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Progress on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Inadequate to Meet Threats, New Study Finds
Contacts: Tony Fleming, communications director (202) 463-8270 x110; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director (202) 463-8270 x107.
Washington, D.C.—President Barack Obama failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas over the course of his second term, but did achieve important steps to improve nuclear materials security and strengthen nonproliferation norms, namely the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a new study released by the Arms Control Association, which evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states.
The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2013-2016," is the third in a series that measures the performance of 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories over the past three years. The study evaluated the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possess nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern.
“The United States is investing enormous resources to maintain and upgrade nuclear weapons delivery systems and warheads and is keeping its deployed nuclear weapons on ‘launch-under-attack’ readiness posture. The lack of U.S. leadership in these areas contributes to the moribund pace of disarmament,” said Elizabeth Philipp, the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Arms Control Association, and a co-author of the report.
“Obama should use his remaining months in office to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategies and mitigate the risks of inadvertent use. Obama could consider declaring that Washington will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report.
“U.S. leadership could spur China and Russia to take positive actions and improve the prospects for further disarmament. Russia’s decision to develop a new missile in violation of its treaty commitments and Moscow’s rebuff of attempts by the United States to negotiate further nuclear reductions is very troublesome, as is the expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal and Beijing’s steps toward increasing the alert levels of its forces,” Philipp added.
“Several states did take significant steps over the past three years to strengthen nuclear security, including action by the United States and Pakistan to ratify key nuclear security treaties,” said Davenport.
“The July 2015 nuclear deal struck between six global powers and Iran was also a significant nonproliferation breakthrough that has significantly reduced Tehran’s nuclear capacity and subjected its activities to more intrusive international monitoring and verification. While the international community must remain vigilant in ensuring that the deal is fully implemented, blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons negates a serious nonproliferation concern and demonstrates the consequences of flouting the international norms and obligations,” Davenport said.
“For the third time, the United Kingdom received the highest grade of all the states assessed, while North Korea remained at the bottom of the list with the lowest overall grades. North Korea’s recent nuclear test and its ballistic missile development require the next U.S. administration to pursue more robust engagement with Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities,” Philipp said.
“Our review of the record indicates that further action must be taken by all 11 states if they are to live up to their international disarmament and nonproliferation responsibilities. By tracking the progress, or lack thereof, of these states over time, we hope this report will serve as a tool to encourage policymakers to increase efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons,” Davenport said.
The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.
Basis for the “Standards”
The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has long been recognized as the cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation system. In the 40 years since the NPT entered into force the system has been regularly updated, expanded, and reinforced through bilateral agreements, UN resolutions, Security Council decisions, ad hoc coalitions, voluntary rules-of-the-road, and through concrete actions.
Though uneven and incomplete, this body of widely-recognized standards and commitments provides a baseline for what constitutes responsible behavior for all states. The Report Card has organized these commitments in the following 10 categories:
These initiatives all have been recognized by an overwhelming majority of governments as critical elements of the nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security system.
It is the view of the authors of the report that in many cases these standards are not high enough and additional measures are needed to reduce and eventually eliminate the nuclear threat. The Report Card, however, assesses whether key states are meeting internationally-recognized nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security commitments. It does not take into account recommendations for strengthening the standards assessed that the Arms Control Association supports.
The report grades the states on an A through F letter-scale and details the basis for each grade. The highest grade of “A” requires full adherence to the international standard; a “B” is assigned if the state has taken “significant steps” to adhere to meet the standard; a “C” is assigned if the state has taken “limited or declaratory steps to adhere;” a “D” is assigned if the state has taken “no action” to adhere; and a failing “F” grade is assigned if the state has taken steps “inconsistent with or has rejected” the international standard.
The grades assigned in the Report Card are informed primarily by the stated policies and action of the states, such as their positions on treaties and agreements, laws it has or has not passed, etc. The Report Card also draws upon the findings of international organizations such as the IAEA, and in a few cases draws from unclassified intelligence judgments and widely-respected independent reports.
To the greatest extent possible, the report credits states for concrete actions rather than statements of policy or intention to take an action.
China (2016 grade: C+)
Beijing is the only recognized nuclear-weapon state to increase the overall size of its nuclear arsenal, and is estimated to have 260 nuclear warheads, 20 more than reported in the 2013 version of this study. China is also taking troubling steps toward mating nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and adopting a launch-on-warning policy. Beijing’s expanding nuclear arsenal and actions that would increase its alert status earned it a lower grade in this year’s report. (2013 grade: B-; 2010 grade: B-)
France (2016 grade: B)
France’s grade in criminalization and illicit trafficking improved as a result of Paris ratifying the Nuclear Terrorism Convention. France also earned a small-grade improvement for depositing its protocol to the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (CANWFZ) treaty. Paris, however, has not taken actionable steps toward reducing its own nuclear arsenal in the timeframe of this report, and has rejected calls for further reducing nuclear alert levels. (2013 grade: B; 2010 grade: B)
Russia (2016 grade: B)
Moscow has rejected recent proposals for further nuclear reductions, and has instead taken steps to develop a new ground-launched cruise missile, in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. After reaching the limits set by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Moscow has now increased the number of deployed warheads to levels in excess of the treaty limits. Russia has until 2018 to bring its numbers back within treaty limits.
Russia’s grade on nuclear security also suffered since the 2013 report as it no longer participates in the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and opted out of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit. (2013 grade: B; 2010 grade: B-)
United Kingdom (2016 grade: B+)
The United Kingdom earned the highest overall grade among all states assessed in this report for the third time. London maintains the smallest nuclear arsenal of all the recognized nuclear-weapon states. The United Kingdom also scores high for its activities to prevent illicit trafficking and strengthen nuclear security. (2013 grade: B+; 2010 grade: B)
United States (2016 grade: B)
The United States is continuing to slowly reduce its deployed nuclear arsenal in line with its New START obligations and has pushed Moscow, with no success, to engage in further negotiations to continue bilateral reductions. Since the last report, the United States has also ratified two key nuclear security treaties. Washington, however, lags behind the other recognized nuclear-weapon states on ratifying nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty protocols. (2013 grade: B-; 2010 grade: B)
India (2016 grade: C+)
India continues to expand the size of its nuclear arsenal and enhance its nuclear delivery capabilities. In addition to pursuing longer-range ballistic missiles, India is on the verge of deploying the Arihant submarine, armed with nuclear-tipped submarine launched ballistic missiles. On the positive side, India has made progress by enhancing nuclear security and export controls since the last report. (2013 grade: C+; 2010 grade: C+)
Israel (2016 grade: C)
Israel does not acknowledge possessing a nuclear arsenal, and this lack of transparency extends to its fissile material production, alert posture, and size of its nuclear force. Despite this opacity, Israel has made smaller, incremental efforts toward greater support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and stemming illicit trafficking. Israel’s participation in five rounds of consultations on a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East in 2013-14 also enhanced its grade. (2013 grade: C-; 2010 grade: C-)
Pakistan (2016 grade: C-)
Pakistan continues to produce fissile material for weapons and expand the size of its nuclear arsenal. In 2015, Pakistan publically confirmed that it has developed low-yield, tactical nuclear weapons to arm its short-range Nasr missile.
While Pakistan’s overall grade has not improved, Islamabad has made some positive progress on nuclear security by ratifying a key treaty in 2016. (2013 grade: C-; 2010 grade: C-)
North Korea (2016 grade: F)
In the timeframe covered by this report, North Korea conducted a fourth nuclear test and resumed production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. North Korea also began testing submarine launched ballistic missiles and its intermediate range ballistic missiles. While these capabilities are not yet reliable, they are indicative of North Korea’s trajectory toward a reliable delivery system for its nuclear arsenal.
North Korea continues to be a proliferation concern and is subject to strict international sanctions on banking and sharing of dual-use technologies and information. Despite these measures, North Korea continues to maintain illicit trafficking networks. (2013 grade: F; 2010 grade: F)
Iran (2016 grade: C)
Of all states assessed in this report, Iran has shown the greatest overall improvement, primarily as a result of the nuclear agreement negotiated with six countries in July 2015. When the first report was published, Iran faced intense scrutiny from the international community over the possible military dimensions of its nuclear energy and research programs. Since the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was reached in July 2015, Iran’s nuclear program has been restricted and is subject to intrusive monitoring and verification. Iran also worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to resolve the outstanding investigation over Iran’s past activities related to development of a nuclear warhead. (2013 grade: D+; 2010 grade: D)
Syria (2016 grade: D-)
Due to the civil war in Syria, Damascus has made no progress on its disarmament and nonproliferation commitments, including cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation into its illicit nuclear activities. While Syria has requested help in converting its research reactor fueled with a small quantity of highly-enriched uranium to run on low-enriched fuel, the IAEA has deemed it too dangerous at this time to complete the work. (2013 grade: D-; 2010 grade: D)