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

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Daniel Horner

News Briefs

Biden Promotes CTBT in Speech

Daniel Horner

The objections once raised by critics of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have been fully met, Vice President Joe Biden said Feb. 18 at the NationalDefenseUniversity in Washington.

Referring to the Senate’s 1999 vote against the treaty, Biden said, “We are confident that all reasonable concerns raised about the treaty back then—concerns about verification and the reliability of our own arsenal—have now been addressed.”

Biden devoted much of the speech to the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), which maintains the U.S. nuclear arsenal without nuclear testing. As Biden noted, President George H.W. Bush in 1992 signed into law a nuclear testing moratorium that was contained in a spending bill enacted by Congress.

Stockpile stewardship has been a success, he said. The U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories “know more about our arsenal today than when we used to explode our weapons on a regular basis,” he said. “With our support, the labs can anticipate potential problems and reduce their impact on our arsenal,” he said.

For fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration is requesting about $7 billion, an increase of about 10 percent, for the weapons activities of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy that manages the SSP. The administration plans further increases over the next five years, Biden said.

“This investment is not only consistent with our nonproliferation agenda, it is essential to it,” Biden said.

The audience included several top administration officials, including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who introduced Biden.


 

Russia Considers Buying French Warship

Volha Charnysh

French President Nicolas Sarkozy approved the sale of an advanced amphibious warship to Russia, French defense officials told the Associated Press Feb. 8. France is considering the Russian navy’s request for building three more Mistral-class vessels, according to the officials. If Moscow commits to the deal, the Mistral sale will be the first significant arms deal between Russia and a NATO member. Georgia, Lithuania, and Latvia all expressed reservations about the possible sale.

The 23,700-ton Mistral-class ship can carry 16 helicopters and 40 assault vehicles, act as a floating command center, anchor in coastal waters, and deploy troops on land. Although the $750 million ship does not include the latest defense and fire-fighting technology, its purchase would give Russia a naval land-attack capability it currently lacks.

Last year, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir S. Vysotsky said a Mistral-class ship would take just 40 minutes to do what Russian vessels did in 26 hours in the Black Sea during the August 2008 Georgian-Russian war.

The deal comes at a time when Russia is pursuing an ambitious military modernization program. Moscow has more than doubled its arms exports since 2000, according to a Feb. 15 statement by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.


Clinton Draws Attention to CFE Impasse

Volha Charnysh

Russia and NATO should revive discussions on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Jan. 29. In a speech at L’Ecole Militaire in Paris, Clinton called the pact “a cornerstone of conventional arms control, transparency, and confidence-building” and said communication and transparency are crucial to meeting European security challenges.

In December 2007, Russia unilaterally suspended implementation of the CFE Treaty and stopped providing information on its treaty-limited equipment. (See ACT, January/February 2008.) Clinton expressed concern over that action and said the United States should revitalize the dialogue with CFE Treaty signatories. “We must not allow the transparency and stability that the CFE regime has provided to erode further,” she said.

Meanwhile, Victoria Nuland was appointed special envoy for conventional armed forces in Europe. According to a Feb. 2 statement on the Department of State’s Web site, Nuland will work under the direction of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher “to develop ideas to modernize our current conventional arms control structures in Europe.” She will consult with NATO and Russia on the issue, the statement said.


India Moves Closer to U.S. Nuclear Exports

Daniel Horner

President Barack Obama certified last month that India has met a key condition of U.S. law governing nuclear exports to that country.

The certification, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Feb. 3, means that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission can issue licenses for U.S. firms to make nuclear exports to India. Certain other obstacles to U.S.-Indian nuclear trade remain. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

As part of a Bush administration initiative to lift long-standing U.S. and international restrictions on nuclear trade with India, New Delhi agreed to open some of its power reactors to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. In 2006, it provided an initial list and schedule for that process.

As required by the 2008 U.S. law approving the nuclear cooperation agreement with India, Obama certified that India has given the IAEA a formal declaration that is “not materially inconsistent” with the 2006 plan.


New Law Pushes Nuclear Forensics

Caitlin Taber

A new U.S. law aims to develop U.S. and international nuclear forensics capabilities to help

address concerns about a nuclear terrorist attack.

Through nuclear forensics, scientists can trace nuclear material to the laboratory that produced it.

The Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act, which was introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), was signed into law Feb. 16. It establishes a NationalTechnicalNuclearForensicsCenter within the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and sets up an “expertise development program” to promote nuclear forensics as an academic discipline.

The law also expresses the “sense of the Congress” that the president should pursue international agreements to create a framework for determining the source of nuclear material that has been confiscated or has been used in a nuclear or radiological weapon. Under the law, the president also should develop protocols for exchanging sensitive information.

In his testimony during an Oct. 10, 2007, hearing before House Homeland Security Committee, Schiff said that “little of this information is of direct use to adversaries, and in many cases the risk of not sharing the data is much greater than [the] risk of sharing it.”

 

IAEA Board Approves Russian Fuel Bank Plan

Daniel Horner

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors has adopted a resolution authorizing Russia to establish a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) as part of an international nonproliferation plan.

In addition to approving the proposed text of an agreement with Russia, the Nov. 27 resolution authorizes the IAEA director-general “to conclude and subsequently implement” agreements with IAEA member states to receive the LEU from the Russian reserve if the countries meet certain basic requirements. According to the resolution, the board does not have to provide “case-by-case” authorization, but the director-general should “keep the Board informed of the progress of individual Agreements” with potential recipient countries. As part of the resolution, the board also approved a “model agreement” with potential recipients of the LEU.

The Nov. 27 approval came with eight dissenting votes and three abstentions among the 35-member board, a Vienna-based diplomat said in a Dec. 14 interview. The board traditionally reaches decisions by consensus; the vote tallies are not made public.

The Russian proposal is one of several variants of the concept of an international fuel bank, which aims to give countries an attractive alternative to indigenous uranium-enrichment programs by providing an assured supply of fuel at market prices. The bank would serve as a backup to existing commercial mechanisms for countries with good nonproliferation credentials.

The concept has been strongly supported by Mohamed ElBaradei, who was the IAEA’s director-general until Dec. 1; President Barack Obama; and others. But the concept faced resistance, particularly from some key members of the Nonaligned Movement.

As a result, the Russian proposal and another fuel bank plan, from the private, U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), did not get a go-ahead from the board when they were considered in June, and efforts to resolve the issue made little progress before the September board meeting. (See ACT, October 2009.)

At the November board meeting, Russia requested a vote on its proposal, the diplomat said. The eight dissenting votes came from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Venezuela, he said; India, Kenya, and Turkey abstained. Azerbaijan was absent, but later said it would have voted in favor of the proposal, he added.

The other current members of the board are Afghanistan, Australia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Mongolia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay.

The countries that did not support the resolution said they were concerned that the arrangement could “erode their Article 4 rights,” the diplomat said. He was referring to Article 4 of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which gives parties the right to “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and says parties have an “inalienable right” to pursue nuclear energy programs as long as the programs are “in conformity with” the treaty’s nonproliferation restrictions.

The board resolution says that those rights “will in no way be affected” by the Russian initiative.

The IAEA-Russian agreement says Russia will “establish a guaranteed physical reserve” of 120 metric tons of LEU in the form of uranium hexafluoride. When fabricated into reactor fuel, that amount of material would provide enough fuel for a typical power reactor to operate for several years.

The agreement names the InternationalUraniumEnrichmentCenter at Angarsk as the “executive authority.” The center is a Russian commercial enrichment venture with investments from other countries. The fuel reserve would be located on the Angarsk site in Siberia, in an area separate from the enrichment plant, the diplomat said.

The material will be under IAEA safeguards, and Russia will assume the costs of the safeguards, the agreement says.

As described by the agreement and the diplomat, a shipment of LEU from Angarsk would go to the port of St. Petersburg, where ownership would transfer to the IAEA. The agency would then immediately transfer ownership of the LEU to the customer country, which would have paid for it in advance, the diplomat said. The IAEA then would pay Russia, he said.

Under the IAEA-Russian agreement, the countries eligible to receive the LEU would be those “with respect to which the IAEA has drawn the conclusion that there has been no diversion of declared nuclear material and concerning which no issues are under consideration by the IAEA Board of Governors relating to the application of IAEA safeguards.” The recipient countries would have to have an agreement with the IAEA opening all their “peaceful nuclear activities” to inspections.

Back-up Fuel Supply System

It is expected that shipments of fuel would take place rarely, if ever, since the arrangement is intended to be a last-resort option if supplies are interrupted for reasons other than violations of the country’s nonproliferation commitments. The IAEA board resolution said that “the establishment of the reserve of LEU and the subsequent implementation of future agreements with Member States will be carried out as a back-up solution only and in such a way that any disturbance of or interference in the functioning of the existing fuel market is avoided.” The board “not[ed] the importance of developing a range of complementary options for additional assurances of supply, and the fact that the good operation of the market already provides assurances of supply.”

Before the IAEA board meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher issued a joint Nov. 23 statement, saying, “For those who seek greater assurance than the market provides, multilateral fuel assurance mechanisms can serve as safety nets in the event of a fuel supply disruption.”

In a Nov. 28 statement, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the initiative helps ensure the supply of nuclear fuel “on a predictable, stable, cost-effective and long-term basis,” which “will facilitate expanding the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” The ministry added that “[t]his initiative aims at strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime and is a concrete contribution of Russia to creating the conditions for successfully holding the 2010 NPT Review Conference.”

The board did not take up the NTI plan, which was aimed at establishing an IAEA-owned reserve of LEU. In 2006, the NTI pledged $50 million for such a reserve on the condition that IAEA member states would donate another $100 million. That goal has been met by pledges from the United States ($49.5 million), the European Union (up to 25 million euros), Kuwait ($10 million), the United Arab Emirates ($10 million), and Norway ($5 million).

However, the diplomat said, reaching the pledge threshold does not mean that the NTI offer automatically is accepted. The board has to make a formal decision to accept the money, and that move could face the same type of opposition that the Russian plan did, he said.

There also needs to be a decision on the host country, the diplomat said. In a document sent to the IAEA in May, Kazakhstan said it “could consider” hosting the facility if a fuel bank were established.

“Perhaps if things go well,” the board could take up the NTI proposal at its June meeting, the diplomat said. The board meets quarterly in Vienna, where the agency has its headquarters.

The NTI declined to comment on the status of its proposal.

 

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors has adopted a resolution authorizing Russia to establish a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) as part of an international nonproliferation plan.

In addition to approving the proposed text of an agreement with Russia, the Nov. 27 resolution authorizes the IAEA director-general “to conclude and subsequently implement” agreements with IAEA member states to receive the LEU from the Russian reserve if the countries meet certain basic requirements. According to the resolution, the board does not have to provide “case-by-case” authorization, but the director-general should “keep the Board informed of the progress of individual Agreements” with potential recipient countries. As part of the resolution, the board also approved a “model agreement” with potential recipients of the LEU.

U.S. Lays Out Plans to Address Biothreats

Daniel Horner

The Obama administration unveiled a revised U.S. strategy for dealing with biological weapons proliferation and terrorism Dec. 9, altering the Bush administration’s approach in some ways but keeping the focus on the threat from bioterrorism and reaffirming the decision not to pursue a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

Some diplomats questioned the emphases of the U.S. approach and the casting of the decision on the verification protocol.

Details of the U.S. approach came in the 23-page “National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats” and in remarks by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher. She delivered the remarks during the annual meeting of parties to the BWC Dec. 7-11 in Geneva.

In summarizing the strategy, Tauscher said one key element was international cooperation “to combat infectious diseases regardless of their cause,” that is, whether they are “of natural, accidental or deliberate origin.”

She also said the United States would “work toward establishing and reinforcing norms against the misuse of the life sciences.” Another piece of the strategy is to “implement a coordinated approach to influence, identify, inhibit, and interdict those who seek to misuse scientific progress to harm innocent people,” she said.

When the Obama administration came into office, it conducted a review and found that the United States did not have in place a “comprehensive strategy to address gaps in our efforts to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons and scientific abuse,” Tauscher said. The strategy document emphasizes that nonproliferation efforts are not intended to interfere with legitimate uses of life sciences. “Consistent with [the BWC] and other obligations under domestic law and international agreements, we will seek to pursue policies and actions that promote the global availability of life science discoveries and technologies for peaceful purposes,” the document says.

Article 10 of the BWC establishes the right of all parties to “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the use of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes.” Article 3 bans any kind of assistance relating to “agents, toxins, weapons, equipment or means of delivery” that are part of a biological weapons program.

The Obama strategy document gives credit to the Bush administration for having “significantly expanded” programs to “recognize and respond to acts of bioterrorism or other outbreaks of infectious disease” since 2001, when, shortly after the September 11 attacks, anthrax-filled letters were delivered to congressional offices and media outlets. The document says, however, that work on preventing such threats “has received comparatively limited policy focus or substantive guidance at the National level” and needs to be increased, in particular by greater efforts to “reduce the likelihood that such an attack might occur.”

The strategy cites a range of methods for combating biological threats, including “technology watch” efforts that “provide cutting edge insight and analysis” by experts in the relevant scientific fields, export controls, and law enforcement.

In a Dec. 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a diplomat from a key country in the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) said the new strategy puts too much weight on “law enforcement and Article III,” considering that “the response to bioattacks (terrorism or otherwise) is based on good primary health care systems, which is more related to Article X.”

Varying Risk Assessments

In her remarks, Tauscher said that “while the United States remains concerned about state-sponsored biological warfare and proliferation, we are equally, if not more concerned, about an act of bioterrorism, due to the increased access to advances in the life sciences.”

Other diplomats, however, questioned that general emphasis, as well as the specific connection to advances in life sciences. In a Dec. 18 interview, a European diplomat said science developments since the mid-1990s deal primarily with activities and technologies that are feasible for governments but not for terrorist groups.

The NAM diplomat made a similar point, saying that “the concerns with regard to new scientific developments are not addressed at all and these developments will be relevant to state programmes in [the] future.”

In her Geneva remarks, Tauscher said the Obama administration wants to “reinvigorate” the BWC as “the premier forum for global outreach and coordination.”

The European diplomat responded skeptically to that statement. The actions that Tauscher listed to achieve that goal are, for the most part, “exactly what we are doing,” he said. Some of the proposed steps actually might undermine that goal, he added. For example, “engaging in more robust bilateral compliance discussions,” a step Tauscher mentioned, could be seen as “undermining the convention as the international platform,” he said.

Another element of the U.S. strategy is to build “new, broader coalitions of ‘like-minded’ BWC States Parties.”

Some of the language in the strategy document suggests possible reasons that the Obama administration feels the need to rely on subgroups of the BWC membership rather than on the membership as a whole. “[C]oncerns remain that some treaty partners may be developing biological weapons,” the document says. In the past, the United States has raised concerns about the compliance of China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia, which are parties to the treaty, and Syria, which is not.

The strategy document also says that there is a “plurality of perspectives in the international community as to the severity of the risk and mitigative actions that nations should take” in response.

Verification Issues

Tauscher also told the annual meeting of BWC parties that the United States has “carefully reviewed previous efforts to develop a verification protocol and [has] determined that a legally binding protocol would not achieve meaningful verification or greater security.” Discussions on a verification protocol collapsed in 2001, in part because of the Bush administration’s strong opposition. (See ACT, September 2001.)

In announcing the decision, Tauscher said she hoped “this will not be a surprise to anyone” and cited the difficulties of verifying compliance. “The ease with which a biological weapons program could be disguised within legitimate activities and the rapid advances in biological research make it very difficult to detect violations. We believe that a protocol would not be able to keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of the biological weapons threat,” she said.

The European diplomat agreed that “there was no surprise on substance” in Tauscher’s statement on verification, but he said he thought the statement about the inability to keep pace was “not correct.” Since 2001, there have been no discussions on how scientific or other advances could help strengthen monitoring capabilities, he said.

He noted that the statement delivered at the December meeting by Sweden on behalf of the European Union recalled the EU commitment “to the development of measures to verify compliance with the Convention.” The EU’s “long-term position” is to put verification “back on the table,” although not necessarily in the form of a protocol, he said.

The NAM diplomat said he believed that “such an instrument is necessary” and that a protocol “would be able to pace with new developments in the same manner that the Convention is able to keep pace.” However, he said he did not think any “real steps will be taken towards any other legally binding instrument in the short term” because “the climate is not right for such a process.”

 

 

The Obama administration unveiled a revised U.S. strategy for dealing with biological weapons proliferation and terrorism Dec. 9, altering the Bush administration’s approach in some ways but keeping the focus on the threat from bioterrorism and reaffirming the decision not to pursue a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

Some diplomats questioned the emphases of the U.S. approach and the casting of the decision on the verification protocol.

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