. North Korea remains committed to the development of a robust missile capability and appears focused on achieving a sea-based component of its nuclear arsenal.

In his report before the Congress of the Worker’s Party of Korea, which was held Jan. 5–12, Kim noted that North Korea’s national defense science sector is in the process of conducting research and perfecting a “new nuclear-powered submarine” and “an underwater-launch nuclear strategic weapon.” Although undoubtedly significant, these systems will take several years to complete and require extensive testing that would likely not go unnoticed by the international community.

In his report to the Congress, Kim further elaborated on his country’s progress toward building a reliable nuclear deterrent and a strong military. He highlighted developments in technology and noted steps undertaken to “miniaturize, lighten, and standardize nuclear weapons and to make them tactical ones.” He also remarked on the success of North Korea’s Nov. 29, 2017, test of its Hwasong-15 ICBM, which “declared with pride to the world the accomplishment of the historic cause of building the national nuclear force and the cause of building a rocket power.” (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Kim also noted that North Korea’s national defense science sector succeeded in developing a “super large” multiple-launch rocket system, as well as “ultra-modern tactical nuclear weapons including new-type tactical rockets” and intermediate-range cruise missiles. He said, “This enabled us to gain a reliable edge in military technology.”

Kim was promoted to the rank of general secretary during the congress on Jan. 11. That title had remained vacant for the nine years after Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011.

Between Kim’s remarks at the meeting of the Worker’s Party of Korea and the weapons displayed at the military parade, it is clear that North Korea’s capabilities are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Revelation of a next-generation SLBM suggests a test launch of that system could happen in the near future.

Kim also briefly remarked on relations with the United States in his report to the congress and stated that the “real intention” of U.S. policy toward North Korea “would never change,” regardless of who was in office. He named the United States as North Korea’s “principal enemy.”

It remains to be seen how Biden and his administration will approach the North Korea portfolio. The administration has given little indication of its diplomatic posture toward Pyongyang, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Jan. 19 that the administration intended to conduct a full review of U.S. policy toward North Korea once in office.

Close U.S. allies have expressed hope that Biden will continue denuclearization talks with North Korea. Notably, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Jan.18 that he believes Pyongyang seeks a security guarantee from the United States, in addition to normalized relations—two principles already agreed to at the summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018. During a New Year’s press conference, Moon also stated his personal view that Kim “clearly has a will towards peace, dialogue, and denuclearization.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Elleman succumbed to cancer and died on Feb. 20. For more on his life and work, see the April 2021 issue of Arms Control Today.

As talks on denuclearization talks remain on hold, Pyongyang continues to develop its capabilities.

CBO Projects Skyrocketing Missile Defense Costs


March 2021
By Nicholas Smith Adamopoulos

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) indicates that U.S. expenditures on missile defense from 2020 to 2029 may reach $176 billion, a 40 percent increase from an earlier estimate. The CBO warns that, in light of possible future changes to missile defense plans, the new estimate comes with “substantial uncertainty.”

From left, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan; and David L. Norquist, DOD's comptroller and chief financial officer, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the fiscal year 2020 defense budget request at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, March 14, 2019. (Photo: U.S. Dept. of Defense)The new 10-year estimate covers costs associated with research, development, procurement, sustainment, and operation of missile defenses and leaves out costs associated with assets such as early-warning radars or satellites. The $176 billion price tag is $50 billion higher than the CBO estimate of the 2017–2026 costs presented in the Defense Department’s 2017 budget submission.

Published Jan. 13, the CBO report indicates that although the Trump administration’s Missile Defense Review (MDR) was not published until January 2019, the majority of the work was completed in the fall of 2017. The increase in cost from the 2017 plan to the 2020 plan likely stems from changes to missile defense planning that were incorporated into the budget prior to the MDR’s publication.

Although the report’s 10-year cost estimate only includes programs mentioned in the 2020 budget request, the MDR identified a number of optional program expansions, potentially further increasing missile defense spending in the near future. (See ACT, March 2019.) The CBO estimates that the introduction of 40 new interceptors to the existing Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) site at Fort Greely, Alaska, would cost an additional $5 billion, while a third GMD site with 20 interceptor silos is estimated to cost $4 billion to establish and $80 million a year to operate. (See ACT, May 2017.)

The MDR also requested further study on expanding other missile defense programs, including investigating the purchase of additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries. The CBO estimates that each battery would cost $800 million to procure and $30 million per year to operate.

THAAD batteries would provide regional defense capabilities against missiles in the terminal phase of their trajectory, but the MDR also called for studying the feasibility of outfitting F-35 aircraft with the capability to intercept missiles in their boost phase. Not only would such a program be extremely costly—the CBO estimates missile development would cost $10–20 billion—but the report also notes that geographic limitations would make boost-phase defenses impossible against all but small states such as North Korea.

The CBO further warns that its estimates of missile defense expenditures are subject to a great deal of uncertainty, due in no small part to ambiguity surrounding the future capabilities of adversaries’ missile programs. Although the MDR directed the Pentagon to begin studying potential solutions for defenses against hypersonic missiles, the CBO was unable to produce a cost estimate for such programs.

The CBO asserts that any defense against hypersonic weapons would likely require a robust space-based sensor system such as the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) currently under development by the Missile Defense Agency. The CBO reported it did not have sufficient details necessary to estimate the full cost of a space-based hypersonic tracking system. But since the publication of the CBO report, contracts have been awarded to Northrop Grumman ($155 million) and L3Harris ($121 million) for the construction of prototype HBTSS satellites.

The CBO published a second report on missile defense in February titled “National Cruise Missile Defense: Issues and Alternatives,” which is also skeptical about the feasibility of a potential nationwide cruise missile defense network and the likelihood that cruise missiles would be the weapon of choice by an adversary for a large-scale attack on the United States. The CBO estimates that the 20-year costs of a complete cruise missile defense system for the contiguous United States would be $75–465 billion. There are fewer technological barriers to a homeland cruise missile defense network compared to ballistic or hypersonic missile defense, but the CBO questions whether the benefits of national cruise missile defense are worth the enormous financial costs.

U.S. expenditures on missile defense from 2020 to 2029 may reach $176 billion, a 40 percent increase from an earlier estimate.

Security Council Discusses Syrian CW


March 2021
By Julia Masterson

A senior UN disarmament official kicked off a Feb. 3 Security Council meeting by urging unity among council members in defense of the global prohibition against chemical weapons use. Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, called on the council to ensure that instances of chemical weapons use are never tolerated.

UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, speaks at a UN Security Council meeting on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on Sept. 21, 2017 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.  (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)Nakamitsu briefed the Security Council on the progress of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) toward verifying the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and production facilities. Although the entirety of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile was destroyed shortly after its accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 2013, evidence implicating the Syrian government in the continued use of chemical weapons has surfaced in recent years. Most recently, in April 2020, the OPCW released an inaugural report by its Investigation and Identification Team finding the Syrian government responsible for a series of chlorine and nerve agent attacks in Syria in March 2017. (See ACT, May 2020.)

The OPCW has worked to clarify outstanding inconsistencies related to Syria’s initial stockpile declaration in order to ensure the eventual complete destruction of its chemical weapons and associated production facilities. OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias releases a monthly report detailing OPCW progress toward elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program.

In his most recent report, released Jan. 25, Arias noted that “considering the identified gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies that remain unresolved, the [OPCW] Secretariat assesses that the declaration submitted by the Syrian Arab Republic still cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance” with the CWC.

The January report indicates that Syria has failed to comply with the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) and that 19 issues with Syria’s original declaration remain outstanding. In one noted instance, the DAT request to “declare the exact types and quantities of chemical agents produced and/or weaponized” at a specific chemical weapons production facility remains unaddressed by the Syrian government. Syria maintains that the facility in question has never been used for chemical weapons. The DAT was deployed to Syria again in early February 2021.

In her briefing to the Security Council, Nakamitsu called on Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW to address those 19 outstanding issues to its declaration.

Nakamitsu further directed her plea to the members of the council specifically, noting “it is imperative that this council show leadership in demonstrating that impunity in the use of these weapons will not be tolerated.”

In the debate that followed Nakamitsu’s briefing, Security Council members toed the lines of their long-held positions on Syria’s chemical weapons program. Russia named Syria a “responsible partner,” but, reacting to the fact that Syria’s rights and privileges under the CWC will be up for debate at the spring 2021 meeting of CWC states-parties, questioned what benefits Syria would derive from remaining party to the convention. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

Syria’s representative remarked that a revocation of its rights and privileges under the CWC would represent a “hostile act par excellence” and stated that Damascus rejects efforts to undermine its initial declaration to the OPCW. The United States, the United Kingdom, and others overwhelmingly affirmed their support for the tone of Nakamitsu’s briefing and urged Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW.

UN officials continue to report that they still cannot confirm the completeness of Syrian stockpile declaration.

France to Coordinate P5 Process


March 2021

France intends to use its tenure as coordinator of a consultative process on nuclear weapons issues involving senior officials from five nuclear-armed states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—to advance progress on the group’s workplan, which was last updated in 2019.

Delegations from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States at the P5 nuclear consultative process meeting in London in February 2020.  (Photo: Aidan Liddle/Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office)In a Feb. 23 interview with Arms Control Today, a French official said that Paris hopes to build on past achievements and produce deliverables for each of the group’s five action items. The official indicated that France intends to convene a formal meeting of the group in the coming months and is eager to drive the group’s continued implementation of its workplan and contribute to a successful and substantive nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, which is expected later this year.

The P5 process, as it is commonly known, was first established in 2007. Its current agenda involves discussions on a glossary of terms, to ensure common understanding; nuclear doctrines and strategic risk reduction; a prospective fissile material cutoff treaty; peaceful nuclear uses; and the signing of the annexed protocol to the 1997 Bangkok Treaty, which establishes a nuclear weapons-free zone in Southeast Asia.

The upcoming, rescheduled 10th NPT review conference offers an important opportunity for the P5 process to converge positions of the five countries, but France also intends to focus the agenda as coordinator of the group on achievements that can be sustained well beyond the NPT meeting. For instance, work within the P5 process to increase transparency about one another’s nuclear doctrines can contribute to long-term risk reduction that will significantly support the group’s future work.

The P5 process coordinator position rotates on a yearly basis, and the state occupying that seat is charged with organizing a formal conference and coordinating other agenda items during that period. Although collaborative multilateral work has ultimately decelerated as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, France plans to soon initiate a series of P5 process meetings at the Geneva-based ambassadorial level and the
expert level.

Some observers note that the group’s work has slowed in recent years due in part to tensions among key members of the group, as well as a hesitancy by the previous U.S. administration to commit fully to the agenda of the P5 process. In 2020, the United States balked on a proposal for a joint declaration that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”

The inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden and a Feb. 22 speech by Secretary of State Antony Blinken professing support for a multilateral agenda at the Conference on Disarmament suggest that Washington will engage more fully with the group’s work in the coming months.—JULIA MASTERSON

France to Coordinate P5 Process

Two Remain in Contention to Lead CTBTO


March 2021

Following voting last fall to choose the next executive secretary for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), nominee Robert Floyd, director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office, fell one vote short of securing the two-thirds necessary. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The inconclusive outcome requires that signatories to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) repeat the process to select the next leader of the organization before the second term of the current executive secretary, Lassina Zerbo, expires July 31.

On Dec. 21, the chair of the commission for 2020, Faouzia Mebarki of Algeria, set a Feb. 5 deadline for nominations. On Jan. 8, Australia resubmitted the nomination of Floyd.

In her letter, Mebarki wrote that “[i]f the incumbent Executive Secretary is available, he will be deemed a candidate.” On Feb. 2, Zerbo responded by confirming his “ability and commitment to continue working and contributing as Executive Secretary.”

The CTBTO executive secretary is responsible for leading the organization’s work to maintain and operate the CTBT global verification regime in preparation for the treaty’s entry into force, as well as promoting its entry into force. The CTBT has been signed by 185 states and ratified by 170.

Sources tell Arms Control Today that the new chair of the CTBTO, Ivo Šrámek of the Czech Republic, is engaging in “intensive informal consultations to reach consensus” on the selection process. Šrámek says he intends to hold an informal meeting in March to brief delegates on the results of his consultations.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

Two Remain in Contention to Lead CTBTO

Two States Ratify the CTBT


March 2021

Cuba presented its instrument of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on Feb. 4, becoming the 169th state to ratify the pact.

The 54th Session of “Working Group B,” which deals with verification matters, opens at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organzation’s (CTBTO) headquarters in Vienna Austria. (Photo credit: CTBTO)Two weeks later, Comoros on Feb. 19 became the 170th state to deposit its instrument of ratification with the UN secretary-general in New York. At the same time, the Indian Ocean nation deposited its instrument of ratification for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

“The fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons is everyone’s concern,” Comorian Foreign Minister Dhoihir Dhoulkamal said at a virtual meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) on Feb. 23.

Loipa Sánchez Lorenzo, Cuba’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna, celebrated Cuba’s move as the latest indicator of its “enduring commitment to disarmament,” as well as a reaffirmation of Latin America and the Caribbean’s long-standing disarmament efforts. Cuba became a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which established a nuclear weapons-free zone in Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2002. (See ACT, December 2002.)

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, who played a crucial role in facilitating Cuba’s efforts to join the CTBT, thanked Havana for leading the way for other states to join the CTBT “and close the door to nuclear testing, for all, and for good.”

Zerbo also praised Comorian leadership. “By adopting the CTBT, Comoros is helping to build peace and security and sending a strong message to the international community, particularly to the remaining states that have yet to sign or ratify the treaty.”

The CTBT prohibits all nuclear test explosions of any yield anywhere in the world. Opened for signature in 1996, the treaty will enter into force as soon as 44 states listed in Annex 2 ratify the treaty. Of those 44 states, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States have yet to do so.—NICHOLAS SMITH ADAMOPOULOS

Two States Ratify the CTBT

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