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"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
Daryl G. Kimball

Op-Ed: How Obama can slash defense budget: Cut unnecessary nuclear weapons programs

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By Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

The following piece was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor on January 19, 2012.

In order to reach its goal of at least $480 billion in Pentagon savings over the next decade, the Obama administration must scale back previous schemes for a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Earlier this month, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlined a more streamlined and affordable defense strategy that envisions a more limited role and smaller budget for US nuclear weapons.

While they were short on specifics, it is clear that in order to reach the administration’s goal of at least $480 billion in Pentagon savings over the next decade, previous schemes for a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems must be scaled back.

The Navy has been seeking 12 new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to carry more than 1,000 nuclear warheads into the 2070s, at a total cost of almost $350 billion. The Air Force has sought a new, nuclear-armed strategic bomber that would cost at least $68 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based ballistic missiles.

In July, then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright explained that “… we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don’t have the money to do it.”

But as the new defense strategy correctly asserts, “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force...”

Such adjustments are long overdue. Today, more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, US and Russian nuclear arsenals still exceed what is reasonably necessary to deter nuclear attack. The United States deploys 1,790 strategic warheads, while Russia deploys 1,560 strategic warheads. Each side possesses thousands more warheads in storage.

No other nuclear-armed country deploys more than 300 strategic warheads; China has no more than 40 to 50 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles. Just one US nuclear-armed submarine could devastate an entire nation and kill millions.

Rather than maintaining obsolete arsenals that they neither need nor can afford, leaders in Washington and Moscow could pursue further, reciprocal reductions in their overall strategic nuclear forces – to 1,000 warheads or fewer each – and still retain more than enough megatonnage to deter nuclear attack by any current or future adversary.

There are three key ways in which the president and the Congress can trim at least $45 billion from strategic nuclear force modernization programs over the next 10 years.

The first step is to downsize the nuclear-armed submarine force. By reducing the Trident nuclear-armed sub fleet from 14 to eight or fewer boats and building no more than eight new nuclear-armed subs, the US could save roughly $27 billion over 10 years, and $120 billion over the 50-year lifespan of the program.

And by increasing the warhead loadings on each submarine, the Navy could still deploy the same number of strategic nuclear warheads at sea as currently planned under the New START treaty (about 1,000).

Second, work on a new strategic bomber should be delayed. There is no rush to field a fleet of new bombers given the Pentagon’s plan to retain 60 of its existing nuclear-capable, long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers into the 2040s. Delaying work on the new bomber program would save $18 billion over the next decade, according to the Pentagon.

For additional savings, the Pentagon could consider reductions to its land-based strategic missile force from 420 to 300 by cutting one squadron at each of the three Air Force bases where such missiles are deployed and foregoing a follow-on missile program to replace the existing force.

Some may believe that further reductions in US nuclear forces might encourage other states to improve their nuclear weapons capabilities. In reality, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on an excessive nuclear force does nothing to help convince nations, such as Iran or North Korea, or terrorist actors to abandon their pursuit of dangerous weapons.

Moreover, by maintaining a larger nuclear force than America needs, it is more likely to induce Russia to build up its nuclear arsenal, which only undermines international security.

We can expect the congressional “doomsday caucus” – many of them have strategic nuclear weapons bases in their states – will oppose any reduction in the number of nuclear-armed subs, missiles, or bombers for fear of losing defense dollars and jobs in their districts.

But fresh thinking is in order. Programs that address low-priority threats must be scaled back to make room for more pressing national priorities and reduce the deficit. Smart reductions in spending on unnecessary new nuclear weapons systems would enhance US security.

Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the independent Arms Control Association. Tom Z. Collina is research director

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By Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

The following piece was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor on January 19, 2012.

In order to reach its goal of at least $480 billion in Pentagon savings over the next decade, the Obama administration must scale back previous schemes for a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems.

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Indonesia Ratifies Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Daryl G. Kimball

The Indonesian House of Representatives approved the ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on Dec. 6, decreasing the number of states that must ratify the pact before its entry into force from nine to eight.

Indonesia signed the CTBT in 1996 and is the 156th country to ratify the treaty, which prohibits all nuclear weapons test explosions.

Formal entry into force of the CTBT requires that a specific group of 44 states named in Annex 2 of the treaty ratify it. Eight more Annex 2 states must still ratify the treaty to trigger formal entry into force: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States.

In comments following Indonesia’s parliamentary vote, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said, “I am determined to ensure that Indonesia’s decision today will create momentum to encourage others who are still holding out to do the right thing. And the only right thing is to ratify the CTBT now, no more procrastination, no more delaying because it is right, it is proper, and it makes a more secure world.”

Indonesia—the world’s fourth most-populous country—is currently the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and recently helped negotiate an agreement between that group and the five original nuclear-weapon states to enable them to accede to the Treaty of Bangkok’s protocol. (See ACT, December 2011.) Under the protocol, nuclear-weapon states pledge to respect the Southeast Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone created by the pact.

Following Indonesia’s ratification vote, Ismet Ahmad, a lawmaker from the National Mandate Party, called on the world’s nuclear-armed countries, especially Israel and the United States, to follow suit. “Indonesia’s ratification has no significance unless other nuclear states take the same step,” he said, according to an Agence France Presse report.

In a Dec. 6 statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged others to ratify the treaty. “My message is clear: Do not wait for others to move first,” Ban said. “Take the initiative. Lead. The time for waiting has passed.”

In a joint op-ed published Dec. 18 on Al Jazeera’s Web site, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, who currently lead outreach efforts to the states that have not yet ratified the treaty, addressed the eight nonparties directly. “[N]ow the spotlight is on you,” they said.

In a statement issued Dec. 6, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Indonesia’s ratification and said, “The United States remains fully committed to pursuing ratification of the Test Ban Treaty and will continue to engage members of the Senate on the importance of this Treaty to U.S. security. America must lead the global effort to prevent proliferation, and adoption and early entry into force of the CTBT is a vital part of that effort.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Indonesia’s leadership. In a Dec. 6 statement, she said the United States “calls on all governments to declare or reaffirm their commitment not to conduct explosive nuclear tests” and “urge[s] all states that have not yet ratified the treaty to join us in this effort.”

Last May, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher announced that the Obama administration had begun informal briefings of senators and staff on the key technical and scientific issues that were cited as reasons for opposing the treaty in 1999, when the Senate voted it down. Those briefings have continued. Several members of Congress also have toured the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s headquarters in Vienna in the past year.

However, with the presidential election campaign under way and a new National Academy of Sciences report on the technical issues surrounding the treaty still under declassification review, few observers believe there is sufficient time for the Senate to conduct an in-depth review of the treaty before U.S. elections in November.

The Indonesian House of Representatives approved the ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on Dec. 6, decreasing the number of states that must ratify the pact before its entry into force from nine to eight.

Next Moves on North Korea

Daryl G. Kimball

North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il may be gone, but the dangers posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs persist. Although the long-term future of the regime under the new young ruler, Kim Jong Un, remains uncertain, it is clearly in the United States’ interest to get the much-delayed denuclearization process back on track.

A third round of U.S.-North Korean bilateral talks was to have been held in December but was delayed as news of the elder Kim’s demise broke. Those talks were expected to lead to U.S. food assistance to the impoverished North and the renewal of six-party negotiations addressing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Now, as the symbolically important 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung approaches, it is vital that President Barack Obama re-engage the North Korean regime and re-establish a verifiable freeze of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs before they take yet another turn for the worse. Pyongyang has publicly and privately said it would be willing to impose such a freeze in return for resuming the six-party talks.

Given that further international sanctions and isolation will not alter the North’s behavior or precipitate “regime change,” Republicans and Democrats interested in protecting U.S. and international security have an obligation to put election-year politics aside and support the administration’s efforts to restart the nuclear talks.

Although North Korea’s leaders may not be willing to negotiate away their nuclear weapons program altogether, they still appear to be willing to abandon portions of it in exchange for improved relations with the United States and the possibility of much-needed investment from South Korea. For Washington and its allies in Asia, it is essential that North Korea’s nuclear program remain as limited as possible.

For now, North Korea possesses enough plutonium for fewer than a dozen bombs, but if left unchecked, it could soon amass a larger and more deadly arsenal. A successful, third nuclear weapons test explosion could allow North Korea to prove a miniaturized warhead design that might be used to arm short- or medium-range ballistic missiles.

Although North Korea has a substantial arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles, its two intercontinental-range Taepo Dong-2 tests ended in failure. Further tests of North Korean long-range ballistic missiles, if successful, would likely expand Pyongyang’s nuclear reach.

As part of the six-party denuclearization process, North Korea shut down its plutonium-production facility at Yongbyon in July 2007, but it has built centrifuge arrays that could be improved and expanded to enable it to generate enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for one to two bombs per year.

Siegfreid Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was shown “astonishingly modern” uranium-enrichment facilities during his November 2010 tour of the Yongbyon complex. Hecker believes the centrifuges are probably configured to make low-enriched uranium for a light-water power reactor now under construction. These centrifuges, however, could be converted to produce HEU fuel, and North Korea probably has additional centrifuges at other locations.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have not visited Yongbyon since 2009, when North Korea withdrew from the six-party talks. It is essential that the agency be allowed to return to verify that North Korea is not enriching uranium to weapons grade at Yongbyon and to learn more about Pyongyang’s enrichment work.

For these reasons and others, Obama should seize—or create—the opportunity to resume talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. To start, the goal should be to persuade North Korea to agree to steps it previously has taken: halting plutonium production and uranium enrichment at Yongbyon, refraining from further nuclear test explosions and medium- and long-range ballistic missile flight tests, and allowing IAEA inspectors back into the country.

Once these steps are in place, Washington should press for wider IAEA inspections, guarantees that North Korea has suspended all nuclear and missile exports, and its return to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

North Korea will likely seek fuel and food supplies and the normalization of relations in exchange for nuclear restraint. If so, that is a bargain worth making, given the risks.

It also is likely that Pyongyang’s leaders will revive their request for outside assistance for the construction of a nuclear power reactor. This would be politically risky and unwise for the United States to agree to do, but is something that China or Russia might provide as a further inducement for North Korean denuclearization.

As South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Jan. 2, the Korean peninsula is “at a turning point.” Doing nothing in the face of the risk of new and more dangerous North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities is not an option. The only option that has succeeded in limiting North Korea’s nuclear and missile potential over the years has been U.S.-led disarmament diplomacy. Now is the time to act. ACT

North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il may be gone, but the dangers posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs persist. Although the long-term future of the regime under the new young ruler, Kim Jong Un, remains uncertain, it is clearly in the United States’ interest to get the much-delayed denuclearization process back on track.

U.S. Suspends CFE Treaty Implementation

Daryl G. Kimball

In response to the long-running dispute with Russia over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty regime, the U.S. Department of State announced in a Nov. 22 press release that Washington “would cease carrying out certain obligations” under the CFE Treaty with regard to Russia, putting the future of the 1990 pact in serious doubt.

At a press briefing the same day, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the decision means that the United States “will not accept Russian inspections of our bases under the CFE [Treaty], and we will also not provide Russia with the annual notifications and military data called for in the treaty.” She added that “it is our understanding that a number, if not all, of the U.S. NATO allies will do the same.”

Nuland said the U.S. action “comes after the United States and NATO allies have tried over the past four years to find a diplomatic solution following Russia’s decision in 2007 to cease implementation with respect to all other 29 CFE [Treaty] states.” Russia claimed its 2007 action was a response to NATO member states’ decision to condition their ratification of the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty on the resolution of a dispute over Russian military deployments in parts of Moldova and Georgia.

According to the press release, Washington “will continue to implement the Treaty and carry out all obligations with all States Parties other than Russia” and will not exceed the pact’s numerical limits on conventional armaments. The United States would resume full CFE Treaty implementation “if Russia resume[d] implementation of its Treaty obligations,” according to the statement.

Beginning in 2010, the Obama administration sought to resolve the CFE dispute through the development of a draft “framework” for new negotiations to strengthen the CFE Treaty regime. But by mid-2011, the talks stalled as Russia could not agree to the principle of host-country consent or to a resumption of compliance with the original CFE Treaty. (See ACT, September 2011.)

In response to the long-running dispute with Russia over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty regime, the U.S. Department of State announced in a Nov. 22 press release that Washington “would cease carrying out certain obligations” under the CFE Treaty with regard to Russia, putting the future of the 1990 pact in serious doubt.

Time to Rethink and Reduce Nuclear Weapons Spending

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Volume 2, Issue 16, December 2, 2011

The supercommittee’s Nov. 21 failure to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan has triggered deep, automatic reductions in future U.S. defense spending. At the same time, some in Congress are finally beginning to examine how much the United States plans to spend on nuclear weapons in the years ahead.

Through it all, one thing is clear: the changing security environment and increasing budget pressure mean that the United States can and should spend less on nuclear weapons than previously planned.

The automatic reductions, known as “sequestration,” will double the amount of money the Pentagon must cut from its projected budget growth, from about $450 billion to roughly $1 trillion, over the next decade. These cuts could get derailed before they take effect in 2013, but that outcome is impossible to predict. The Pentagon and Congress have to plan for these reductions, and they should start now.

Where should the budget cuts come from? For starters, we should stop funding excessive, Cold War-era nuclear weapon systems and capabilities that do not help address current or likely security threats.  As the Obama administration noted in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), “The massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War era of bipolar military confrontation is poorly suited to address the challenges posed by suicidal terrorists and unfriendly regimes seeking nuclear weapons.”

The most pressing security threats we face today, such as terrorism and cyber attack, simply cannot be addressed with nuclear weapons. The United States does not need to continue to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads as is allowed under the New START treaty to deter nuclear attack from Russia or any other nuclear-armed state, nor does it need to spend hundreds of billions over the next decade to rebuild the nuclear “triad.”

At the same time, the Obama administration is re-examining the fundamental purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons and how many the country really needs. This review, called the NPR Implementation Study, will likely alter obsolete nuclear deterrence requirements and clear the way for further reciprocal nuclear reductions with Russia.

Even though current nuclear delivery systems will remain operational for another 20-30 years, key decisions on their replacements are being made right now.

Major procurement decisions should be informed by the results of the administration’s review of nuclear forces. To its credit, Pentagon officials told Congress last month that “no decisions have been made with respect to future force sizing or the modernization plans for nuclear delivery systems; such decisions will be informed by the Administration’s ongoing review of deterrence requirements."

Rather than build a new, more expensive version of the nuclear triad from the 1960s, we must recognize that the world has changed. The Cold War ended 20 years ago, but U.S. and Russian arsenals far exceed what is necessary to deter nuclear attack. According to the State Department, as of Sept. 1 the United States deployed 1,790 warheads on 822 strategic delivery vehicles, and Russia deployed 1,566 warheads on 516 strategic delivery vehicles. Each side possesses thousands more warheads in storage.

No other nuclear-armed country deploys more than 300 strategic warheads; China has no more than 40 to 50 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles. Nevertheless, both Russia and the United States currently plan to spend scarce resources to modernize and deploy excessive numbers of nuclear weapons for decades to come.

The United States can save at least $45 billion over the next 10 years and still maintain a formidable and survivable nuclear force.  Here’s how:

Rightsize the submarine force: Current Navy plans call for 12 new ballistic missile submarines—each with 16 nuclear-armed missiles—to replace the existing fleet of 12 operational Trident subs. Each new sub would cost an average of $7 billion; the entire fleet would cost $350 billion to build and operate over 50 years. The United States can rightsize the current and future ballistic missile submarine fleet from 12 to 8 and save $27 billion over 10 years (and $120 billion over the life of the program). Eight operational boats would allow the Pentagon to deploy the same number of sea-based warheads (about 1,000) as planned under New START.

Delay the new strategic bomber: The Air Force plans to retain 60 nuclear-capable, long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers into the 2040s, but has begun research on a new nuclear-capable heavy bomber, which could cost $50 billion or more to build. It would carry a new air-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile. There is no rush to field a new bomber given that the Pentagon’s plan to deploy 60 heavy bombers under New START will be be achieved with existing aircraft. Delaying this program would save $18 billion over the next decade, according to the Pentagon.

For additional savings, the Pentagon could consider reductions to its land-based strategic missile force. The Air Force plans to maintain a force of up to 420 land-based missiles through 2030, and wants to buy a follow-on missile in the future. An additional $8 billion could be saved by “eliminating” the land-based missile leg of the nuclear triad, according to the Pentagon. Short of elimination, these missiles could be reduced and the follow-on missile program cancelled.

The Bottom Line

Wasting billions on an excessive nuclear force does nothing to help convince nations, such as Iran or North Korea, or terrorist actors to abandon their pursuit of dangerous weapons.

Nevertheless, “defense hawks” in Congress are calling the sequestration “dangerous” and the military services are lining up to protect their pet programs, such as the new ballistic missile submarine.

Fresh thinking is in order. The automatic reductions, although large, are achievable if done smartly. National security can actually be enhanced through greater budget discipline. Programs that address low priority threats must be scaled back to preserve more pressing national security needs.

As Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Nov. 11, “The amount of money we’re spending on maintaining nuclear weapons, modernizing nuclear weapons, is not in keeping with the modern world. It’s much more a Cold War remnant.”

For the good of the country, it is time to fundamentally rethink federal spending on nuclear weapons. –Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball

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Volume 2, Issue 16, December 2, 2011

The supercommittee’s Nov. 21 failure to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan has triggered deep, automatic reductions in future U.S. defense spending. At the same time, some in Congress are finally beginning to examine how much the United States plans to spend on nuclear weapons in the years ahead.

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Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran

Daryl G. Kimball

The Obama administration entered office in 2009 seeking both to maintain pressure on Iran to comply with its nonproliferation obligations and to engage Tehran in a renewed dialogue on confidence-building measures to allay concerns about the purpose of its nuclear program.

But Iran’s fraudulent 2009 election, its pursuit of a second enrichment site near Qom, and the ongoing power struggle between key factions in Tehran have undermined the engagement track. Last January’s meeting in Istanbul revealed that Iranian negotiators were not prepared to seriously discuss even modest, interim proposals.

Today, the Obama administration still speaks of its interest in serious talks, but its Iran policy emphasizes pressure more than engagement. Washington must rebalance its approach by renewing discussions on a step-by-step process that leads to more-intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and the confidence-building steps that are essential to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.

International pressure on Iran is at an all-time high. UN Security Council sanctions approved in 2010 have slowed Iran’s nuclear and missile efforts and are steadily being implemented by more and more countries. Last month, 32 of the 35 members of the IAEA Board of Governors agreed to censure Iran’s weapons-related activities. This increasing international pressure was possible only because of the Obama administration’s willingness to engage Iran, and it will be put at risk if Washington minimizes the diplomatic track.

The latest IAEA report underscores that Iran was engaged in a comprehensive nuclear weapons-related research program, which was halted in late 2003 after being exposed. Since then, some weaponization-related activities have resumed.

Although the IAEA and U.S. intelligence findings show that Iran is slowly improving its uranium-enrichment capabilities and already has some of the expertise needed to build nuclear weapons, they also make it clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is neither imminent nor inevitable.

Sanctions have bought time and helped improve negotiating leverage, but the time available must be used constructively. Sanctions alone will not turn Tehran around.

Moreover, talk of military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets is counterproductive and naive. The “military option” would set back Iran’s program for no more than a couple of years, convince Iran’s leadership to pursue nuclear weapons openly, rally Iranian domestic support behind the regime, and lead to adverse economic and security consequences.

Ultimately, resolving the nuclear issue will require sufficient pressure and inducements to convince Iran’s current and future leaders they stand to gain more from forgoing nuclear weapons than from any decision to build them.

Rather than being permanently discouraged by Iran’s unhelpful behavior at Istanbul, the United States and its “P5+1” partners—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—should prepare for additional talks with Iran and continue to highlight constructive proposals they are prepared to discuss. This includes outlining the confidence-building steps required to ease the current sanctions regime and end Tehran’s diplomatic isolation.

A near-term goal should be to test Iran’s recent, publicly stated offer to stop producing uranium enriched to 20 percent if it could have access to fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor. A stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium would allow Iran to shorten its time frame to produce weapons; Washington should not forgo any opportunities to reduce that risk.

Another critical objective is to secure more-intrusive access by the IAEA to all of Iran’s nuclear-related activities and convince Tehran to finally address the agency’s questions about weapons-related work. The IAEA needs this increased access to detect and deter any clandestine nuclear activities.

The UN Security Council has also called on Iran to “suspend” its enrichment work as a confidence-building measure. Unfortunately, Tehran has refused to do so, misrepresenting the UN resolution as a denial of Iran’s inherent nuclear rights under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Under the NPT, however, the right to the peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy is conditioned on the responsibility to comply with safeguards against military use. Consistent with the 2006 offer by the P5+1, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has made it clear that, “under very strict conditions” and “having responded to the international community’s concerns,” Iran would have a “right” to enrich uranium under IAEA inspections.

A permanent uranium-enrichment halt would be beneficial and very welcome, but it is not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and it is not realistic given the strong support for enrichment across the political spectrum in Iran. Tying enrichment amounts and levels to the actual needs of Iran’s nuclear power plants might provide an acceptable compromise.

If Iran is unwilling to agree to commonsense confidence building steps, Tehran will remain isolated. But the United States cannot afford to wait for Iran to make the first move. Washington must keep testing Iran’s willingness to change course by taking the diplomatic offensive.

The Obama administration entered office in 2009 seeking both to maintain pressure on Iran to comply with its nonproliferation obligations and to engage Tehran in a renewed dialogue on confidence-building measures to allay concerns about the purpose of its nuclear program.

The IAEA's Iran Report: Assessment and Implications

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Volume 2, Issue 15, November 8, 2011

The IAEA report and annex released today provides disturbing and “credible” additional details regarding Iranian nuclear warhead development efforts that have allowed Tehran to acquire some of the expertise needed to build nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.

The broad outline in the IAEA’s latest report on the military dimensions of Iran’s program is not new, but rather, provides greater detail regarding weapons-related activities outlined in previous public reports.

The IAEA report and annex reinforce what the nonproliferation community has recognized for some time: that Iran engaged in various nuclear weapons development activities until 2003, then stopped many of them, but continued others.

The activities documented in the IAEA report, including research related to nuclear warheads, underscore that Tehran’s claims that it is only seeking the peaceful use of nuclear energy are false.

Iran’s warhead work also contradicts its obligation not to pursue nuclear weapons under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), under which states parties commit “not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

The report suggests that Iran is working to shorten the timeframe to building the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.

The report should prompt greater international pressure on Tehran to respond more fully to the IAEA’s questions, allow for more extensive inspections of its nuclear facilities, engage more seriously in talks on its nuclear program, and to agree to confidence building steps to help resolve the crisis.

Comparison of the IAEA’s Findings with Public U.S. Intelligence Assessments

Because the IAEA report is based largely on intelligence the United States and other IAEA member states have been sharing with the agency for some time, in addition to the agency’s own investigations, the information in the report likely provides greater insight into current U.S. assessments about Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. intelligence community appears to stand by the judgment made in the 2007 NIE that Iran had a nuclear weapons program that was halted in the fall of 2003. Moreover, in his testimony before a Senate committee in March 2011, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that the intelligence community still had a high level of confidence that Iran has not yet made a decision restart its nuclear weapons program.

Because the weapons program is believed to refer to the series of projects the IAEA report details, Clapper’s statement is not inconsistent with the notion that some weapons-related R&D has resumed which is not part of a determined, integrated weapons-development program of the type that Iran maintained prior to 2003.

Consistent with the finding of the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the IAEA report says that a comprehensive weapons program (known as the AMAD Plan) “was stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a ‘halt order,’” in late 2003, but that some of the program’s activities were resumed later. Key personnel are still involved in those renewed activities apparently tying up loose ends regarding their prior research and development work.

Summary of Key IAEA Findings on Weapons-Related Activities

The IAEA deserves credit for continuing to press the issue and to present this important information to the IAEA Board of Governors in spite of Tehran’s unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation. This resolve helps to bolster the integrity of the agency and show that countries cannot simply get away with nonproliferation violations by denial and obfuscation.

According to the report, Iran was engaged in an effort prior to the end of 2003 which ran the full range of nuclear weapons development, from acquiring the raw nuclear material to working on a weapon they could eventually deliver via a missile. Just as important as the type of work being carried out is how that work was organized. The series of projects that made up Iran’s nuclear program appears to have been overseen by “senior Iranian figures” and engaged in “working level correspondence” consistent with a coordinated program.

Key components of this program include:

  • Fissile Material Production: As documented in previous reports, Iran ran an undeclared effort to produce uranium-tetrafluoride (also known as Green Salt), a precursor for the uranium used in the enrichment process. The affiliation between this project and other projects directly related to warhead development suggests that Iran’s nuclear weapons program included both fissile material production and warhead development. Although the report does not detail a uranium enrichment effort as part of the AMAD Plan, the secret nature of the Natanz enrichment plant prior to 2002 suggests that it was originally intended to produce the highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons.
  • High Explosives Testing: Iran’s experiments involving exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonators and the simultaneous firing of explosives around a hemispherical shape points to work on nuclear warhead design. The agency says that the type of high explosives testing matches an existing nuclear weapon design. Iran admits to carrying out such work, but claims it is for conventional military purposes and disputes some of the technical details.
  • Warhead Design Verification: Iran carried out experiments using high explosives to test the validity of its warhead design and engaged in preparatory work to carry out a full-scale underground nuclear test explosion.
  • Shahab-3 Re-entry Vehicle: Documentation reviewed by the IAEA has suggested that, as late as 2003, Iran sought to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on the Shahab-3 missile. Confronted with some of the studies, Iran admitted to the IAEA that such work would constitute nuclear weapons development, but Tehran denies carrying out the research.

The IAEA admits that it has less information regarding warhead-related work Iran has continued to pursue since 2003, but the report has provided some insight into the type of activities that Iran subsequently resumed, which seems to be focused on warhead design verification. The fact that the agency was able to detail some of the organizational changes that have taken place since 2003, including the current position of the person who formerly oversaw the AMAD Plan, suggests that intelligence agencies still have considerable insight into Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran will likely be concerned about its inability to hide such important information and will likely engage in further restructuring following this report, which may delay its efforts once again.

Considering the IAEA's reliance on intelligence information from states, it went through considerable length to demonstrate why it thought this information was credible. It was not just a matter of acquiring consistent information from over 10 countries, but it seems some of the most incriminating evidence comes from the AQ Khan network, which Iran admits it relied upon. The information from the Khan network includes details about nuclear warhead designs the network gave Iran that match up to the research and experiments detailed in the intelligence information.

The IAEA Board of Governors Needs to Respond

The report will be considered by the IAEA Board of Governors at its next meeting Nov. 17-18, along with a draft resolution censuring Iran for violating its nonproliferation commitments. The Board’s 35 members cannot ignore Iran’s warhead development activities or Tehran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into that work. It must also insist that Iran improve its cooperation with the agency prior to the next board meeting.

A consensus response is unlikely given existing divisions among the 35 countries, and in particular, Cuba’s current membership on the board. Beijing and Moscow have also unfortunately played an unhelpful role prior to the release of the report by calling on Director-General Yukiya Amano to limit the information detailed it contains.

However, it is important that the board’s response receives support from as many countries as possible to demonstrate to Tehran that it cannot engage in work directly related to nuclear weapons with impunity.

In particular, developing countries on the IAEA Board of Governors should no longer treat the Iran nuclear issue as a test case for preserving the right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Rather, it is time that all states insist that Iran stop abusing that right for the development of a nuclear weapons capability and take meaningful steps to cooperate with the IAEA and suspend enrichment work, particularly enrichment of uranium at the 20% level.

Rights and Responsibilities

Iran cannot complain that Western states are trying to deny the Islamic Republic its nuclear “rights.” The U.S. position, consistent with the 2006 offer by the P5+1, has been that Iran could resume enrichment some time in the future after it re-establishes confidence with the international community that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explained it to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on March 1, 2011, it is the U.S. Government's position is that "under very strict conditions" and "having responded to the international community's concerns," Iran would have a "right" to enrich uranium under IAEA inspections.

In response to the IAEA’s report, the international community should redouble efforts to implement existing UN Security Council-mandated sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and missile sectors and, if Iran remains unwilling to cooperate with the IAEA and ignore the Security Council, further isolate Iran diplomatically and economically.

Maintain Pressure and Engage

In response to the report, the White House has appropriately underscored that the United States continues to focus on using diplomatic channels to pressure Iran to abandon its sensitive nuclear activities.

To keep open the option for an effective negotiated resolution to the crisis, President Barack Obama should also reiterate the willingness of the United States and its P5+1 partners to follow-through on the recent letter from the EU’s Catherine Ashton to Iran’s leaders offering to engage them in further talks to address the nuclear program.

Continuing pressure through targeted sanctions against Iran’s nuclear and missile sectors, coupled with the pursuit of a negotiated agreement to resolve serious concerns over Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities and to limit its uranium enrichment capacity provides the best chance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.

Talk of military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets is unhelpful and counterproductive. Military strikes by the United States and/or Israel would only achieve a temporary delay in Iran’s nuclear activities, convince Iran's leadership to openly pursue nuclear weapons, rally domestic support behind a corrupt regime, and would result in costly long-term consequences for U.S. and regional security and the U.S. and global economy.

Ultimately, resolving the nuclear issue will require sufficient pressure and inducement to convince Iran that it stands more to gain from forgoing a nuclear-weapons option and much to lose from any decision to build them. –PETER CRAIL, DARYL G. KIMBALL, GREG THIELMANN

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Volume 2, Issue 15, November 8, 2011

The IAEA report and annex released today provides disturbing and “credible” additional details regarding Iranian nuclear warhead development efforts that have allowed Tehran to acquire some of the expertise needed to build nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.

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Science Replaces Nuclear Tests

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Volume 2, Issue 14, November 2, 2011

A front-page story in today’s Washington Post (“Supercomputers Offer Tools for Nuclear Testing--and Solving Nuclear Mysteries) illustrates how far the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program has come since nuclear explosive tests ended in 1992. Scientists at the three U.S. national laboratories now have a deeper understanding of nuclear weapons than ever before.

“We have a more fundamental understanding of how these weapons work today than we ever imagined when we were blowing them up,” Bruce T. Goodwin, principal associate director for weapons at Livermore National Laboratory, told the Post. Goodwin is in agreement with National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) administrator Thomas D'Agostino, who in 2008 said, "We know more about the complex issues of nuclear weapons performance today than we ever did during the period of nuclear testing."

It’s time for U.S. national policies to catch up with the science. The Senate voted against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999, in large part because the stewardship program was as yet unproven. Now, with two decades of experience, the Senate can ratify the CTBT with full confidence that the stewardship program can keep the U.S. arsenal safe and reliable.

Countries with nuclear weapons, such as China, India and Pakistan, cannot create advanced nukes without further nuclear test explosions. Without nuclear tests, Iran could not confidently build warheads for delivery by ballistic missiles. The CTBT would also improve America’s ability to detect, deter, and confront any nation that attempts to break the global taboo against nuclear testing. 

Stockpile Stewardship Passes the Test, Again

Almost 20 years after the last U.S. nuclear test explosion, it is clear that the existing arsenal can be maintained indefinitely, without nuclear test explosions and without pursuing new warhead designs.

Since 1994, each warhead type in the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been determined to be safe and reliable through a rigorous annual certification process. The Stockpile Stewardship Program includes nuclear weapons surveillance and maintenance, non-nuclear and subcritical nuclear experiments, and increasingly sophisticated supercomputer modeling.  Life extension programs have successfully refurbished existing types of nuclear warheads and can continue to do so indefinitely.

A 2009 study by JASON, a high-level independent technical review panel, concluded that the "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence."

And as the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2002, the stewardship program “provides the technical capabilities that are necessary to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of the existing seven types of nuclear warheads in the active stockpile, provided that adequate resources are made available...and are properly focused on this task."

Stewardship Program Adequately Funded

Since fiscal year 2010, the Obama administration has requested, and the Congress has granted, significant increases for NNSA nuclear weapons activities, upping the budget by 10% to $7.0 billion from the previous year. Longer term, the administration has laid out an unprecedented $88 billion, ten-year plan for the nuclear weapons complex from 2012 to 2021. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in 2010 that, "These investments, and the... strategy for warhead life extension, represent a credible modernization plan necessary to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation's deterrent."

On December 1, 2010, the then-directors of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories wrote that they were "very pleased" with the administration's budget plan. Lawrence Livermore director Dr. George Miller, Los Alamos director Dr. Michael Anastasio, and Sandia director Dr. Paul Hommert said that the increased funding plan provides "adequate support" to sustain the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

For fiscal year 2012, the Obama administration is requesting $7.63 billion for NNSA weapons activities. Congress is likely to increase NNSA funding again, but not as much as the administration wants. The Republican-led House appropriations committee increased funding for NNSA weapons activities to $7.13 billion, and the Senate approved a similar increase to $7.19 billion.

However, these minor reductions in the President’s proposed NNSA budget will not prevent NNSA from completing its primary mission.  As House Energy and Water Subcommittee Chair Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in June:

“Yes, ‘Weapons Activities’ is below the President’s request, but this request included hundreds of millions of dollars for construction projects that are not ready to move forward, capabilities that are secondary to the primary mission of keeping our stockpile ready, and, yes, slush funds that the administration has historically used to address its needs…The recommendation before you eliminates these weaknesses and it is responsible.”

Life Extensions: Be Conservative

Beyond funding questions, NNSA needs to ensure that the national labs are focused on the highest priority stockpile stewardship tasks. For example, the labs should only pursue cost-effective, technically conservative warhead life extension strategies that minimize unnecessary changes to already well-understood and proven warhead designs.

From fiscal year 2011 to 2031, NNSA plans to spend almost $16 billion on Life Extension Programs (LEPs) to extend the service life and in some cases modify almost every warhead in the enduring stockpile. This includes an estimated $3.7 billion on the W88 warhead, $3.9 billion on the B61 bomb, $4.2 billion on the W78 warhead, $1.7 billion on the W76 warhead, and $2.3 billion on the W80-1 warhead.

Some enhancements for safety and security may be warranted, but there is a risk. For years, stockpile managers and designers have preached design-change “discipline,” noting that an accumulation of unnecessary design and materials modifications could undermine confidence in warhead reliability.

For example, the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee warned in September that efforts to modify the B61 bomb with “untried technologies” should “not come at the expense of long-term weapon reliability. New safety and security features should be incorporated in weapon systems when feasible, but the primary goal of a life extension program should be to increase confidence in warhead performance without underground nuclear testing.”

As a result, the Senate reduced the B61 LEP budget request by more than $43 million. Former weapons designer Bob Peurifoy, a retired Sandia National Laboratory vice president, said that NNSA’s plans to change the B61 are “risking a very reliable system.”

The NNSA and Congress need to review the current life extension program to ensure that enthusiasm associated with extensively modifying warheads does not get out of hand. Marginal improvements in weapons security and safety should not come at the expense of long-term weapon reliability.  —Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

Description: 

Volume 2, Issue 14, November 3, 2011

A front-page story in today’s Washington Post (“Supercomputers Offer Tools for Nuclear Testing--and Solving Nuclear Mysteries”) illustrates how far the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program has come since nuclear explosive tests ended in 1992. Scientists at the three U.S. national laboratories now have a deeper understanding of nuclear weapons than ever before.

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Strategic Choices on Tactical Weapons

Daryl G. Kimball

In one of the smartest and boldest moves of the nuclear age, President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed in 1991 to withdraw most U.S. and Soviet forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons and dismantle a large portion of those weapons. These actions reduced tensions and the risk of nuclear catastrophe as the Soviet Union broke apart.

On Sept. 27, 1991, Bush announced the United States would end naval tactical nuclear deployments and withdraw and eliminate ground-launched tactical stockpiles. This prompted Russian leaders to pursue reciprocal steps, including the withdrawal of their tactical nuclear weapons to Russian territory.

Twenty years later, however, there have been no formal talks reducing the remaining tactical nuclear stockpiles. This is due in part to Russia’s belief that tactical weapons help counter Chinese and NATO forces and the view among some in NATO that U.S. forward-deployed nuclear weapons are a symbol of alliance cohesion.

In the coming weeks, NATO leaders can take decisive steps to change the alliance’s outdated nuclear policy and open the way for reductions of these Cold War nuclear relics.

Introduced into Europe more than half a century ago to counter Soviet conventional forces, battlefield nuclear bombs serve no meaningful military role in the defense of NATO or Russia. Top U.S. officials acknowledge this point; senior White House adviser Gary Samore has said that “whatever military mission they serve could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe.”

Nevertheless, the United States still stations about 180 nuclear gravity bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. For its part, Russia is estimated to possess 2,000 usable tactical nuclear weapons. The devastating power and collateral effects of such weapons make them inappropriate tools against non-nuclear targets, while the possible loss or theft of these weapons poses additional dangers.

The United States can and must persuade its NATO partners to eliminate any formal military or political requirement for forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in the alliance’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, which is to be completed before NATO’s May summit in Chicago.

The posture review was launched earlier this year to determine “the appropriate mix of conventional, nuclear, and missile defence forces”—an issue that alliance members failed to resolve in the course of their deliberations on their November 2010 Strategic Concept.

The Strategic Concept declares that it is NATO’s goal to “seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on its nuclear weapons in Europe and relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members.”

To spur action by Russia, however, the alliance must signal that it is willing to withdraw the obsolete U.S. tactical weapons from Europe if Russia is prepared to take reciprocal actions. By agreeing to eliminate its nuclear relics, NATO would increase pressure on Russia to account more fully for and to further consolidate its own stockpile.

If some NATO member states insist that even a few U.S. weapons remain in Europe, however, Russia is likely to continue to use them as cynical justification to keep its larger stockpile, and everyone’s security will be diminished.

Reaching agreement within NATO is never easy. In the coming weeks, President Barack Obama and his team must step up efforts to persuade NATO partners to eliminate any requirement in the posture review for maintaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The review should clarify that these weapons are not necessary to deter or respond to external threats, including those from Russia.

NATO’s new Strategic Concept already states that “[t]he supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance” and not the U.S. tactical bombs stored in Europe.

NATO’s posture review also should clarify that the fundamental purpose of nuclear weapons for the alliance is to deter a nuclear attack by a potential adversary and that NATO pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that are non-nuclear-weapon states.

This policy would bring NATO into alignment with the results of the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and with British nuclear doctrine. It would signal that NATO is reducing the role and salience of nuclear weapons and thus bolster the global nonproliferation regime. Such a policy also would demonstrate that NATO recognizes that the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threats or adversaries would be disproportionate, inappropriate, and inconsistent with the values of NATO member states.

Although alliance members have vowed that as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world NATO will remain a nuclear alliance, it is in NATO’s interest to declare a more limited role for its nuclear capabilities and clear the way for overdue reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear forces.

In one of the smartest and boldest moves of the nuclear age, President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed in 1991 to withdraw most U.S. and Soviet forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons and dismantle a large portion of those weapons. These actions reduced tensions and the risk of nuclear catastrophe as the Soviet Union broke apart.

CTBT Signatories Push Entry Into Force

Daryl G. Kimball

Fifteen years after the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature, more than 160 senior government officials met at a Sept. 23 conference at the United Nations to urge its signature and ratification by nine key remaining states to trigger entry into force.

More than 50 officials spoke at the seventh biennial Article XIV Conference on Facilitating Entry Into Force. Under the treaty’s Article XIV and Annex 2, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. Nine of those states—China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—have not yet done so.

The final conference declaration “urge[s] all remaining States…to sign and ratify the Treaty without delay” and endorses bilateral, regional, and multilateral initiatives to achieve the treaty’s “earliest entry into force.”

In his address to the conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the growing calls, at the international political level and from the many victims and survivors of nuclear testing, for bringing the treaty into force. “My message is clear: Do not wait for others to move first. Take the initiative. Lead. The time for waiting has passed,” he stated. “We must make the most of existing—and potentially short-lived—opportunities.”

Since the 2009 Article XIV conference, the treaty has been signed and ratified by Trinidad and Tobago and ratified by four other states: the Central African Republic, Ghana, Guinea, and the Marshall Islands. To date, 182 states have signed the treaty, and 155 have ratified it. Yet, entry into force remains years away.

Carl Bildt and Patricia Espinosa, the foreign ministers of Sweden and Mexico, respectively, presided over the conference. Sweden and Mexico will head multilateral efforts to promote CTBT entry into force for the next two years.

The United States and China, which have signed but not ratified the treaty, have repeatedly expressed their support for it. In a Jan. 19, 2011, joint communiqué, Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao declared that “both sides support early entry into force of the CTBT.”

In May of this year, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher announced that the administration would begin a quiet effort to discuss the technical issues of the treaty with some Senate offices. (See ACT, June 2011.) In an interview posted Sept. 2 on the Web site Arms Control Wonk, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller confirmed that the effort has begun, noting that “the way people are going to come to their decisions about the treaty [is] through [a] process of very serious discussion and debate, seeing the facts, and coming to understand them.”

Gottemoeller also said, “[W]e’re not going to set any deadlines for ratification…we’re not rushing into this. We’re playing this as a long game, and really want to have that serious discussion and debate, and to get all the facts in front of the responsible figures: the Senators, the members and their staffs who are going to have to absorb and understand what all the issues are.”

In his Sept. 21 address before the UN General Assembly, Obama pledged that “America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons.”

At the Sept. 23 CTBT conference, Tauscher reiterated the Obama administration’s support for the treaty and said, “[W]e intend to see it enter into force, but we cannot do it alone. As we move forward with our process, we call on all governments to declare or reaffirm their commitment not to test.”

Although movement toward U.S. Senate reconsideration of the CTBT remains slow, U.S. financial and technical support has substantially increased under the Obama administration.

Already the largest contributor to the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the United States announced two voluntary contributions in September. The first, valued at $8.9 million, will underwrite in-kind projects implemented by U.S. agencies in coordination with the CTBTO. These include enhancing radionuclide and noble gas detection technologies, refining seismic detection techniques, and supporting auxiliary seismic stations, according to a Sept. 6 CTBTO press release. The second contribution of $25.5 million will be used to reconstruct a damaged hydroacoustic station in the French Southern Territories, thereby completing the global hydroacoustic network to detect prohibited nuclear explosions, according to the CTBTO.

Since the establishment of the CTBTO in 1997, the global monitoring and data analysis system for verifying the treaty has been built up and is nearly complete, with about 85 percent of the planned 337 monitoring stations now operational. The CTBTO’s International Data Center also contributes to information for tsunami early warning, and earlier this year, the CTBTO provided global surveillance of the radioactive emissions from the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex after the March 11 accident there.

Fifteen years after the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature, more than 160 senior government officials met at a Sept. 23 conference at the United Nations to urge its signature and ratification by nine key remaining states to trigger entry into force.

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