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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
Kingston Reif

New Missile Defense Concepts Advance

April 2016

By Kingston Reif

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request would increase funding to improve the capability of the U.S. system intended for protection of the U.S. homeland against long-range missiles launched from North Korea or Iran and the pursuit of advanced technology efforts to ensure the system stays ahead of foreign missile threats.

These proposed increases come amid growing concerns from high-ranking military officials that the current U.S. strategy to defeat adversary ballistic missiles is “unsustainable.”

Some of the advanced anti-missile technologies the Defense Department is pursuing, such as airborne lasers to zap missiles in the early stages of their flight, have been unsuccessfully pursued in the past.

Overall, the administration is asking for $8.5 billion for missile defense efforts in fiscal year 2017, a decrease of $500 million, or 5.5 percent, below what the administration requested for fiscal year 2016. In the request for fiscal year 2017, $7.5 billion would be for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

Congress appropriated $8.3 billion for the MDA, which is part of the Defense Department, for fiscal year 2016.

At a Feb. 9 press briefing at the Pentagon, Vice Adm. James Syring, the director of the MDA, said that although the agency’s fiscal year 2016 budget request projected a decrease in funding for fiscal year 2017, the bipartisan budget deal approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last October set new spending levels that reduced the MDA’s fiscal year 2017 request by an additional $300 million.

The program to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, would receive $862 million under the budget proposal, a decrease of $408 million, or 32 percent, from last year’s enacted level of $1.3 billion. The request keeps on track the Defense Department’s plan to increase the number of interceptors in Alaska and California from 30 to 44 by the end of fiscal year 2017 in response to concerns about North Korea’s growing nuclear and long-range missile capabilities. (See ACT, April 2014.) Fiscal year 2017 begins on Oct. 1.

In addition, the request would provide $274 million to design a new kill vehicle for the GMD system, a slight decrease of $5 million below the fiscal year 2016 appropriation of $279 million. Over the next five years, however, the MDA is seeking $2.2 billion for this effort, a major increase over the $626 million the agency was projecting to request from fiscal years 2016 through 2020.

The kill vehicle sits atop the interceptor’s booster rocket and is intended to collide with a target in outer space.

There have been serious concerns about the GMD interceptors since they were rushed into service by the George W. Bush administration in 2004. In response to these concerns, the MDA announced in March 2014 that it would build and deploy by 2020 a redesigned kill vehicle that would be more reliable and cost effective than the current versions. (See ACT, July/August 2014.)

The budget request also seeks a funding increase for a new ground-based sensor to provide enhanced tracking and discrimination capabilities for the GMD system. The program would receive $317 million in fiscal year 2017, an increase of $180 million over the current-year level.

In a Feb. 17 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) repeated its warnings about the strategy the MDA is pursuing to improve the GMD system. According to the report, the MDA “has not demonstrated several key homeland missile defense capabilities and is relying on high-risk acquisition practices to achieve its goal of fielding 44 interceptors by the end of fiscal year 2017.”

The report also raised concerns that the MDA is pursuing “an aggressive schedule to begin fielding” the redesigned kill vehicle by 2020 and that it is “unclear whether MDA has allowed enough time for modifying and maturing” the desired components and technologies for the redesign.

Advanced Technology Sought

According to budget documents released on Feb. 9, the fiscal year 2017 proposal supports the MDA’s efforts to develop advanced technologies “to adapt as the threat changes in the future.”

The request includes $72 million, an increase of $21 million above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation, to advance work on a next-generation laser system “capable of defeating advanced threats and [missile] raids more efficiently than existing missile interceptors.”

The request would provide $90 million, an increase of $63 million from the current-year level, to place a sensor on the MQ-9 reaper drone to improve missile tracking and design a laser that could be put on unmanned aerial vehicles, as drones are more formally known, to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles in their boost phase—that is, the early part of the missile’s ascent when the missile’s rocket motor is still burning.

Syring told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 19, 2015, that the MDA’s goal is to deploy a laser-armed drone by 2025.

The MDA also is requesting $72 million, an increase of $10 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level, to develop a new “multi-object kill vehicle” to allow a single GMD interceptor to destroy multiple targets. The program is envisioned as a follow-on to the redesigned vehicle the MDA is seeking to deploy by 2020.

Syring said at the March 2015 hearing that kill vehicles capable of destroying multiple objects “will revolutionize our missile defense architecture, substantially reducing the interceptor inventory required to defeat an evolving and more capable threat to the homeland.”

The George W. Bush administration initiated programs to put a high-powered laser on a Boeing 747 and develop a multiple-object kill vehicle, but both efforts were discontinued by the Obama administration during its first term due to concerns about their effectiveness and cost. The airborne laser program was canceled in 2012 after $5.3 billion had been spent on the program. The Defense Department spent $700 million developing a multiple-object kill vehicle concept before shelving it in 2009.

Cost Effectiveness Questioned

The MDA’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of the GMD system against current and potential threats come as senior military leaders are raising alarms about the sustainability of current U.S. missile defense efforts.

Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 10 that the U.S. missile defense system “is in an unsustainable cost model, which has us postured to shoot down inexpensive rockets with very expensive ones.”

Gortney said that the Defense Department must augment current defenses with capabilities “designed to defeat ballistic missile threats in the boost phase as well as before they are launched.”

He added that the MDA “is working on emerging technology that will enable us to employ...methods to defeat ballistic missile threats” without physically destroying them with an interceptor “when we receive indications that a launch is imminent.” Gortney did not specify what these methods would entail.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work stated in March 2015 that the Pentagon is seeking to develop electronic warfare tools to provide additional options to defeat the increasingly sophisticated missile capabilities of U.S. adversaries. (See ACT, April 2015.)

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request would increase funding to improve the capability of the U.S. homeland missile defense system.

Nuclear Summit Seeks Sustainable Results

March 2016

By Kelsey Davenport and Kingston Reif

17_NEWS_NSS.jpgA consensus document on nuclear security that will be released at the upcoming nuclear security summit in Washington will outline further steps to strengthen the global nuclear security architecture and spur progress on tangible nuclear security improvements, a senior White House official said last month.

In a Feb. 12 email to Arms Control Today, the official said that the document will “highlight progress” toward these goals and “look forward to further steps required to achieve them.”

The official said that multilateral initiatives and institutions are critical components of the “architecture,” along with “treaty regimes, informal arrangements, and national regulations.”

The March 31-April 1 meeting will be the fourth and final biennial summit on nuclear security since President Barack Obama hosted the first one in April 2010 as part of an accelerated effort to secure civilian nuclear material worldwide.

Given that the upcoming summit will be the final meeting in this format, the official said the United States hopes to “establish a mechanism to sustain momentum” on the nuclear security agenda.

The summit participants, comprising 52 countries and four international organizations, are expected to endorse five action plans for key institutions and initiatives to carry on parts of the summit agenda. The action plans are for the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Interpol, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. 

The action plans “will reflect the intent” of the participating states “to promote and enhance the nuclear security contributions” of these key organizations and initiatives, said the official.

Although some observers have expressed concern that momentum on the nuclear security agenda will fade after the high-level political attention brought to the summit process ends, the White House official said that there are “many vehicles that can carry forward the senior-level engagement.” The official said that the “primary vehicle” would be the IAEA’s nuclear security meeting, scheduled to be held in Vienna at the ministerial level every three years.

The IAEA held the first such meeting in July 2013. The second is scheduled for December 2016.

The official said that, by “maximizing participation at the ministerial level and by developing a practice of announcing accomplishments and pledges at this meeting, the Summits’ momentum can be carried forward.”

Beginning with the 2010 summit, participating countries were encouraged to announce actions they intended to take to enhance nuclear security. (See ACT, May 2010.) At the subsequent summits in 2012 and 2014, countries were encouraged to report on their progress and announce further commitments. (See ACT, April 2014; April 2012.)

A German official said in a Feb. 18 email that “[t]here is consensus that nuclear security will remain a priority” after 2016.

The official added that the “security of radioactive sources is of particular importance for Germany” and requires the country’s “full attention.”

In a separate Feb. 18 email, a French official, asked whether there are nuclear security risks that the summit process has not adequately addressed, said “No.”

The German official said that “[o]ne particular challenge” for the future “is to build up sustainable and robust protection” against cyberattacks for civilian nuclear power reactors and other nuclear installations. He said that the summit process has addressed the issue but that more work needed to be done.

Accomplishments Since 2014

One of the most tangible accomplishments of the summit process has been the acceleration of removals of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and, to a lesser extent, separated plutonium.

Since the summit process began in 2010, the number of countries with weapons-usable nuclear material has dropped from 32 to 24, according to reports by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).

The senior White House official noted that all HEU was removed from Switzerland and Uzbekistan since the 2014 summit in The Hague and said to expect new announcements on the removal of HEU and plutonium at the upcoming summit.

Switzerland participates in the summit process, while Uzbekistan does not.

The official also highlighted progress on ratifications of key nuclear security treaties as one of the significant accomplishments since the 2014 summit and noted that the United States completed ratification of the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism in 2015. (See ACT, July/August 2015.)

The CPPNM amendment expands the original treaty to require parties not only to protect nuclear material in international transit, but also to protect nuclear facilities and nuclear material that is in domestic storage, use, or transit. It is not yet in force.

The anti-terrorism convention establishes a framework to strengthen cooperation among countries in combating nuclear terrorism and provides details on how offenders and illicit materials should be handled by states when seized.

18_NEWS_NSS.jpgAlthough the summit process has spurred visible progress in securing and minimizing civilian HEU, some government officials and independent analysts have criticized the process for not focusing more intensively on reducing civilian stockpiles of separated plutonium and stockpiles of nuclear materials categorized for military uses and on increasing the transparency of these categories of materials.

Global stocks of plutonium and HEU found outside civilian nuclear programs, such as material in noncivilian naval reactors or material declared excess to military needs and awaiting disposition, make up more than 80 percent of the global stockpile of weapons-usable material, according to an NTI report in November 2015.

The White House official said some countries may address military materials or civilian plutonium stocks in their national progress reports or national statements at the summit. The official added that progress in these areas is “most likely to be made working directly with and among the small number of countries” who possess these materials rather than through a summit statement on behalf of all the participants.

Russian Participation

With the exception of Russia, all of the countries from the 2014 summit are expected to attend in 2016. Russia announced in 2014 that it would not attend the Washington meeting. (See ACT, December 2014.)

The White House official said “the door remained open” for Russia to join the remaining preparatory process for the 2016 summit and that the United States “regret[s]” Moscow’s decision not to participate.

The official added that Russia now has limited bilateral cooperation with the United States on nuclear security, but expressed the hope that Moscow will “deliver on its pledge to maintain the nuclear security improvements” the two countries have made since the end of the Cold War.

 Russia continues to work “constructively with the United States” on projects to remove nuclear materials from other countries and as a member of the GICNT, the official said.

In September 2015, Russia worked with the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration and the IAEA to remove Uzbekistan’s remaining stockpile of HEU. Russia and the United States co-chair the GICNT, a voluntary organization launched in 2006 to strengthen global abilities to prevent and respond to acts of nuclear terrorism. 

The White House hopes to spur “further steps” at this month’s gathering in Washington. 

Budget Would Raise Nuclear Spending

March 2016

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work speaks to reporters about the fiscal year 2017 defense budget request at the Pentagon on February 9. Photo credit: Defense Department)The Obama administration on Feb. 9 released a final budget request that proposes to continue increasing spending for programs to rebuild the U.S. nuclear triad as Defense Department officials repeated warnings that the modernization plans may become unsustainable.

Comments by U.S. civilian and military officials suggest that several programs will hit their periods of peak spending at about the same time, forcing the U.S. government to choose between the nuclear modernization effort and other military priorities unless overall defense spending rises significantly above the levels currently projected.

The Air Force and Navy are seeking approximately $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2017, which begins on Oct. 1, to build new fleets of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), ballistic missile submarines, long-range bombers, and short-range tactical aircraft, an increase of roughly $1.2 billion, or 50 percent, over the amount that Congress approved for fiscal year 2016. The request keeps the expected production timeline for these programs largely on schedule.

Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, is requesting $9.2 billion for its nuclear weapons activities, an increase of almost $400 million, or 4 percent, above the enacted level for the current year.

Nuclear modernization costs are scheduled to peak during the 2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on modernization programs for conventional weapons systems. Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), wrote in a January report that “if not altered from current plans,” these modernization programs “will require either an increase in defense spending or a reallocation of resources within the defense budget.”

At a Feb. 9 series of press briefings at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said that if funding for nuclear modernization “comes out of our conventional forces, that will be very, very, very problematic for us.”

Similarly, Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said at a CSIS event on Nov. 30 that the long-term cost to modernize the triad is “a concern.” He explained that the “easy solution” would be to “bump up” resources for nuclear weapons for the next 15 years but that such a funding increase is “probably not realistic.”

Overall, the administration requested $551 billion for national defense in fiscal year 2017. That figure includes the Defense Department’s regular budget activities and the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.

Spending on Delivery Systems Rises

The highest-priority nuclear triad replacement program remains the Navy’s plan to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines with 12 new subs, called the Ohio replacement program. Under the Navy’s budget request, the program would receive $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2017, an increase of $360 million above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

The request includes $1.1 billion in research and development and, for the first time, $778 million in advance procurement funding to build the first boat in the new class.

An Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine moves through the Hood Canal on its way to Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state on February 15. (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda R. Gray/U.S. Navy)Navy officials have repeatedly warned that the service’s projected long-term budget is not large enough to accommodate the program to build the new submarines and meet its needs for conventional ships. (See ACT, October 2013.) The Navy estimates that the 12 planned boats, which are slated to be purchased between 2021 and 2035, will cost $139 billion to develop and build.

In another high-profile program, proposed funding for the Air Force’s plan to build approximately 1,000 nuclear-capable cruise missiles in the coming years continues to rise. The service is seeking $95.6 million in fiscal year 2017 for research and development for a long-range standoff weapon, almost six times as much as the $16.1 million that Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year. The new standoff missile would replace the Air Force’s nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), which has been operational since 1986.

Government and think tank estimates suggest that the total cost of building the new missile and refurbishing the associated warhead would be about $25 billion over 20 years. 

In addition, the Air Force is seeking $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2017, an increase of $624 million over the fiscal year 2016 appropriation, for the program to build a new fleet of 80-100 nuclear-capable long-range strategic bombers. The new bombers are scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s, and the entire fleet could cost more than $100 billion to produce, according to some nongovernmental estimates.

In the budget documents, the Air Force said it is planning to request $12.1 billion for the new bomber program between fiscal years 2017 and 2021, a significant reduction relative to the five-year budget projection of $15.6 billion cited in last year’s budget documents. Carolyn Gleason, a senior Pentagon budget official, told reporters during the Feb. 9 briefings that the change reflects a revised cost estimate for the program in the wake of the awarding of a contract to Northrop Grumman last fall to build the bombers.

The program to develop a replacement for the current force of land-based Minuteman III ICBMs also would get a boost under the administration’s request. The Air Force is requesting $114 million for the program, an increase of almost $39 million over the appropriation for the current fiscal year.

The service is currently planning to procure 642 replacement missiles and update the existing missile infrastructure at an estimated cost of $62.3 billion over the next 30 years. (See ACT, July/August 2015.) According to the new budget documents, the projected deployment date for the replacement missiles is 2028. That represents slippage of a year since last year’s request.

Air Force officials have expressed growing alarm about the cost of the service’s nuclear modernization plans. “Our problems become unmanageable” when the costs for the ICBM replacement program begin to peak, said Lt. Gen. James Holmes, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, at a Feb. 12 press briefing at the Pentagon.

Warhead Request Grows

The NNSA is requesting $220 million to refurbish the existing ALCM warhead that would be delivered by the new ALCM under development by the Air Force. That is an increase of $25.2 million above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

The NNSA weapons budget also would increase funding to update a key part of the W88 submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead and build a new uranium-processing facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. In contrast, the budget would slightly decrease spending to rebuild the B61 gravity bomb.

In a Feb. 10 press call with reporters, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, the NNSA administrator, said the NNSA is facing a “formidable” planned increase in spending on life extension programs and infrastructure improvements. Peak funding for these efforts occurs earlier than the Defense Department’s expected peak funding years for triad modernization, he said.

The budget calls for increases even as officials warn the plan may be unsustainable. 

Terminate MOX Fuel Plant, Budget Says

March 2016

By Kingston Reif and Daniel Horner

The Obama administration is seeking a permanent stop to construction of the facility that has been the centerpiece of the effort to get rid of plutonium withdrawn from the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

Under the plan, described in budget documents released Feb. 9 and a conference call with journalists the following day, the administration would spend $270 million in the coming fiscal year for termination costs for the plant, with costs of a similar magnitude expected for the next few years. At the same time, the administration would spend $15 million in fiscal year 2017 for preliminary work on the new plutonium-disposition path that the Energy Department and its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have chosen.

The proposal was part of the administration’s $1.8 billion request for NNSA nonproliferation programs in fiscal year 2017.

The plant, which is under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, was designed to turn surplus weapons plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides—for use in nuclear power reactors. Under an agreement that Russia and the United States signed in 2000, each country is required to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium.

The Obama administration was widely seen as skeptical of the viability of the MOX fuel strategy since it announced in 2013 that it was considering alternatives. (See ACT, May 2013.) In the recently released budget documents, the NNSA said studies it had commissioned “confirm that the MOX fuel approach will be significantly more expensive than anticipated and will require approximately $800 million to $1 billion annually for decades.”

The new approach, known as “dilute and dispose,” would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository. During the Feb. 10 conference call, Kelly Cummins, NNSA associate assistant deputy administrator for fissile materials disposition, said the annual costs would rise to $300-400 million.

Supporters of the MOX fuel plant, led by the South Carolina congressional delegation, have suggested that the new approach could face technical, legal, and political obstacles.

Cummins said the termination costs for the MOX fuel plant were expected to total $500-750 million. But she emphasized that those figures are a rough estimate and are “subject to negotiation” with the contractors hired to build the plant.

The lead contractor is CB&I Areva MOX Services Group.

Nuclear Security Programs Cut

Excluding the MOX fuel program, the Obama administration is asking for $1.5 billion for NNSA nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism programs, a decrease of $62.4 million, or 3.8 percent, from the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

The drop is even steeper when measured against what the NNSA projected it would request for these programs in its fiscal year 2016 submission, which was issued in February 2015. The agency had said it planned to ask for $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2017, or $185 million more than the actual proposal.

The largest proposed reduction in the request is to the Global Material Security program, which has the task of improving the security of nuclear materials around the world, securing orphaned or disused radiological sources, and strengthening nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence. The program would get $337 million, a $89.6 million reduction from the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

The NNSA is requesting $46 million for the international security subcomponent of this program, a decrease of $84.5 million from the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $182 million from the level projected in last year’s request. According to budget documents, the decline from the enacted level “reflects a commitment to reduce” unspent money left over from previous fiscal years by spending it in fiscal year 2017, permitting a lower request.

In a Feb. 18 email to Arms Control Today, an NNSA spokesperson said the agency does “not have exact projections of carryover” but anticipates “sufficient funds to implement priority tasks” in fiscal year 2017.

In addition, the budget submission reveals that the NNSA is now planning to secure 4,394 buildings containing high-priority radioactive nuclear material by 2033, a change from the previous goal of securing 8,500 sites by 2044.

The NNSA spokesperson said the revision is the result of shifting the focus “from a primarily protect[ion]-based approach to one that emphasizes permanent threat reduction through the removal of sources and promotion of non-isotopic, alternative technologies, when feasible.”

The Material Management and Minimization program, which supports the removal of civilian highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium around the world and converts HEU-fueled research reactors and medical isotope production facilities to the use of low-enriched uranium, would receive $341 million, an increase of $24.5 million over the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

Nuclear material removal activities would get $68.9 million, a decrease of $46 million. The drop is based in part on “a reduced scope of work” in fiscal year 2017 due to “the completion of several major initiatives in time for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, including completion of the removal of all HEU and plutonium from Japan’s Fast Critical Assembly,” according to budget documents. 

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, funding for Nonproliferation and Arms Control activities would fall slightly, from a fiscal year 2016 appropriation of $130 million to $125 million. Spending for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development activities, which focus on technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations, would fall to $394 million from its $419 million fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

The NNSA nonproliferation budget request also includes $13 million to support the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, which passed a critical point in its implementation in January (see "Iran Nuclear Deal Implemented"). 

Funding Proposal Questioned

Some observers continue to question the wisdom of proposed reductions in funding for NNSA nuclear and radiological security activities, especially in the run-up to the final nuclear security summit, which is scheduled to take place in Washington March 31-April 1 (see "Nuclear Summit Seeks Sustainable Results").

An Energy Department task force report on NNSA nonproliferation programs released last year expressed concern about the recent trend of falling budgets for those programs, noting that appropriations declined from $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2013 to $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2015, a reduction of 25 percent. “The need to counter current and likely future challenges to nonproliferation justifies increased, rather than reduced, investment in this area,” the report said. (See ACT, May 2015.)

Matthew Bunn, a professor of practice at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, said in a Feb. 19 interview that “to propose big cuts in nuclear security spending weeks before hosting the last nuclear security summit is a mistake that will undermine U.S. leadership.”

“Congress should act to correct President [Barack] Obama’s mistake,” added Bunn, a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.

During the Feb. 10 conference call, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, the NNSA administrator, disputed the claim that the budget request sends a bad signal ahead of the summit.

The proposed fiscal year 2017 spending levels on nonproliferation programs reflect “a hard-headed business decision about where the money is and how we pay for all the things we need to do,” Klotz said. “We’re satisfied with what we have.”

Designed to make plutonium fuel, the plant is now too expensive, officials say. 

Interim Step on HEU Reactors Proposed

March 2016

By Kingston Reif

The Advanced Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory, shown above in a May 2013 photo, is one of the high-performance U.S. research reactors that uses highly enriched uranium fuel and is not able to use existing types of low-enriched uranium fuel. (Photo credit: Idaho National Laboratory)The U.S. government should seek to convert some civilian research reactors currently using weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to lower-enriched HEU fuel as an interim step on the way to fueling the reactors with a new kind of low-enriched uranium (LEU), according to a new report from a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The report, which was released on Jan. 28, also recommends that the White House develop a 50-year strategy that evaluates future U.S. civilian needs for neutrons and “how these can best be provided by reactors and other sources that do not use highly enriched uranium.”

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said it had “concerns” about the recommendation for an interim conversion step. In a Feb. 24 email to Arms Control Today, a spokesperson for the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, said the recommendation “runs counter to” the U.S. policy of pursuing “the minimization of the civilian use of HEU globally.”

Research reactors fueled by weapons-grade HEU continue to be used to produce neutrons for research and other civilian applications. Since 1978 the United States has sought to minimize and where possible eliminate the use of HEU in civilian research reactors. Currently, 74 such reactors remain to be converted or shut down, according to the report. Eight reactors in the United States still use HEU fuel.

Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90 percent uranium-235, and LEU is enriched to less than 20 percent. Converting reactors to LEU use would reduce the risks that this material could be used to make a nuclear explosive device.

The report expressed concern that the conversion of the remaining reactors is taking much longer than originally envisioned. It noted that the U.S. goal in 2004 was to complete the conversions by 2014 but that the goal today is to complete them by 2035.

“There are significant technical and nontechnical obstacles associated with eliminating HEU from civilian research reactors,” the report said. 

One obstacle has been that making the higher-density LEU fuel required to convert high-performance research reactors in the United States and Europe has turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated. The report warned that the new fuel might not even be available by 2035.

Consequently, in order to reduce the use of weapons-grade HEU in high-performance reactors, the report called for conversion of these reactors to the use of fuel that has an enrichment level of 25 to 45 percent. All but one of the nine high-performance reactors in the United States and Europe that use weapons-grade HEU could be converted in this manner in approximately five years, the report said.

Reducing the fuel enrichment to 45 percent “cuts the attractiveness” of the fuel for use in a nuclear explosive device “by about 40 percent,” compared to 90 percent enrichment, according to the report. The report calculated that, by pursuing this approach for the eight reactors, the use of approximately 3,400 kilograms of weapons-grade HEU could be avoided until the reactors are converted to run on LEU in roughly 12 to 17 years.

In a Feb. 3 posting on the website of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, William Tobey, a senior fellow at the center and a member of the National Academies panel that produced the report, wrote that the interim-step recommendation “should in no way be construed as lack of support for eliminating civilian use of HEU. Rather, it is recognition of the fact that estimates of when conversion would be possible have changed, and an effort to minimize risk in light of those changes.”

But another expert disagreed with the recommendation, expressing a concern similar to the NNSA’s about the impact on the global effort to phase out civilian use of HEU. In a Feb. 24 email, Alan Kuperman, a political scientist at the University of Texas, said one problem with the National Academies’ approach is that it “would reduce the prospect of converting existing high-performance research reactors to LEU fuel since their operators would resist the expense and inconvenience of having to convert twice.”

The most significant nontechnical obstacle to converting the remaining HEU-fueled civilian reactors identified by the report is that more than 40 percent of these reactors are located in Russia. The report said that  “conversion of its domestic research reactors is not a high national priority for Russia” and noted that “Russian-U.S. collaboration on research reactor conversion...has all but ceased during the past year” due to the downturn in relations between the two countries over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Due to the downturn, the NNSA is no longer planning to support the conversion of 41 reactors in Russia, according to the department’s fiscal year 2017 budget submission. This figure includes both civilian reactors and reactors used to power Russian icebreaker ships.

The National Academies report recommended that the United States seek to engage “Russian scientists and engineers to continue scientific exchanges and interactions that formed the basis for previous progress in....HEU minimization,” primarily in countries that used to be members of the Soviet Union.

In 2012, Congress tasked the National Academies with assessing the progress toward eliminating all worldwide use of HEU in research reactor fuel and medical isotope production facilities. The January report examined the status of conversion of research reactors to LEU use. Another report examining the status of medical isotope production without HEU targets is to be issued later this year.

Julia Phillips, former vice president and chief technology officer at Sandia National Laboratories, chaired the committee that authored the January report.

Experts outline a plan for converting some reactors now using weapons-grade fuel. 

U.S. Will Skip Disarmament Meetings

March 2016

By Kingston Reif

The United States will not participate in a working group on disarmament taking place in Geneva this year, according to the State Department.

In a Feb. 18 email to Arms Control Today, Blake Narendra, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said the United States has been open to participating in the disarmament group. But he said that the agenda and rules for the Geneva meetings “will not result in constructive dialogue on nuclear weapons or conditions under which nuclear disarmament can best be achieved.”

During last year’s meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee, UN member states voted to approve a resolution sponsored by Mexico creating the working group. (See ACT, December 2015.) It is open ended, which means that all UN members can participate.

Under the resolution, the mandate of the group is to “substantively address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms” necessary to “attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.”

The working group also will “substantively address recommendations on other measures that could contribute to taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.” The resolution said the group should convene in Geneva in 2016 for up to 15 days and present a report on its work to the General Assembly at its session later this year.

The working group held its first meeting Feb. 22-26. Many NATO members and East Asian U.S. allies that attended the meeting joined a statement delivered by Canada saying they “chose to participate” in the group in part because existing institutions that deal with disarmament have been bogged down by “both internal and external challenges which seriously impede [their] effectiveness.”

Like the United States, the four other countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom—did not attend the February meeting.

The working group is scheduled to reconvene during the first two weeks of May and once more during the week of Aug. 22. 

The United States will not participate in a working group on disarmament taking place in Geneva this year, according to the State Department.

Pentagon Wants to Resume JLENS Exercise

March 2016

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Army is asking Congress for additional funding to resume an exercise of a blimp-borne radar system designed to detect and track objects such as cruise missiles and other airborne threats despite a major malfunction last October.

Defense News last month quoted Adm. Bill Gortney, head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, as saying that “[i]t is in the best interest of the nation to continue the program.”

“Investigators took a hard look at the causes of the incident, and I am confident that we have a plan of action to safely fly the aerostat again,” he added.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter concurred with the decision to resume the exercise, according to multiple news reports.

One of the two tethered blimps that make up the current test deployment of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) detached from its mooring station near Baltimore last October, dragging 6,700 feet of cable for three hours before finally coming to rest. (See ACT, December 2015.)

At the time of the crash, the system was in the midst of a planned three-year exercise over the area around Washington. The exercise was designed to demonstrate the system’s capabilities for homeland defense and determine its future.

In the fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, Congress slashed $30 million from the budget request of $40.6 million for JLENS in the wake of the crash. (See ACT, January/Feburary 2016.)

InsideDefense.com reported on Feb. 17 that, in order to resume the exercise, the Defense Department is asking lawmakers to transfer an additional $27 million to the program for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. It is not clear where the additional funds will come from.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Feb. 14 that the blimp crashed because a device designed to automatically deflate it in the event of trouble failed to activate because batteries had not been installed as a power source.

Meanwhile, in a new report released in January, Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director for operational test and evaluation, reiterated concerns he has raised in the past about whether JLENS can work as intended. The report identified numerous problems, including vulnerability to electronic interference, that could undermine the effectiveness and suitability of the ongoing exercise of the system. 

The U.S. Army is asking Congress for additional funding to resume an exercise of a blimp-borne radar system designed to detect and track objects...

Last Obama Budget Goes for Broke on Nuclear Weapons

Consider the following facts. The United States is planning to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated warheads at a cost and on a schedule that many military leaders say is unsustainable. In addition, these plans would leave the United States with a larger deployed strategic nuclear arsenal than President Barack Obama has said is needed for U.S. security. Unfortunately, the president’s final budget request released today is divorced from reality. The Fiscal Year 2017 proposal contains significant increases for several Defense and Energy department nuclear weapons...

Lowering Nuclear Risks: An Interview With Former Defense Secretary William Perry

January/February 2016

Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Kingston Reif

William Perry, shown in this March 2015 photo, was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997. (Photo credit: Glenn Fawcett/Defense Department)William Perry is the Michael and Barbara Berberian professor emeritus at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the university’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997, having previously served as deputy secretary of defense and undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. He is the author of My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (2015).

Perry spoke by telephone with Arms Control Today on December 8, 2015.Much of the conversation focused on the current impasse in U.S.-Russian relations and the nuclear weapons programs in those two countries.

The interview was transcribed by Elizabeth Philipp. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: In your book, you write that Russia’s ongoing and planned production of new nuclear delivery systems is likely to motivate Moscow to test new warheads for its new missiles and that you expect it to withdraw from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT] soon and begin those tests. Can you elaborate on why you believe that to be the case?

Perry: First of all, let me say that I don’t have any inside information from anybody in the Russian government. That’s not what my point was. It’s just that I know they are developing new nuclear weapons. They’ve said so themselves. I’m confident that that will lead the weapons designers to request new tests. That will put [Russian President Vladimir] Putin up to a decision. He will have to decide whether to allow that or not. I don’t know what that political decision will be, but I do believe that the pressure to test will be strong. So it will come down to a political decision on Putin’s part. Will he accept their recommendations, or will he think the political costs are too high? One of the reasons the political costs will not be as high as they should be is because we have not yet ratified the CTBT. That makes a decision to test easier for him.

ACT: Given that, is there any feasible way to prevent the resumption of Russian testing?

Perry: The best thing we could do is to ratify the CTBT. That would make the political costs substantially higher for Putin. That might lead him to decide then not to test.

ACT: Following up on the issue of U.S. ratification, even if the United States were to ratify the CTBT tomorrow, entry into force could still be years away if not longer. What steps should the United States pursue in the near term to strengthen the global moratorium against nuclear testing, especially in light of your belief that Russia may be on a path to the resumption of testing?

Perry: I think it’s very important to get China to ratify. I do believe that our ratification will put very strong political pressure on them to ratify, and I believe that they would. If that happens, then I think we’ve got a pretty good case to go forward, pushing to bring the treaty into force even if, let’s say, North Korea does not ratify.

I think a good argument can be made that we should not let an outlier like that stop the whole treaty from coming into force, but that decision is still ahead of us. The first step is to get the U.S. to ratify, then put the pressure to China, and then I think we should go forward with a program to try to bring the treaty into force even if the outliers do not ratify. 

ACT: Shifting to another treaty, the United States has accused Russia of being in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty. Russia has denied the accusation and charged the United States with being in violation of the agreement. How do you evaluate the situation?

Perry: I don’t have enough data to make a judgment on whether or not Russia is in violation. That’s what our government has stated, and that’s all I have to go on. But I do not have an independent judgment of that.

ACT: Do you have any thoughts on how to get out of the impasse that the two countries seem to be in with regard to this violation alleged by the United States?

Perry: On that point, as well as other points of contention we have with Russia, what is badly needed is serious and meaningful dialogue with Russia, which we do not have today, at high levels. So I think it’s imperative for the United States to begin serious dialogue with Russia. It’s imperative for both countries to take the political step of high-level and serious dialogue. Even if there is disagreement, the dialogue is not only desirable, but necessary.

ACT: Okay, is there anything specific with regard to the INF Treaty, or is it all part of the larger picture?

Perry: No, it is a part of the larger picture. I think it is very desirable to keep that treaty in force. But the bigger problem is the bad relations between the United States and Russia, of which this is just a symptom, I think.

ACT: In a recent appearance in Washington, you said that any reasonable definition of deterrence would not require intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs], the land-based leg of the U.S. triad. You argue that ICBMs are unnecessary and destabilizing because they are an attractive target and entail a greater risk of accidental launch than other nuclear weapons. How would you propose to phase out the ICBM leg of the triad?

Perry: I simply would not recapitalize it. If we decide to keep the ICBMs in the force, then in a number of years, not very many years, we have to begin to focus on building the replacements for the first ICBMs. So instead, I would simply let the present force phase out.

ACT: What would you say to the senators and representatives of those states in which U.S. Minuteman III ICBMs are based who say that the missiles and associated bases are an essential part of the U.S. deterrent and vital to the economies of their states?

Perry: I don’t believe it. They’re not an essential part of the deterrent. We have ample deterrence from the submarine force, and certainly if you add the bomber force to that, that’s an overwhelming deterrence force. So I cannot understand the argument that we also need ICBMs for deterrence. We might need ICBMs for other reasons, for geopolitical reasons, but not for deterrence. Any sane nation would be deterred by the incredible striking power of our submarine force.

ACT: You have said that a desire to maintain parity with the Soviet Union and later Russia has been and continues to be a main driver of the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and that this approach doesn’t make sense. Why do you believe that parity should no longer guide U.S. force requirements?

Perry: Because I don’t think it has anything to do with deterrence. I think deterrence has to do with our power and our ability to strike. The fact that we need to have, for example, ICBMs in the force, which is a kind of a parity, just doesn’t hold up. I don’t understand the argument that we need to have an equivalent number of weapons and equivalent type of weapons as Russia as an argument for deterrence. That is a political argument, and I understand the political argument. But that’s not an argument for deterrence.

ACT: Do you have in mind a rough number of [warheads], what a U.S. nuclear force should look like, should be composed of?

Perry: Certainly less than the numbers we have now. But I also understand the political argument that as we bring the numbers down, we ought to see if we can find some way of having the Russians come down at the same time, whether that be by a treaty or by some sort of a mutual understanding.

ACT: I want to go back to the larger point about U.S.-Russian relations that you raised before. As you were saying, the relations now are at a very low point. Is there anything that Russia and the United States and maybe other countries could do to improve the situation?

Perry: We have a number of points in common with Russia. So I would think our diplomacy would emphasize trying to strengthen cooperation in the areas in which we feel the need to cooperate, the desirability of cooperating. For example, we did cooperate on the Iranian agreement, and that was a big plus. We certainly have a need to cooperate in the field of terrorism and especially nuclear terrorism, and there are certainly trade areas where we could find a reason for cooperating as well, as we did in the Cold War. We should look at issues of mutual importance—certainly preventing nuclear catastrophe has to be highest on that list—and find a way of cooperating in those areas without having to agree with the Russians or having even political accords with Russians in other areas.

ACT: What would an agreement on nuclear terrorism look like that goes beyond what’s already currently agreed under the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism? What more would they be able to do?

Perry: One of the principal actions would be protecting fissile material on a global basis. The program that the president has initiated, the nuclear [security] summit [process], I think is an excellent example of what we can do along those lines. I certainly applaud the administration for their initiative on the nuclear summit and their continued pursuit of it. I think that all we can be sure of at this point is that there will be one more nuclear summit, the one in Washington next spring. So I would put the highest priority on getting major agreements at that summit meeting, and that could be facilitated by prior discussions with the Russians on what one can mutually hope to accomplish at that nuclear summit. Certainly it’s as much for the security benefit of Russia as it is for the United States to solve nuclear terrorism. So it should be a very powerful argument for working together to get major steps forward on the nuclear summit upcoming this spring.

It’s one thing just to go to the meeting and talk. It’s another thing to go to the meeting with a plan worked out with the Russians ahead of time on what the two of us might be able to accomplish to help get the fissile material controlled in other countries. So I think I would put that number one on the list of areas of cooperation with the Russians that can greatly reduce the danger to both of us of nuclear terrorism.

ACT: Do you believe that that’s realistically achievable in the here and now?

Perry: I certainly do. We have still a few months where we can be meeting and talking with the Russians. So we could have a solid program of accomplishment that we mutually agree on that we would like to see come out of that possibly last summit meeting.

ACT: Switching gears slightly, we understand that you have recently visited a number of U.S. allies in Europe and East Asia to discuss nuclear and other related security policy issues. In your conversations with officials, did they express any concerns about the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent in light of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and increasing Chinese assertiveness in its near abroad?

Perry: No, nobody raised that question with me. It seems clear to me that any informed and objective observer would see that our nuclear deterrent is quite powerful.

The nuclear deterrent, however, does not prevent the Russians from doing many things that are not directly nuclear related. I always have believed and I think events have demonstrated that nuclear deterrence is pretty well limited to deterring a nuclear attack, not deterring many other objectionable actions. During the Cold War, Russia took many actions that were very highly objectionable to us, and our nuclear deterrent did not stop them from taking those actions. Arguably, all that U.S. nuclear weapons have done is stop the Russians from carrying out a nuclear attack on us.

ACT: In any of your conversations, did any officials from allied nations take a position on whether the United States can further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in its national strategy?

Perry: The only such issue I have come across, particularly with Japan, is the extent to which our nuclear deterrence is specific to Japan—that is, whether it involved nuclear weapons specifically designed to protect Japan as opposed to general deterrence. That has to do with maintaining shorter-range nuclear weapons. But there’s never been a question that I’m aware of as to whether our long-range nuclear weapons were capable of deterrence. This was an issue we had, as you may remember, back during the Cold War. Even though we had overwhelming capability in our strategic nuclear forces, the Germans felt it necessary to have nuclear forces based in their country to guarantee our deterrence to them, extended deterrence. That was, I think, a misguided judgment on the part of the Germans. But they certainly felt strongly, and as a consequence, we did keep medium-range nuclear weapons based in Germany to give them the confidence of our deterrence. I don’t see that lack of confidence today, though.

ACT: As you write in your book, progress on nuclear disarmament has slowed since the early days of President [Barack] Obama’s first term. How can multilateral disarmament move forward when the forums for multilateral diplomacy, such as the Conference on Disarmament [CD] and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] review conference, appear to be in a stalemate?

Perry: I think they are in a stalemate. I would not say that arms negotiations has slowed; I would say it has stopped. I don’t see any significant action between the U.S. and Russia today that has any chance of moving towards another treaty. I know that many people in the U.S. government that would like to do that and are trying to move in that direction. But they haven’t gotten any two-sided discussions that seem to have any significance going forward yet. I’d say this is not the fault of the U.S. officials; it’s just that Russia isn’t showing any interest in moving forward in nuclear arms agreements. So that’s one of the main issues ahead of us, and if we can get a stronger positive relation with Russia on other issues, we should also be working with them to try to get forward motion again on a follow-on to New START [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty].

ACT: I was also asking about multilateral diplomacy, not just the bilateral U.S.-Russian interaction. Is there any way to stimulate movement in the CD, to deal with the issues that have divided the NPT members at their last review conference, issues like that? Who needs to take action to do that? Is there anyone besides the U.S. and Russia who can move that process or help move that process?

Perry: Probably yes, but I don’t have a good answer to your question.

ACT: In your book, you write that the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program over the past 15 years “is perhaps the most unsuccessful exercise of diplomacy in our country’s history.” What could the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have done differently to avoid this outcome?

Perry: Well, we had a negotiation going with the North Koreans in 2000, which was very close to an agreement. When the administration changed, the Bush administration simply cut off any discussions with the North Koreans. That was demonstrated to be not an effective way of dealing with the North Koreans, but it didn’t seem to me to be a wise way even before we saw the outcome. We should have kept the dialogue going, and that was a big mistake, I think.

ACT: With regard to the Obama administration’s approach to North Korea, how would you assess its strategy toward reducing the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program?

Perry: It evidently has not been effective. But I would say, somewhat in their defense, that by the time they got into office, North Korea already had nuclear weapons. In 2001, North Korea did not yet have nuclear weapons. There was an opportunity for a much easier negotiation; it was much more feasible to negotiate with them not to develop nuclear weapons and not to produce nuclear weapons. Once they had nuclear weapons, the negotiation got very much harder. Now the administration had to argue with them to give up what they already have, and so I think the opportunity that was lost was between 2001 and 2008. That was when we had the chance to stop the North Korean nuclear program.

ACT: Given where we are now, what realistically in your view can be achieved at this point to stop and perhaps roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program?

Perry: I don’t have any better advice on that than Sig Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, has given. He said that, given that they already have the nuclear weapons, making our position in the negotiations that they must give them up is a very hard negotiation. So he argues instead to put that aside for the time being and take a more limited goal in diplomacy. It’s what he calls the three noes, which is no new nuclear weapons, no more nuclear weapons, and no selling of nuclear weapons or technology.1 Those are the three noes that he states, and he offers some positive incentives we might give for that to happen. He said that should be the basis of the negotiation. If we ever succeed in that, then we can take the next step in trying to get them to roll back their arsenal. But as far as I can determine, we have not proceeded along the lines of those three noes. That was a tactical approach that Sig had that I supported at the time and still do. I think it was a reasonable approach to dealing with the North. 

ACT: I want to go back to the issue of nuclear terrorism, which we touched on briefly a few minutes ago. You wrote in your book that the threat of nuclear terrorism is the “gravest threat of our time.” Why do you think that’s the case?

Perry: The threat of nuclear weapons is the greatest threat of our time, and nuclear terrorism is the most likely form of it. If you consider the deterrent we have to somebody attacking us with nuclear weapons, it’s very powerful. But we have no deterrent to nuclear terrorism, and it’s relatively easy to imagine how such an attack could happen. So it’s not that it’s as catastrophic as a nuclear war; it’s just it has a much higher probability.

ACT: You mentioned the nuclear security summit process. How successful do you think that’s been in addressing this problem of nuclear terrorism?

Perry: I think it’s the most effective thing we can do because the most likely way for a terrorist to get a nuclear weapon is to get the fissile material and then build a crude, improvised bomb himself. So the biggest obstacle to a terrorist getting a nuclear weapon is getting the fissile material, and the nuclear summit process is specifically addressed to putting fissile material all over the world under much better control or eliminating it.

ACT: So as a result of the nuclear summit process, do you feel less troubled or less concerned than you did, say, seven years ago before the process started? 

Perry: Yes, I do. I mean, there are just fewer opportunities now for a terrorist group to get ahold of the fissile material. But I don’t feel by any means relaxed about this because there’s still a lot of it out there not under really good control. That’s why I think this final nuclear summit next year is so important. It gives us an opportunity to take even stronger actions than we’ve taken in the previous summits, including the opportunity for setting an international standard for the control and protection of fissile material.

ACT: What should be done to continue to focus high-level attention on the problem after the summit is completed? 

Perry: I’m sorry to say that the thing that would really give high-level attention to the problem is a nuclear terrorist incident. Then what had once seemed to be a theoretical possibility will become real. All I’m hoping and working for is that we can find the actions to stop nuclear terrorism without having that triggering event.

ACT: On the question of the likelihood, periodically people say within so-and-so many years there’s such-and-such a percentage chance of a nuclear terrorist incident taking place. People have been saying that for the last 30 years or so, and there hasn’t been one. So what do you think is the likelihood and over what time period?

Perry: I’ve never been able to put a number on it. But I would say it is quite feasible for it to happen in the next year, and I don’t see the actions we have now to keep that from happening as strong enough to give me any comfort that it’s not going to happen. It could happen next year; it could happen the following year. It’s a matter of the terrorist group putting the priority on doing that and putting the resources and the effort to making it happen. But I just don’t know how to put a number on it, a probability on it. Certainly, the likelihood of that happening is much higher than any of the other nuclear catastrophes.

ACT: As President Obama enters his final year in office, what more can he realistically seek to achieve with regard to the ambitious agenda he articulated in his Prague speech in April 2009?2

Perry: Number one, he could put a major effort into making this last nuclear summit a big success. That would be my number-one priority, I think, particularly since it addresses the threat I’m most concerned about, which is nuclear terrorism. Secondly, if he can get a renewed serious dialogue with the Russians, I would try to get a follow-on to New START under way. Third, a major push on the CTBT, however he could go about doing that, to try to get that ratified before he leaves office. That is a very steep uphill climb, and I don’t want to be optimistic. But as I recommend things to the administration, I do recommend that they make a major effort still to try to push that through, not to give up on the ratification of the CTBT. Many people will say that’s an impossible dream, but I would like a major push to achieve ratification.

ACT: Thank you very much for your time; we really appreciate it.

ENDNOTES

1.  See, for example, Siegfried S. Hecker, “North Korea Reactor Restart Sets Back Denuclearization,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 17, 2013, http://thebulletin.org/north-korea-reactor-restart-sets-back-denuclearization.

2.  Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic,” April 5, 2009.

The former Pentagon chief says intercontinental ballistic missiles are not essential to the U.S. deterrent, worries about the risk of nuclear terrorism, and advocates a “major push” on the [CTBT].

Poland Backs Away From Nuclear Sharing

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

One day after a senior Polish defense official told a Polish TV station on Dec. 6 that the country was “actively working on” joining NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, the country’s defense ministry denied that Poland was “engaged in any work aimed at joining” the arrangements.

In its Dec. 7 statement, the ministry said that the comment by Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski “should be seen in the context of recent remarks made by serious Western think tanks, which point to deficits in NATO’s nuclear deterrent capability on its eastern flank.” The statement observed that some of these think tanks have recommended expanding the number of countries that base U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil.

NATO’s nuclear sharing program is currently believed to consist of the deployment of 200 tactical B61 gravity bombs on the territory of five NATO members: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Most of these countries also maintain aircraft to deliver the weapons.

Like all other NATO members except France, Poland already participates in the alliance’s nuclear decision-making as a member of the Nuclear Planning Group, which acts as NATO’s senior body on nuclear matters. In addition, Poland contributes non-nuclear capabilities such as aircraft in support of the alliance’s nuclear mission.

NATO officials have repeatedly stated that the alliance is not considering the basing of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states.

But the alliance has raised concerns about the nuclear behavior and other aggressive actions of Russia over the last year and continues to evaluate whether to formally adjust its nuclear posture in response to these actions in the lead-up to the next NATO summit meeting, scheduled to take place July 8-9 in Warsaw. (See ACT, November 2015.)

In a Dec. 7 blog post, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said that as NATO diplomats weigh specific nuclear-related measures, the alliance already “is starting to adjust its nuclear posture in Europe in ways that seem similar (but far from identical) to the Cold War play book,” such as “increased reliance on U.S. nuclear forces” and “more exercises and rotational deployments of nuclear-capable forces.”

Szatkowski’s statement “is but the latest sign of that development,” he added.

One day after a senior Polish defense official told a Polish TV station on Dec. 6 that the country was “actively working on” joining NATO’s...

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