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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
Greg Thielmann

Sorting Out the Nuclear and Missile Threats From North Korea

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By Greg Thielmann
May 2013

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Following condemnations by the international community of North Korea’s December satellite launch and February nuclear test, Pyongyang unleashed a furious barrage of rhetorical threats in March and April against the United States and South Korea. Now, the hot air war of the early spring appears to be over, despite the exercise launch of six short-range missiles by North Korea off its east coast in recent days and the ongoing visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to South Korea.

Yet North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear and missile capabilities continues, its political isolation from the international community deepens, and the United States is now stuck with a commitment to spend an additional billion-dollars on strategic missile defenses in Alaska. It is time to sort out what the threat actually is and what can be done about it.

 

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Following condemnations by the international community of North Korea’s December satellite launch and February nuclear test, Pyongyang unleashed a furious barrage of rhetorical threats in March and April against the United States and South Korea. Now, the hot air war of the early spring appears to be over, despite the exercise launch of six short-range missiles by North Korea off its east coast in recent days and the ongoing visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to South Korea.

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Panel Discussion “Time to Move from Tactics to Strategy on Iran”

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Remarks as delivered by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association at the launch of the Atlantic Council Task Force report on U.S. immediate and long-term strategy in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. (To watch the complete event online go to  C-Span.org).
Washington, D.C.
April 4, 2013

I’m very happy to help launch the latest publication of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force.  I want to thank the Council for this report, as well as the “issue briefs” and panel discussions, which preceded it.

Today’s release is the latest in a number of quality reports on the Iran nuclear issue that have been published in the first quarter of 2013.

The Arms Control Association released a “briefing book” in February: “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”  I would also mention: the International Crisis Group’s “Spider Web” report on the Iran sanctions; the National Iranian-American Council’s report on how Iranian stakeholders view the sanctions; and the Carnegie Endowment’s report on the “Costs and Risks” of Iran’s nuclear program.

Building on its own previous findings, the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force now recommends a long-term strategy to guide our policies on Iran.  I believe this report makes an important contribution to shaping an emerging consensus on how we should deal with Iran.

I will be offering some of my own perspectives today on the very difficult policy decisions we face in trying to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dissuade Iran from building nuclear weapons.

In deference to proclivities developed during seven years as a State Department intelligence analyst, I will also try to register at least one dissenting footnote to the views of the majority.

Obstacles to negotiating a solution

It’s easy to get discouraged by recalling the history of our bilateral relations with Iran.  Both sides have missed opportunities.  Some of Iran’s grievances toward the United States predate any arguments over the nuclear program, but they are still obstacles to a nuclear solution.

If the historical baggage is heavy, contemporary concerns don’t seem very light either.  We are constantly reminded by the press and commentators that the sanctions have failed to convince the Iranians to change their policies and that time is running out.  Every quarterly report of the International Atomic Energy Agency informs us how many more centrifuges Iran has installed, how much more enriched uranium Iran has accumulated and how uncooperative Iran has been in addressing the agency’s questions about suspicious past activities.

A political consensus seems to have formed in the United States around the notion that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be “unacceptable,” even as a debate rages about how close Iran should be allowed to get.

Although even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have extended his red line to next year, a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored by David Albright warns that Iran on its current trajectory will be able, by mid-2014, to assemble sufficient fissile material for a bomb within one to two weeks of an order from the Supreme Leader.

Some of you may have heard this past Monday at Brookings of the low expectations for the next round of negotiations from former White House official Gary Samore.  Samore predicted that there would be no agreement before Iranian elections in June, commenting that we have a long way to go before even a confidence-building-measure is possible.  Former EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana opined at the same event that it will be very difficult to resolve the nuclear issues while the Syrian political crisis rages.

Where are we now in negotiating a solution?

Samore did not, however, rule out a narrowing of differences when the parties meet tomorrow in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  And this is exactly what I would like to discuss next.  Where are we in negotiating necessary constraints on Iran’s nuclear activities?

By all accounts, February’s six power talks with Iran and the March meeting between the parties’ technical experts in Istanbul were constructive.  In a real sense, these talks are beginning to resemble real negotiations.

The initial focus of the six powers is on halting the growth in Iran's stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium that would provide the fastest route toward producing the fissile material needed to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran's principal objectives are to establish the legitimacy of uranium enrichment and to gain as much sanctions relief as possible, while keeping its future options open.

With Iran’s presidential elections less than three months away, it does not seem likely Iran would be inclined to cut a deal – even on a small, interim step.  Nonetheless, it is reasonable to hope for a further narrowing of differences that would bring the sides closer to taking that first step – an agreement that would build confidence and buy time for a more comprehensive settlement.

Agreement on dates and venues for continued talks would be a minimum acceptable outcome.  I expect at least this to happen, because neither side has an interest in giving the impression that the negotiating process had stalled.

What kind of an agreement?

This brings us to the task of identifying the substantive and procedural requirements for an interim agreement.

I would first suggest conceding Iran’s conditional “right” to enrichment.  Anyone interested in a negotiated settlement of the Iran nuclear issue knows that we cannot successfully achieve exceptional transparency measures and exceptional limitations on Iran’s nuclear program without accepting Iran’s ability to enrich some uranium for civilian power reactor fuel.  It would be helpful to more clearly telegraph this willingness to accept the obvious.  Demanding a halt to all enrichment does not give the United States leverage when the Iranians know full well it will ultimately be withdrawn; it just gives Tehran an excuse for diverting attention from the real issue -- Iran’s noncompliance with its obligations to the IAEA.

We must, of course, continue to stress the conditionality of uranium enrichment rights.  Though inalienable, NPT Article IV rights must be “in conformity with Articles I and II” of the treaty.

I would also suggest trying hard to separate the perfect from the good.  As an interim measure, it is more important to quickly achieve a modest but useful agreement that can be easily monitored than seeking up-front a better, more extensive and permanent limitation.

For example, there appears to be agreement in principle to stopping expansion of Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile.  I would argue that achieving this immediate goal is more important than Tehran agreeing to move its stockpile to another country.  While imperfect, even conversion of the existing stockpile of uranium gas to the solid form used for fuel in the Tehran Research Reactor, would be a step forward.

Similarly, it seems to me that ending the production of medium grade uranium anywhere in Iran is more important than winning agreement to shutter the deep underground facility at Fordow.  The key question is frequency and ease of IAEA access to uranium enrichment facilities, not their location.

Finally we should drop the demand to shut down Fordow. It’s not very persuasive to argue for closure “because Fordow is too difficult for Israel to destroy.”

Although details are sketchy, the six powers are offering some relief to the ever-expanding web of sanctions, relaxing restrictions on gold trading and the sale of petrochemical products.  Perhaps implementation of certain EU sanctions could also be suspended, but the core sanctions must be maintained until Iran is ready to seal the deal.

The key for an interim agreement will be to find a package of sanctions relief proportionate to the concessions offered by Tehran – both in scale and reversibility.

The Big Picture

When an interim agreement has been achieved, negotiations can begin in earnest on measures to ensure transparency, resolve questions about past military activities, and on unwinding the sanctions.

We need to dwell not on what we most want, but on what we must have.  Maintaining six power cohesion remains a priority.  And we need to spend at least a little time worrying about how Iran’s negotiators will sell a negotiated agreement in Tehran, not just how it will go over in the U.S. Congress.

Footnote

And now for the footnote I promised.

The “military option” section includes, on the one hand, thorough lists of “grave” implications for a nuclear Iran, and on the other, of  “dire” consequences for a “premature military strike.”  I’m sure I join everyone in our audience today in fervently wishing for neither rather than either.

But I personally think the consequences of a nuclear Iran are somewhat overdrawn and description of consequences a little too torrid.

-- Why would an Iranian success in violating UN Security Council resolutions “shred” the NPT when North Korean violations have not?

-- Why should we believe an Iranian bomb would “threaten the very existence of Israel” when Yehud Barak does not?

Moreover, I’m not sure what it means to “ensure that the option of military strikes remains credible.”  Given the ramifications of an attack that would delay but not even prevent an Iranian bomb, I doubt that the United States hitting first with a unilateral “preventive attack” can ever be very credible.  Constantly repeating that “the military option is on the table” won’t make it so.

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I’m very happy to help launch the latest publication of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force.  I want to thank the Council for this report, as well as the “issue briefs” and panel discussions, which preceded it.

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Lessons for Handling Iran From the Sad Saga of Iraq

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By Greg Thielmann and Alexandra Schmitt
March 2013

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Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush said in a radio address to the nation: "It is clear that Saddam Hussein is still violating the demands of the United Nations by refusing to disarm." Eleven days later, he announced the invasion of Iraq to remove the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly possessed by Hussein's brutal regime and to prevent their use by or transfer to terrorist networks such as al Qaeda. That no such weapons existed was less a symptom of flawed intelligence than the U.S. leaders' obsession with achieving regime change in Baghdad and their consequent willingness to distort evidence on WMD toward that end.

This distortion, along with failures by the press and Congress to exercise due diligence in evaluating the assertions of the executive branch, blinded the public to contravening information on Iraqi WMD that was readily available during the six weeks preceding the attack.

Ironically, the most important sources of this ignored information were the very inspectors that the international community had forced Iraq to readmit the previous fall. There are lessons here for current efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

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Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush said in a radio address to the nation: "It is clear that Saddam Hussein is still violating the demands of the United Nations by refusing to disarm." Eleven days later, he announced the invasion of Iraq to remove the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly possessed by Hussein's brutal regime and to prevent their use by or transfer to terrorist networks such as al Qaeda. That no such weapons existed was less a symptom of flawed intelligence than the U.S. leaders' obsession with achieving regime change in Baghdad and their consequent willingness to distort evidence on WMD toward that end.

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Iran's Missile Program and Its Implications for U.S. Missile Defense

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By Greg Thielmann
January 2013

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Although plans for expanding U.S. strategic missile defenses focus on the Iranian ICBM threat, that threat is not emerging as was previously predicted.  Iran conducted no long-range ballistic missile tests in 2012 and has not flown even the larger space launch vehicle that it displayed two years ago, which could have helped advance ICBM technology.  Moreover, Tehran has still not decided to build nuclear weapons and continues to focus on short- and medium-range rather than longer-range ballistic missiles.

It is, therefore, time to adapt U.S. missile defense plans accordingly by suspending the fourth phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. Doing so would remove an obstacle to negotiating further reductions in the strategic forces of Russia - the only country that poses an unambiguous existential threat to the United States.

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Although plans for expanding U.S. strategic missile defenses focus on the Iranian ICBM threat, that threat is not emerging as was previously predicted.  Iran conducted no long-range ballistic missile tests in 2012 and has not flown even the larger space launch vehicle that it displayed two years ago, which could have helped advance ICBM technology.  Moreover, Tehran has still not decided to build nuclear weapons and continues to focus on short- and medium-range rather than longer-range ballistic missiles.

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Time Is Now to Act on Treaties to Guard Against Nuclear Terrorism

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Volume 3, Issue 15, December 3, 2012

As the 112th Congress enters its final days, one of its critical priorities should be approving implementing legislation for two treaties that help raise the barriers against nuclear terrorism.

For more than a decade, U.S. defense and security leaders have warned that nuclear terrorism poses a severe threat to American security. The 9/11 Commission report stated, "The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world's most dangerous terrorists acquire the world's most dangerous weapons."

During the 2004 presidential debates, the two candidates agreed that "the biggest threat facing the country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network." At the Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium in Washington, D.C., December 3, President Obama reiterated that "nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security."

The task now is for the United States and other key countries to implement the action steps necessary to get the job done.

At the first 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington, the Obama administration announced the acceleration of U.S. efforts to complete ratification procedures for the two treaties. It urged other countries to do the same.

Congress needs to act on the treaty legislation before it so that U.S. law will align with the norms Washington has been seeking to internationalize. The treaties, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, are common sense measures that enhance the world's ability to prevent incidents of nuclear terrorism and punish those responsible.

The amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials will add standards of protection for the storage and use of nuclear materials and strengthen existing measures for materials in transport, but the United States and other countries have to ratify the amendment before it can enter into force.

The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism creates an important legal framework to investigate, prosecute and extradite those who commit terrorist acts with dirty bombs, nuclear material or against nuclear facilities. Such a framework is necessary for effective international action against nuclear terrorists.

As Andy Semmel, a senior State Department official under George W. Bush, recently noted that these treaties "would strengthen the ability of the United States and, ultimately, the international community, to fight the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism and help prevent nuclear proliferation."

By approving these measures, the United States will set a positive example that can influence the actions taken by other nations and help achieve the ambitious goals that the United States endorsed at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March 2012. One of these goals is entry into force of the amendment for the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials by 2014.

After strong backing for the treaties from the president and his predecessor, the House of Representatives finally passed compromise implementing legislation earlier this year with broad bipartisan support. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan) urged prompt passage of their bill in a November 14 letter to the Senate leadership. They explained in the letter that they had "worked together closely, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and State, to carefully craft bipartisan legislation to finally achieve implementation of the critical treaties."

However, rather than facilitating swift Senate action on the treaties, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) slowed the process in the Judiciary Committee by seeking amendments on issues his Republican colleagues in the House had already set aside.

The Grassley amendments are peripheral to the requirements for effective action against nuclear terrorism at home and potentially counter-productive for spurring other states to adopt necessary measures. His insistence on imposing the death sentence in terrorism cases is especially ill-advised considering opposition from most of the world's democracies and ironic from a senator whose own state eliminated capital punishment from its laws in 1965.

Without fast-track treatment by the Senate of the bipartisan bill from the House, there will be no action on the treaties in the current Congress and possibly none in the next. And U.S. inaction will have a negative impact on progress against nuclear terrorism by other countries. As terrorist groups ramp up their attempts to acquire nuclear material, failure to expeditiously support international measures to cope with this threat is irresponsible.

Members of the current Congress confront an enormous challenge in quickly overcoming the rancor of the election campaign to attend to the nation's business over the few weeks remaining in the current session. Passing the bipartisan legislation from the House on the nuclear terrorism treaties would be an excellent start.--GREG THIELMANN

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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As the 112th Congress enters its final days, one of its critical priorities should be approving implementing legislation for two treaties that help raise the barriers against nuclear terrorism.

A Preventive War Against Iran? Sound Familiar?

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Remarks as delivered by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
September 20, 2012

Today is very close to the tenth anniversary of my retirement from the U.S. Foreign Service.  I remember very well the national mood at that time.  The country was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks one year earlier and the George W. Bush Administration was associating al-Qaida, which had perpetrated the attacks, with Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Baghdad, which had nothing to do with them.  That spring, the president had dubbed Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as part of an “axis of evil,” bent on developing weapons of mass destruction.  The president had announced a change in U.S. military doctrine, arguing that the nation had to be ready to strike first at countries, which might pose a WMD threat in the future.  Congress, meanwhile, was funding Iraqi opposition groups seeking regime change.

And exactly ten years ago today, the once and future prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote theses words in The Wall Street Journal:

[Saddam Hussein] is a dictator who is rapidly expanding his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons, who has used these weapons of mass destruction against his subjects and his neighbors, and who is feverishly trying to acquire nuclear weapons. …

Two decades ago it was possible to thwart Saddam's nuclear ambitions by bombing a single installation. Today nothing less than dismantling his regime will do.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Now I know that there is a difference between Iraq and Iran – and that it is more than the last letter of a four-letter word.  But I also recall Mark Twain’s comment that: although “history does not repeat itself, it does rhyme.”

I want to speak today about the rhyme and reason of Iran’s nuclear program, which has so bedeviled our already difficult bilateral relationship.

Once upon a time, about a century ago, the United States stood high in the esteem of Iranians.  One martyr to the cause of Iranian democracy in 1909 was a 24-year old Nebraskan named Howard Baskerville.  He died in defense of the young constitution of Iran, fighting counter-revolutionaries near Tabriz.  In 1911, a 34-year old American named Morgan Shuster became a hero of Iranian democracy while serving as Treasurer General of the Persian Empire when, answering only to the Persian Parliament, he defied the imperial demands of Russia and Britain.

Through the Second World War, the United States was perceived as the anti-colonial power.  Alas, in the post-World War II era, the U.S.-Iranian relationship suffered two major traumas.  At the top of every Iranian’s grievance list is the U.S./British-engineered coup in 1953 against the democratically-elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, who had led a nationalization of Iran’s oil industries.  In his place, we installed the young Shah Reza Pahlavi.

For Americans, the searing national memory was the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the holding of 53 hostages for 444 days.  (The latter episode was twice personal for me – as a young U.S. diplomat and as someone who knew one of the hostages as my student teacher in high school.)

We do not have time to list all of the grievances carefully nurtured by both sides, but I will try to summarize the nuclear dispute, which is bringing us close to war.  The Iranians have long held grand (or grandiose) plans for a nuclear power industry, which would also provide the infrastructure for building nuclear weapons.  The Shah nonetheless signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (or NPT), under which Iran foreswore development of nuclear weapons – a commitment, which was later reaffirmed by the Islamic Republic and redefined as a religious as well as a legal obligation.  As part of the bargain, the NPT also affirms the right of its members to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy, contingent upon compliance with the safeguards procedures established in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (or IAEA).  It is not clear what the Iranian public’s views are on developing nuclear weapons, but there is solid public support for Iran’s nuclear program as the government defines it.

After the first war with Iraq (to liberate Kuwait), the IAEA found that it had underestimated the extent of Iraq’s illicit proliferation activity.  The agency subsequently developed a more rigorous regime, called the “Additional Protocol” to provide greater transparency for its members’ nuclear activities.  Most members have signed up to this protocol, but Tehran has not.  Iran is also not carrying out all requirements of its existing Safeguards Agreements with the IAEA.  For example, it has not provided the required advance notice to the IAEA for new construction – most conspicuously and consequentially, with regard to the uranium enrichment facility it had secretly burrowed into a mountain at Fordow.  Iran is not permitting timely access to some other nuclear facilities the agency requests to visit, such as the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak, which could be a future source of plutonium for weapons.  Also, it has not allowed the agency to adequately investigate suspicious past activities.  For these reasons, the IAEA is unable to provide assurances that Iran’s nuclear activities are only peaceful.

So the real issue with Iran is not the right to enrich uranium.  The UN Security Council has said that Iran must suspend, not end, enrichment while Iran resolves questions about past activities.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made clear in testimony to Congress that the United States will not oppose Iran’s enrichment of uranium under the right circumstances.

We do not know whether or not Tehran ultimately wants to build and deploy nuclear weapons, but it appears to be determined to build the infrastructure and cadre of experts that would give it the option of doing so.  The technical option of building the bomb is available to a number of non-nuclear weapons states – Japan and Germany being conspicuous examples.  (Either could build a deliverable nuclear weapons – probably within one year of deciding to do so.)  The most important thing for preventing proliferation is to ensure that states do not have the motivation to go nuclear and the ability to take action without being detected.  With the physical plant for producing fissile material and the human resources that could pull it off, Iran already has the means ultimately to become a nuclear weapons state.  It must be persuaded that such a course is not in its best interests.

The six powers negotiating with Iran – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, or the P5+1, are attempting to make that case.  Their strategy includes both increasing the costs of non-cooperation through economic and military sanctions and keeping the door open to compromises which would allow Tehran to recognize an outcome as beneficial and one that could be credibly portrayed as beneficial.

The three negotiating sessions in the first half of this year were an important beginning, but they have not yet yielded tangible results.  The heads of the respective sides met for a four-hour dinner in Istanbul earlier this week to discuss starting a new round of negotiations.  European High Representative Catherine Ashton called the meeting: “useful and constructive.”  The Iranian chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called it: “positive and fruitful.” These are more upbeat appraisals than heard at the end of the last group session in Moscow, but we must still wait for concrete results.

The crux of the strategy used to achieve the NPT’s nonproliferation objectives is to concentrate on denying states the means to obtain the weapons grade uranium or plutonium needed to construct nuclear weapons.  Getting the ingredients for the core of the weapons is generally assessed to be the most difficult part of nuclear bomb-making.  Although vigorous pursuit of activities permitted by the NPT will give states a legs-up, there would still be a long way to go to construct a weapon.

The P5+1 are therefore appropriately focused on halting and reversing Iran’s continuing production of uranium hexafluoride enriched to a U-235 isotope concentration of 20 percent. This is the isotope needed at a 90 percent enrichment level to produce the metallic core of a nuclear warhead. Unfortunately, at 20 percent, the uranium has already travelled 90 percent of the distance required to reach weapons grade. Even though civilian power reactors require only 3.5 percent enrichment, Iran claims it needs the higher level to refuel an ageing research reactor that makes medical isotopes.  Large stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium thus pose a much more rapid “breakout” option for Iran.

As a confidence building measure, the six powers renewed this year their offer from October 2009 to provide fuel elements for the research reactor.  But the updated condition this time is for Iran to stop production of 20 percent enriched, ship the stockpile out of the country, and shut down the Fordow facility.  This effort would give each side something it wants – for the six powers, elimination of the most imminent threat; for Iran, tacit acceptance of its right to enrich.  But the deal has not yet been clinched.  The Iranians also want sanctions relief up front, which the P5+1 cannot give without movement on the compliance issues which prompted the sanctions in the first place. And the six powers want to shut down Fordow, which the Iranians can hardly be expected to do, just because the facility is more difficult for aggressors to destroy.

The U.S. presidential election season is not a propitious time for offering compromises or even apparently for objective discussions of the status quo by the press.  Most U.S. commentary on the latest IAEA report, for example, carried alarmist headlines.  It did not highlight either the reduction in 20 percent stockpiles during the last quarter or the continuing absence of Iranian progress on advanced centrifuge installations.

My hope is that if we can keep the channel of communications open, maintain P5+1 unity on both sanctions and negotiating initiatives, and avoid distortions leading to war, we will have new opportunities for nonproliferation progress in 2013.  With an intelligence community that has improved its analytical tradecraft and an administration that has spoken more honestly to the American people than its predecessor, I think that we will be able to avoid a preventive attack.

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Remarks as delivered by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 20, 2012.

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ACA Senior Fellow Speaks at U.S.-Brazilian Workshop in Brazil

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Defining the Ideal Relationship between our Countries and Looking to Areas of Misunderstanding and Disagreement

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association
at U.S.-Brazillian Workshop on Global and Regional Security
Brasilia, Brazil
August 13-14, 2012

I wanted to begin this scene-setter by giving you a little more information on my personal background.

I grew up in the farming state of Iowa, deep in the interior of the United States.  It’s sort of like the Brazilian state of Goias, but there’s no samba music on the radio, no cafezinho in the cafes, and no Southern Cross in the night sky.

However, every time I fly home from Washington in recent years, I arrive on an Embraer aircraft.  And the farmers in Iowa worry about competition from Brazilian farmers in marketing soybean and ethanol – more evidence that our two countries are important to each other.

Most of my professional career in the U.S. Foreign Service and later as a staffer in the U.S. Senate has involved arms control and other political-military issues, but my first and last diplomatic assignments were to serve as a political officer of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia.

In the course of these two tours, I experienced the U.S.-Brazilian relationship near its nadir, during the dictatorship of General Geisel as President Carter was pushing on human rights and nonproliferation.  I’ve also seen the relationship at one of the high points – when Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Bill Clinton found common cause on a wide variety of issues, benefitting from good personal chemistry as well as converging national interests.

I confess to being heavily influenced by the recipe used to make progress in U.S.-Brazilian relations during my second tour between 1995 and 1998.  I believe that progress continues to be made, although it is still burdened by some legacies of the past as well as by natural differences of perspective.  Before I get to specifics, I will offer two sweeping generalizations:

  • The U.S. public is raised on the notion of “American exceptionalism,” which assumes a different standard for U.S. conduct in the world as superpower and “indispensible” nation than is expected from other countries.  The United States Government has a tendency to expect friends to be subservient and follow its lead.
  • For its part, the Brazilian Government still has a tendency to define its own independence and greatness in contradistinction to the policies and characteristics of the United States.  And Brazil resists the international obligations that the world needs it to accept if the challenges of the future are to be successfully managed.

As with any two large nations, the United States and Brazil have divergent as well as common interests.  This is true with security as well as with trade and environmental issues, as can be seen in the case of nuclear arms control.

My point of departure on this subject is the historic Prague speech of President Obama in April 2009.   Key to his message was his assessment that: “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.”  His famous and consequential punchline was: “I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”  In operationalizing this aspiration, he listed specific policy objectives:

-- reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy;

-- negotiating a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia;

-- “aggressively pursuing” ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; and

-- seeking “a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons.”

I’m sure the Brazilian government could enthusiastically embrace the disarmament commitments in this portion of the speech, no doubt noting that since giving it, Obama has not been able to convince the U.S. Congress to move forward on some of the fronts he articulated.

But then Obama turned to the other part of the bargain made by the parties signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)--that states without nuclear weapons would agree not to acquire them and not help other countries to acquire them.  He called for additional resources to strengthen international inspections, for insuring that there are real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules, and for building a new collaborative framework for civilian nuclear cooperation.  Finally, Obama announced a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years, cutting in half the length of time previously planned, and to build on efforts to break up black markets in nuclear materials, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt the illicit nuclear trade.

Brazil has been less enthusiastic embracing the nonproliferation side of the ledger, as it is still chafing from the “discriminatory” nature of the NPT.  Brazil demonstrated its potential to help with the process of diplomatically engaging the recalcitrant Iranians in negotiating with Turkey the Tehran Declaration of 2010.  But in the end, it failed to address Iran’s 20 percent uranium enrichment activities, which threatened to render meaningless the Tehran Research Reactor fuel swap offer from the previous year.  That deal was ultimately rejected by Tehran’s leadership.  The fuel swap would have been an important confidence-building measure, but it was never intended to resolve the core issue – Iran’s failure to comply fully with IAEA safeguards.  It was Iran’s compliance shortfall, which prompted the UN Security Council to overwhelmingly endorse stricter sanctions against Iran at the beginning of June 2010.  Brazil and Turkey cast the only “no” votes, diluting the potential political impact on Iran that a unanimous vote would have delivered.  Even Lebanon, with Hezbollah members in the governing coalition, managed at least to abstain.

Brazil’s program for domestic uranium enrichment has also led to nonproliferation concerns--not so much that Brazil is suspected of any longer harboring nuclear weapons ambitions, but that it is not setting a good example for other non-nuclear-weapon-state members of the NPT.  A substantial majority of NPT members, over a hundred, have signed the Additional Protocol to the treaty, which provides enhanced safeguards against the diversion of peaceful programs.  Brazil has not signed--giving encouragement to the refusal of other states, like Iran and Syria, whose nuclear activities are very much suspected of being intended to create the capacity to build nuclear weapons.  As Maria Rost Rublee wrote in a 2010 Nonproliferation Review article, Brazil’s opposition to the Additional Protocol complicates the efforts of the Nuclear Supplier Group to use adherence to the procedures as a criterion for “responsible countries” in order for them to be considered as recipients of enrichment and reprocessing technologies.  Rublee also notes that Brazil’s rejection of full visual inspection by the IAEA in order to protect “proprietary information,” sets an unfortunate precedent that could also be exploited by proliferators.

In similar fashion, Brazil’s plans to build and deploy six nuclear-powered submarines complicates international efforts to monitor and control the production of uranium enriched to levels in excess of that needed to fuel civilian power reactors.  That the NPT permits members to enrich uranium even to weapons grade levels for the purpose of fueling naval reactors is widely considered a loophole in the treaty, because it could enable non-nuclear-weapon states to legitimately stockpile material that would constitute the most difficult prerequisite for being able to quickly build a nuclear bomb.  Iran’s announcement in June that it intended to build nuclear-powered submarines set off alarm bells for just this reason.  Han Ruehle, a former head of the German Defense Ministry’s Planning Staff, articulated the suspicion clearly, recently describing Iran’s announcement as: “just a pretext to enrich weapons-grade uranium the legal way,” adding: “Its role model is Brazil.”

I would argue, by the way, that Brazil’s pursuit of nuclear-powered submarines is the outdated legacy of Brazil’s previous pursuit of nuclear weapons options and is now driven by mistaken considerations of national and military service prestige rather than by contemporary military necessity.  Carlo Patti’s 2010 article about Lula’s nuclear policies in Revista Brasileira de Politica Internacional referred to Brazil’s two “traditional goals: the national industrial enrichment of uranium and the construction of a nuclear submarine.”  In 2008, a top Brazilian general, Jose Benedito de Barros Moreira, described the development of a nuclear submarine as “Brazil’s number one military priority.”

I do not understand this logic.  Canada and Australia both have enormous maritime boundaries and abundant natural resources to protect, but both opted out of developing or otherwise acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.  So did Japan, which, unlike Brazil, faces large potential threats from its immediate neighbors.  If Brazil worries about invasion or interference in its maritime economic zone, I would think that the 20 modern conventional submarines Brazil plans to have would provide more effective deterrence than six nuclear-powered ones.

A senior Iranian official visiting Syria last week hailed the governments in Damascus and Tehran as part of the “axis of resistance.”  I have an allergy to simplistic designations of “axes” – whether of “resistance” or of “evil.”  I do not worry that Brazil will lose its bearings as a responsible and democratic nation.  And I welcome Brazil’s willingness to take the United States to task for its failures to live up to its own stated commitments and values.  I do hope, however, that our two countries will not interpret encountering policy differences as a “zero-sum” game, but rather as recognition that even friends sometimes disagree on the best way to achieve national goals both hold in common.

I am inspired by the critical help rendered by Brazil during my second tour here – for example, in advancing peace talks between Peru and Ecuador, which ultimately ended South America’s last major border dispute.  I was impressed during my second tour how Brazil’s introduction of a simple but rugged voting machine virtually ended voting fraud in this country, with enormous applications for fostering good governance in the developing world.   More recently, I’ve noticed how the performance of Brazil’s peacekeepers in Haiti won deep respect.

I foresee huge opportunities for bilateral cooperation in environmental pursuits – from securing and maintaining the health of the Amazon basin to mitigating growth in the planet’s carbon output through cultivation of renewable energy resources.

I look for constructive international initiatives by a country, which is renowned for the historic success of its diplomacy and the skill of its diplomats.

I expect Brazil to prosper not only in agriculture, mining and manufacturing, but in the new high tech industries of the future as well.  And I expect an increasingly prosperous Brazil to contribute its share to the international organizations, which will be increasingly important for maintaining peace and facilitating international cooperation.

I look for Brazilian contributions in developing successful approaches to combating epidemics and controlling tropical diseases.

I look for better exploitation of one of planet’s best locations for a spaceport –Alcântara, Maranhão – using both foreign and Brazilian space launch vehicles in a cooperative international framework.

I also believe that Brazil will eventually join an expanded UN Security Council as a permanent member.

So I’ve offered some views by one North American on how working constructively together on security issues could benefit the bilateral relationship.  I’m eager to hear other perspectives.

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Prepared remarks by ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann at Brookings on August 13-14, 2012 on "Defining the Ideal Relationship between our Countries and Looking to Areas of Misunderstanding and Disagreement," at a U.S.-Brazillian workshop in Brasilia, Brazil

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Submarine Nuclear Reactors: A Worsening Proliferation Challenge

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July 26, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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A long submerged flaw in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) surfaced conspicuously in June when Iran announced it intended to build a nuclear-powered submarine. The treaty does not ban a non-nuclear weapons state's production of weapons-grade uranium if it is to be used to power a naval reactor.

What many now consider a proliferation loophole in the NPT was first seen as theoretical because only nuclear weapons states had nuclear-powered submarines when the treaty was negotiated. Now, as more and more countries initiate or announce intentions to initiate nuclear-powered submarine programs, this excuse for enriching uranium to levels beyond the needs of civilian power reactors intensifies the challenge of achieving U.S. nonproliferation goals.

The United States should adjust its policy by: 1) choosing a reactor for the Ohio-class SSBN follow-on that does not require weapons-grade fuel and 2) pushing for multilateral action to close or at least narrow the NPT loophole that allows for non-nuclear weapons states to produce highly enriched uranium for naval reactors.

Description: 

A long submerged flaw in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) surfaced conspicuously in June when Iran announced it intended to build a nuclear-powered submarine. The treaty does not ban a non-nuclear weapons state's production of weapons-grade uranium if it is to be used to power a naval reactor.

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Iran Nuclear Negotiations: What's Next After Moscow?

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June 28, 2012
By Greg Thielmann

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On June 19, Iran concluded the third round of talks on its nuclear program in as many months, this time in Moscow, with senior officials of the six powers - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Although there were strong incentives for the six to secure limits on Iran's most worrisome stockpiles of enriched uranium and for Iran to avoid an impending tightening of economic sanction, no breakthrough was achieved by the end of the latest round. But neither did diplomatic dialogue come to an end. The sides reached agreement to meet again at a technical level within two weeks in Istanbul, to be followed by renewed contact between the senior negotiators. With perseverance from the parties, the ongoing talks can mark the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end of chances for ultimate resolution.

Presentations from earlier briefings in the ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle" series are available from the ACA here.

Description: 

On June 19, Iran concluded the third round of talks on its nuclear program in as many months, this time in Moscow, with senior officials of the six powers - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Although there were strong incentives for the six to secure limits on Iran's most worrisome stockpiles of enriched uranium and for Iran to avoid an impending tightening of economic sanction, no breakthrough was achieved by the end of the latest round. But neither did diplomatic dialogue come to an end.

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Books of Note

Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Cold War for a New Era of Strategic Piracy

Thérèse Delpech, RAND, 2012, 181 pp.

Greg Thielmann

In this concise but comprehensive volume, the late Thérèse Delpech explores strategic nuclear concepts in light of historical experience, reopening some assumptions that have long gone unchallenged. The book begins with the argument that a renewed intellectual effort is needed to understand the “second nuclear age,” emerging in the late 1990s following four decades of bipolar nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. It then deconstructs such pillars of Cold War nuclear strategy as “extended deterrence,” “mutual assured destruction,” and “parity.” Delpech chronicles a long list of nuclear crises, incorporating recent revelations from declassified archives. These range from citing President Dwight Eisenhower’s authorization of preparations to use nuclear weapons against China in 1958 during the second Taiwan Strait crisis to examining the four times President Richard Nixon said he had considered using nuclear weapons during his administration. She then draws historical lessons about the nature of deterrence, such as “superiority is not the decisive factor” and “participants are never in full control of events.” In exploring “the age of small powers,” Delpech concentrates on Iran and North Korea, but also discusses Pakistan and Syria, delivering a pessimistic prognosis on handling each of the four. Finally, she plows new ground in describing challenges from the two “contested global commons” of space and cyberspace. Although readers may reach different conclusions on various aspects of her analysis, few would challenge the rigorous approach Delpech has taken in raising the critical questions—a fitting final tribute to one of France’s foremost international security thinkers.

 


 

Sanctions, Statecraft, and Nuclear Proliferation

Etel Solingen, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012, 402 pp.

Kelsey Davenport

This four-part compilation seeks to influence the debate on the efficacy of sanctions as a mechanism for curbing nuclear proliferation by expanding the discussion to include an examination of the role that positive inducements played in the decisions of certain states on whether to pursue nuclear weapons programs. The first section provides an overview of sanctions and positive inducements. Included is a chapter by Celia L. Reynolds and Wilfred T. Wan that presents a valuable empirical analysis of unilateral and multilateral actions taken by countries to curb nuclear proliferation. To create this comprehensive profile, the authors examined sanctions and inducements directed at Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea from 1990 to 2009. The second part of the book examines the different mechanisms through which sanctions and inducements affect a regime’s decision to pursue or abandon nuclear weapons programs. Daniel W. Drezner makes a compelling argument against so-called targeted sanctions, which seek to pressure regime supporters while minimizing humanitarian suffering. He argues in favor of an “eclectic approach” whereby policymakers consider “multiple causal pathways” and take into consideration potential unintended negative effects when crafting sanctions. He presents nine mechanisms through which more-comprehensive sanctions could pressure a regime to alter national policy. In-depth case studies on the role of sanctions and positive inducements in Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea are presented in part three. In the final section, Etel Solingen synthesizes the overarching policy implications of the previous sections’ conclusions on sanctions and inducements and identifies areas for further research.

Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Cold War for a New Era of Strategic Piracy

Thérèse Delpech, RAND, 2012, 181 pp.

 

Sanctions, Statecraft, and Nuclear Proliferation

Etel Solingen, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012, 402 pp.

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