"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
October 2020

Arms Control Today October 2020

Edition Date: 
Thursday, October 1, 2020
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CTBTO Begins Leadership Selection Process

October 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Divisions among states-parties to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) are creating uncertainty as nations work to select the next leader of the treaty’s implementing body. Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso is in the final nine months of his second four-year term at the helm of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), and treaty members intend to select the organization’s next executive secretary at their semiannual meeting on Nov. 25-27. Normally a delicate political undertaking, this year’s selection process is further complicated by questions over which states-parties are eligible to vote, given that many are behind in paying their CTBTO financial dues.

Robert Floyd, director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office, has been nominated to lead the CTBTO. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The process for formal nomination of candidates began Sept. 16 and will close Oct. 9. So far, one candidate, from Australia, has formally been nominated to lead the organization. Additional candidates are expected to come forward before the October deadline, according to diplomats in Vienna.

The executive secretary leads the 260-person organization’s work in building up and operating the treaty’s global verification regime in preparation for the treaty’s entry into force, as well as promoting its universality and entry into force. The Vienna-based organization has an annual budget of $128 million, which comes from member state contributions assessed on the UN dues scale.

More than a quarter-century after its conclusion, the CTBT has not entered into force due to the failure of eight holdout states that have failed to sign or ratify the treaty: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States. But the CTBTO International Monitoring System (IMS) is more than 90 percent complete, and its International Data Center is fully operational.

In the run-up to the latest meeting of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission, which began on June 25, the commission chair, Faouzia Mebarki of Algeria, consulted with states-parties on the election process. On June 12, Mebarki sent a note to Zerbo asking about his “availability to serve for another term.” On June 24, Zerbo indicated he would be available “to serve for another term” if member states so chose.

When the chair announced this just two days later, some states were surprised by the announcement. Although it was not a formal proposal to do so, a few delegations were concerned this was an effort to bypass a more open process, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the proceedings.

The European Union, in a June 26 statement, noted that “nothing in the applicable rules prevents the current executive secretary…from running for a third term in a fair, transparent, and competitive process.”

Zerbo, a geophysicist by training, has a long history with the CTBTO. He first joined the organization in 2004 to head its International Data Center (IDC), and he was chosen to be executive secretary in 2013. Since then, he has led work to complete the monitoring and verification system, including by bringing key monitoring stations in China online, strengthening the connections between the CTBTO and the global scientific community. He has also overseen efforts to provide access to IMS data products for member states in real time to assist with tsunami early warnings, responses to North Korean nuclear tests, and other applications.

The potential for a third term was received positively by several delegations as a way to provide continuity during a challenging time for the CTBTO amid the COVID-19 pandemic and disagreements between major nuclear powers. In a July 6 statement posted online, Alexey Karpov, Russia’s deputy permanent representative in Vienna, said “it would be the most painless decision, oriented for consolidation rather than division of member states.”

Several other key member states, however, expressed different views. In a June 25 statement, the U.S. delegation, in understated terms, expressed its opposition to reappointing Zerbo. “The United States generally does not favor more than two terms for the head of an international organization,” the statement said, reiterating the U.S. accusation that Russia has engaged in activities inconsistent with the treaty’s zero-yield standard.

According to sources familiar with the Preparatory Commission discussions, some EU states, including Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, also oppose a third term for Zerbo, as do other notable countries such as Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Australia, historically a strong supporter of the CTBT, has put forward Robert Floyd as its own candidate for the executive secretary position. He is currently the director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), which implements the CTBT, Australia’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty safeguards and physical security commitments, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, and Australia’s 25 bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements. As head of ANSO, Floyd oversees operation of Australia’s 23 IMS facilities.

“A successful candidature would build on Australia's continuing commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and would be the first appointment from the Indo-Pacific, a region that was the scene of so much nuclear weapons testing in the past,” said Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in a Sept. 18 press statement.

States-parties will resume consultations on Oct. 8. As of press time, Zerbo’s name has not been formally put forward into nomination.

One key factor that may affect decisions regarding additional candidates and the selection process itself will be which countries will have a vote on the matter.

As of July, some 73 CTBTO member states had not fully discharged their financial obligations to the CTBTO, which has resulted in the withholding of their voting rights. With this in mind, the Group of 77 and China said in their June 25 statement that “the inclusive participation of all state signatories in the election process is essential for the legitimacy of the entire process.”

Other states, primarily from Europe, countered that allowing voting by states-parties that have not fulfilled their financial obligations would set a bad precedent.

Unpaid dues are a chronic problem for many intergovernmental organizations that depend on a prorated system of contributions from member states. The problem has become more acute this year as many countries’ economies have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Several delegations, including Australia, the EU, Japan, and Russia have said the issue could affect the organization's financial stability and urged all states to fully pay their assessed dues.

After considerable debate and unable to reach agreement on the selection process or eligibility, the June commission meeting was suspended to allow for further consultations in July to try to resolve the matter. The Preparatory Commission meeting was reconvened on July 10, 20, and 24 to reach an agreement on procedures for the executive secretary election, including on how to decide whether states in arrears will be allowed to vote.

According to the final report of the June-July meeting, it was decided that states must meet their financial obligations to the CTBTO by Sept. 15 to be able to vote and put forward a candidate, but exceptions for certain circumstances will be allowed for “conditions beyond the control of the state signatory.” Consideration will be given to states who are making progress toward their annual assessed contribution or to states, such as Iran, who have negotiated a payment plan to meet their financial obligations.

As of Sept. 13, 17 states had made partial payments toward their current-year assessment, a group that includes smaller states such as Côte d'Ivoire and Niue and wealthier states including South Korea and the United States. A group of 65 states, including the Marshall Islands, which was subjected to atmospheric nuclear testing by the United States; Yemen; and even wealthier countries such as Brazil are in financial arrears with voting rights suspended. To date, only 79 of the treaty’s 184 states-parties have fully paid their assessed contributions.

Sources indicate that more than 30 states in arrears have filed for exceptions in order to be granted voting rights for the executive secretary selection process.

On Sept. 10, the African Group issued a joint statement calling on all state signatories to make efforts “within their means, to meet their financial obligations” and for the Preparatory Commission to grant voting rights to countries that are unable to pay their contributions due to factors outside their control.

As CTBTO member states wrangle over difficult procedural and financial matters, there are bigger issues looming on the horizon that may affect the broader CTBT regime: the slow pace of progress toward entry into force, the possibility that North Korea may soon decide to end its unilateral nuclear testing moratorium, the Trump administration’s discussions about the resumption of nuclear tests and possible withdrawal from the CTBT, and unresolved accusations from Washington about Russian violations of the treaty.


Financial difficulties among the nuclear test ban treaty’s states-parties are complicating efforts to select the next leader of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

Pentagon Warns of Chinese Nuclear Development

October 2020
By Julia Masterson and Shannon Bugos

A new U.S. Defense Department assessment of China’s military power found that China continues to expand its nuclear capabilities, but the report seems to provide a less alarmist view of Beijing’s nuclear weapons policy and plans than some Trump administration officials have suggested.

Chinese military vehicles display DF-26 ballistic missiles during a 2015 parade in Beijing. The missiles would be the most likely to field a low-yield nuclear warhead, should China develop one, according to Pentagon assessments. (Photo: Andy Wong/Getty Images)According to the Pentagon’s 2020 report to Congress assessing China’s military capabilities, Beijing is estimated to possess a total nuclear warhead stockpile “in the low 200s.” The September report says that Beijing will likely “at least double its warhead stockpile,” which affirms an earlier department estimate, and that it will do so without new fissile material production.

The report, which covers Chinese security and military developments through 2019, marks the first time the U.S. government has provided a public estimate of China’s nuclear arsenal. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley assessed in May 2019 that China had an arsenal of warheads in the “low couple of hundreds,” but did not provide a specific estimate at that time.

The Pentagon’s estimate of China’s stockpile of nuclear warheads is lower than previously held expert assessments of China’s nuclear capabilities. Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists estimated that China had 290 nuclear warheads in 2019, but the Pentagon’s assessment likely does not include warheads for weapons that have yet to become operational or for dormant bomber weapons, Kristensen and Korda said in a Sept. 1 article.

China has consistently shied away from disclosing the exact size of its nuclear stockpile or corroborating any estimates of its capabilities.

The report also describes China’s pursuit of nuclear-capable, land- and air-based missiles and a potential shift in its nuclear policy doctrine. Although Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, has claimed that China is in the midst of a “secretive crash nuclear buildup,” the Pentagon’s assessment does not appear to substantiate the envoy’s statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized the Pentagon’s assessment and called the report “a deliberate distortion of China’s strategic intentions.”

“China’s strategic intentions are transparent and consistent,” she said Sept. 2.

The report states that China is in the process of further developing its land-based missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.

Beijing’s fixed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) arsenal consists of 100 missiles, including some equipped with multiple independently targetable reentryvehicles (MIRVs) to carry more than one warhead. The Pentagon assesses that China’s development of new ICBMs and advanced MIRV capabilities will strengthen its nuclear deterrent and necessitate increased nuclear warhead production.

Within the next five years, according to the Pentagon’s report, China aims to deploy close to 200 warheads on its land-based ICBMs, which can threaten the United States.

China will also expand its current inventory of more than 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear and conventional warheads to the Pacific and Asian regions.

The Defense Department highlights speculation by Chinese strategists that Beijing may need a low-yield nuclear weapon to “increase the deterrence value of China’s nuclear force without defining specific nuclear yield values.” The report suggests that the DF-26 would be the most likely missile to carry a low-yield warhead due to its capacity to deliver precision strikes. China is not currently known to field any low-yield nuclear weapons.

China aims to diversify its nuclear triad by developing a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile, says the report. During the October 2019 military parade, China revealed the H-6N as a long-range strategic bomber, which would be capable of carrying such a missile.

China’s nuclear policy doctrine, meanwhile, prioritizes the maintenance of a nuclear force so as to survive a first strike and soundly retaliate. Beijing has long held a no-first-use stance, but the Pentagon cites ambiguity with the conditions under which this policy would not hold. Some officers in the People’s Liberation Army have suggested that China should reserve the right to strike should the survival of its nuclear forces or regime be threatened, although no official statement on this front has been made.

Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters on Sept. 14 that he sees “China developing a stack of capabilities that would be inconsistent with a no-first-use policy.” But Caitlin Talmadge of the Brookings Institution noted in a Sept. 16 tweet that even if China is not moving away from a no-first-use policy, “survivability improvements to Chinese nuclear forces are likely to intensify competition with [the United States.]”

China stated in a 2019 defense white paper that it maintains a minimum nuclear deterrent, but the Pentagon report says that Beijing has placed its nuclear forces on a path to exceed the size of such a deterrent, making its posture “more consistent” with a limited deterrent, which Chinese armed forces have described as a level between a minimum and maximum deterrent.

Furthermore, as part of its nuclear policy, China has “almost certainly” kept the majority of its nuclear forces on a peacetime status, with launchers, missiles, and warheads separated. The Defense Department report claims, however, that Beijing is seeking to keep a portion of its forces on a launch-on-warning posture, which would require mating missiles and warheads. As evidence, the report cites exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force that include “assigning a missile battalion to be ready to launch and rotating to standby positions as much as monthly for unspecified periods of time.” It also mentions an investment in silo-based forces and an improvement in early-warning capabilities and command and control, but this evidence is unclear and circumstantial, according to Kristensen and Korda.

Following the report’s release, Billingslea reiterated his insistence that China has a crash nuclear buildup program. Beijing needs to “come clean” about this program, he said in a Sept. 4 tweet, and “sit down for in-person talks, as so many nations have urged.”

Billingslea has led the Trump administration’s push to bring China into trilateral arms control talks with Russia, but China has so far rejected the U.S. effort, pointing to the difference in size of its nuclear arsenal as compared to those of the United States and Russia.

Although the report puts China’s nuclear warhead arsenal in the low 200s, the United States and Russia are each believed to have about 6,000 total nuclear warheads, including retired nuclear warheads awaiting dismantlement. Even if Beijing expands its nuclear arsenal as predicted by the Defense Department, it would still be far below that of the United States or Russia.

“We urge the United States to abandon the outdated Cold-War mentality and zero-game mindset,” said Hua on Sept. 2, and to “do more things that are conducive to the China-U.S. military-to-military relations.”

In the report, the Pentagon also estimates that China has achieved parity with or potentially exceeded the United States in its deployment of ground-launched ballistic missiles (GLBMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM). Where China currently fields more than 1,250 land-based GLBMs and GLCMs, the United States only fields one, a short-range, conventional GLBM. This gap in capabilities demonstrates the steps that Beijing has taken over the past 20 years to “strengthen and modernize the [People’s Liberation Army] in nearly every
aspect,” the report says.

Beijing seeks to boast a “world-class” military by the end of 2049, according to the report.

China has not defined what it means by its ambition for such a military, but the report says that “it is likely that China will aim to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military, or that of any other great power that China views as a threat to its sovereignty, security, and development interests.”


Report Highlights Chinese Interest in New Technologies

One of the recurring themes of the Pentagon’s 2020 report on military developments in China is the strong emphasis being placed on the utilization of emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, quantum computing and encryption, and hypersonics by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

According to the report, Chinese leaders, from President Xi Jinping on down, recognize that advanced weaponry and command-and-control (C2) systems will play a decisive role in future great-power conflicts, and so Chinese forces must endeavor to match U.S. capabilities in this regard and, if possible, overtake them.

“China seeks to become a leader in key technologies with military potential, such as AI, autonomous systems, advanced computing, quantum information sciences, biotechnology, and advanced materials and manufacturing,” the report says. “China’s implementation of AI and a quantum communication network demonstrates the speed and scale with which it intends to deploy certain emerging technologies.”

The weaponization of AI is said to play an especially critical role in Chinese military planning, given that future wars are expected to unfold at extremely high speeds and to entail simultaneous operations in air, sea, ground, space, and cyber domains. As described by Chinese strategists, future operations increasingly will be “intelligentized,” meaning heavily reliant on AI-powered systems to track enemy movements, assess battlefield conditions, and guide PLA operations, all at machine speed.

“Victory in future warfare, according to PLA strategists, will depend upon which side can more quickly and effectively observe, orient, decide, and act in an increasingly dynamic operating environment,” the report says. “As a result, China is pursuing new technologies like AI to support future military capabilities, such as autonomous command and control (C2) systems, more sophisticated and predictive operational planning, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) fusion.”

As part of this effort, the PLA is said to be placing particular emphasis on the development of autonomous weapons and automated C2 systems. Without providing details, the report claims that significant progress has been made in the development of unmanned surface vessels and unmanned tanks, as wells as “armed swarming drones” using AI “to perform autonomous guidance, target acquisition, and attack execution.”

China is also assessed to be making progress in the development of advanced C2 systems that will use AI “to collect, fuse, and transmit big data for more effective battlespace management and to generate optimal courses of action” by commanders in the field. Such initiatives would appear to parallel similar endeavors in the United States, such as the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command-and-Control (JADC2) system. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Among other emerging technologies highlighted in the Pentagon report, considerable stress is placed on Chinese progress in the development of hypersonic missiles. Such weapons, which can fly faster than five times the speed of sound, are said to play an important role in the PLA’s plans for defense against U.S. forces in a future Pacific-wide conflict. However, few details
are provided on Chinese gains in this area, except to note that the Xingkong-2 (Starry Sky-2) hypersonic glide vehicle was successfully tested in August 2018. —MICHAEL T. KLARE

An annual Defense Department report appears to undermine Trump administration assessments
of China’s nuclear ambitions.

India Tests Hypersonic Missile

October 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

India has tested an indigenously built hypersonic weapon that will serve as the basis for a nuclear-capable cruise missile, according to officials involved with the launch. Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said the Sept. 7 test was a success and described it as a “landmark achievement” that contributes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of India becoming self-sufficient.

India displays its Brahmos missile, developed jointly with Russia, in 2018. In September, India tested a different hypersonic cruise missile that was designed and developed indigenously. (Photo: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)India is involved in developing a hypersonic cruise missile in cooperation with Russia. That system, known as the Brahmos II, is based on a supersonic cruise missile. The system tested in September, however, is designed and built indigenously.

Hypersonic weapons travel faster than five times the speed of sound. There are generally two categories of hypersonic weapons, cruise missiles powered by engines, and glide vehicles, which are launched nearly into space before diving back down to their targets.

Proponents of hypersonic cruise missiles, which India is pursuing, say they have several advantages over ballistic missiles. Hypersonic cruise missiles are maneuverable and fly at lower altitudes, making them more difficult to detect, whereas ballistic missiles fly on more predictable trajectories. These characteristics, however, may also make hypersonic weapons more destabilizing as they reduce response time and blur the lines between nuclear and conventional capabilities.

India first launched its hypersonic vehicle in June 2019, but the test failed.

The hypersonic vehicle India tested is powered by a supersonic combustion ram jet, or scramjet, engine after being launched by a solid-fueled ballistic missile rocket motor. The test vehicle flew at an altitude of 30 kilometers at six times the speed of sound for about 20 seconds after separating from the launcher, according to reports from the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which developed the system.

This test, which was conducted from Dr. Abdul Karem Island in the Bay of Bengal, “met all technical parameters,” according to DRDO chief G. Satheesh Reddy and paves the way for more advanced hypersonic systems.

A DRDO statement said that India plans to conduct another three tests in the next five years “to make this platform into a fully-fledged hypersonic weapon that is capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads.”

The DRDO statement said that the test launch “proved several critical technologies including aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic maneuvers.”

Maneuverability is seen as an asset for evading missile defenses.

India appears increasingly focused on developing a deterrent to Chinese capabilities, which may be driving the pursuit of hypersonic cruise missiles.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists involved with developing the hypersonic systems and noted that “very few countries have such a capability today.”

China, Russia, and the United States are all developing hypersonic weapons and have conducted successful tests of their systems.

Displaying its technological abilities, India successfully flew an indigenously designed hypersonic cruise missile for the first time.

Air Force Awards New ICBM Contract

October 2020
By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Air Force last month awarded a $13.3 billion development contract to the Northrop Grumman Corp. to build a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) amid continuing concern about the sole-source nature of the contract and the need for a new missile.

U.S. Air Force officers prepare for a 2010 flight test of a Minuteman III ICBM at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Air Force has awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman Corp. to begin development of a replacement for the missile. (Photo: Andrew Lee/U.S. Air Force)In a Sept. 8 press release announcing the award for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), the Air Force said the contract “advances the nation’s ability to maintain a robust, flexible, tailorable and responsive strategic nuclear deterrent.”

“The increased accuracy, extended range and improved reliability” of the new missile, the release said, “will provide the United States a broader array of options to address unforeseen contingencies, giving us the edge necessary to compete and win against any adversary.”

The announcement of the award was anti-climactic given that Northrop has not had any competition for the contractsince last summer.

After narrowing the search to two competitors in 2017, the Boeing Co. said last year that it would not bid on the contract, leaving Northrop as the only remaining contender. (See ACT, September 2019.) Boeing subsequently proposed to team up with Northrop, but Northrop refused. (See ACT, October 2019.)

There is no precedent for the absence of competition for a development contract the size of the GBSD program, which has prompted concern from some lawmakers.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) accused the Air Force last October of being “way too close to the contractors that they are working with.”

“This is really, really bad because competition is a good thing,” he said.

The Pentagon, however, has asserted that the GBSD program remains on track. Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, praised the program in remarks to reporters on Sept. 14 as “a pathfinder.”

“I am fully confident in the Air Force’s ability to deliver the requirements and capabilities that I ask for on time, in the budget that they say that they’re going to need,” he said.

The Defense Department is planning to replace the existing Minuteman III ICBM, its supporting launch control facilities, and command-and-control infrastructure. The plan is to purchase 666 new missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed into the 2070s.

The Air Force initially estimated the cost of the GBSD program at $62 billion after inflation, but in August 2016, the Pentagon set the estimated acquisition cost of the program at $85 billion. Bloomberg reported on Oct. 1 that the Pentagon has updated the estimated cost of the program to between $93.1 billion and $95.8 billion.

This does not include the cost for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to build a new warhead for the missile. Known as the W87-1, the warhead is projected to cost $12.4 billion.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request included $1.5 billion for research and development for the GBSD program and $541 million to continue the design of the W87-1 warhead. (See ACT, March 2020.)

A report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in September warned that “[i]t is not clear that NNSA will be able to produce sufficient numbers of pits, the fissile cores of the primary, to meet the W87-1 warhead’s planned production schedule.”

The GAO also said that the NNSA “has not yet developed documented risk mitigation plans to address the risk of insufficient pits to sustain W87-1 production.”

The Defense Department argues that a new ICBM is necessary because the fleet of 400 deployed Minuteman IIIs is aging into obsolescence. The Pentagon also argues that a new missile is essential to maintain the current force of 400 deployed ICBMs and defeat advancing adversary missile defenses.

A 2014 Air Force analysis, however, did not determine that extending the life of the Minuteman III is infeasible. Instead, the study found that the price to build a new missile system would be roughly the same as the cost to maintain the currently deployed Minuteman III.

The service arrived at this conclusion by comparing the total life-cycle cost of the two options through 2075 based on the current requirement to deploy at least 400 missiles for the entire 50-year service life of the new missile system.

Critics of the GBSD program claim that if the requirements for 450 missiles, a 50-year service life, and new capabilities are relaxed, then it is possible to extend the life of the Minuteman III for a period of time beyond 2030 and at less cost than the current approach.

“There is plenty of argument that we can extend the life of the existing ICBMs if we rely on fewer,” Smith said last October.

The Congressional Budget Office projected in 2017 that $17.5 billion in fiscal year 2017 dollars could be saved through 2046 by delaying development of a new ICBM by 20 years and instead extending the life of the Minuteman IIIs by buying new engines and new guidance systems for the missiles. (See ACT, December 2017.)

The fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and defense appropriations legislation passed by both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House this summer supported the Pentagon’s funding request for the GBSD program.

The legislation also supported the NNSA request for the W87-1 warhead.

The House-passed version of the NDAA, however, raises concerns about the complexity and cost of the GBSD program. The bill requires a report on the Air Force’s “planning in the event of a delay to full operating of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program of at least four years” and options to mitigate “risks to obsolesce of the Minuteman III weapon systems.”

The Trump administration is pressing to replace U.S. ICBMs.

Saudi Arabia, IAEA Discuss Safeguards

October 2020

Saudi Arabia and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are engaging in talks to amend the country’s safeguards agreement, seeking to provide the agency with additional tools to verify the peaceful nature of Saudi Arabia’s expanding nuclear program.

Khalid Al-Sultan (left), leader of Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy program, meets with Cornel Feruta, the acting IAEA director-general, in September 2019. Saudi and IAEA officials have continued to discussing upgrading the nation's safeguards agreement with the agency. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)Saudi Arabia currently has in place a small quantities protocol (SQP) with the IAEA, concluded in 2005. SQPs are applied to nations with little or no nuclear activities. They were designed in the early 1970s to fulfill the IAEA’s safeguards mandate without overburdening agency resources on states with negligible safeguards-applicable activities and material. Under the original SQP, the IAEA has a limited tool kit with which it can inspect and verify the peaceful nature of Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program.

As Riyadh moves to grow its civilian nuclear program, including by pursuing construction of a facility possibly used for the production of uranium yellowcake, IAEA officials and states within the region have called on Saudi Arabia to expand the scope of its safeguards agreement with the agency. (See ACT, September 2020.) Saudi Arabia also plans to operate two large nuclear power reactors and is currently constructing its first research reactor at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Al Jazeera reported on July 21.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said on Sept. 14 that the agency is in talks with Saudi Arabia, adding that the kingdom is “interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful purposes of course.”

News of discussions between Saudi Arabia and the IAEA came amid a greater effort by Grossi to strengthen implementation of a revised SQP. “In 2020, the old standard SQP is simply not adequate,” Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors on Sept. 14.

The agency adopted a revised SQP in 2005 that expands the IAEA’s safeguards privileges. Where the original SQP limited IAEA verification activities and did not require states to submit a declaration of nuclear activities, the revised SQP updates certain requirements, most notably the submission of a declaration report and the possibility of IAEA safeguards inspections.

Ninety-four qualifying states have adopted the revised SQP, but 31 maintain agreements under the original version, according to the IAEA. Saudi Arabia was the last state to conclude an SQP with the original text and has not amended its agreement. “I have decided to reinvigorate the agency’s efforts to encourage all remaining states to amend or rescind their SQPs,” Grossi urged.

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program remains in its early developmental stages, meaning that it can still be effectively safeguarded under an SQP model agreement. But should Saudi Arabia introduce nuclear materials, such as low-enriched uranium, and operate a nuclear reactor, it will be obligated to rescind its SQP and transition to a full-scope comprehensive safeguards agreement with the agency.

“When they upgrade their activities including by the introduction of nuclear material in the kingdom, then we will have to have a stronger safeguards system,” Grossi confirmed.

Grossi said Riyadh and the IAEA are also discussing implementation of an additional protocol to the nation’s safeguards agreement, which would further strengthen the agency’s safeguards in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, IAEA Discuss Safeguards

CEND Moves Forward

October 2020

A September meeting of the leadership group of the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative marked the starting point for executing the programs of work the initiative agreed on in November 2019 in advance of the 2020 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

“We are now at a critical threshold,” said Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, in his opening remarks at the Sept. 3 virtual meeting. The initiative is moving “from laying the groundwork for the deep thinking and far-ranging inquiry that the disarmament challenge demands to actually setting off down that path of thoughtful exploration,” he said.

Diplomats from 43 countries are involved in the initiative, according to Ford, which includes nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states and some countries not party to the NPT.

Three working subgroups compose the initiative, with each group focused on one specific issue: the reduction of the perceived incentives for states to acquire or increase their nuclear stockpiles, the function and effectiveness of existing nuclear disarmament mechanisms and institutions, and potential interim measures to reduce risks related to nuclear weapons. Following the November meeting, each subgroup developed its own program of work to be carried out over two years. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The leadership group consists of the two countries appointed to lead each subgroup: Morocco and the Netherlands, South Korea and the United States, and Finland and Germany, respectively. Representatives from some nongovernmental organizations also participate.

Sources familiar with the initiative told Arms Control Today that the organizers plan to virtually convene a meeting of the full group in November.—SHANNON BUGOS

CEND Moves Forward


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