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

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
News Briefs

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

Saudi Nuclear Permissions Granted After Murder

Two controversial authorizations for the transfer of nuclear information to Saudi Arabia were granted by the U.S. Department of Energy to private companies after the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and commentator for The Washington Post, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) revealed June 4. (See ACT, May 2019.)

A candlelight vigil is held for Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul on October 25, 2018. His murder in the Saudi consulate there has led some U.S. lawmakers to question U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s nuclear energy plans. (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)Kaine received the information after more than two months of requests and a direct appeal from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) to the Energy Department for the approval dates of seven so-called Part 810 authorizations, particularly inquiring as to whether any authorizations occurred after the Khashoggi murder.

“The alarming realization that the Trump Administration signed off on sharing our nuclear know-how with the Saudi regime after it brutally murdered an American resident adds to a disturbing pattern of behavior,” said Kaine.

Part 810 authorizations are routinely issued, especially when negotiations for a broader civil nuclear cooperation agreement with another country are ongoing, as is the case with Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration’s lack of transparency regarding those negotiations, however, combined with restricting access to the authorizations, has caused growing concern in Congress. Many members of Congress and nonproliferation experts are also concerned about Saudi actions in the Middle East, including in the war in Yemen, and Saudi leaders’ statements about wanting nuclear weapons if Iran were ever to obtain them.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Saudi Nuclear Permissions Granted After Murder

U.S. Confirms Saudi Ballistic Missile Production


U.S. intelligence agencies have told Congress that Saudi Arabia is developing a domestic ballistic missile production program with Chinese support, CNN reported June 5. The official confirmation followed open-source reporting in January that disturbed some members of Congress, who questioned if that information had been deliberately omitted from earlier Trump administration briefings. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Saudi Arabia has deployed Chinese-supplied ballistic missiles for decades, and Beijing has said that the missiles were modified to carry only non-nuclear explosives. In January, imagery analyses by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey indicated that Saudi Arabia had expanded its al-Watah missile base, where the Chinese missiles were stored, to include a rocket-engine production and test facility. U.S. officials have now confirmed to Congress that the expansion in missile infrastructure and technology was facilitated through recent purchases from China. Saudi production of ballistic missiles would run counter to long-established U.S. policy to limit missile proliferation in the Middle East. —SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S. Confirms Saudi Ballistic Missile Production

Senate Confirms U.S. NPT Ambassador

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Jeffrey Eberhardt, a career government official who has served at the Pentagon and most recently at the State Department, to serve as special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation. The June 20 confirmation put Eberhardt in place to support administration policy going into the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which will mark the 50th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. His portfolio will cover many nonproliferation-related issues, including Iran and North Korea, as well as other treaty noncompliance allegations. Most recently, Eberhardt served as director of the State Department’s Office of Multilateral and Nuclear Affairs in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

Regarding Iran, Eberhardt said during his Senate nomination hearing that “Iran’s standing as a non-nuclear-weapon state-party to the NPT cannot be described as good.” Reacting to that statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a June 3 interview that he “did not want to comment on that.” Andrea Thompson, the State Department’s top arms control diplomat, initially tried to dodge answering the question in Senate testimony on May 15 before acknowledging that Eberhardt’s statement was “correct” and “what we laid out in the [State Department arms control] compliance report.” The 2019 compliance report, issued in April, expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but offered no evidence at that time of Iranian noncompliance with its NPT obligations or with its commitments to the 2015 multilateral deal that curbed its nuclear activities.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Senate Confirms U.S. NPT Ambassador

Trump War Powers Veto Survives Override

 

The U.S. Senate failed to override President Donald Trump’s April 16 veto of a congressional resolution to assert authority over direct U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. The 53–45 vote taken May 2 did not get the 67 votes needed to overcome Trump's veto of the War Powers Act resolution, which had passed the House of Representatives on April 4 and the Senate on March 13. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shown speaking in Texas in April, introduced the resolution restricting the U.S. military's involvement in the war in Yemen, later vetoed by President Donald Trump. (Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images)“The bad news today: we were unable today to override Trump’s veto regarding U.S. intervention in this horrific war in Yemen,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced the Senate resolution, said following the vote. “The good news: for the first time in 45 years, Congress used the War Powers Act to reassert its constitutional responsibility over the use of armed forces.”

The override vote closely mirrored the Senate vote of 54–46 to approve the resolution in March, with the same five Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the resolution. Two senators did not vote on the veto override, one on each side of the issue.

Asserting authority over war on arms control issues was a congressional theme in May as many legislators raised flags about possible U.S. military intervention in Iran. “Congress has not authorized war with Iran, and the administration, if it were contemplating military action with Iran, must come to Congress to seek approval,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on May 15.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Trump War Powers Veto Survives Override

B61 Bomb Production Delayed

 

Technical problems have prevented production of a new variant of the U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bomb, according to Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), in May 8 testimony to the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. The project was scheduled to be ready for full-scale production by March 2020, but the problems have delayed work on the first unit of the “mod-12” version of the bomb, she said, offering no estimate on the length of the delay.

An Air Force F-16C carries an inert B61-12 bomb during a development flight test on March 14, 2017. Production of electrical components of the weapon's warhead has hit technical snags. (Photo: Brandi Hansen/U.S. Air Force)The delay is caused by defects with some of the new warhead’s electrical capacitators, according to a May 9 ExchangeMonitor report. Gordon-Hagerty told the publication that it would take several months to look at the issue before the agency decides how to proceed. The NNSA plans to build 480 B61-12 bombs, according to the Federation of American Scientists. The new B61-12 bombs are supposed to lead to the retirement of the B83 gravity bombs, the most powerful nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, as well as the previous variations of the B61 bombs. (See ACT, June 2017.)

The B61-12 is slated to be one of the most expensive life extension programs undertaken by the NNSA, estimated to cost around $10 billion and originally scheduled to be completed by fiscal year 2027, according to an independent cost estimate reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in May 2018. It has been called a “smart” bomb in that it will come with an advanced guided tail kit, making it easier to “steer” the bomb to increase its accuracy. The tail kit upgrade is managed by the Air Force.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

B61 Bomb Production Delayed

U.S. Reverses Nuclear Stockpile Transparency

 

The Trump administration refused in April to release information describing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the number of weapons dismantled as of the end of fiscal year 2018. The decision reversed a practice established by the Obama administration in 2010 and followed for one year by the Trump administration.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) requested the data in October 2018, as it has annually. The Energy Department denied the request on April 5 with no explanation. Any disclosure also requires Defense Department approval, and FAS nuclear stockpile expert Hans Kristensen said he was told later the decision was made “higher up” than the defense secretary’s office.

The move was an “unnecessary and counterproductive reversal of nuclear policy,” said Kristensen. He said the new policy would lead to a number of negative consequences, including placing the United States at a disadvantage in the upcoming nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference and putting other nuclear-armed allies in the awkward position of having to reassess their own transparency policies.

A May 2010 Defense Department fact sheet accompanying the then-new release of information said such transparency is “important to nonproliferation efforts, and to pursuing follow-on reductions” to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Since then, France and the United Kingdom have increased their own stockpile transparency, although they have not yet disclosed the entire history of their inventories.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S. Reverses Nuclear Stockpile Transparency

Congress Seeks Decision on Missile Defense Site

 

House Democrats and Republicans continue to press the Defense Department to designate a preferred location for a third long-range ballistic missile defense interceptor site.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan testifies to Congress in March. He has not announced where the Pentagon would like to build a third missile defense site in the United States. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on May 1 that a decision on a preferred site had been made and that he would share the result with Congress later that day. Shanahan has yet to announce a decision.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has similarly pressed the Pentagon to make a final designation.

The current system to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California.

In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Defense Department to conduct a study to evaluate at least three possible new long-range interceptor sites that could augment the GMD system, including at least two on the East Coast.

The Defense Department announced in 2016 that it had completed a draft environmental impact statement of three possible locations: Fort Drum in New York, Camp Garfield Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.

Fort Drum is located in Stefanik’s congressional district while Ryan represents Camp Garfield.

The fiscal year 2016 and 2018 defense authorization bills directed the Pentagon to designate a preferred location for a third site. Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s “2019 Missile Defense Review” report, published in January, said that no decision has been made to deploy a third GMD site and that the location for a potential site “will be informed by multiple pertinent factors at the time.” (See ACT, March 2019.)

The Missile Defense Agency has repeatedly stated that the estimated cost of $3–4 billion to build such a site would be better spent on improving the capabilities of the existing GMD system.—KINGSTON REIF

Congress Seeks Decision on Missile Defense Site

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