"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
November 2020

Arms Control Today November 2020

Edition Date: 
Sunday, November 1, 2020
Cover Image: 

Russia Highlights Unresolved Open Skies Issues

November 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

Russia has emphasized its concerns with how the remaining states-parties to the 1992 Open Skies Treaty will handle information obtained under the treaty after the likely U.S. withdrawal in late November.

An image taken from a 2007 Open Skies overflight is examined under a viewer. Russia has raised concerns that the United States will continue to have access to such imagery, even after it withdraws from the treaty. (Photo: OSCE)During the fourth review conference for the treaty, which began Oct. 7, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that U.S. allies who remain party to the treaty will face “a conflict of obligations.” The meeting was the first review conference held since the Trump administration on May 21 announced that the United States would withdraw from the treaty six months later. (See ACT, June 2020.) Once the U.S. withdrawal is complete, Moscow is concerned that Washington will maintain access to information collected during the treaty activities through its allies who remain states-parties, particularly those who are NATO members.

Ryabkov specifically pointed to Article IX of the treaty, which stipulates that all information gathered during overflights be made available to any of the states-parties and be used exclusively for achieving the objectives of the treaty. Treaty provisions that restrict the data only to states-parties, Ryabkov argued, should be prioritized.

He said Russia has proposed that U.S. allies express their commitment to uphold the treaty’s provisions through the exchanging of diplomatic notes, but has been “disappointed” in the reaction of other treaty members to this proposal.

“A lack of willingness to clearly reaffirm their contractual obligations raises serious concerns about their true intentions,” he said. “The conversation on this topic is not over.”

In his remarks, Ryabkov said that Moscow has recently shown goodwill under the treaty. Russia allowed, for example, a February 2020 flight over Kaliningrad that exceeded the 500-kilometer flight path restriction that Russia has imposed since 2014. (See ACT, May 2020.) This goodwill by Russia stands in contrast, he alleged, to other countries that have “impede[d] the normal functioning of the treaty,” including Canada, France, Poland, and the United Kingdom.

The review conference was chaired by Belgium, which pledged to “make room for a constructive open dialogue with the aim of reaffirming the importance of the Open Skies Treaty and the engagement of states-parties to continue to implement the treaty.”

Prior to the review conference, Germany moderated an Oct. 5 discussion titled “The Quota Coordination and Deconfliction for Open Skies Flights in 2021.” According to Ryabkov, the distribution of quotas was successful.

Signed in 1992 and entered into force in 2002, the treaty permits its 34 states-parties to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. Since its entry into force, treaty parties have undertaken 1,534 observation flights, according to a Belgian description.

Russia questions whether Washington will continue to receive treaty imagery after the U.S. withdrawal.

Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare

November 2020

Nailing the Coffin of Civilian Plutonium

Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare
By Frank von Hippel,
Masafumi Takubo, and
Jungmin Kang
Springer Press

Reviewed by Thomas Countryman

Even in the world of speculative investment bubbles, it would be difficult to find a parallel to the business of making plutonium. This “industry” has seen massive investment by private and mostly governmental funds in pursuit of creating the world’s most dangerous material, an investment that has failed to yield a single dollar in returns. Nevertheless, a combination of scientific ambition, bureaucratic inertia, and governmental hubris keeps alive a dream that should have been smothered long ago.

Leave it to three highly experienced specialists to briefly recount the history, clearly explain the physical realities, and precisely pick apart the ever-weakening arguments that have supported reprocessing spent nuclear fuel into a new plutonium-based fuel. Frank von Hippel, Masafumi Takubo, and Jungmin Kang accomplish all of this in Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare. Its planned translation into Japanese and Korean should help citizens participate in critical upcoming decisions about continuing plutonium projects by governments in Tokyo and Seoul.

The earliest rationale for using plutonium as a nuclear fuel rested on the fact that spent nuclear fuel, the leftover material from civilian nuclear power plants, still contained far more potential energy than had yet been consumed. In the 1970s, uranium was believed to be scarce in the natural environment, and the full utilization of its energy capacity made some engineering, logical, and economic sense. In succeeding decades, the economic rationale has been constantly undermined by the realization that natural uranium is sufficiently plentiful that its price is no longer the primary cost factor in nuclear power generation, by the unanticipated complexity of building advanced reactors optimized to use plutonium as fuel, by the cost of new and necessary safety regulations applicable to all reactors, and most recently by the continued fall in
the cost of generating renewable energy.

In the face of these realities, only France, at a substantial economic loss, currently operates a full program for recovering plutonium from spent fuel for use as new nuclear fuel. Russia reprocesses spent fuel and is now testing plutonium in a breeder reactor. Japan has indicated it plans to open one of the world’s largest reprocessing plants in Rokkasho in the next two years, but that two-year time frame has been the boilerplate forecast for each of the past 10 years. India is actively reprocessing civilian spent fuel, and China is constructing a major facility for that purpose. South Korea has announced an end to its nuclear power program, but some officials and experts retain the aspiration to pursue civilian reprocessing.

No other nuclear-powered nation is actively pursuing “closing” the nuclear fuel cycle by reprocessing plutonium for energy generation. The economic and technical realities forced one country after another—Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, then the United States—to end their own efforts.

This weak support highlights the merits of the authors’ arguments. They systematically deconstruct the political and technical arguments in favor of such programs. Crucially, they demonstrate the factual inaccuracy of the primary argument advanced by Japanese and South Korean advocates that reprocessing spent fuel will diminish the volume and danger of nuclear waste that must ultimately be stored in geological repositories. They also knock down convincingly the claim that plutonium that is reactor grade, as opposed to weapons grade, is unusable in an explosive device.

Although it may be the prerogative of sovereign states to spend their own money irrationally, the authors focus also on important externalities, in particular the threat to the world’s security and environment from the continued production of plutonium. A commitment to the closed fuel cycle delays the inevitable decision that must be made by Japan and South Korea concerning permanent safe storage of spent fuels, a decision on which the United States also continues to procrastinate. In addition, it leads to unsafe practices concerning the storage of spent fuel rods destined for reprocessing. The authors describe for the first time how close the world was to a greater disaster in 2011, as overcrowded spent fuel cooling ponds could have led to a much greater radiation release following the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The authors explain that moving the spent fuel to interim dry cask storage would avert such catastrophic risks.

Of still greater concern is the risk that even a sliver of the massive plutonium stockpiles could be acquired by terrorists to use in a nuclear explosive device or a panic-inducing radiological dispersion device. Since plutonium was first fabricated 80 years ago, nations have created more than 500 tons of what is arguably the world’s most dangerous material. The International Atomic Energy Agency defines a “significant quantity” of plutonium, or enough to make a nuclear weapon, as eight kilograms, although even a Nagasaki-size blast could be generated with significantly less plutonium. Thus, the 300 tons of plutonium designated for civilian use would be sufficient to create more than 35,000 warheads.

Continuing to accumulate plutonium is not only a terrorism risk, but also a source of tension between states. There is concern in Beijing that Japan holds greater stocks of separated plutonium than China and in Seoul that South Korea holds none. The authors note briefly but tellingly the normally unstated security considerations that in part motivate civilian reprocessing programs: an intention to sustain a latent weapons capacity.

The authors make a convincing case for the international community to act together to end further production of separated plutonium. The effort to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty, which would ban production of plutonium for weapons, remains frozen in a glacier at the Conference on Disarmament. Whether or when it moves ahead, there is a separate compelling need to negotiate a ban on civilian separation of plutonium.

Although less than 200 pages, Plutonium is not light reading. Its economic and scientific arguments are compact, thoroughly documented, and clear even to lay people. For policymakers and the public, it provides a clear picture of a dream whose claimed benefits have all evaporated but whose danger remains ominously present.

Thomas Countryman is the chair of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors. He served 35 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, retiring in 2017 as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

The pursuit of plutonium to fuel nuclear power plants was troubled from the start and is only getting worse.

CTBTO Clears Path for Leadership Decision

November 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Following weeks of consultations, members of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) agreed in October to resolve a dispute over which states-parties that are in financial arrears to the organization are eligible to vote to select the organization’s executive secretary. The agreement clears the way for members to decide in late November who will lead the organization after July 31, 2021, when current agency leader Lassina Zerbo will have completed his second four-year term.

Current CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo (left) and Robert Floyd, now director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office. (Zerbo photo: CTBTO; Floyd photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The Vienna-based CTBTO is tasked with building up and operating the treaty’s global verification regime in preparation for the treaty’s entry into force, as well as promoting its entry into force. The organization has an annual budget of $128 million that comes from member state contributions assessed on the UN dues scale. More than 70 nations were behind in their dues in July, a larger number than usual, in part due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. According to the treaty, nations that have extensive arrears may not vote in CTBTO decisions.

After failing to resolve the voting rights issue earlier this year, CTBTO members voted on Oct. 12 on three proposals to enable some nations to vote. (See ACT, September 2020.) Of the states that are behind in their financial contributions to the organization, 29 filed for exceptions due to exceptional circumstances in order to be granted voting rights for the executive secretary selection process.

An African Group proposal that would have allowed all 29 state signatories to vote who applied to the CTBTO with relevant requests failed to secure the two-thirds majority necessary for adoption. The vote was 35–42, with 12 abstentions.

Russia advanced a compromise proposal that would have restored voting rights to 15 of the 29 that are either in partial arrears; have negotiated a payment plan, such as Afghanistan, Gambia, Iran, Libya, and Sudan; or, in the case of Yemen, are engaged in a civil war. The United States voiced strong opposition to this proposal, apparently because it would have granted voting rights to Iran. The vote on the second proposal also did not reach the necessary two-thirds majority, with 43 in favor, 42 opposed, and 14 abstentions. France, Germany, and Switzerland, which had rejected the first proposal, split with the United States and voted in favor of Russia’s proposed formula.

A Canadian proposal that aimed to restore voting rights for nine states dealing with exceptional circumstances was approved 52–20, with 16 abstentions. The nine countries include Afghanistan, Comoros, Ecuador, Libya, Panama, Peru, Sudan, and Yemen. The original proposed list included Botswana, but it settled its arrears by the time of the vote on the proposal, and its voting rights were automatically restored, according to an email from the CTBTO secretariat to Arms Control Today.

The decision brings the number of countries with voting rights for the organization’s next executive secretary to 123.

According to an Oct. 12 diplomatic note from the CTBTO chair, there are two candidates for the position of executive secretary: incumbent Lassina Zerbo and Robert Floyd, who was formally nominated by Australia ahead of an Oct. 9 deadline. Floyd is currently the director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, which oversees operation of the 23 CTBTO International Monitoring System stations located on Australian territory.


After resolving a voting rights issue, CTBTO members are now able to select the organization’s next leader.

November 2020 Books of Note

November 2020

Political Minefields: The Struggle Against Automated Killing
Matthew Breay Bolton
July 2020

In a book that at times reminds of a travel log, Pace University’s Matthew Breay Bolton begins his examination of “automated killing” with a mine detonation in Bosnia. From that controlled explosion, undertaken as part of a demining effort, Bolton also brings readers to Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos, Sudan and South Sudan, as well as the United States and United Nations, with a lens showing that minefields and other weapons that enable remote warfare are also traps for those who use them.

With a forward written by Nobel Peace-Prize winner Jodi Williams, the book details meetings with civil society leaders, many of whom have been injured by these weapons. Bolton does not hide that he is also part of the international community that champions humanitarian disarmament approaches, but he maintains a critical distance as he describes the history of the use of landmines and cluster munitions, and the ongoing development of artificial intelligence-enabled autonomous weapons, often pointing to the tough political and security dilemmas faced by fearful belligerents.

Conscientious that as a white Western man his “presence has not been unambiguously helpful,” Bolton’s thoughtful first-person acknowledgement of the need to avoid hubris and to listen to those affected is particularly timely as the arms control community more fully grapples with social justice issues.

Nuclear Modernization in the 21st Century
By Aiden Warren and Philip M. Baxter, eds.
February 2020

The substantial modernization of nuclear weapons programs underway in possessor states indicates an elevation in the primacy and salience of nuclear forces in international security. The development of new capabilities, the intermingling of new technologies, and the advancement of new strategic models also feed into the growing importance of nuclear weapons on the world stage and carry strategic and policy implications for global security.

By unpacking and examining these issues, this 222-page collection of expert analyses aims to provide both a technical context and a frame for viewing the various effects of modernization by nuclear-weapon states on their relations with one another and both vertical and horizontal nonproliferation efforts. The book should spark debate as to how nuclear modernization might change, for good or for ill, the calculus of international security in the 21st century.—SHANNON BUGOS

Political Minefields: The Struggle Against Automated Killing, Matthew Breay Bolton

Nuclear Modernization in the 21st Century, By Aiden Warren and Philip M. Baxter, eds.

Esper Envisions ‘Killer Robot’ Navy

November 2020
By Michael T. Klare

The U.S. Navy of the future will be comprised of as many unmanned, robotic ships as of conventional vessels with human crews, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced in an Oct. 6 address. Outlining his vision in a presentation of “Battle Force 2046,” the Navy’s projected fleet of a quarter-century from now, he said the naval lineup will consist of about 500 combat ships, of which up to 240 will be unmanned surface and subsurface vessels.

The prototype autonomous ship Sea Hunter is moored at Pearl Harbor in 2018. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently announced a long-term vision for the Navy deploying a 500-ship fleet, nearly half of which could be autonomous ships. (Photo: Nathan Laird/U.S. Navy)These robot ships “will perform a wide range of missions, from resupply to surveillance, to mine-laying and missile strikes,” said Esper at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. They will do so, moreover, “at an affordable cost in terms both of sailors and dollars.”

Traditionally, U.S. aircraft carriers and their accompanying ensemble of cruisers and destroyers manned by large crews and fliers have symbolized U.S. military might, but such large capital ships have become increasingly costly to build and operate. Furthermore, in this new era of great-power competition and tension, carrier-centric flotillas are becoming dangerously vulnerable to enemy anti-ship missiles. To address these challenges, the Navy envisions a force comprised of small numbers of large manned vessels accompanied by large numbers of small unmanned ships. Such a fleet, it is argued, will be far less costly than one composed exclusively of manned vessels and a fleet that can be deployed in highly contested areas with less concern about the loss of any individual ship.

To make this dream possible, the Navy plans to invest billions of dollars in the development and procurement of three types of unmanned warships: a Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel (MUSV), a Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV), and an Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vessel (XLUUV). The MUSV is intended as a combat-ready variant of the Sea Hunter prototype first put to sea in 2016. The LUSV, thought to be a militarized version of a commercial oil rig servicing vessel, is being developed by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. The XLUUV, derived from the Echo Voyager diesel-electric submersible, is being built by Boeing. In its budget request for fiscal year 2021, the Defense Department requested $580 million for development work on all three systems. It expects to spend $4.2 billion over the next five years to complete development work and begin procurement of combat-ready vessels.

The Navy hopes to save money in this mammoth undertaking by using commercial technology when designing the hulls and propulsion systems for these new types of warships. But it still faces a mammoth challenge in equipping the ships with automated command-and-control systems, which would allow them to operate autonomously for long periods of time and carry out complex military functions with little or no human oversight.

The artificial intelligence systems needed to make this possible have yet to be perfected, and many analysts worry that, in a highly contested environment with extensive electronic jamming, such ships could “go rogue” and initiate combat operations that have not been authorized by human commanders, with unforeseen but dangerous consequences. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Autonomous ships could someday compose half of the U.S. Navy, raising concerns over adequate human oversight.

Open Letter: In Support of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

November 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has starkly demonstrated the urgent need for greater international cooperation to address all major threats to the health and welfare of humankind. Paramount among them is the threat of nuclear war. The risk of a nuclear weapon detonation today, whether by accident, miscalculation, or design, appears to be increasing with the recent deployment of new types of nuclear weapons, the abandonment of long-standing arms control agreements, and the very real danger of cyberattacks on nuclear infrastructure. Let us heed the warnings of scientists, doctors, and other experts. We must not sleepwalk into a crisis of even greater proportions than the one we have experienced this year.

It is not difficult to foresee how the bellicose rhetoric and poor judgment of leaders in nuclear-armed nations might result in a calamity affecting all nations and peoples. As past leaders, foreign ministers, and defense ministers of Albania, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey—all countries that claim protection from an ally’s nuclear weapons—we appeal to current leaders to advance disarmament before it is too late. An obvious starting point for the leaders of our own countries would be to declare without qualification that nuclear weapons serve no legitimate military or strategic purpose in light of the catastrophic human and environmental consequences of their use. In other words, our countries should reject any role for nuclear weapons in our defense.

By claiming protection from nuclear weapons, we are promoting the dangerous and misguided belief that nuclear weapons enhance security. Rather than enabling progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons, we are impeding it and perpetuating nuclear dangers, all for fear of upsetting our allies who cling to these weapons of mass destruction. But friends can and must speak up when friends engage in reckless behavior that puts their lives and ours in peril.

Without doubt, a new nuclear arms race is under way, and a race for disarmament is urgently needed. It is time to bring the era of reliance on nuclear weapons to a permanent end. In 2017, 122 countries took a courageous but long-overdue step in that direction by adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a landmark global accord that places nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as chemical and biological weapons and establishes a framework to eliminate them verifiably and irreversibly. Soon it will become binding international law.

To date, our countries have opted not to join the global majority in supporting this treaty, but our leaders should reconsider their positions. We cannot afford to dither in the face of this existential threat to humanity. We must show courage and boldness and join the treaty. As states-parties, we could remain in alliances with nuclear-armed states, as nothing in the treaty itself nor in our respective defense pacts precludes that. But we would be legally bound never under any circumstances to assist or encourage our allies to use, threaten to use, or possess nuclear weapons. Given the very broad popular support in our countries for disarmament, this would be an uncontroversial and much-lauded move.

The prohibition treaty is an important reinforcement to the half-century-old nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which, though remarkably successful in curbing the spread of nuclear weapons to more countries, has failed to establish a universal taboo against the possession of nuclear weapons. The five nuclear-armed nations that had nuclear weapons at the time of the NPT’s negotiation—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China—apparently view it as a license to retain their nuclear forces in perpetuity. Instead of disarming, they are investing heavily in upgrades to their arsenals, with plans to retain them for many decades to come. This is patently unacceptable.

The prohibition treaty can help end decades of paralysis in disarmament. It is a beacon of hope in a time of darkness. It enables countries to subscribe to the highest available multilateral norm against nuclear weapons and build international pressure for action. As its preamble recognizes, the effects of nuclear weapons “transcend national borders, pose grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations, and have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, including as a result of ionizing radiation.”

With close to 14,000 nuclear weapons located at dozens of sites across the globe and on submarines patrolling the oceans at all times, the capacity for destruction is beyond our imagination. All responsible leaders must act now to ensure that the horrors of 1945 are never repeated. Sooner or later, our luck will run out unless we act. The nuclear weapons ban treaty provides the foundation for a more secure world free from this ultimate menace. We must embrace it now and work to bring others on board. There is no cure for a nuclear war. Prevention is our only option.

Adapted from a Sept. 21 open letter from 56 former world leaders and ministers, including Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general and foreign minister of South Korea; Willy Claes, former NATO secretary-general and foreign minister of Belgium; and Javier Solana, former NATO secretary-general and foreign minister of Spain.


Fifty-six former world leaders and ministers endorse the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

NPT Review Conference Postponed Again

November 2020

The tenth review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has been postponed until August 2021, according to the United Nations. Originally scheduled to begin in April 2020 at UN headquarters, the review conference has been repeatedly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (See ACT, April 2020.)

The UN General Assembly Hall will have to wait until August 2021 to host the delayed 2020 NPT Review Conference.  (Photo: Sophia Paris/UN)Conference president Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina wrote to NPT states in late October that he “will request the [UN] Secretariat to book the necessary facilities and conference services for the period 2–27 August 2021 for the holding of the tenth NPT review conference at United Nations Headquarters, consistent with the review conference’s original requirements.” Zlauvinen requested a decision under the silence procedure with a deadline of Oct. 28.

In an October communication, Zlauvinen, who also serves as Argentina’s deputy foreign minister, had originally sought to reschedule the conference during Jan. 4–29. Those dates, however, proved difficult for many governments, according to diplomatic sources who spoke with Arms Control Today. In addition, the pandemic still makes it impractical to hold large meetings in the near future, they noted.

In his most recent communication, Zlauvinen noted that the new August 2021 dates are based “on the assumption that conference facilities and operations at UN Headquarters have fully returned to the pre-pandemic levels and with the understanding that it can only be confirmed at a later date, when all UN official mandated meetings have been programmed.”

The review conference typically involves hundreds of representatives from most of the 191 states-parties to the treaty, as well as nongovernmental organizations and meeting support personnel. The conference, which will take place 51 years after the NPT entered into force, is designed to review implementation and compliance with the treaty and seek agreement on action steps to overcome new challenges and fulfill core treaty goals and objectives.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

NPT Review Conference Postponed Again

Russia Expands Proposal for Moratorium on INF-Range Missiles

November 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested adding “mutual verification measures” to his proposal for a moratorium on the deployment of missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

These measures, he said on Oct. 26, would focus on Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense systems deployed at NATO bases in Europe and on Russian military facilities in Kaliningrad. Putin claimed that the latter measure would confirm the absence of the 9M729, a ground-launched cruise missile that the United States says violated the INF Treaty and cited as a reason for U.S. withdrawal from the accord in Aug. 2019. (See ACT, September 2019.)

Putin also reiterated that Russia believes the missile was compliant with the treaty and that Russia will continue “not to deploy 9M729 missiles in European Russia” as long as NATO members do not field similar missiles in Europe.

Thus far, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have acknowledged Putin’s offer, but none have definitely accepted or rejected it. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea called the proposal "a non-starter."

The United States believes that Russia has deployed four battalions of the 9M729, for a total of about 100 missiles, in areas of the country able to strike NATO countries. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Washington is moving quickly to develop and deploy this type of missile, according to Trump administration officials, but questions remain about exactly what missiles would be developed and where they would be based. (See ACT, October 2020.)

Putin first proposed the idea of this moratorium in Aug. 2019. NATO rejected it the following month. The United States has also dismissed the idea.—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

Russia Expands Proposal for Moratorium on INF-Range Missiles

Cluster Munitions Used in Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

November 2020

Long-simmering tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh region bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out in late September with shelling between Azerbaijani forces and those of the Armenian-backed but internationally unrecognized state of Artsakh. The conflict has seen the use of cluster munitions, and civilian casualties have resulted.

Azerbaijan has been accused by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of using Israeli-made M095 cluster bombs. Switzerland, as president of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, issued a statement expressing deep concern and condemnation of any use of the weapons by any actor involved. The treaty, which has 110 states-parties, bans the use of the weapons. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Israel have not signed the pact.

Azerbaijan made counterclaims that Armenia used cluster munitions in its own attacks on Azerbaijan, but has yet to provide evidence.

Cluster munitions, which are air dropped or artillery delivered, release up to several hundred smaller submunitions that often fail to explode as intended, at times detonating years later. Civilians account for the vast majority of victims.

States-parties to the convention are scheduled to meet for the treaty’s second review conference on Nov. 23–27.—ALEXANDER BERTSCHI WRIGLEY

Cluster Munitions Used in Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict


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