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Missile Testing

Missile Testing

"Perceptions of WMD in the Media" — Presentation by Kelsey Davenport at the 2016 James Timbie Forum



Kelsey Davenport, Director of Nonproliferation Policy

Kelsey Davenport, Arm Control Association's director of nonproliferation policy, spoke on "Perceptions of WMD in the Media" and how to engage emerging young professionals in the field of arms control at the U.S. State Department's 2016 James Timbie Forum.

Video of her remarks is available via our Youtube channel, or below.



Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy, at the 2016 Timbie Forum on engaging emerging professionals in the field

2016 Report Card on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Efforts

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Table of Contents

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, July 12

The Iran Deal Turns One It has been one year since Iran and six countries known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) reached the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although there have been slight hiccups along the way, the implementation of the agreement is proceeding relatively smoothly and the parties have been able to resolve most concerns and ambiguities that have arisen thus far. The secretary-general of the United Nations is expected to submit a report this month to the Security Council on the...

UN, IAEA Denounce N. Korean Actions

July/August 2016

By Elizabeth Philipp

Last month, the UN Security Council condemned two new launches of North Korea’s Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) raised concerns about Pyongyang’s recent activities at a nuclear site. 

Council president François Delattre of France stated in a press release on June 23 that the Security Council “strongly condemned the most recent ballistic missile launches” by North Korea. The council released the statement after holding an emergency consultation on North Korea on June 22, following the June 21 test of two Musudan missiles. 

The “repeated launches are in grave violation” of North Korea’s obligations under Security Council resolutions, Delattre said. He expressed the “serious concern” of council members that the tests were conducted “in flagrant disregard of the repeated statements of the Security Council.” Security Council members agreed to “take further significant measures” in response to North Korea’s actions, he said. 

His statement included a call to member states to “redouble their efforts to implement fully” nonproliferation measures imposed on North Korea by the council. The council adopted Resolution 2270 in March in response to North Korea’s nuclear test on Jan. 6 and space launch using ballistic missile technology on Feb. 7. (See ACT, April 2016.)

The United States separately denounced the launches. In a White House press briefing on June 22, spokesperson Josh Earnest stated that Washington “strongly condemns the provocative actions by the North Korean government that is a flagrant violation of their international obligations.”

The two test launches on June 21 were the fifth and sixth tests of the missile system, following previous attempts in April and May 2016. (See ACT, June 2016.) The first four launches of the Musudan were failures. 

The June launches represent a “partial success” for the development of the Musudan system, according to John Schilling, spacecraft propulsion expert and engineering specialist at The Aerospace Corp. The latest missile test “finally demonstrated the full performance of the missile’s propulsion system, and at least a minimally functional guidance system,” he said in a June 23 analysis for 38 North, an online publication of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. 

The first missile tested on June 21 exploded midflight after flying 150 kilometers, and the second one achieved a distance of 400 kilometers, according to a June 22 report in the Korea Times citing the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missile is believed to have a range of up to 4,000 kilometers.

Also in June, the IAEA discussed the resumption of activities at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear site.

The activity observed by the IAEA indicates that North Korea may have restarted its five-megawatt electrical reactor, expanded enrichment capacity, or resumed reprocessing, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said in a June 6 press conference. The IAEA has not had access to the Yongbyon site since April 2009, but is “monitoring the situation, mainly through satellite imagery.” The IAEA “cannot state for sure” the type of activity at the site without inspectors on the ground, Amano said. 

The recent activity at the Yongbyon site suggests that North Korea is “preparing to commence or has already begun” reprocessing nuclear material to separate additional plutonium for weapons use, according to analysis by 38 North dated May 31. Satellite imagery shows delivery of supplies to the radiochemical laboratory and exhaust coming from that facility, according to the report. The imagery, however, indicates that the reactor is operating intermittently and at a low level. North Korea had previously shut down the reactor, but restarted it in 2013. 

Speaking to the application of nuclear safeguards in North Korea, in a statement to the IAEA Board of Governors on June 6, Amano said that he remain[s] seriously concerned about Pyongyang’s nuclear program and that it is “deeply regrettable that [North Korea] has shown no indication that it is willing to comply with the Security Council resolution adopted in response to its nuclear test earlier this year.” 

On June 7, U.S. and Chinese officials spoke on the North Korean issue while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew were in Beijing for the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Kerry met with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, where the two sides “had an in-depth exchange of views on the Korean nuclear issue,” according to Yang. At the press conference, Kerry stated that “neither one of our nations will accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, and we are both determined to fully enforce…UN Security Council Resolution 2270.”

The UN and IAEA criticized North Korea for continuing to test ballistic missiles and for conducting nuclear activities.  

Resuming Negotiations with North Korea


By Elizabeth Philipp
2016 Scoville Fellow
June 2016

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The window of opportunity to prevent North Korea from fielding nuclear-armed ballistic missiles is closing. Diplomatic engagement with North Korea has been scant in recent years. In response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests, the United States and other countries, through actions of the United Nations Security Council and independent policies, have adopted an approach of increasing political and economic isolation. Yet, during this time, Pyongyang has improved its nuclear weapons capability quantitatively and qualitatively.

The next presidential administration must prioritize reviewing and renewing Washington’s diplomatic approach to North Korea. With each successive nuclear and missile test, North Korea advances its knowledge and consolidates its capability. History has shown that it is far easier to convince North Korea to negotiate away a military capability it does not yet possess. Washington’s stated primary concern is a North Korean nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Pyongyang will achieve this capability if it is not reined in through a diplomatic agreement or understanding. Once Pyongyang achieves this status, the security balance in Asia will be disrupted and U.S. diplomats will be hard-pressed to convince North Korea to abandon the capability.


The window of opportunity to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear-armed ballistic missile systems is closing and Washington should explore every serious diplomatic overture from Pyongyang.

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North Korea Tests Land, Sea Missiles

June 2016

By Elizabeth Philipp

In April, North Korea conducted a test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and three tests of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, eliciting international condemnation.

On April 28, North Korea conducted two test launches of its intermediate-range ballistic missile, known as the Musudan. The same day, U.S. Strategic Command released a statement saying that “[i]nitial indications reveal the tests were not successful.” These tests followed an earlier attempt on April 15, which failed after diverting from a normal trajectory. (See ACT, May 2016.) North Korea first displayed a mockup of the missile in an October 2010 military parade. The Musudan is estimated to have a range of up to 4,000 kilometers. 

Meeting on the same day as the Musudan launches, the UN Security Council held a closed consultation on nonproliferation in North Korea. As ACT went to print, the Security Council had not released a statement on the two Musudan launches of April 28, and Yonhap News had just reported a new failed Musudan launch on May 30. Consensus on a statement has been blocked by Russia, according to an NK News report on May 24 citing UN diplomats. The Security Council did condemn the maiden test of the Musudan on April 15. (See ACT, May 2016.)

North Korea’s SLBM test did garner Security Council condemnation. Launched April 23, the KN-11 reportedly flew 30 kilometers before exploding, according to the South Korean joint chiefs of staff cited in a May 1 Yonhap News article. The test may have been designed merely to evaluate “the submarine’s launch systems, missile ignition sequence and initial guidance operations rather than a full operational test,” according to Joseph Bermudez, chief analytics officer for AllSource Analysis, writing for 38 North, an online publication of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. 

The Security Council “strongly condemned the firing” of the SLBM in a press statement on April 24 issued by the council’s president, Ambassador Liu Jieyi of China. The launch “constituted yet another serious violation” of several Security Council resolutions, which prohibit North Korea from “develop[ing] and testing new ballistic missile capabilities.” Liu urged UN member states to “redouble their efforts to implement” the nonproliferation measures imposed by the council’s resolutions, which aim to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and prohibit it from testing ballistic missiles. (See ACT, April 2016.)

On May 26-27, heads of state from the Group of Seven industrialized nations held a summit in the Mie Prefecture of Japan. At its conclusion, the leaders released a joint declaration that condemned “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s nuclear test and “launches using ballistic missile technology” of earlier this year. The declaration also demanded that Pyongyang “not conduct any further nuclear tests, launches, or engage in any other destabilizing or provocative actions.”

In June, Japan, South Korea, and the United States are expected for the first time to test jointly their capabilities to track North Korean missiles. According to a South Korean Defense Ministry official cited in The New York Times on May 16, the joint naval drill will test the ability to detect missile launches, track missile trajectories, and share the information. In April, high-level diplomats from the three states met in Seoul and announced that their countries would enhance their collaboration on North Korea policy in part by increasing intelligence sharing. (See ACT, May 2016.

More Nuclear and Missile Tests Pending?

North Korea’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party held its seventh Congress on May 6-9 (see box below). Ahead of the gathering, South Korean intelligence officials warned of an impending nuclear test by Pyongyang. (See ACT, May 2016.) On May 16, Lim Byeong-chol, director of South Korea’s unification ministry, said that South Korea was still bracing for another nuclear or missile test following the Congress, according to Seoul’s Yonhap News. 

According to a March 15 story published by Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared that North Korea would conduct a “nuclear warhead explosion test and a test-fire of several types of ballistic rockets capable of carrying nuclear warheads…in a short time to further increase the reliability of nuclear attack capability” and ordered preparations to be made. Another nuclear test would constitute North Korea’s fifth since 2006.

North Korea Reiterates Nuclear Posture at Congress

On May 6-9, North Korea held the seventh Congress for its ruling Korean Workers’ Party, which since 1946 has served as a forum for setting political priorities and rolling out policies. The Congress was last held in 1980, when Kim Jong Il was named heir apparent.

At the gathering, the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, spoke about Pyongyang’s nuclear posture. He stated a discretionary no-first-use policy under which, “[a]s a responsible nuclear weapons state, [North Korea] will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes, as it had already declared,” according to transcripts made available by the National Committee on North Korea, a Washington-based nongovernmental organization that focuses on U.S.-North Korean relations.

As Kim highlighted, North Korea has previously described itself as a “responsible nuclear weapons state” and declared a no-first-use policy. On Jan. 6, the North Korean government released a statement that it “will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…under any circumstances as already declared as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.” The statement was released via the state-run Korean Central News Agency following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.

In the same Jan. 6 statement, North Korea stated it will not be the first to “transfer relevant means and technology” for nuclear weapons. Kim reiterated this position at the Congress, stating that Pyongyang “will faithfully fulfill its obligation for non-proliferation and strive for the global denuclearization.” North Korea has a known history of proliferating nuclear delivery technology to other states and is believed to have aided the construction of a suspected plutonium-production reactor in Syria, which was destroyed by Israel in 2007 before being completed.

Kim also stated that the “Party and the [North Korean] government will wage a vigorous struggle to radically put an end to the danger of nuclear war, imposed by the U.S., with powerful nuclear deterrence and defend the regional and global peace.” Earlier in 2016, North Korea released a propaganda film depicting a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile attack on Washington.

The 2013 constitution of North Korea describes the state as “a nuclear state and an unchallengeable military power.”

In April, Pyongyang tested two new types of ballistic missiles, earning UN condemnation.

North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Tests Set the Stage for Party Congress

In the four months leading up to the North Korean Workers’ Party Congress convening on May 6, the country’s young dictator, Kim Jong Un, has ordered up a dazzling display of the country’s putative prowess in nuclear weaponry. The mixed results of nuclear and missile testing may succeed in impressing Kim’s domestic audience and alarming or inciting his neighbors to the south. But the testing also demonstrates that North Korea’s achievements fall far short of its claims and that political goals rather than technological imperatives are driving weapons development programs. All Eyes on the...

North Korea Ramps Up Missile Effort

May 2016

By Elizabeth Philipp

North Korea has recently accelerated efforts to display advances in its ballistic missile program, conducting a test launch of one missile and a ground test of the engine for a different missile in April. 

On April 15, North Korea attempted to launch an intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to an official from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff quoted in a Yonhap story the same day. According to the story, the Korean official described the launch as a failure, saying that after the missile lifted off, it did not maintain a “normal” trajectory. The North Korean media, which is state run, did not report the launch.

The test was of the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to the officials quoted in the Yonhap story. The Musudan was first displayed in a military parade in October 2010 and was not known to have been flight-tested. 

U.S. intelligence had been tracking two mobile ballistic missile systems in the days leading up to the test, according to an April 13 report by CNN. Officials told CNN the anticipated launch would most likely be of the Musudan. 

The UN Security Council “strongly condemned” the launch in an April 15 press statement. Security Council President Liu Jieyi, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, said that although the attempted launch was “a failure,” it “constituted a clear violation” of existing council resolutions. 

The launch came less than a week after Pyongyang claimed to have successfully conducted a “ground jet test” of a “new type” of “inter-continental ballistic rocket” via an April 9 report in the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The rocket engine was designed and produced by North Korean scientists, according to the KCNA report. The test of the rocket engine reportedly took place at the Sohae launch facility on the western coast and was guided by the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. 

The report quoted Kim as stating that North Korea now “can tip new type inter-continental ballistic rockets with more powerful nuclear warheads,” claiming that the United States is within North Korea’s striking range, and emphasizing “the need to diversify nuclear attack means.” 

The KCNA report did not specify for which intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) models the engine was designed. According to John Schilling, a specialist in satellite and launch vehicle propulsion systems at the Aerospace Corporation, the photographs of the test published by the KCNA indicate that North Korea tested a liquid-fueled engine comprising a pair of Soviet-designed 4D10 missile engines. If nuclear-armed KN-08 or KN-14 ICBMs were to be outfitted with this new engine, it would give the missiles a range of 10,000 to 13,000 kilometers, Schilling wrote in an April 11 analysis published on 38 North, an online publication of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. This test, however, indicates that Pyongyang likely “still lacks the ability to design (or buy) engines any larger than the 4D10,” Schilling wrote. The KN-08 and KN-14 are ICBMs under development in North Korea, but neither has been flight-tested. 

In March, North Korea claimed to have conducted a simulation test of a re-entry vehicle. (See ACT, April 2016.) This information, coupled with the ground engine test, indicates that North Korea “might be far enough along to conduct flight tests in as little as a year,” Schilling said. On this timeline, Pyongyang may be able to deploy a complete delivery system by 2020 “in a limited operational capability,” he wrote. 

Meanwhile, in late April, South Korea was bracing for a fifth nuclear test by North Korea. President Park Geun-hye said that preparations for such a test had been detected, according to a Yonhap story on April 18. Park then reportedly ordered her military to “maintain readiness” to “sternly retaliate” against North Korea, according to the report. North Korea last conducted a nuclear test on Jan. 6. (See ACT, January/February 2016.)

North Korea is “several years” away from being capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on an ICBM, according to a senior South Korean government official quoted in The New York Times on April 5. North Korea is able to arm its medium-range Nodong ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead, according to the official, who was cited as saying that South Korea did not have evidence that North Korea has deployed nuclear-armed Nodong missiles.

The Chinese ambassador to the United Nations called North Korea’s attempted launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile “a clear violation” of Security Council resolutions.

States Deepen Cooperation on N. Korea

May 2016

By Elizabeth Philipp

Senior officials from Japan, South Korea, and the United States announced last month that they will bolster their cooperation in responding to North Korea’s recent moves in its nuclear and missile programs.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed strategic coordination on North Korea policy when they met April 19-20 in Seoul. At an April 20 press briefing, Blinken cited increased intelligence sharing as an example of the ways in which the three states will enhance their collaboration on North Korea policy, according to a Yonhap report. The three states also will set up trilateral consultations on sanctions implementation, including those for UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which the council adopted March 2. 

On Jan. 6, Pyongyang conducted its fourth underground nuclear test and, on Feb. 7, conducted a space launch using ballistic missile technology. Pyongyang has, in addition, announced additional advances in its delivery systems in recent weeks and months. (See ACT, May 2016.

The high-level meetings in South Korea followed world leaders’ calls at the nuclear security summit in Washington earlier this year for a greater effort to counter North Korea’s nuclear advances. In remarks on March 31, U.S. President Barack Obama called for states to use existing nonproliferation infrastructure, stating that “it is important to the entire international community to vigilantly enforce the strong UN security measures.” 

Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye met on the sidelines of the summit and “discussed ways to deepen [their] cooperation” with the goal of “deterring the North Korean nuclear threat and the potential of nuclear proliferation as a consequence of North Korean activities,” Obama said at the joint press conference after the meeting. 

Park said North Korea would be “certain to find itself facing even tougher sanctions and isolation” if there were “further provocations” from Pyongyang.

Also in April, the United Nations added to the list of items that its member states are barred from sending to North Korea under Resolution 2270, which the Security Council adopted March 2. 

Román Oyarzun Marchesi of Spain, the chair of the specialized sanctions committee on North Korea, delivered the list to the Security Council in an April 4 letter. The list includes items that are usable in programs to produce nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons or to produce missiles. 

China has continued to take steps to implement the sanctions imposed by Resolution 2270. On April 7, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced a new list of mineral products that cannot be bought from North Korea. The list of additional banned items was adopted “[i]n order to carry out relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council” and includes imports to China from North Korea of coal, iron, gold, and rare earth minerals, as well as exports to North Korea from China of certain aircraft and rocket fuels, with some limited exceptions to the bans, according to the official announcement. 

China has undertaken similar national bans in the past in order to implement UN resolutions, including an executive order to reinforce a blacklist instituted by Security Council Resolution 1874 in 2009, according to Yang Xiyu, a former Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official speaking at an April 20 press briefing in Washington held by the U.S.-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. China has banned more than 900 items for export to North Korea, Yang said. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated his appreciation for China’s actions at the meeting in Hiroshima on April 11 of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries. “China has an enormous ability to send a message to and have an impact on North Korea. And China, we are pleased, joined us in doing some things that have an impact” on North Korea, Kerry said.

Also at the G7 meeting, Kerry stated that the United States has “made it clear that [it is] prepared to negotiate a peace treaty on the [Korean] peninsula,” as well as a “non-aggression agreement” and that the United States is prepared to “welcome the North back to the community of nations.” But in describing these moves toward diplomatic thawing, Kerry emphasized that it “all depends on the North making the decision that they will negotiate denuclearization.”

In March, Kerry had delivered remarks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during which Wang had called for “parallel track” negotiations with North Korea to address both the conclusion of a peace treaty and a denuclearization agreement. (See ACT, April 2016.) At that time, Kerry did not echo Wang’s call for peace talks.

Senior officials from Japan, South Korea, and the United States agreed to increase intelligence sharing and set up consultations on sanctions implementation. 

U.S.: Russian INF Treaty Breach Persists

May 2016

By Kingston Reif

Russia remains in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty for the third year in a row, according to an annual State Department report released on April 11.

Nevertheless, one high-ranking State Department official expressed optimism that Russia and the United States could make progress this year toward resolving the issue. 

Reiterating the public assessment that it made in July 2014 and June 2015, the State Department said Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, July/August 2015.

Moscow continues to deny that it has violated the agreement. The Russian embassy in Washington said in a lengthy April 16 statement that the United States “does not provide objective facts or any other reliable arguments to reiterate these accusations.”

The statement also accused the United States of “preparing military response scenarios” to Russia’s alleged violation that could “have unpredictable consequences for Europe and the international community as a whole.”

In testimony at a Dec. 1 hearing held jointly by House armed services and foreign affairs subcommittees, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said the Pentagon is “developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions” and “committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.” (See ACT, January/February 2016.

As in the 2014 and 2015 reports, this year’s report did not specify the type of Russian cruise missile in question, the number of tests conducted, or the location of the tests.

Defense and State department officials have said they do not believe Russia has deployed the prohibited missile.

In March 17 testimony at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said she had seen “some progress in Russia’s willingness at the highest level to recommit to the treaty” and that the U.S. government is “looking forward to moving expeditiously in 2016 to try to make some progress on this difficult matter.”

Gottemoeller did not elaborate on the reasons for her optimism.

Meanwhile, the compliance report also registered concerns about Russia’s compliance with the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. The report said Russia “continues not to meet its treaty obligations to allow the effective observation of its entire territory.” In addition, the report said that Russia in 2015 refused to allow Ukraine to overfly its territory “unless Ukraine paid for each flight in advance.” This “could be the basis for a violation determination” by Ukraine, the report said. 

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, permits each of the agreement’s 34 states-parties to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

Separate from the compliance concerns, some U.S. military officials and intelligence officials appear to be opposed to Russia’s request in February to end the use of older wet-film cameras on flights over the United States and instead use a more advanced digital optical sensor to collect data. 

Although the upgrade to digital equipment is allowed under the treaty, the concern is that the use of the more advanced cameras and sensors would greatly increase Russia’s ability to collect intelligence on critical military and civilian infrastructure. 

Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee at a March 2 hearing that he has “great concern about the quality of the [digital] imagery” for intelligence collection purposes and “would love to deny the Russians…that capability.” 

The United States has yet to transition to the use of the more advanced digital sensors in its treaty flights over Russia, but plans to do so in the near future.

Gottemoeller told lawmakers at the March 17 hearing that she has “a somewhat different view of the utility of the treaty” than Stewart does. 

“I do want to stress that the Open Skies Treaty is an arms control treaty with a larger set of goals and purposes, among them confidence building, mutual confidence building,” she said. 

“It has a great value to our allies and to our partners,” such as Ukraine, Gottemoeller said, adding that Ukraine has “made great use of the treaty” during its ongoing confrontation with Russia.—KINGSTON REIF

For the third year in a row, the State Department declared Russia to be in violation of the arms control pact, despite Moscow’s continued denial. 


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