Login/Logout

*
*  

Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Daniel Horner

Controlling Proliferation: An Interview With Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman

Interviewed by Kelsey Davenport, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Thomas Countryman took office as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation on September 27, 2011. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1982. While serving in the U.S. mission to the United Nations in the mid-1990s, he was the mission’s liaison with the UN Special Commission investigating Iraq's unconventional weapons programs.

Arms Control Today spoke with Countryman in his office on April 10. The interview focused on a recent event—the nuclear security summit that took place in Seoul March 26-27—and two upcoming events: the May summit of the Group of Eight (G-8), where the countries are expected to endorse plans for the second decade of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, and the July conference at which countries will undertake negotiations on an arms trade treaty (ATT).

The interview was transcribed by Kelsey Davenport. It has been edited for clarity. A condensed version appeared in the May 2012 issue of Arms Control Today.

ACT: Thank you very much for sitting down with us. I know that your portfolio covers a broad range of issues. We are going to focus on just a couple of them, dealing with weapons-usable material and conventional arms.

First, in what ways did the Seoul nuclear security summit meet your expectations, and in what ways did it fall short?

Countryman: I’ve seen a lot of summits. In general, summits can be dramatic or successful, or both, or neither. In my view, the Seoul summit was not dramatic, but it was certainly successful. Unlike summits that make a ringing declaration of a new policy, the Seoul nuclear security summit was about reviewing a very successful record of accomplishment by a number of states acting individually and in concert, in rededicating themselves to the goals of the 2010 summit [in Washington], and in making specific commitments to continue to meet those goals. So in that sense, it had more substance than a number of other summits I can think of.

In particular, the various agreements announced—whether it was the completion of the removal of highly enriched uranium [HEU] from Ukraine and from Mexico, whether it was the cessation of the use of highly enriched uranium to produce nuclear medical isotopes in Europe, whether it was the extension and building-up of cooperative frameworks to combat nuclear smuggling—all of these are accomplishments in the real world, not just in the policy frame, not just in terms of a declaration. So in that sense, I think it was fully successful.

There remains work to be done, and that is why the parties have agreed to focus on a summit two years from now to review the progress, to review the commitments that we made in Seoul. And I expect to see a similar amount of progress in the real world when we get to the Netherlands two years from now.

ACT: Okay, any areas [in which] you might have hoped for more, but it didn’t quite come through?

 

Countryman: We still consider a couple of areas where there is progress possible. First, there are a couple of countries that still have significant stockpiles of fissile material beyond any peaceful use, any peaceful requirement that they may have. We hope to convince those countries to continue the process of reducing and ultimately eliminating those stockpiles. Second, we would still like to see in general, across the world, additional steps on nuclear security, on the physical means to guarantee that access to fissile material and radiological sources is limited to those who need it and not open to terrorists or criminals. And third, we would still like to see a more concerted effort worldwide to phase out the use of highly enriched uranium as a reactor fuel and convert all those reactors to low-enriched uranium. So these are tasks for the next two years. There has been progress in the last couple of years, but we need to keep going on those.

ACT: In some of the discussions in the run-up to the Seoul summit, it was indicated that the summit would produce a communiqué that had firmer commitments than the 2010 document. Do you think that the 2012 communiqué accomplishes that?

Countryman: I haven’t read the 2010 document for the last year, but I think that the 2012 document is firm in making commitments. It is not an international treaty, nor is this summit process intended to result in a binding international treaty. But the success of the process so far has been because President [Barack] Obama convened world leaders at this level to focus this level of political attention and devotion of resources to these issues; that has been the key to success, rather than making sweeping commitments that would be binding on all the participants.

 

ACT: You mentioned the use of highly enriched uranium and some of the things that still need to be done. The communiqué calls for an announcement of specific voluntary actions by the end of 2013, rather than completion of actions by that time. So can you explain how that is consistent with the four-year goal that President Obama announced in 2009 and the summit participants endorsed in 2010? It seemed that you were working toward completing it by 2014 as opposed to having announcements in 2013.

Countryman: We are well on track to meet the target that President Obama established of a four-year lockdown of vulnerable nuclear materials. We made great progress in the last two years. There is still hard work to do, [but] we have confidence that existing fissile stocks should be in a secure situation by 2014. That is not exactly the same question as eliminating all of those fissile material stocks, which we would like to see, which we are working on with specific countries. The minimum requirement is to make sure that those stocks are secure while we progress on the path to eliminating them.

 

ACT: So by 2014, we just want to have them secure, but not necessarily removed from countries? That would include having them in secure storage within the country rather than having them removed from the country?

 

Countryman: The goal is security of those materials. It is a country-by-country situation. And I think that we want to work quietly with those countries that need the assistance or the political cover to complete the process of removing those stocks.

 

ACT: Before, during, and after the summit, there were various lists of what different countries would do by certain dates. One list had seven countries that were planning on removing their HEU by 2013, and that list included Belarus and South Africa. Some reports indicate that those countries are moving more slowly. So could you bring us up to date with what is going on with those two countries, because they are two key ones?

 

Countryman: They are two key countries, and they are at very different places in terms of their standing in the world. You can’t compare the very positive relationship we have with South Africa on a range of issues with the very difficult relationship that we and the European Union have with Belarus. In the case of South Africa, we will continue to work with them on alternatives to maintaining the [HEU] stockpile, trying to find a solution that is economically beneficial to South Africa, for what it correctly considers to be a valuable resource.

In the case of Belarus, we’ve done our best to isolate this issue from the general political difficulties between Belarus and the rest of the world. That’s been one of the successes of the nuclear security summit, to avoid having this issue trip over every other issue in a country’s bilateral relationship. But there are both political and technical issues still to work with Belarus [on]. It remains our goal to finish the removal of HEU stocks from Belarus by 2014.

 

ACT: Okay. Is there any sign that that process is going to be re-engaged from the sort of the limbo that it is in now?

 

Countryman: I would not say that it is in limbo, but these things do take time.

 

ACT: Then on South Africa, as you said, the relationship is much more friendly. So given that, were you perhaps expecting more from [the South Africans]? Because their statement at the summit seemed to assert a right to use material at whatever enrichment level they choose as long as they took the necessary steps. [See sidebar 1 below.] And they seem to tie a phase-out of civilian HEU to completion of a fissile material cutoff treaty, which clearly is not happening anytime soon. So in the context of that friendly relationship, is that an area where perhaps more was hoped for?

 

Countryman: Well, first the nuclear security summit process is not about abridging the rights of any nation under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is, rather, making a common commitment that [governments] choose not to exercise certain rights in the name of protecting the security of [their] people in individual countries and worldwide. And that is the context in which we have our discussions with South Africa and with everybody else. So it is not a question of rights; it is a question of making a choice that is rational both in terms of economics and in terms of security. They did make a connection to the fissile material cutoff treaty. We remain interested in seeing those negotiations commence soon. It is frustrating to us, as to the rest of the world, that [they have] not been able to begin. Whether that connection is valid and whether it should persist when there are valid security reasons for proceeding with down-blending this material are questions better addressed to the South Africans.

 

ACT: Many independent experts have said they are concerned that, despite the important progress made in the nuclear security summit process, there are still no internationally agreed binding standards for nuclear security. What is the Obama administration’s view regarding the international instruments in place regarding nuclear security? Are they sufficient to meet U.S. goals to improve global nuclear security standards, or is there a need for something more?

 

Countryman: Well first, it’s a process. The summit is not intended to be an end in itself, but is intended to lead to greater responsibility on the part of all states. Part of that process, from the beginning, has been to give greater authority and resources and encouragement to the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] to help develop a framework for commonly understood international standards on nuclear security. The IAEA is moving forward on that front. That’s not the same as development of a new legal standard or new legal requirements, but that was not ever the purpose of the summit.

 

ACT: So do you feel that the standards that are established through the IAEA, those are sufficient? It is just a matter of implementing those standards?

 

Countryman: I am not sure that we have seen them yet, so I’m not sure I will say they are sufficient, but it is the logical next step in developing the sense of responsibility that every country needs to have when it comes to securing nuclear materials.

 

ACT: In the context of what you have just said about IAEA standards, and looking ahead to the Netherlands summit in 2014, what can you say about what the United States goals are for that summit and especially beyond? You say it’s a process, there will be work to be done, I’m sure, after 2014. What can you tell us about how the United States sees the process beyond 2014?

 

Countryman: So you couldn’t just let us relax after Seoul? You want to know what’s next, two years from now?

 

ACT: Inquiring minds want to know.

 

Countryman: I know they do. And I think perhaps we are getting ahead of it. The first part of the answer is easy. We want to be able to two years from now say that we have substantially accomplished the lockdown of vulnerable nuclear material that was in the president’s original target. Whether we will be discussing new international mechanisms beyond the summit, beyond the political commitments, frankly it’s too early to say. I couldn’t tell you today.

 

ACT: And do you have a more general sense of 2014 and beyond? Will that be the last of the summits?

 

Countryman: Again, it’s too early to say. You heard the diversity of views in Seoul, with a number of delegations praising the value of the summit so far, giving the opinion we should go to 2014 and beyond. You heard a couple of delegations that expressed doubt that we needed to go past 2014. So I would say it’s an open question at the moment. Our intent is to gain as much value from the next two years as we possibly can before we make a decision on that.

ACT: I am going to move on to the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. Last year, the Group of Eight announced that the Global Partnership would continue beyond its original end date of 2012.[1] But the announcement left open many specifics, perhaps most notably the funding level. Could you give us a quick summary of what the partners already have agreed? And what kind of additional details will be discussed ahead of the [May 18-19] G-8 summit at Camp David?

 

Countryman: First, I think it’s a good moment, 10 years after the G-8 summit that set up the Global Partnership, to evaluate positively how much it has accomplished. Spending $22 billion in 10 years substantially reduced the risk of proliferation of weapons and materials from the former Soviet Union. It was generously funded by G-8 members and others, and its accomplishment is huge. It’s natural, last year and this year, to look into a couple of new dimensions, to look beyond only nuclear materials and consider other proliferation challenges, including biological hazards. It’s also natural to look beyond the former Soviet Union to other regions of the world that confront some of the same issues, in the nuclear, biological, or other fields. So the redirection of the G-8’s focus for the Global Partnership from being centered on the former Soviet Union, centered on nuclear and chemical weapons issues, is, I think, a very positive development. We have tasks to complete in those areas, but we also have new tasks, new partners around the world, who appreciate the importance of providing security against these particular challenges.

President Obama made clear in 2010 that we will continue our level of funding. He has committed at least $10 billion in a 10-year period to this task. And we are spending that money wisely, but also well, through my bureau, through the National Nuclear Security Administration, through the Department of Defense and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and we will continue that funding stream into the future. Even in difficult economic times, this is, for us, an investment in national security rather than a foreign assistance program. We leave to other partners in the G-8 the funding levels that they believe they can afford. So it would not be accurate to try and give you an estimate of the total G-8 spending on this. I would note that we continue to expand the Global Partnership. We’ve added Kazakhstan as the24th member just a couple of months ago. And the sources of funding go beyond the G-8 itself.

 

ACT: So will there be some further detail on the financial aspect at the upcoming summit? Will there be some sort of announcement? You said that the U.S. made this commitment to a specific number; will other countries publicly state what their commitments are at the summit? Is that something we can look forward to?

 

Countryman: We don’t know yet.

 

ACT: Okay. Will the U.S., as the chair of the summit, be encouraging countries to do that? Either publicly or privately, to make these kind of commitments to specific numbers?

 

Countryman: I think we will be pressing countries to make commitments; whether we will press them to make commitments to specific numbers, I think we’ll see.

 

ACT: What other kinds of commitments then?

 

Countryman: To make general commitments to continue their generosity. It’s tricky to get into the game of setting a number and then setting some of our partners up for public criticism if they are unable to meet that number. We were successful in setting a specific number back in 2002, and we were successful in spending and exceeding that on valuable programs that contributed to global security. It is a different moment in time today economically. And I would be hard pressed to say that there is the same value in setting a specific number target at this moment.

 

ACT: You mentioned that there were some new programmatic goals for the second decade of the Global Partnership. Can you expand a little bit more on that, in terms of the vision for how this might evolve? And you mentioned Kazakhstan as a new partner. Obviously, beyond the G-8, there are the G-20 countries. Are there some of the G-20 countries, particular countries that the United States and the other G-8 countries want to partner with in this broader effort in the next several years?

 

Countryman: First, we are happy to partner with just about anybody who shares our goals and is able to bring money and expertise to the table. Or even just money. We don’t think, to be honest, in the context of the G-20, which is a group instituted for a particular economic purpose—and you could say the same thing, that the G-8 started that way, it was only about economics, and now it is into proliferation and a number of other issues. But we don’t think about the G-20 in that particular context.

What do we do in terms of new fields? I guess I would talk about biosecurity first. It’s not only a question of preventing the proliferation of technology that can contribute to a biological weapons program. Our entire concept of how the world defends itself against the threat of biological weapons rests upon the capabilities of the world community and individual nations to detect, deter, and respond to biological attacks. The detection and the response is the same for a natural or an accidental outbreak as it is for a deliberate release of a biological weapon. And we have already seen that pathogens crossing from the natural environment into the human environment have had health and economic consequences in many parts of the world. It is being able to monitor that, detect, and react rapidly—this is where the United States has built up its capabilities for national biodefense in such an event and is working hard with partner countries to develop the same kind of detection and response capability, provid[ing] a double insurance policy against both natural and deliberate introduction of disease into the human environment.

So, for those countries that have seen this phenomenon before, of animal viruses entering the human population, particularly in Southeast Asia and Africa, we’ve been working intensively on joint research projects, developing monitoring mechanisms, detection mechanisms, [and] helping to plan responses, both immediate responses and medium-term production of vaccines. I think that these are the kind of biosecurity programs that are not only a public health program, but also help to deter anybody from thinking that biological weapons are an effective weapon to use against human populations.

 

ACT: So is there a sense that the original mission in Russia and the other former Soviet republics has largely been accomplished at this point? Or is [the Global Partnership] going to continue to do that while doing these other things, given, as you said, the financial constraints?

 

Countryman: There is still work to finish in the former Soviet Union, and we will finish it in partnership with the Russian Federation and with others, in the G-8 and in the region. But with the amount of funding that we hope to have available, we need to look well beyond the region.

 

ACT: Part of what I was getting to was that when the G-8 was established in 2002, there were a number of goals in terms of programs and in terms of pledges that were not met over the course of the 10 years. Does that give you some pause about setting too ambitious of an agenda for the coming 10 years?

 

Countryman: I think everybody in government, and for that matter in your personal life, ought to set an ambitious agenda for the next 10 years. But year by year, you have to be realistic about the resources available and make intelligent decisions about your top priorities for the year. But I’ve never been opposed to ambitious agendas.

 

ACT: Before we shift topics, if you could just give our readers a more specific sense of what these G-8 Partnership programs are dealing with, and let’s take Kazakhstan in particular. Can you tell us a little bit more about what is planned with Kazakhstan? Does it have to do with some of the security issues, strategic materials that are still at the former Soviet test site there? What kinds of work do you anticipate doing with Kazakhstan? Some work has already been done before, but looking forward?

 

Countryman: Our cooperation with Kazakhstan in the nonproliferation field has been excellent. In fact, immediately after this meeting I will be talking with the deputy foreign minister of Kazakhstan. We will have a team there this month to review the broad range of cooperation that we have. They’ve been a model partner in this area, and they are also an example of a country that has accomplished so much with the assistance of the Global Partnership program, that they now have the resources and the expertise to share those accomplishments and that experience with other countries in need of the same kind of work.

On specific accomplishments, you saw the announcement at the Seoul summit by Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and the United States of substantial completion of cleanup at the Semipalatinsk site. [See sidebar 2 below.] Cleanup may be too strong a word—securing of vulnerable materials at that site. That’s huge. This was one of the greatest concentrations of vulnerable material in the world. And as we close in on completion of that task, it has been a substantial success for the goal of nuclear security. We have cooperation in the biosecurity field as well, with Kazakhstan, both through the State Department and through other agencies.

One area that Kazakhstan is interested in is serving as a center of research, whether you call it a center of excellence or a successor to the International Science and Technology Center in Moscow. And so they are willing, as somebody who has benefited from the Global Partnership, to give back.

 

ACT: I just wanted to follow up on the point that we made about diversifying the membership. When we mentioned the G-20, it was not so much as a function of the group, but as one that is somewhat more diverse than the G-8, which is wealthy, advanced, industrialized countries, that has a more representative cross-section of countries. Is there an ongoing effort to get major countries that are not currently included as part of the Global Partnership?

 

Countryman: Yes, I did not mean that the G-20 are not important countries. I just meant that when we look at potential donors, we don’t do it by categories by G-20 or EU, or someone else. We look at the countries that have demonstrated an interest, and an expertise, and a willingness to spend some money to work cooperatively to reduce global threats.

 

ACT: Are there any particular countries that are on your radar at this point?

 

Countryman: Sure.

 

ACT: But you are not going to name them?

 

Countryman: I would not make an appeal like that in public.

 

ACT: For the last part, we are going to go to the arms trade treaty. Since 2006, efforts have been under way to pursue a treaty to deal with the transfer of weapons across international borders, and this July there will be negotiations to try and conclude a treaty text. Could you just start out by explaining from the U.S. perspective what the U.S. government’s view is on the humanitarian and security challenges that an arms trade treaty can help address? And then second, why did the Obama administration announce that it would proactively engage in that process?

 

Countryman: Well, there is a lot there. First, you should look simply at how the United States administers its own export of weapons. And that is, we have a detailed mechanism for considering exports that takes into account security situations in the region, takes into account the human rights situation, takes into account economic dimensions, as well as the usual elements of national interest that go into an arms sale to a friend anywhere in the world. This process is rigorous, it’s exhaustive, and we think that it compares favorably to that of any other country in the world. So by our own actions, we have demonstrated for decades that we believe countries have a responsibility to take into consideration a wide range of criteria before exporting weapons anywhere.

The Obama administration believes it is valuable, that each country in the world should have a similar process. Not an identical process, not identical mechanisms, but a similar process of considering all of these relevant criteria before the export of weapons from one state to another. In our view, this will simultaneously serve to address certain humanitarian [and] human rights concerns and offer the potential to reduce the level of conflict in a number of regions in the world. But at a minimum, what it accomplishes, even if none of those goals are accomplished overnight with a new arms trade treaty, [is that] there is a new sense of responsibility upon every member of the United Nations that you cannot simply export and forget, that the consequences of export of weapons last in the region where they are received, and that has to be in the consciousness of every country that exports weapons.

We have agreed to participate in the arms trade treaty negotiations that will take place in July, in New York, because we believe that there is now a readiness on the part of the world community to embrace a similar concept and to create a set of criteria that will have real meaning for every arms-exporting country. We also believe that the format is such that it will address our concerns, that the requirement to adopt a treaty by consensus is an important way to ensure that the United States’ principles are protected in this process.

Now, what are those principles? Just to mention a couple of key ones. First, that trade in conventional weapons is a legitimate commercial activity and one that states have the obligation to regulate. Second, that there must be international criteria, but there must be national mechanisms, national processes, at the state level, to make these decisions. That is within the sovereignty of the member states of the United Nations, to make these decisions. Third, that a treaty needs to be floor, not a ceiling, that these should be high, but still minimum, criteria for countries to decide, and that if other nations, such as the United States, wish to have still stronger criteria, the treaty does not prevent us from doing so. And finally, I think that it is important to keep in mind that this is a treaty about trade between states. It cannot, it should not, create an international mechanism that seeks to regulate this trade, although it should offer international assistance to states that want to establish this system. And it must not seek to regulate domestic trade, nor can it touch upon the important rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution enjoyed by American citizens. So these are some of our basic principles. I think there is a wide consensus among members of the United Nations about this framework, and we are hopeful that within a framework, in respect of these simple concepts, an arms trade treaty negotiation can be successful this year.

 

ACT: So you spoke about the principles, the redlines, that the United States is going to be seeking in these negotiations with respect the right of individuals to possess arms within the United States. I mean, is it even a possibility, given the mandate of the treaty that was established at the UN? If you could just clarify, there are some here in the United States that charge that this is a UN treaty that could affect Second Amendment rights. Is that even a realistic possibility given the mandate, and given the stated positions of the U.S. and other countries in that regard?

Countryman: That’s a very good question. And I agree with you that the mandate of the conference does not encompass that as a possibility. But even if I am wrong about that, the negotiators from the United States will ensure that no such treaty that abridges the rights of U.S. citizens is adopted.

ACT: You spoke about some of the basic requirements. Could you elaborate a little bit more on what are the key elements that the United States thinks must be in the treaty in order for it to be robust enough, in order to be effective, to address the humanitarian, the economic, the development, and the security concerns that the states that are engaged in this want to try and address?

Countryman: I would break it down into kind of three dimensions. One is that it must be relevant to a wide range of weapons, everything from pistols to aircraft carriers; it must apply to a wide range of actions, whether it is direct export, licensing, brokering, or defense industrial export, that is, setting up weapons factories in other countries; and it must include a number of criteria. As I said before, our own process includes considerations of regional balance, regional stability, active internal and external conflict in a country, human rights, humanitarian issues, legal issues, economic. I don’t want to prescribe at this moment that an arms trade treaty must include all of the same criteria that the United States’ system does. But clearly, to be effective, there have to be a number of criteria that states are required to take into account in their national decision-making on arms exports.

 

ACT: You just mentioned some of the items that need to be part of the scope. One of those items potentially is ammunition, as well as the weapons themselves. U.S. export controls address the transfers of ammunition as well as weapons. So from the United States’ perspective at this point, how might the ATT address the issue of ammunition, which is often, as you know, responsible for the perpetuation of armed conflict as much as the actual sale or transfer of weapons in some cases?

 

Countryman: I’m not certain I agree with your premise in the last sentence. I am not disagreeing, but I am not positive I agree. Ammunition is different from weaponry. You are right that the United States has a similar process on decisions on export of ammunition. And it is important for us to take that into account and make decisions according to similar criteria. But it still is a different case for a number of reasons. One, ammunition is inherently dual use, between military, law enforcement, and recreational use. Second, the quantities of ammunition involved are just huge. Third, it is more difficult by far to track what happens to ammunition as opposed to any other weapon that might be exported. And fourth, it’s a big administrative burden just to keep track of all of these exports of ammunition. We are not interested in creating in this treaty an obligation that is so financially onerous that states choose to ignore it rather than to honor it. For all those reasons, ammunition is one of the difficult questions that will come up. And at this point, it is hard for us to see how a successful conclusion to the arms trade treaty could include ammunition.

 

ACT: Let me ask a brief follow-up on this. The United States, as we noted, implements controls over ammunition, where it goes, not tracking it in what happens after the original transfer. How is the United States solving this potential problem of other states making ammunition transfers that undermine the spirit or the intent of the ATT? Or are there some other solutions that might address this, much in the same way that U.S. export controls of ammunition try to do?

 

Countryman: Well, look, we are always open to good ideas. I’ve outlined some of the reasons that controlling ammunition in the ATT poses a special problem. If there are good ideas, good solutions out there, of course we are prepared to listen to them.

I would not expect the arms trade treaty in its first year of implementation to solve all the concerns about arms transfer around the world. We don’t look at the ATT as a disarmament treaty; it is a treaty that regulates a commercial activity. And we don’t expect that all the conflicts in the world will evaporate as soon as this is put into place. But we do expect it to begin a process of leveling the playing field, and of course, I mean that in a commercial sense, so that exporters from different countries face the same considerations, but I also mean it in a humanitarian sense. It gives advocates of restraint a stronger leg to stand on in making arguments about export of weapons from this country or that country. But will everyone instantly honor it to the same extent? I don’t expect that. But I do expect it to be a solid basis on which to build towards a less conflict-ridden world.

ACT: Final question. Just to kind of put that in perspective, because I think our readers and others need to be reminded of particular situations, I mean, today, in the headlines, conflict in Syria, Mali, Darfur, of course, other states in the Middle East, so how might the arms trade treaty, if it is put into effect, help the United States and other countries leverage the kind of behavior that it is seeking in these particular situations where there are debates over whether weapons should be sold to states in which there are ongoing civil conflicts, human rights violations? I am asking you to be a little bit speculative, but also a little bit more specific about how this might help U.S. and international interests in these tough situations.

Countryman: Well, to speculate specifically, what we would expect is that after adoption of an arms trade treaty, we would expect other arms exporters to consider factors similar to those that we consider, and for the world community, including the United States, to have an additional point to argue against the export of weapons to an active conflict zone. Will that in itself be enough to end such conflicts? Perhaps not. But will it contribute to restraint on the part of external parties and perhaps on the part of the conflicting parties at the same time? That is something that you could hope for, whether it’s Syria or Mali, or anywhere else.

 

ACT: All right; thanks a lot.

 

Countryman: My pleasure.


ENDNOTES

1. The Group of Eight (G-8) countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—created the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction in June 2002 at their summit in Kananaskis, Canada. The countries pledged $20 billion toward the effort over 10 years, with half of the amount to come from the United States. The roster of the partnership has expanded to include countries outside the G-8.

Sidebar 1: S. Africa Seoul Statement Affirms Rights on HEU

South Africa is not required to limit itself in the enrichment level of the uranium it uses in its nuclear program, as long as the purpose is peaceful, the country’s leader said March 26.

In a speech at the Seoul nuclear security summit, President Jacob Zuma declared his country’s right to “the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes only, irrespective of the enrichment level.” Zuma acknowledged that “special precautions” are required for highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium, but said that South Africa had these measures in place.

Uranium with enrichment levels greater than 20 percent of uranium-235 is considered HEU. Urging states to minimize their use of HEU was a principal agenda item at the Seoul summit.

The Seoul communiqué, a consensus document endorsed by the summit participants, called for states “in a position to do so” to announce by the end of 2013 “voluntary specific actions” to minimize the use of HEU. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak referred to this provision of the communiqué as one of the summit’s “core accomplishments.”

Lee also highlighted the need to convert reactors producing medical isotopes to use a low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. South Africa has played a lead role in this area by commercially producing a key medical isotope through the use of LEU rather than HEU. (See ACT, January/February 2011.)

Zuma went on to say that focusing on minimizing the use of HEU for civilian purposes should “come to fruition” in the negotiations for a fissile material cutoff treaty. Conclusion of that accord, which would ban the military production of fissile material, is seen as a distant prospect, as the start of negotiations has been blocked for years in the Conference on Disarmament.

Experts estimate that South Africa currently possesses between 600 and 750 kilograms of HEU. That figure includes quantities from the country’s abandoned nuclear weapons program.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

 

 

Sidebar 2: Materials Secured At Former Soviet Test Site

Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United States have made significant progress in a previously secret cooperative effort to secure nuclear materials at a former Soviet nuclear test site, the three countries said in a March 26 joint announcement at the nuclear security summit in Seoul.

At the Semipalatinsk site in eastern Kazakhstan, 456 nuclear devices were tested between 1949 and 1989, according to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. The site also includes the largest underground testing infrastructure in the world, consisting of 181 tunnels in Degelen Mountain.

A U.S. official said in an April 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “[t]he majority of nuclear tests [at Semipalatinsk] resulted in the infusion of fissile material in tons of melted rock, but some types of nuclear tests can leave readily recoverable fissile material.” The trilateral project, which began in 2005, has filled the test tunnels with a special cement that chemically bonds with the residual material, rendering it unusable for nuclear weapons, the official said.

In a March 27 statement at the Seoul summit, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that the joint effort of the three governments resulted in “rehabilitation of the test site” and “destruction of the infrastructure.” According to Kazakhstan’s national progress report, a document submitted for the summit describing the country’s progress on strengthening nuclear material security since 2010, the “main part” of the project, which included eliminating the site’s infrastructure, is complete. Cooperation continues on “physical protection of sensitive areas,” which the statement described as “nearing completion,” the report said.

The trilateral effort began when it became apparent that previous measures taken by the three countries to secure the site were insufficient, Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communication and speechwriting, said at a March 27 press conference. According to Rhodes, scientists estimated that “more than a dozen nuclear weapons’ worth of nuclear materials” remained in the tunnels. He said that “scavenger activity” in the area and a focus on preventing nuclear terrorism led the countries to reopen some of the underground testing tunnels to “secure and eliminate residual nuclear material.” The prior effort to secure the site ended in 2000, Rhodes said.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Thomas Countryman took office as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation on September 27, 2011. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1982. While serving in the U.S. mission to the United Nations in the mid-1990s, he was the mission’s liaison with the UN Special Commission investigating Iraq's unconventional weapons programs.

Accord Seen Near on Verifying Disposition

Daniel Horner

Russia and the United States could conclude verification arrangements by the end of the year for their agreement on disposition of surplus weapons plutonium, a U.S. official said last month.

The broader agreement, under which each side commits itself to the disposition of at least 34 metric tons of plutonium removed from its respective weapons stockpile, entered into force last year. (See ACT, July/August 2011.) The two countries originally signed the disposition pact in 2000, but the effort stalled over programmatic, financial, and legal disputes. Moscow and Washington eventually renegotiated a key part of the agreement so that Russia could use fast-neutron reactors instead of light-water reactors to irradiate the reactor fuel it made with the surplus plutonium.

At the April 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed a protocol to make that change and other amendments in the pact. (See ACT, May 2010.)

The disposition agreement names the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as the entity to carry out monitoring and inspections. Exchanges on a draft agreement among Russia, the United States, and the Vienna-based agency started shortly after the Clinton-Lavrov signing, the U.S. official said. The key issue still to be resolved is how to manage IAEA access to sensitive sites, but the sides are making progress toward an accord, he said.

“Unless things go awry, we should complete the [verification] agreement this year,” the official said in a March 15 interview.

However, the official indicated that Russia and the United States had not made much progress toward agreeing on a document that set certain disposition milestones for Russia to meet before it was eligible for U.S. funding of the project. The 2010 protocol caps the total U.S. contribution to the multibillion-dollar Russian project at the $400 million the United States had previously pledged.

In anticipation of the signing of the protocol, the Obama administration requested more than $100 million for Russian disposition activities in the fiscal year 2011 budget request, which was submitted to Congress in February 2010. However, because there was no agreement on the so-called milestone document, U.S. support for Russian disposition efforts received only a small fraction of that amount—$25,000 in fiscal year 2011 and $1 million in fiscal year 2012—with all of that money being spent in the United States, according to the detailed budget “justification” document for fiscal year 2013 from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The request for fiscal year 2013, which begins Oct. 1, is $3.8 million. The projected cumulative request for fiscal years 2014-2017 is $31.1 million, with none of the money being spent in Russia, the NNSA document said.

During a Feb. 13 conference call with reporters after the release of the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2013 budget request, Anne Harrington, NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, said the NNSA request for Russian disposition work in fiscal year 2013 and beyond reflects the current situation. The funding levels could change if there were agreement on the milestones and Russia then met them, she said.

Russia currently is proceeding with its disposition effort at its own expense, she said. At a March 6 hearing of the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, she said the Russians are “well on track” with their effort.

Russia and the United States could conclude verification arrangements by the end of the year for their agreement on disposition of surplus weapons plutonium, a U.S. official said last month.

Officials Spell Out Nuclear Trade Policy

Daniel Horner

The Obama administration will not adopt a policy of insisting that countries renounce uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing as a condition for concluding agreements for nuclear cooperation with the United States, two senior administration officials said in a Jan. 10 letter to Capitol Hill.

The letter, which indicates the results of a long-running internal policy review, has sparked criticism across the political spectrum.

Since at least the fall of 2010, there has been debate within the administration over whether the United States should press its potential nuclear partners to give up enrichment and reprocessing. (See ACT, October 2010.) The model for that approach is the May 2009 U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

That pact contains a UAE commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing; if the UAE broke that commitment, the United States would have grounds for terminating the agreement. The UAE had previously adopted a national policy renouncing enrichment and reprocessing in favor of reliance on international fuel supplies, but the agreement “transform[ed] the UAE policy into a legally binding obligation,” according to President Barack Obama’s message conveying the agreement to Congress. (See ACT, June 2009.)

In the statement, Obama said the pact “has the potential to serve as a model for other countries in the region that wish to pursue responsible nuclear energy development.” A Department of State spokesman in 2010 referred to the UAE agreement as the “gold standard.”

In the Jan. 10 letter, which first was reported by Global Security Newswire, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher say they will “pursue 123 agreement negotiations on the basis of a case-by-case review.” Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act requires the United States to have a nuclear cooperation agreement with any country with which it conducts nuclear trade.

Referring to a January meeting with Vietnam about a potential 123 agreement, Poneman and Tauscher said U.S. negotiators would “lay out a spectrum of options for addressing enrichment and reprocessing.”

In a Feb. 14 letter to Poneman and Tauscher, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sharply questioned this approach. “Given that it is unlikely that many countries will freely impose binding restrictions on themselves when given a choice, any request by the U.S. that they do so would be interpreted by all as little more than a pro forma exercise,” she wrote.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, published an article on the Web site of The National Interest calling on Obama to reverse the policy. “If he does not, Congress must provide needed leadership,” he said.

In a joint opinion piece in The Christian Science Monitor, John Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President George W. Bush, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) criticized the Obama policy and endorsed legislation introduced in the House last year that would toughen the congressional review process for 123 agreements that did not follow the UAE model. The bill, which was introduced by Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of her committee, was approved by the panel last April, but has stalled since then. The Obama administration and the nuclear industry have raised objections to it.

Critics have portrayed the policy articulated in the Poneman-Tauscher letter as a reversal, but administration officials have disputed that characterization. In remarks at a Feb. 16 nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va., and an interview afterward, Poneman said that “it always has been U.S. policy” to approach 123 agreements case by case. With regard to the UAE, he noted that it had adopted a national policy first and the Obama administration “chose to acknowledge [the UAE’s] domestic decision.” There is “nothing that stops us from doing that again,” he said.

“The constant is we should do whatever minimizes the spread of the dangerous technologies” and should use whatever means are “most effective to achieve that end,” he said.

At a Feb. 15 breakfast meeting with reporters, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman said the letter “does not mean in any way that [the United States is] retreating” from its commitment to nonproliferation.

He said that “other countries are not interested in imposing this requirement” to give up enrichment and reprocessing. The United States “should not make a blanket statement that will lock ourselves out of certain markets” and remove its “ability to influence choices other countries are making” with regard to the nuclear fuel cycle, he said.

In part because 123 agreements give the United States this influence, it is important for the U.S. nuclear industry to be able to “compete on a level playing field,” he said. The United States has “an interest in having as many of these [123] agreements as strongly worded as possible,” he said.

He added that 123 agreements are “only one, and I would say not the most important, means of addressing our concerns” about the spread of enrichment and reprocessing. He cited in particular the agreement last year by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to revise its guidelines for exports relating to enrichment and reprocessing.

In their article, Bolton and Markey said the policy described in the Poneman-Tauscher letter “may expedite the profitability of [123] agreements for the nuclear industry, but will do so at the expense of US and world security.”

Carol Berrigan, senior director of industry infrastructure and supply chain at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in a Feb. 14 interview that the industry sees its role as being a “responsible partner” with the U.S. government in developing nuclear relations with other countries. She said she viewed the Poneman-Tauscher letter as a “reaffirmation” of a “pragmatic” policy.

The Obama administration will not adopt a policy of insisting that countries renounce uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing as a condition for concluding agreements for nuclear cooperation with the United States, two senior administration officials said in a Jan. 10 letter to Capitol Hill.

Dutch to Host ‘14 Nuclear Security Summit

Kelsey Davenport and Daniel Horner

The Netherlands has agreed to host a nuclear security summit in 2014, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a Jan. 31 press release.

The invitation to hold the third such meeting was extended to the Dutch by the United States and South Korea. Washington was the site of the first nuclear security summit, in April 2010; Seoul is scheduled to host the second one March 26-27.

According to the Dutch press release, the Netherlands viewed the request to host the summit as “a sign of trust” and cited the prevention of nuclear and radiological terrorism as a “top priority” for the country. South Korea will transfer the chairmanship to the Netherlands at the Seoul summit, the release said.

The 2014 nuclear security summit could be the last, a prospect raised in comments last October by Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism. (See ACT, November 2011.) In comments Feb. 16 at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va., Laura Holgate, the National Security Council’s senior director for WMD terrorism and threat reduction, said countries will “take stock” of where they are in 2014. Samore and Holgate are the top officials representing the United States at preparatory meetings for the Seoul summit.

In his April 2009 speech in Prague, President Barack Obama announced a four-year effort to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world.” The participants in the 2010 summit endorsed that goal.

Holgate said the benefits of “leader engagement”—bringing heads of states and government together to focus on nuclear security—would have to be weighed against the possibility of “leader fatigue.”

New Countries

Fifty-three countries are expected to attend the Seoul summit, the summit secretariat said in a Feb. 23 press release, an increase of six from the roster at the Washington summit. The new countries are Azerbaijan, Denmark, Gabon, Hungary, Lithuania, and Romania, the release said.

Representatives from Denmark and Lithuania joined sherpas, or lead government negotiators, from the 47 Washington participants for a preparatory meeting on the Seoul summit in New Delhi, according to a Jan. 17 statement by Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai at the end of the two-day meeting.

The four international organizations that will attend the summit— the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency, INTERPOL, and the United Nations—also sent representatives to New Delhi.

In his statement, Mathai touched on several topics that were discussed and considered for inclusion in the summit communiqué. These topics include two areas, security of radiological sources and “strengthening the synergy” between nuclear safety and security, that are expected to receive greater attention in Seoul than they did at the Washington summit. The communiqué also is expected to contain measures on managing and minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), combating illicit trafficking, and promoting information security, transport security, and international cooperation.

The sherpas will meet one final time in Seoul prior to the summit to finalize the communiqué.

NTI Index

Meanwhile, the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) called attention to the positive impact of the nuclear security summit process on fissile material security, saying in a January report that the summits “facilitated a growing awareness and understanding” of the potential threat posed by nuclear materials.

The focus of the report is the NTI’s Nuclear Materials Security Index, which the group prepared in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit. The index analyzes and assesses conditions for nuclear material security in 176 countries.

The index assessed 32 countries possessing more than one kilogram of HEU or separated plutonium across five categories: quantities of nuclear materials and sites, security and control measures, adherence to global norms, domestic commitments and capacity, and societal factors. An additional 144 countries were evaluated on adherence to global norms, societal factors, and domestic commitments and capacity.

Although the report ranks countries by their scores in each category, the NTI said in a Jan. 27 statement that regardless of ranking, “all countries must do more” and that one of the main goals of the index was to facilitate discussion on nuclear material security priorities.

The report includes recommendations on actions that countries can take to strengthen nuclear material security. It describes the Seoul summit as a potential opportunity for creating a global system for “tracking, protecting, and managing” nuclear materials. This process would begin by establishing a global consensus on priorities, tracking actions taken by countries, and building international confidence through the promotion of increased transparency.

In a Jan. 11 press conference launching the index, former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the co-chairman and chief executive officer of the NTI, said he hoped the index would help “shape discussions” at the Seoul summit and serve as a guide for individual countries and the international community to “set up priorities beyond the summit.”

Nunn and NTI Senior Director for Nuclear and Bio-Security Deepti Choubey said there eventually should be a global standard for nuclear material security. With such a standard in place, “we’d be able to do a far better job of holding states accountable, and we’d also be able to track progress,” Choubey said. The index provides a “framework” to think about the issue, she said.

The Netherlands has agreed to host a nuclear security summit in 2014, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a Jan. 31 press release.

NNSA Nonproliferation Budget Shifts

Daniel Horner

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is requesting $2.5 billion for its nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2013, a figure that encompasses major increases for some programs and major cuts for others.

The request represents an overall increase of $163 million from the $2.3 billion the programs are receiving under the fiscal year 2012 appropriation.

Under the fiscal year 2013 request, a large increase would go to the effort to fabricate mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel from plutonium removed from the U.S. nuclear weapons program. MOX fuel is a mix of uranium oxide and plutonium oxide.

The request for the fissile materials disposition program is $921 million, up from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation of $685 million. As NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington noted, the 2012 figure is a decline from fiscal year 2011, when Congress provided $802 million. She said the fiscal year 2013 request would keep construction of the key facilities on schedule.

Harrington made the comments during a conference call with reporters on Feb. 13, the day the Obama administration released its budget request. According to the detailed budget justification document, the NNSA plans to ask for amounts in the range of $950 million to $1 billion for fissile material disposition in each fiscal year from 2014 to 2017.

Under current plans, the NNSA, which is part of the Department of Energy, will begin producing MOX fuel in 2016 and start loading the fuel into commercial reactors in 2018.

For work on the U.S. plutonium-disposition portion of the fissile materials disposition program, the NNSA is requesting $499 million, a jump from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation of $206 million. Part of that money would go to the “beginning of cold start-up activities.”

As part of the budget request, the NNSA announced it was canceling the project to build a Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility, which would have taken apart nuclear weapons pits and converted their plutonium metal into an oxide form suitable for the MOX fuel fabrication facility. A goal for the coming fiscal year is “the shift of work scope to provide steady state feedstock” to the fabrication plant in the absence of the canceled facility, according to the budget justification document.

The NNSA said it now plans to supply the feedstock by increased use of a smaller-scale disassembly and conversion facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the H-Canyon, a Cold War-era reprocessing facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

That site is also the location of the MOX fuel fabrication plant, which is under construction, and a supporting facility known as the Waste Solidification Building. It also was the planned home of the canceled disassembly facility. In the budget document, the NNSA said it was “optimistic” that the new approach would “result in significant cost savings.”

However, the MOX project is experiencing “increased pressure on project cost and schedule baselines” because of a shortage of qualified nuclear contractors, which has meant a lack of competition and therefore higher bids, the NNSA said in the budget document. The main contractor for the project, Shaw AREVA MOX Services, also is “experiencing significantly greater than expected turnover of experienced personnel,” which is “due to the expansion of the U.S. commercial nuclear industry,” the NNSA said. The NNSA reported those problems in last year’s budget request. (See ACT, March 2011.)

Other Big Changes

Elsewhere in the budget, the request for nonproliferation and verification research and development was $548 million, $194 million above the fiscal year 2012 appropriation. The bulk of that increase comes from a $150 million request, which the NNSA said was a “one-time addition,” to support research, development, and demonstration work toward a domestic uranium-enrichment capacity. According to the NNSA, the benefits of such a capacity include “discouraging the unnecessary spread of enrichment technology by contributing directly to sustained confidence in the international commercial enrichment market” and “improving the ability to detect proliferant programs.”

A principal beneficiary of the new money would be USEC Inc., which is building a gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment plant in Ohio. In a Feb. 13 press release, the company applauded the request.

The request for nonproliferation and verification research and development also included an $18 million increase from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation, to $241 million, for proliferation detection and a $26 million increase, to $158 million, for nuclear detonation detection.

Another part of the nonproliferation budget, international nuclear materials protection and cooperation, would drop from the $570 million appropriated for fiscal year 2012 to $311 million for fiscal year 2013. The bulk of the cut comes from the “second line of defense” program, which helps governments strengthen their borders and ports against trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials. The funding for the program would drop from $262 million to $93 million.

Two undertakings dealing with Russia also would see declines from their fiscal year 2012 appropriations. The “Strategic Rocket Forces/12th Main Directorate” effort, which aims to improve the security of Russian warheads, would dip from $59.1 million to $8.3 million, while weapons materials protection, which focuses on nuclear material security upgrades in Russia’s closed cities, would drop from $80.7 million to $47.0 million.

In all three cases, the NNSA said the cuts reflected the completion of planned work.

Less for GTRI

The request for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) is $466 million, a decrease from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation of $498 million. The GTRI is central to President Barack Obama’s goal of “secur[ing] all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years,” which he announced in his April 2009 Prague speech.

However, Harrington emphasized during the Feb. 13 conference call that the GTRI covers a variety of materials that are being addressed under different schedules and that only some of those materials are encompassed in the four-year effort. The NNSA is on track to meet that goal, but is in a “very constrained budget environment” and therefore has to make choices, she said. The reductions do not come from work that needs to be done to meet the four-year goal, she said.

Under the NNSA request, funding for international radiological material removal would drop to $8.0 million from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation of $20.0 million. Funding for the removal of Russian-origin nuclear material from research reactors and other facilities around the world would decline from $147 million to $102 million, but the NNSA’s budget justification document indicates that that removal of some nuclear material was accelerated by requesting funds in fiscal year 2012 for “long lead-time efforts that will support removals that occur in early [fiscal year] 2013 to meet the four-year deadline of December 31, 2013.”

Funding for the conversion of worldwide research reactors from use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium fuel would increase to $161 million from the $148 million that Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2012. Some of that funding would go to support U.S. companies in developing a “reliable domestic production capability” to produce the medical isotope molybdenum-99 without the use of HEU.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is requesting $2.5 billion for its nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2013, a figure that encompasses major increases for some programs and major cuts for others.

Australia Allows Uranium Sales to India

Daniel Horner

The Australian Labor Party on Dec. 4 endorsed a proposal by its leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to end a ban on uranium sales to India. The 206-185 vote to lift the long-standing ban came at a party conference in Sydney.

For decades, India could not purchase uranium or most other nuclear goods from members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) because New Delhi is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not accept full-scope safeguards, which means that it does not open all its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, in 2008 the NSG, which includes Australia, voted to make an exception from its general rule and allow exports to India. (See ACT, October 2008.)

At a Nov. 15 press conference previewing the Labor meeting, Gillard said that, in light of the NSG decision, “for us to refuse to budge is all pain with no gain.” Australia is a leading exporter of uranium.

Critics of the Labor decision argue that selling uranium would violate Australia’s obligations under the Treaty of Rarotonga, which establishes a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the South Pacific. Article 4 of the treaty says that nuclear exports by treaty parties must be “subject to the safeguards required by Article III.1 of the NPT.”

The NPT article does not use the term “full-scope safeguards,” but in 1996, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, a member of the Liberal Party, told Parliament that the article requires such safeguards. He was responding to questions about potential Australian uranium sales to Taiwan.

In the wake of the Labor vote, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, also a Liberal, said Gillard was “dead wrong” to lift the ban, in part because of the Rarotonga treaty language. Writing in the Dec. 12 Sydney Morning Herald, he said that “selling uranium to India would breach our international obligations.”

In a Dec. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a spokeswoman for Gillard said, “Any agreement to transfer uranium to India would comply with our international legal obligations.”

Gillard, in a Nov. 15 piece in the Herald, said, “We must, of course, expect of India the same standards we do of all countries for uranium export—strict adherence to International Atomic Energy Agency arrangements and strong bilateral undertakings and transparency measures that will provide assurances our uranium will be used only for peaceful purposes.”

The Australian Labor Party on Dec. 4 endorsed a proposal by its leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to end a ban on uranium sales to India. The 206-185 vote to lift the long-standing ban came at a party conference in Sydney.

Accord Reached on CWC’s 2012 Deadline

Daniel Horner

Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 1 to approve a document that reaffirms the importance of the treaty’s April 2012 deadline for destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles but does not say countries that failed to meet the deadline would be violating the terms of the pact.

Under the CWC, possessors of chemical weapons must eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012, which marks the 15th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. However, Russia and the United States, whose chemical stockpiles are by far the world’s largest, have acknowledged they will not be able to meet the deadline.

The decision on the 2012 deadline also includes Libya, which recently told the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) it would not be able to complete its destruction by April. (See ACT, December 2011.) The OPCW is the international body that implements the CWC.

The Dec. 1 decision document notes statements by the three countries of their “unequivocal commitment” to their treaty obligations and “tak[es] note that the inability to fully meet the final extended deadline” is “due to reasons that are unrelated to the commitment of these States Parties to the[ir] General Obligations” under the CWC.

In comments last May on the Russian and U.S. stockpiles, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü cited the “massive” size of those stocks and said that “[t]he efforts and resources required for their elimination in conditions of safety and environmental sensitivity were no less daunting and perhaps underestimated at the time when the convention was drafted.”

The December document says that if the possessor states fail to meet the deadline, they should complete the destruction “in the shortest time possible.” According to the document, each state should “submit a detailed plan” that “specif[ies] the planned completion date by which the destruction of its remaining chemical weapons is to be completed.” The document also spells out reporting and monitoring requirements for the ongoing destruction work.

The vote, which came during the week-long annual meeting of CWC parties in The Hague, was 101-1. Decisions on the CWC generally have been made by consensus, but there have been a few previous exceptions.

Iranian Objection

Iran was the “no” vote. For months, there has been near unanimity on the approach represented by the document, with only Iran opposing it. (See ACT, October 2011.) In the days before the vote, Iran and the United States engaged in a sharp rhetorical exchange over the 2012 deadline.

In his opening statement at the meeting, Iranian Ambassador to the OPCW Kazem Gharib Abadi said, “It is unfortunate that the United States has explicitly stated that it cannot meet the deadline, which is a clear-cut case of non-compliance.” Washington “has set a bad precedent,” “has never committed itself to non-use” of weapons of mass destruction, and “is determined to establish another discriminatory system in the international organizations,” he said. He did not mention Russia.

In his Nov. 29 response, Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, decried the “patently false” rhetoric in Iran’s “political rant.”

In a Dec. 19 interview, Sergey Batsanov, former chief Soviet and Russian negotiator during talks on the CWC and later director of special projects for the OPCW, said the language of the decision indicates the parties’ desire to say that “things [with regard to the deadline] are not going as the convention demanded” and that “such things do not go unnoticed.” Nevertheless, the document shows that the parties had little desire to punish Moscow and Washington or impose additional conditions; rather, the two countries are being “allowed and encouraged to do their job, the sooner the better,” he said.

Although the best outcome would have been for all chemical weapons possessors to have destroyed their entire stockpiles by the deadline, the solution was a good one “under the circumstances,” said Batsanov, who now is director of the Geneva office of International Pugwash. It reflects a “mature attitude” by a wide variety of countries with “different degrees of love and hate” for Russia and the United States, he said.

As for Iran’s dissent, he said it seemed to have much more to do with the controversy over Tehran’s nuclear program than with any chemical weapons issues. Although it would have been better to have had a consensus decision, it ultimately does not make a big difference for the CWC regime, he said, adding that the Iranians’ actions were “not very productive from their own perspective.”

Extension for Libya

Batsanov said he would have thought the parties’ decision could have focused on Russia and the United States without bringing in Libya, whose circumstances were somewhat different. However, he said, the decision is “fine.”

Libya had begun destroying its sulfur mustard stocks in October 2010 and was moving ahead with that work until a heating component of the neutralization unit malfunctioned in February 2011. The unrest in Libya that began around the same time prevented resumption of the work, in part because a UN embargo imposed on the country blocked delivery of the needed replacement part. The embargo no longer is in effect.

In late November, the new Libyan government updated its original CWC declaration to include chemical weapons materials at two previously undisclosed sites. Libya joined the CWC in 2004 under the regime of Moammar Gaddafi.

Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 1 to approve a document that reaffirms the importance of the treaty’s April 2012 deadline for destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles but does not say countries that failed to meet the deadline would be violating the terms of the pact.

BWC Meeting Makes Incremental Changes

Daniel Horner and Oliver Meier

The 2011 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference ended Dec. 22 with participants generally saying they were satisfied with the consensus agreement on a final document but with many expressing some disappointment that the conference failed to adopt significant changes in the treaty regime.

The BWC, which came into force in 1975, prohibits the development, stockpiling, and possession of biological weapons, yet unlike the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or the Chemical Weapons Convention, compliance with the accord is not monitored by an international organization. Talks on a verification mechanism collapsed in 2001 after the United States rejected a draft protocol.

As most observers expected, the states-parties did not narrow their differences on contentious issues relating to treaty compliance and verification at the three-week conference in Geneva.

Other areas had been seen as more likely to produce agreement. For example, some key states had pushed for a strengthened “intersessional process,” the annual meetings of BWC parties in the years between review conferences. There also were proposals to expand the size and mandate of the Implementation Support Unit (ISU), the three-person secretariat that provides institutional support to BWC members, and to revise the exchange of relevant information among the parties under the regime’s so-called confidence-building measures. The parties made some changes in those areas though not as many as some had hoped.

“Overall, we have done pretty well. In some areas, we could have done better,” conference president Paul van den IJssel of the Netherlands said in a Dec. 23 interview.

Van den IJssel, who is the Dutch ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, called the conference’s agreement on changes to the intersessional process “a glass half-full and a glass half-empty.”

Under the arrangement, whose format has remained basically unchanged since it was first agreed in 2002, experts and diplomats from states-parties meet annually “to discuss, and promote common understanding and effective action” on specific topics. During previous meetings, parties have not made legally binding decisions. One of the proposals publicly raised prior to the review conference was to give explicit authorization for the 2012-2015 annual meetings to make such decisions or recommendations. However, the 103 delegations present in Geneva agreed only “to retain previous structures” and left the mandate of the intersessional meetings unchanged.

The parties did change the meetings’ agenda. Previously, there had been different topics for each year; now, three standing agenda items will be discussed every year. These are cooperation and assistance, related to the treaty’s Article X on the peaceful uses of biological agents and toxins; developments in science and technology; and national implementation of countries’ commitments under the treaty. In addition, the first two annual meetings will discuss ways to increase participation in the confidence-building measures, and the next two meetings will focus on cooperation and assistance in case of a biological weapons attack. An almost identical set of issues already has been discussed at previous intersessional meetings.

Van den IJssel cited the parties’ failure to agree on granting the annual meetings the power to make legally binding decisions as one example of the half-empty glass. However, he said the decision to have three standing topics strengthens the intersessional process because it will “enable us to have structured discussions under the [intersessional process] and make progress on three important issues.”

Western states had maintained that giving annual meetings decision-making power was both feasible and desirable. In their joint position for the review conference, the 27 member states of the European Union argued for “enhanced arrangements for further progress” under a new intersessional process. A senior member of a European country delegation said in a Dec. 23 interview that although there had been “some progress,” it was “regrettable” that the annual meetings were not given the power to make binding decisions.

In a Dec. 23 conference call with journalists, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman said the United States had also favored giving the parties decision-making power, a step he described as “a very modest innovation” that would have made the BWC and the intersessional process “a little bit more nimble.” However, he said, some countries expressed concerns about “allowing even a limited range of decisions to be made” outside the review conferences.

A Russian official argued in a Jan. 2 e-mail to Arms Control Today that because the 2012-2015 intersessional process is “very similar” to the one from 2007 to 2010, “it is logical that its mandate should remain the same.” He wrote that “[d]ecision-making powers, therefore, shall continue to rest with [the] Review Conference, unless delegated by it to subsidiary bodies for achieving some notable and consensually accepted goal.” This point was echoed by Bilal Ahmad, first secretary at Pakistan’s mission to the UN office in Geneva. In a Jan. 3 interview, he argued that because the BWC does not “specifically set out” an intersessional process, decision-making remains a prerogative of the review conference.

A diplomat from another key country in the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) said agreement on broader changes in the intersessional process “was not achievable.” On the plus side, he said, the process now “is more structured and will address more substantial issues.” He added, “I believe there is scope to move a bit on the decision-making issue during the [period between review conferences], but that will depend on the Chairs [of the annual meetings].”

Financial Pressures

In his interview, van den IJssel cited the ISU as an “area where I had hoped we would do better.” The delegates “could not agree on an increase in the budget to enable a modest increase of the size” of the support unit, he said. Participants said they discussed adding two ISU staff positions to the current three.

“Understandable financial concerns” by some countries were “the most important reason” for the failure to agree on the expansion, van den IJssel said, but he conceded that he “did not foresee this problem as being so severe.” Countryman offered a similar account of the conference’s decision in this area.

The senior European official said that “Greece, Portugal, and Spain, which were hit hard by the euro crisis, opposed any increase in funding.”

When the BWC parties created the ISU at their last review conference, in 2006, they authorized funding through 2011. Therefore, they had to make a decision during the 2011 conference on the unit’s future. The 2006 mandate was renewed, with the only additional task being to administer a database to match requests for and offers of assistance among the parties. The decision to establish the database was another point of agreement at the December conference.

Because “no substantial administrative burden was added” and “the available staff were sufficient to perform the mandate,” the parties “decided to retain the ISU [at] its original strength,” the Russian official said.

Ahmad said Pakistan was supportive of the idea of increasing the number of ISU staff if the tasks assigned to it warranted such an increase. Pakistan also considered it important that the staff assignments follow the relevant UN rules on rotation and equitable geographical distribution, he said.

Transparency, Compliance, and Verification

One result of the conference that drew praise from multiple participants was the decision to revise the forms that countries use to exchange the confidence-building information. In a Jan. 5 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Countryman elaborated on his Dec. 23 comments by saying that some of those changes “will clarify the questions posed to States Parties to provide for more consistent and relevant data collection” and others will “reduce the reporting burden by eliminating requirements that have been superseded.”

The parties also agreed that they would discuss “how to enable fuller participation” in the process. Currently, fewer than half of the 165 states-parties fulfill their political commitments to submit the forms. Van den IJssel commented that the confidence-building measures “are not always the easiest topic,” but said that “if you had asked me before the review conference, I would have been happy with the outcome that we have achieved now.”

Although there was some progress in that area, conflicting positions on verification and compliance persisted. The Obama administration has said that effective verification under the treaty is impossible and has made clear that it will not seek to revive the talks on a compliance protocol. The EU, in its joint position statement, had described verification as “a central element” of an effective treaty, but recognized that there is “currently no consensus” on this. The EU members stated their willingness “to work towards identifying options that could achieve similar goals.”

As it has in the past, Russia pushed for a legally binding verification mechanism. In his e-mail, the Russian official described the proposal as “a discussion mandate for the next intersessional process [that] would have provided an opportunity for a conceptual non-binding exchange of views without necessarily leading to any follow-up action.”

The NAM countries, by far the biggest regional grouping, in their statement reiterated that, for them, “the only sustainable method of strengthening the convention” is negotiation of a legally binding agreement on compliance.

Several participants pointed to cooperation among China, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia as a significant new factor during the conference. The five countries come from different regional groupings. India, Iran, and Pakistan are members of the NAM; China is not part of the NAM but often joins with that group; and Russia is part of the Eastern European Group.

During the last week of the conference, the countries issued a “non-paper” on the intersessional process, which also called for consideration of “multilateral verification measures” as one issue to be discussed under the process. Some observers and participants said this intervention at a late stage of the conference was not helpful.

The European diplomat said that, on the broad issue of compliance, “there was no progress” at the review conference. “China, Cuba, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, acting as a group of like-minded states, pushed too hard for issues like Article X and a legally binding verification instrument. In the end, this was one of the reasons why we did not see agreement on a reasonable package of strengthened measures to address compliance with the BWC,” he argued.

The NAM-country diplomat summarized the debate over verification and compliance by saying that some words are “either loved or hated passionately by states” and “verification is such a word.” According to the diplomat, “The ‘verification’ lovers would not accept ‘compliance’ without ‘verification,’” which left no basis on which to build consensus.

Results and Prospects

The NAM-country diplomat said he was “satisfied” with the conference’s outcome. He added, “We have learned over years that it is always difficult to make any substantial change in this environment. Therefore, one has to accept small steps.”

In the run-up to the meeting, van den IJssel had said the parties’ approach should not be to settle for the lowest common denominator but rather to apply “ambitious realism.” Ahmad said the results were “very much in line” with that goal. A noteworthy accomplishment was the inclusion of assistance and cooperation with a particular focus on Article X as a standing agenda item in the intersessional process, he said.

The European official said the results “could have been worse.” He called the final document “a modest achievement,” but added that “there is likely to be no progress on many important issues over the next five years.”

The 2011 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference ended Dec. 22 with participants generally saying they were satisfied with the consensus agreement on a final document but with many expressing some disappointment that the conference failed to adopt significant changes in the treaty regime.

IAEA Holds Forum on Mideast Nuclear Arms

Daniel Horner

Participants in a forum at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month proposed that countries trying to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East “identify specific and practical confidence-building measures” and recognize that “declarations of good intentions could be a first step to [breaking] the current stalemate,” according to an IAEA summary of the meeting.

The Nov. 21-22 forum in Vienna drew representatives from 97 states, including every Middle Eastern country except Iran, the agency said.

The meeting, chaired by Norwegian IAEA ambassador Jan Petersen, was designed to draw on the experiences of existing nuclear-weapon-free zones. One lesson, according to the summary, was “the need to strike a balance between the value of prior experience and the uniqueness of each region.” Another was the importance of “involvement from the outset” by the nuclear-weapon states, “notably through the issue of negative security assurances.”

Ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is a long-standing nonproliferation and disarmament goal that received a boost at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, where the parties agreed to hold a conference in 2012 on creating a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.

Participants in a forum at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month proposed that countries trying to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East “identify specific and practical confidence-building measures” and recognize that “declarations of good intentions could be a first step to [breaking] the current stalemate,” according to an IAEA summary of the meeting.

OPCW Prepares for More Libya Inspections

Daniel Horner

Updated on December 5, 2011

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is preparing to send inspectors to two previously undeclared sites in Libya, the organization said in a Nov. 4 press release.

The announcement came in the days after statements by Ian Martin, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s special representative in Libya, and a subsequent press conference by officials of the new Libyan government announcing the existence of the sites, whose locations were not disclosed.

According to the Nov. 4 release, Libyan authorities on Nov. 1 “advised the OPCW that further stocks of what are believed to be chemical weapons had been found.” In his Nov. 28 opening statement to the week-long annual conference in The Hague of parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said his organization had received the “formal declaration by the Libyan authorities” updating the cataloguing of its chemical stockpiles that Libya had submitted when it joined the CWC in 2004.

The OPCW’s acknowledgment of the new Libyan sites came in a press release that dealt mainly with the return of the organization’s inspectors to the Ruwagha depot in the southeastern Libyan desert. That depot is the site of Libya’s remaining declared stockpile of sulfur mustard, a chemical warfare agent that is stored in liquid form.

Libya had begun destroying its sulfur mustard stocks in October 2010 and was moving ahead with that work until a heating component of the neutralization unit malfunctioned in February. The unrest in Libya that began around the same time prevented resumption of the work, in part because a UN embargo imposed on the country blocked delivery of the needed replacement part. (See ACT, October 2011.) The OPCW inspectors had been recalled from the idled facility.

In the press release, the OPCW said its recent inspection had “confirmed that the full stockpile of undestroyed sulfur mustard and precursors remains in place.” In addition, the release said, the inspectors “took further measures to ensure the integrity of the stockpiles until destruction operations can resume under OPCW verification.”

The months since the beginning of the uprising against the regime of Moammar Gaddafi have seen numerous and sometimes conflicting reports on new discoveries of chemical weapons or their components.

According to a Nov. 20 report in The Washington Post, U.S. officials suspect that Iran provided the Gaddafi government with artillery shells used for chemical weapons. An Iranian official called the allegation “fabricated,” the Post said.

Separately, the OPCW Executive Council, meeting in a special session Nov. 23-24, “reached a decision on the matter of the 2012 final deadline for completing destruction of all existing chemical weapons,” the OPCW said Nov. 25. The CWC sets a final deadline of April 29, 2012, for possessors of chemical weapons to destroy their stockpiles. Russia and the United States, which account for the vast majority of the world’s stockpiles, have acknowledged that they will not meet the deadline.

For the past two years, CWC parties have been discussing how to handle that situation. Diplomats have said that all parties except Iran have agreed to language drafted by Peter Goosen, the council’s South African chairman. (See ACT, October 2011.) In Nov. 24 remarks to the council meeting, Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, appeared to confirm that characterization, saying the council’s draft decision document is one “that every delegation except Iran indicated that it could support.”

According to the OPCW statement, the council decision “was taken by vote,” while the parties “highlighted their desire to continue upholding the OPCW’s tradition of reaching decisions by consensus.”

The council decision now goes to the conference of CWC members. In a Nov. 25 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a source familiar with the council’s discussions said, “[T]his draft decision was taken by vote by the Council but it is up to the Conference to decide to adopt it and how.”

In his Nov. 28 statement to the conference, Üzümcü called the council decision “constructive and forward-looking.” In a statement the same day, Iranian OPCW ambassador Kazem Gharib Abadi called the U.S. failure to meet the 2012 deadline “a clear-cut case of non-compliance.”

Üzümcü also announced in his statement that Libya had told the OPCW it would not be able to meet the deadline.

UPDATE: CWC States Reach Decision on 2012 Deadline

Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 1 to approve a document reaffirming the importance of the treaty’s April 2012 deadline for destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles without declaring countries that failed to meet the deadline to be violating the terms of the pact.

Under the CWC, possessors of chemical weapons must eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012, which marks the 15th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. However, Russia and the United States, whose chemical stockpiles are by far the world’s largest, have acknowledged they will not be able to meet the deadline. Libya recently said it also will not meet the deadline.

The document notes statements by the three countries of their “unequivocal commitment” to their treaty obligations and “tak[es] note that the inability to fully meet the final extended deadline” is “due to reasons that are unrelated to the commitment of these States Parties to the[ir] General Obligations” under the CWC.

In comments last May on the Russian and U.S. stockpiles, Ahmet Üzümcü, the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), cited the “massive” size of those stocks and said that “[t]he efforts and resources required for their elimination in conditions of safety and environmental sensitivity were no less daunting, and perhaps underestimated at the time when the convention was drafted.” The OPCW is the international body that implements the CWC.

The Dec. 1 decision document says that if the possessor states do in fact fail to meet the deadline, they should complete the destruction “in the shortest time possible.” According to the document, each state should “submit a detailed plan” that “specif[ies] the planned completion date by which the destruction of its remaining chemical weapons is to be completed.” The document also spells out reporting and monitoring requirements for the ongoing destruction work.

The vote, which came during the week-long annual meeting of CWC parties in The Hague, was 101-1. Iran was the “no” vote. For months, there has been near unanimity on the approach represented by the document, with only Iran opposing it. (See ACT, October 2011.) In the days before the vote, Iran and the United States engaged in a sharp rhetorical exchange over the 2012 deadline.

Decisions on the CWC generally have been made by consensus, but there have been a few previous exceptions.—DANIEL HORNER

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is preparing to send inspectors to two previously undeclared sites in Libya, the organization said in a Nov. 4 press release.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Daniel Horner