Login/Logout

*
*  

"ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent."

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
News Briefs

U.S. Alleges New Syrian Chlorine Attack


U.S. officials have confirmed the United States believes that Syria once again has used chlorine-based weapons, this time in a May 2019 strike in Syria’s Latakia Province. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. intelligence assessment indicates that the May 19 attack was conducted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and killed at least four people.

A Syrian girl holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a makeshift hospital following a reported gas attack in Douma on the outskirts of the capital Damascus in 2018.  (Photo: Hasan Mohamed/AFP/Getty Images)The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Syria acceded in 2013, prohibits the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons. A joint investigative mechanism led by the treaty’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations has verified the sporadic but regular use of chemical weapons and of other toxic chemicals, including chlorine, in Syria since 2014.

Although the OPCW defines chemical weapons as “any chemical intended for chemical weapons purposes” and includes chlorine on a list of chemical choking agents, chlorine gas is a dual-use chemical and not a scheduled agent explicitly banned by the CWC. Consequently, the Syrian government’s supplies of chlorine were not part of the OPCW-led removal and destruction of Syria’s sarin and mustard arsenal and precursor chemicals, executed shortly after Syria’s accession to the CWC. (See ACT, December 2014.)—JULIA MASTERSON

U.S. Alleges New Syrian Chlorine Attack

China Considers Joining ATT

 

China expressed an interest in becoming a party to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27.

In a prepared speech, Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi stated that his country had “initiated the domestic legal procedures to join” the treaty. Shortly afterward, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang clarified that China is “striving for its accession to the ATT at an early date.”

China previously released a statement expressing an interest in joining the ATT on April 30, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s public rejection of the agreement. The treaty had been signed in September 2013 by the Obama administration but never ratified. At an April 26 event hosted by the National Rifle Association, Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the treaty, claiming that it would allow “foreign bureaucrats” to “trample” on freedoms guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The ATT, which entered into force on Dec. 24, 2014, establishes international standards designed to prevent illegal arms sales and sales of arms that could be used in the commission of genocide, war crimes, and other violations of international humanitarian law. It requires states-parties to create a domestic arms trade accounting system, regulate the brokering of weapons within their territory, report regularly on treaty implementation, and decline arms sales under certain conditions.

China's accession to the ATT, which now has 105 states-parties, would be significant because it is one of the world’s five largest global arms exporters.—OWEN LeGRONE

China Considers Joining ATT

CD Fails to Adopt Program of Work

 

For the 10th consecutive year, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) concluded in mid-September without reaching consensus on the adoption of a program of work.

The final report on the conference stated that throughout the 2019 session, successive CD presidents “conducted intensive consultations with a view to reaching a consensus on a program of work,” but despite those efforts, they “did not succeed.” Since the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty opened for signature in 1996, the 65-member, Geneva-based CD has managed to adopt a program of work only twice, in 1998 and 2009.

The 2019 session involved 48 formal plenary meetings and 16 informal meetings. In February, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged states to overcome their differences and warned that “key components of the international arms control architecture are collapsing.” He specifically referenced the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which ultimately collapsed in August, and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is scheduled to expire in February 2021. “I urge you in the strongest possible terms to take a decisive action to safeguard and preserve the existing system through dialogue that will help restore trust,” Guterres said.

In addition to Guterres, representatives from nearly 40 countries addressed the conference over the course of the 2019 session, including the United States and Russia. All these dignitaries, according to the final report, “expressed concern about the Conference’s current situation.”

The CD’s permanent agenda contains 10 items, but there are four core issues: nuclear disarmament, a treaty banning the production of fissile material, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and negative security assurances. The current deadlock is largely attributed to disagreements between members about the prioritization of those issues and attempts to link progress on one issue to progress on another.—SHANNON BUGOS

CD Fails to Adopt Program of Work

India Boosts Range of BrahMos Cruise Missile


The BrahMos cruise missile, produced by an Indian-Russian venture, is displayed in St. Petersburg in 2017.  (Photo: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)India has increased the range of its BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to 500 kilometers after successful summer testing, an industry official told The Economic Times. The technological development followed earlier reports that New Delhi may soon begin exporting the missile to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The conventionally armed BrahMos missile is reported to be world’s fastest cruise missile, capable of flying at nearly three times the speed of sound. It is manufactured in India by BrahMos Aerospace, a joint Indian-Russian enterprise.

The new capability was made possible by India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), said Sudhir Kumar Mishra, the firm’s chief executive officer. Before joining in 2016, India was prevented from receiving technology from MTCR members, such as Russia, for missiles capable of flying more than 300 kilometers or carrying payloads heavier than 500 kilograms.

MTCR limitations will need to be considered as India decides which versions of the BrahMos to export.

Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia have expressed interest in the BrahMos, according to Sputnik News, and other customers friendly to India and Russia may also be interested.—JULIA MASTERSON

India Boosts Range of BrahMos Cruise Missile

India Considers No-First-Use Changes

 

India may be considering repudiating its long-standing no-first-use nuclear doctrine, according to an Aug. 16 tweet by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. “India has strictly adhered to this doctrine,” Singh wrote, but “what happens in the future depends on the circumstances.”

Like China, India currently vows to use nuclear weapons only in retaliation for a first-strike attack. If there is a change, it would not be the first time that India has modified its nuclear posture. India adopted a no-first-use policy in 1998 but stipulated that the promise extended only to states that did not have nuclear weapons and were not aligned with a nuclear-armed state (See ACT, July/August 1999). In 2003, India formally published its nuclear command structure and reaffirmed its no-first-use policy, but added that a chemical or biological attack could warrant a retaliatory nuclear response, further conditioning the scope of its 1998 pledge. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised in 2014 to amend India’s nuclear doctrine, and specifically to revisit the no-first-use issue. (See ACT, May 2015.) The same promise was notably absent from the BJP 2019 manifesto, but the recent comments come from the highest-ranking official to have hinted at additional adjustments to New Delhi’s nuclear use policy.—JULIA MASTERSON

India Considers No-First-Use Changes

Four Candidates Vie to Lead IAEA

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced in September that it has received four nominations of candidates to become the agency’s sixth director-general. The four are seeking to succeed Yukiya Amano of Japan, who died in office on July 18, midway through his third term. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The candidates are Cornel Feruta of Romania, Rafael Mariano Grossi of Argentina, Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso, and Marta Ziakova of Slovakia. They are scheduled to meet in early October with the agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors, which must approve a candidate by a two-thirds majority. The board’s selection will then be sent to the agency’s entire membership for its approval, with a goal of completing the selection process by the end of the year.

Feruta is the agency’s acting director-general, stepping up to the post after previously serving as Amano’s deputy. Grossi is Argentina’s ambassador to the IAEA and previously served as the agency’s assistant director-general for policy in the agency. Zerbo is executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. Ziakova is chairperson of the Slovak Nuclear Regulatory Authority and has previously chaired the agency’s Board of Governors and General Conference.—GREG WEBB

Four Candidates Vie to Lead IAEA

Pakistan Maintains Missile Tests


Pakistan tested a 290-kilometer-range ballistic missile in late August, soon after a set of clashes between Indian and Pakistani forces in the disputed Kashmir region. The Ghaznavi missile, based on a Chinese design, is reportedly capable of delivering multiple types of warheads, according to an Aug. 29 release from Pakistan’s military, which said it notified Indian counterparts of the test according to the terms of confidence-building measures agreed in the 1999 Lahore Declaration. (See ACT, January/February 1999.

Pakistan deploys seven nuclear-capable missiles, all of which are also capable of carrying conventional payloads, according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. Prior to the Ghaznavi test, Pakistan had most recently tested a ballistic missile in May, as India counted its national election ballots, CNN reported.

The Pakistani release said the missile test was part of a field training exercise “aimed at practicing quick response procedures.”—JULIA MASTERSON

Pakistan Maintains Missile Tests

Bolivia Ratifies Ban Treaty

 

Bolivia ratified the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on Aug. 6, marking the 25th ratification overall and the halfway point toward the 50 ratifications needed for the treaty’s entry into force.

Sacha Sergio Llorenti, Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at UN headquarters in 2018.  The diplomat deposited Bolivia's ratification of the Treaty for the Prohibition  of Nuclear Weapons to the United Nations on Aug. 6, marking the halfway point in the ratifications needed for the treaty's entry into force. (Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)The date, exactly 74 years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, was selected by Bolivian ambassador Sacha Llorenti for its significance to nuclear disarmament activists. 70 states have now signed the agreement, which was opened for signature at the United Nations in 2017. It is the first international instrument to comprehensively ban the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. All states parties engaging in these activities are bound to submit and implement a plan to divest themselves completely of nuclear weapons upon ratification.

Although it has been dismissed by the nuclear-armed powers, as well as by states which benefit from nuclear security guarantees, the treaty's supporters hope that it will nonetheless pave the way for an emerging international legal norm against nuclear arms. More states are expected to ratify the treaty at a UN meeting in New York on Sept. 26, the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. —OWEN LeGRONE

Bolivia Ratifies Ban Treaty

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Resigns


Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Russia, has announced his resignation effective Oct. 3. He stated in his Aug. 5 resignation letter that his time in Moscow had been a “historically difficult period in bilateral relations.” His service, beginning March 2017, was marked by infighting within the U.S. government over the correct approach to diplomacy with Russia. It also coincided with the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a decision he described in December 2018 as necessary “to preserve the viability and integrity of arms control agreements more broadly.”

“We must continue to hold Russia accountable,” he said in his resignation letter.

Huntsman previously served as U.S. ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 and to Singapore from 1992 to 1993. Political observers have speculated that he may seek to become the governor of Utah, a post he has already won twice. The White House has not yet nominated Huntsman’s replacement.
—OWEN LeGRONE

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Resigns

France Admits Nuclear Coercion in Polynesia


French President Emmanuel Macron signed a new law July 5 acknowledging that Paris coerced French Polynesia into hosting nuclear testing from 1966 to 1996. Introduced as a revision of a 2004 statute governing Polynesian territorial autonomy, the law states that French Polynesia was made to participate by France in “the construction of its nuclear deterrent and national defense.” Previously, French leaders had simply praised the territory for its role in testing. France is now legally committed to the “economic and structural reconversion” of the area.

Former president of French Polynesia Oscar Temaru attends a 2014 ceremony at a nuclear test victim memorial in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia.  A new law has moved France toward recognizing the toll of nuclear testing on Polynesian residents. (Photo: Gregory Boissy/AFP/Getty Images)The law permits the government to compensate Polynesians affected by radiation-induced illness over the course of the tests, but France’s Constitutional Council struck down a provision allocating $100 million annually for remediation on June 27. Expressing frustration with the difficulty of receiving compensation, Polynesian opposition groups have called for the law to be overturned altogether.

A total of 193 nuclear tests were conducted in French Polynesia near the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa, many of which were atmospheric explosions. Declassified documents revealed in 2013 that radioactive contamination was much more extensive than the government had previously admitted.—OWEN LeGRONE

France Admits Nuclear Coercion in Polynesia

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - News Briefs