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"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
October 2014
Edition Date: 
Friday, October 3, 2014
Cover Image: 

U.S. Officials Reaffirm Support for CTBT

By Shervin Taheran

A group of senior U.S. officials from the State, Energy, and Defense departments last month reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, even as one of the officials made clear that the administration would not be sending the treaty to the Senate for approval in the near future.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said at a Sept. 15 event at the U.S. Institute of Peace that ratification of the CTBT would “help to enhance our leadership role in nonproliferation and strengthen our hand in pursuing tough actions against suspected proliferators. That is more important than ever in our current global environment.”

But she said the Obama administration “has no intention of rushing into this or demanding premature [Senate] action before we have had a thorough and rigorous discussion and debate.” 

The current priorities, Gottemoeller said, are “education” and “a healthy, open dialogue” with senators, rather than setting a timeline.

The United States signed the CTBT in 1996, when the pact was opened for signature. The Clinton administration submitted the treaty to the Senate three years later. On Oct. 13, 1999, the Senate rejected the treaty by a vote of a 51-48. Treaty approval requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

Several speakers at the event, which was organized by the Arms Control Association, Green Cross International, and the Washington embassies of Canada and Kazakhstan, emphasized changes in the landscape since the 1999 vote. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz declared that “[t]he world will be a safer and more secure place if nuclear testing is relegated to the pages of history” and said there had been “enormous progress” over the past 15 years on two key technical issues from the 1999 debate: ensuring the reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile and verifying that countries are not covertly violating their no-testing commitment.

With regard to the first point, Moniz said that the directors of U.S. national laboratories “believe that they actually understand more about how nuclear weapons work now than during the period of nuclear testing.”

The United States has not conducted a nuclear weapon test explosion since September 1992. To ensure the readiness of U.S. nuclear warheads, the Energy Department has carried out a program known as stockpile stewardship to monitor, replace, and refurbish key components of the warheads in the nuclear stockpile. 

Moniz also cited progress in the global verification system that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is putting in place. 

A 2012 report by a National Academy of Sciences committee said stockpile stewardship had been “more successful than was anticipated in 1999.” The report found that “U.S. national monitoring and the [CTBTO] International Monitoring System has improved to levels better than predicted in 1999.” (See ACT, April 2012.)

At the Sept. 15 event, Andrew Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, said the United States is “not even considering” a resumption of nuclear testing. 

Nevertheless, he said, the U.S. government is not prepared to shut down its nuclear testing facilities in Nevada. “I would expect that if we can get ratification and entry into force [of the CTBT], those facilities would be closed. But there is a desire to keep at least a limited readiness until the treaty enters into force,” he said.

Weber is the staff director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, through which the Defense and Energy departments coordinate management of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

Under terms outlined in Annex 2 of the CTBT, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. The United States is one of eight countries on that list that have not ratified the pact. The other seven are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. In her remarks, Gottemoeller reiterated the U.S. position that “there’s no reason for the remaining Annex 2 states to wait for the United States before completing their own ratification processes.”

In his closing remarks at the Sept. 15 event, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said that although it is important to be patient in the effort to bring the CTBT into force, “we have to be mindful of those who have signed and ratified this treaty long ago and have been waiting for its entry into force.”

Senior U.S. officials reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force, but made clear that the Senate would not be asked to consider the pact in the near future.

OPCW Confirms Chlorine Attacks in Syria

By Daniel Horner

Evidence gathered by an investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) forms a “consistent and credible narrative” of use of a toxic chemical as a weapon in Syria in recent months, the team said in a report issued Sept. 10.

The group concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that “chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question.”

The team did not assign responsibility for the attacks, which the Syrian government and the rebels fighting to overthrow it have blamed on each other. But the OPCW investigators reported that “witnesses invariably connected the devices to helicopters flying overhead.” 

In a Sept. 21 statement commenting on the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that because helicopters constitute “a capability the opposition lacks,” the evidence “strongly points to Syrian regime culpability.”

The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad frequently have used helicopters to drop conventional explosives. The report described one incident in which a child standing near the landing point of a bomb dropped from a helicopter “died later because of exposure to the toxic chemical, while showing none of the obvious physical trauma as that usually inflicted by a conventional explosive device.”

The OPCW launched the fact-finding mission in April after allegations of chlorine use near the Syrian village of Kafr Zita. (See ACT, May 2014.) In May, a convoy carrying members of the OPCW team to Kafr Zita came under attack and had to turn back. For the report, the investigators interviewed witnesses from Kafr Zita and two other villages in northern Syria, Al Tamanah and Talmenes. The report said it also drew on documentation such as medical records.

According to the report, there was a “marked reduction” in allegations of chlorine use in May, June, and July. But in August, there was “a spate of new allegations, with accounts of the incidents bearing strong resemblance to those that are now confirmed as having been chlorine attacks.”

The United States is “gravely concerned” about the investigative team’s findings, which “point to” a CWC violation, Kerry said in his statement. Chlorine is not one of the toxic chemicals specifically listed in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), but its use as a weapon would constitute a violation of the treaty. 

Syria joined the CWC a year ago as part of an agreement hammered out by Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. That agreement formed the basis for actions by the OPCW Executive Council and UN Security Council under which more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons material were removed from Syria for destruction elsewhere.

Kerry also expressed “deep concerns regarding the accuracy and completeness” of Syria’s declaration of its arsenal to the OPCW when Damascus joined the CWC. 

During a Sept. 4 press briefing at the United Nations, Sigrid Kaag, the head of the OPCW-UN joint mission that has been overseeing the chemical disarmament work in Syria, said the discrepancies fall into several categories. She listed paperwork and documentation, areas “where the [Syrian] authorities have indicated that chemical materials have been destroyed” but the destruction “happened a long time ago [and] the records are not up to date,” and “areas where there are concerns over possible discrepancies in volume and other such matters.” There has been “close dialogue and cooperation” with the Syrians on these questions, she said.

Another issue that bears close watching, U.S. officials and others have said, is the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons production facilities. After protracted negotiations, the OCPW on July 24 announced an agreement on a plan for destroying 12 facilities. They comprise seven hangars and five underground structures, which are part of a system of tunnels. (See ACT, September 2014.)

At the UN briefing, Kaag said the tunnels would be destroyed by a method of “mix and fill.” It is “not high tech, and the equipment that’s going to be used is available in [Syria],” she said. The hangars are to be destroyed by chemical implosion, which is a little more complicated but “can be done,” she said.

Under the timetable in the July 24 OPCW decision document, the destruction of the hangars was to begin in late September and destruction of the underground structures a month later. But the document also says that the timelines for destruction “are estimates and could be refined after further consultation with technical experts and on the basis of initial experience in implementing this decision.” The Executive Council “shall review the timelines” to ensure that they “remain practical and realistic,” the document stated.

At a Sept. 10 event at the Center for Security and International Studies, Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the U.S. National Security Council, said meetings were taking place on issues such as “contracting and the methodologies involved and exactly when the [OPCW] inspectors will be where to observe what part of the destruction.”

In a Sept. 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a State Department official cited the OPCW as saying that the “start of the destruction of the hangars will fall in October.” The department has no information on a “specific start date” for the tunnels, the official said.

The OPCW did not respond to a request for information on the start dates.

In her Sept. 4 comments, Kaag estimated that the destruction activities would be completed by the end of March. Four of the 12 facilities are in “security-affected areas,” she said.

Regarding Syria’s adherence to the schedule, the State Department official said, “There are no guarantees[,] and we recognize that the work is both complex and unprecedented[,] but the United States will insist that the Syrian government provide the required support and assistance to enable the timely destruction of its remaining chemical weapons production facilities.”

An investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found compelling evidence of the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria in recent months.

IAEA Reports Delay in Iran Probe

By Kelsey Davenport

Iran provided the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with access to several nuclear facilities in August, but is behind schedule on turning over information on alleged activities related to nuclear weapons development, according to the agency’s director-general. 

Yukiya Amano told the IAEA Board of Governors on Sept. 15 that Iran expressed a willingness to “accelerate the resolution of all outstanding issues” and has begun discussions with the agency about the two remaining actions of the five that Tehran agreed to complete by Aug. 25. 

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said on Sept. 18 that the actions have not been completed “due to their complexity” and because the IAEA allegations are based on invalid information. Najafi said that the IAEA characterization that Iran had “missed the deadline” of Aug. 25 is inaccurate because the agency was aware Iran might not complete the actions by that date. 

On May 21, Tehran pledged to provide the agency with information in five areas of concern to the IAEA. (See ACT, June 2014.) These actions are part of a November 2013 agreement, the Framework for Cooperation, in which Iran and the IAEA committed to “resolve all present and past issues,” including allegations of activities with possible relevance for developing nuclear weapons, or “possible military dimensions,” as the agency refers to them. (See ACT, December 2013.) 

The IAEA laid out its concerns about possible weaponization activities in detail in its November 2011 report to its board, but did not hand over its evidence to Iran. (See ACT, December 2011.) 

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Najafi said Iran denies the allegations of weaponization activities and that there are no “authenticated documents” to back up the IAEA allegations. Nevertheless, Iran will continue to cooperate to clarify the ambiguities, he said. 

The two incomplete actions include providing information on certain kinds of high explosives that could be relevant to nuclear weapons and information on studies “in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modelling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials.” Neutron transport studies can be relevent to nuclear weapons development. 

Iran has already completed 13 actions by two agreed-on deadlines earlier this year, including providing the IAEA with information on the alleged weaponization issue involving exploding bridge wire detonators. (See ACT, September 2014.) 

Najafi said that the information proved that the detonators were for civilian applications in the oil and gas industry. The IAEA, however, has said that it will not issue an assessment until Iran has furnished information on all the alleged weaponization activities. 

In his Sept. 15 remarks to the board, Amano said the IAEA also had requested that Iran provide the agency with proposals for new practical measures by Sept. 2 to advance the IAEA investigation under the Framework for Cooperation. Amano said that Iran had not proposed any new measures. 

Najafi said that as soon as the remaining two actions are completed, Iran and the IAEA can discuss additional measures. 

In comments to the press Sept. 15, Amano said the IAEA investigation could be completed in about 15 months if Iran cooperated. The aim of the probe is to give the IAEA an understanding of the “whole picture” so that it can issue a factual assessment of the alleged weaponization activities to the IAEA board, Amano said. 

U.S. Reaction

Laura Kennedy, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. mission to the IAEA, said Sept. 18 that the United States is concerned “about the pace of progress in addressing the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.”

She urged Iran to “intensify its engagement” with the IAEA and implement the measures “without delay.” 

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the panel’s ranking member, have drafted a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressing their concern over Iran’s “refusal to fully cooperate” with the IAEA investigation. The draft letter, circulated among House members for signature on Sept. 16, said that the only “reasonable conclusion” to be drawn from Iran’s “stonewalling” of the IAEA investigation is that Iran has “much to hide.” As Arms Control Today went to press, the letter had not been sent.

Royce and Engel said that Iran’s willingness to reveal aspects of its nuclear program, including the alleged weaponization activities, is a “fundamental test” of Iran’s intention to uphold a comprehensive nuclear agreement. 

Separately from the talks with the IAEA, Iran is negotiating with the United States and five other world powers over limits to its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief (see "Little Progress Seen in Iran Talks").

Completed Actions

In its most recent quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, the IAEA said that one of the five actions was completed before the Aug. 25 deadline, while the other two were completed Aug. 30-31. 

According to the Sept. 5 report, Iran provided the agency with access to a centrifuge assembly workshop Aug. 18-20 and access to a centrifuges research and development center Aug. 30. 

On Aug. 31, Iran and the IAEA agreed on a safeguards approach for the Arak heavy-water reactor. Under that approach, the agency is to have regular access to the partially built reactor and receive updates on design information. Iran halted construction on the reactor in January as part of an interim agreement with the six world powers.

Iran is behind schedule on turning over information to the International Atomic Energy Agency on alleged activities related to nuclear weapons development.

Little Progress Seen in Iran Talks

By Kelsey Davenport

President Barack Obama last month urged Iran to take advantage of a “historic opportunity” to reach a nuclear agreement with the United States and five other world powers, but after a week of talks, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said negotiators made little progress.

In his Sept. 24 speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly session, Obama said it is possible to negotiate an agreement that meets Iran’s energy needs and assures the world that Tehran’s program is entirely peaceful.

Rouhani, speaking to the same body the following day, also used the term “historic opportunity.” But at a Sept. 26 press conference, he said progress had “not been significant” and movement toward an agreement had been “extremely slow.” 

Obama’s and Rouhani’s remarks came a week after the resumption of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six powers known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters on Sept. 26 that there were “no significant advances” during the round of talks. A senior U.S. administration official said in a separate press event the same day that the parties “do not have an understanding on all major issues” and that Iran will need to make some difficult decisions to conclude a comprehensive agreement. 

An interim deal reached by Iran and the P5+1 last November set a target date of July 20 for reaching a comprehensive agreement, but allowed for an extension of the talks if all parties agreed. (See ACT, December 2013.) On July 19, Iran and the P5+1 agreed to extend negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal through Nov. 24. (See ACT, September 2014.)

Before the talks resumed on Sept. 18, several of the six countries, including the United States, met bilaterally with Iran to discuss the nuclear negotiations. 

Although Obama and Rouhani did not meet, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met twice to discuss the nuclear talks. 

Kerry and Zarif met again, with Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and leader of the P5+1 delegation, on Sept. 25 to discuss how to move forward on the remaining issues. 

In addition to the bilateral meetings, a number of plenary sessions and technical meetings took place from Sept. 18 to Sept. 26. 

Ashton had requested that the foreign ministers from all seven countries be available for a ministerial-level meeting if she needed to “consult them collectively” but that proved unnecessary, Ashton spokesman Michael Mann said Sept. 26. 

Talks are expected to resume in mid-October.

Uranium Enrichment

Iran is determined to “enjoy its full nuclear rights under international law,” including uranium enrichment, and is committed to a deal that “removes concerns” from both sides, Rouhani said in his address to the General Assembly.

Determining the future size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program is one of the most significant obstacles that negotiations must resolve before the Nov. 24 deadline. 

The P5+1 wants to reduce Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and put limits on other elements of its program, including the stockpiles of enriched material and the types of new centrifuges that Iran is developing. These limits would increase the amount of time it would take for Iran to enrich uranium to provide enough weapons-grade material for one bomb. In such material, more than 90 percent of the material is uranium-235. Iran currently is enriching uranium to less than 5 percent U-235. 

Iran says it needs to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity to provide fuel for nuclear power reactors it plans to build. 

At an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Sept. 17, Zarif said Iran does not need to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity in the near term. Russia provides fuel for Iran’s sole nuclear power plant, Bushehr, under a contract that lasts until 2021. 

To produce the fuel for Bushehr domestically, Iran would need a tenfold increase in its uranium-enrichment capacity. But Zarif said Iran “does not need all these centrifuges tomorrow” or in a year’s time. Iran has time to demonstrate the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and therefore “establish the type of confidence that is required” by the international community before Tehran can expand its uranium-enrichment capacity, Zarif said. 

The P5+1 has said it wants limits to Iran’s program for a period of at least 10 years. Zarif said that if Iran cannot establish international confidence in its nuclear program in five years, then “a deal is meaningless.” 

New Proposal Reported

On Sept. 19, The New York Times reported that the P5+1 had proposed disconnecting Iranian centrifuges that are installed but not currently enriching uranium. 

Typically, 174 single centrifuges are connected with pipes to form a cascade for enriching uranium more efficiently.

Iran currently has about 10,200 first-generation, or IR-1, centrifuges producing uranium enriched to less than 5 percent, which is suitable for nuclear power plants. About 8,000 additional first-generation centrifuges and 1,008 second-generation centrifuges are installed but not operating. 

According to the Sept. 19 article, the P5+1 proposed that, as part of a deal, Iran remove the pipes that connect the centrifuges. This would prevent Iran from quickly beginning enrichment using the machines, but does not require removing the centrifuges, which Iran says it will not do. 

A Western official familiar with the talks said that disconnecting the pipes is only “one element of a larger proposal” to limit Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity. In a Sept. 24 interview, he said that “other factors are being considered and discussed.” 

Those comments are consistent with remarks made by a senior Obama administration official in speaking more broadly about the potential deal at a Sept. 18 press briefing. The official said that there are “many components” to a deal that ensures that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. The official said that the elements must “come together in a way that gives us and the international community confidence that the program is exclusively peaceful and Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.”

A spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on Sept. 23 that Iran had not accepted or rejected the idea of disconnecting the pipes. 

Members of Congress expressed concern about the prospect of disconnecting the pipes between centrifuges. 

In a Sept. 19 letter to Kerry, 31 Republican senators, led by Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), asked the administration if it was willing to accept anything less than complete dismantlement of Iran’s enrichment program and the partially built Arak heavy-water reactor. The reactor, which Iran says is designed to produce isotopes for medical purposes, would produce plutonium that is particularly suitable for nuclear weapons once it is separated from the spent fuel. 

Negotiators have said that before the decision in July to extend the talks, they made progress on agreeing to decrease the plutonium output of the reactor.

President Barack Obama urged Iran to reach a nuclear deal with the United States and five other world powers during his address to the UN General Assembly last month, but negotiators made little progress over a week of talks.

Russia, U.S. Face Off Over INF Treaty

By Diane Barnes

Russia and the United States failed in a high-level September meeting to end a standoff over Washington’s claim that Moscow breached a landmark nuclear arms control treaty by testing a new medium-range, ground-launched cruise missile as early as 2008, officials from the two governments said. The U.S. State Department formally issued the long-discussed claim in a July 2014 compliance report amid rising international tensions tied to Moscow’s backing of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

The United States asserted that the Russian tests constituted a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Russia and the United States continue to possess nuclear arsenals far larger than any other country’s, and the alleged violation has been seen as further dampening prospects for any new bilateral initiative to further draw down the stockpiles. 

“The U.S. concerns were not assuaged in this meeting,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a press briefing on Sept. 11, after the INF Treaty compliance meeting in Moscow. “We had a useful exchange of ideas. We agreed to continue the dialogue.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement affirming a shared interest in keeping the treaty in force, but added that “no satisfactory answers were given to Russia’s questions” in the September talks. Russia did not elaborate on its concerns, but Moscow recently suggested that Washington might itself be guilty of violating the treaty.

“It is not a secret that the main problems with [the treaty’s] implementation occurred many times because of the United States,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a July 31 statement. The ministry contended that Washington has breached the pact by deploying armed unmanned aerial vehicles and by launching target missiles to test its defensive interceptors. Moscow tied additional possible violations to the MK-41 Vertical Launching System used on some U.S. warships.

The United States dismissed the suggestion that it may be guilty of stretching the pact’s terms. “We…reject any notion of any noncompliance issues on our side here,” Harf said at the briefing. The U.S. delegation to the meeting was led by Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. The team included representatives from the National Security Council and the Defense and Energy departments.

Washington and Moscow agreed to convene additional discussions, but neither side offered any hint of the timing for follow-up talks. In Sept. 16 remarks to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov appeared noncommittal about pursuing the exchange.

“It is possible that the dialogue on the issue will continue,” Ryabkov said. “However, at the moment we have no common understanding of when and where this dialogue may continue.”

The 1987 treaty, which remains in effect, was the first between the United States and Soviet Union to incorporate a tight regime of on-site inspections to verify reductions to their respective nuclear stockpiles. The pact eliminated a combined total of nearly 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The lingering compliance controversy has remained a key concern on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where lawmakers were set to weigh a draft proposal aimed at barring nuclear arms reductions beyond those mandated under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

The initiative, contained in a continuing appropriations resolution for the 2015 fiscal year, would bar the administration from unilaterally pursuing nuclear weapons reductions beyond those required under New START. That pact requires Russia and the United States to cap their nuclear deployments by 2018 at 700 missiles and bombers on each side, with backup fleets of no more than 100 additional delivery vehicles. The treaty also would bar each country from deploying more than 1,550 nuclear warheads.

Spokespeople for Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), declined to specifically address how the lack of progress in September’s bilateral talks might affect their consideration of the proposed New START limitations.

Meanwhile, others in Congress have considered the military impact of any new Russian missiles deployed in breach of the treaty. In a Sept. 8 commentary for Foreign Policy magazine, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued that if Moscow deployed the mobile, intermediate-range cruise missile, it would undermine NATO deterrence and assurance planning, as a ground-launched weapon would be “much harder to find” than counterparts deployed on submarines and aircraft. 

“The Russian deception of negotiating a nuclear arms reduction while building up nuclear arms poses a direct threat to the United States,” said Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Speaking to The New York Times in April, Gen. Philip Breedlove, the head of U.S. European Command, said the United States and NATO would need to respond in some fashion if they could not resolve concerns over Russia’s possible INF Treaty violation.

“It can’t go unanswered,” added Breedlove, who is also NATO’s top-ranking commander.

A U.S.-Russian meeting failed to clear up differences over what Washington claims was a Russian violation of a pivotal, Cold War-era nuclear arms control agreement.

NATO Moves Trigger Russian Response

By Jefferson Morley

In response to Russian intervention in Ukraine, NATO countries agreed last month to create a rapid reaction force, endorse new economic sanctions against Russia, and boost defense spending. Russian President Vladimir Putin countered by ordering a major military exercise and repeating previous declarations that his country would fortify its conventional and nuclear forces. 

“Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine have fundamentally challenged our vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace,” the NATO countries declared at the end of their Sept. 3-5 summit meeting in Wales. 

According to the Associated Press, Putin responded by saying, “We have warned many times that we would have to take corresponding countermeasures to ensure our security.” In Sept. 11 comments, Putin said Russia’s weapons modernization program over the next decade would focus on building a new array of offensive weapons to provide a “guaranteed nuclear deterrent,” rearming its air force, and developing high-precision conventional weapons. 

The actions marked a further worsening of relations between Russia and NATO over Ukraine and a setback for arms control efforts, according to regional experts. 

The 28 member countries of NATO agreed to create a 4,000-person “spearhead” force, capable of deploying anywhere within the territory of alliance members on 48 hours’ notice.

NATO already has a response force, but several days are required to place those troops on the ground at a target destination. The new force will include ground troops with air and maritime support, as well as special operations forces to confront the type of paramilitary forces now fighting in eastern Ukraine. 

The creation of the new force “sends a message to the Baltic states and the Poles and Romanians and others that as far as NATO as a whole [is] concerned, their territory is as important to [NATO] as any other piece of territory, and that they can count on not only America’s commitment, but NATO’s commitment to their collective defense,” Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, said during a Sept. 3 press call. 

“[T]hat, in turn, is meant to send a signal to Vladimir Putin and to Moscow that basically says, ‘Don’t even think about doing what you’re doing in Ukraine on NATO territory because we will react swiftly, quickly, rapidly, and with maximum force to make sure that you do not succeed,’” Daalder said.

The Western allies expect to have “an initial capacity with this much more rapid response time in less than a year,” NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said in a Sept 18 speech in Poland. “It won’t be all finished, but we recognize that the threats are here, [and] we can’t put this on the slow track.”

The new sanctions target Russian state-owned financial, defense, and energy companies. They strengthen measures that the United States and the European Union instituted in late July to target key engines of the Russian economy after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

France Suspends Deal 

Under pressure from Western allies, France announced on the eve of the NATO summit that it was suspending the scheduled delivery to Russia of a French-made Mistral helicopter carrier ship for two months. 

“Russia’s recent actions in the east of Ukraine contravene the fundamental principles of European security,” said a statement from the office of President François Hollande. According to the statement, Hollande “has concluded that despite the prospect of [a] ceasefire [in Ukraine], which has yet to be confirmed and put in place[,] the conditions under which France could authorise the delivery of the first helicopter carrier are not in place.” 

In a press conference at the NATO summit, Hollande said he would review the suspension in late October and that he had two conditions for delivery of the ship: a cease-fire in Ukraine and a political settlement that resolves the country’s crisis. 

The NATO countries pledged during the summit to reverse a trend of declining defense budgets by committing to move toward spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. In 2012, only the United States (4.5 percent), United Kingdom (2.5 percent), Greece (2.3 percent), and Estonia (2.0 percent) spent at the levels NATO now seeks, according to the NATO secretary-general’s 2013 annual report. 

Saber Rattling

NATO acted after Putin made a pointed speech Aug. 29 declaring, “I want to remind you that Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations. This is a reality, not just words.”

Nonetheless, the NATO actions stopped short of violating a nonbinding U.S. pledge made in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, Lee Feinstein, former U.S. ambassador to Poland, said in a Sept. 17 interview. 

In the agreement, NATO promised to carry out its collective defense mission without “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces,” a provision that Russian President Boris Yeltsin interpreted as a binding commitment by NATO that the alliance would not permanently deploy combat forces near Russia. NATO took care to emphasize that the new force would not be permanently stationed close to Russia, said Feinstein, now dean of the School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University.

“NATO wants to leave open the possibility of a diplomatic solution,” he said. “This is not a return to the Cold War, but it is very destabilizing when Russia engages in nuclear saber rattling.” 

At the NATO summit two years ago in Chicago, the allies debated and turned down a German proposal to reduce nuclear weapons in Europe, said Jorge Benitez, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, in a Sept. 18 interview.

“With recent Russian aggression, the consensus to stick with the status quo has only been strengthened,” he said. “Now it would be much harder to reduce NATO’s nuclear deterrent.”

After Western allies announced new sanctions and military measures aimed at deterring Russia in Ukraine and eastern Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to continue Russia’s conventional and nuclear buildup. 

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