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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Fissile Material

Statement by Daryl G. Kimball on Challenges on Disarmament and Opportunities for Progress

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Political and Security Challenges on Disarmament
and Opportunities to Achieve Progress 

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Framework Forum Roundtable organized by the
Canadian Mission, the Middle Powers Initiative, and Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung 

Mission of the Government of Canada in Geneva, April 18, 2016

Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties, “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

In its 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that the threat and use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal, but it could not decide whether this illegality applied “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” Three judges dissented from that ruling, arguing that nuclear weapons were illegal in all circumstances. In its 1996 opinion, the ICJ also concluded unanimously that the disarmament obligation is not limited to NPT parties.

But today, and contrary to these legal obligations, progress on nuclear disarmament is at a standstill, and the risk of unbridled nuclear competition is growing.1

U.S. MX missile re-entry vehicles being tested at Kwajalein Atoll. Each line represents the potential explosive power of about 300 kilotons of TNT. All nine of the world's nuclear weapon states are replacing or upgrading their nuclear weapons strike capabilities. (Photo courtesy of Department of Defense.)As the delegations here at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Disarmament realize, there are still no legally-binding restrictions on the nuclear buildups of world’s four non-NPT nuclear-armed states, and are currently no active bilateral or multilateral negotiations to further regulate, cap, or reduce the stockpiles of any of the world’s five original nuclear-armed states.

Worse still, key treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have not yet entered into force due to political divisions in Washington and inaction by seven other Annex 2 states, leaving the door to renewed nuclear weapons testing ajar twenty years after the Conference on Disarmament completed its negotiation and the treaty was opened for signature.

In addition to the tensions between key nuclear-armed states, the biggest challenge to the disarmament enterprise is the fact that all of the world’s nine nuclear-weapon states are, to varying degrees or another, devoting vast sums of money to modernize, upgrade, and in some cases expand the size and lethality of their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems.

As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in in 20142, the numerical nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia may be over; but elsewhere, “a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.”

Although there is abundant evidence that even a “limited” exchange of nuclear weapons would result in a catastrophic humanitarian catastrophe—and in the view of many would violate the principles contained in the Law of War and be contrary to widespread interpretations of International Humanitarian Law—each of the nuclear-armed states continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons for their security and maintain plans for the use of these weapons in a conflict.

U.S.-Russian Tensions

Undoubtedly, renewed tensions between Moscow and Washington are blocking progress on nuclear disarmament. The United States and Russia have a special responsibility to provide leadership to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, but they are not doing so.

Although the number of nuclear weapons is down from its Cold War peak, the United States and Russia deploy far more nuclear weapons—some 1,800 each—than necessary for nuclear deterrence purposes. As President Barack Obama correctly noted in a speech in 2012, “we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”

Yet progress on further nuclear cuts is on hold. As President Obama recently acknowledged and the Russian [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] MFA confirmed, new negotiations on further nuclear disarmament beyond [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] New START are unlikely any time soon.

Russian leaders cite concerns about limited but unconstrained U.S. ballistic missile interceptors, NATO conventional military capabilities, and third-country nuclear arsenals, as reason for rejecting the June 2013 U.S. proposal for a further one-third reduction in each side’s strategic nuclear forces. But Russia has failed to put forward a counterproposal and has rejected U.S. offers to discuss the full range of strategic issues.

Complicating matters, Russia also has tested ground-based cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. U.S. and Russian officials say they are interested in discussing the issue, but the matter remains unresolved. So long as it does, the prospects for negotiation of a follow-on agreement to New START are low.

Making matters even worse, Russian officials have begun to highlight their nuclear forces as a deterrent against what they see as increasingly threatening U.S. and NATO conventional military capabilities. Late last year, Russia “leaked” plans for a new nuclear-armed underwater torpedo, implying it is eyeing new types of nuclear weapons.

Now, in a troubling shift of rhetoric, the Defense Department has unwisely begun to frame its unaffordable, all-of-the-above plan for replacing and upgrading U.S. strategic bombers, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and land- and sea-based strategic nuclear forces as part of its strategy to “counter Russia’s aggressive policies in Eastern Europe,” according its fiscal year 2017 budget request.

In reality, U.S. nuclear weapons, including the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons are irrelevant to the protection of nervous NATO allies in the Baltics and elsewhere.

Obama and his successor, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have a responsibility to pull back from a nuclear action-reaction cycle that would put both countries at greater risk and block further nuclear reductions for many more years to come.

Other Nuclear-Armed States

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and Russian tensions and arsenals attract most international attention, China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems3 themselves and increasing the size of their warhead stockpiles or their capacity to produce material to make more weapons.

Although smaller in number, these arsenals are just as dangerous. Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use in a potential conflict with India by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats.

Pakistan’s stated concern about India’s larger fissile stocks has led it to block negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, even though the United States has recently opened the possibility of changing the mandate to address fissile stocks4.

For its part, India says it would support fissile cut-off talks, but it appears to be expanding its fissile material production capacity as the CD remains deadlocked.

Leaders in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad profess support for nondiscriminatory approaches to disarmament and minimal deterrence, but their programs are moving in the opposite direction and there is little or no dialogue among them, and with others, on nuclear risk reduction options.

Chinese officials suggest they will not consider limits on their nuclear arsenal unless there are additional, deeper U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts.

Although North Korea may be under tighter and tighter international sanctions, its nuclear weapons and ballistic programs remain unconstrained. With further nuclear and ballistic missile tests, it will likely have missile-deliverable nuclear warheads.

Israel’s nuclear opacity and the inability of the Arab League to find a way to agree on an agenda acceptable to Israel for a meeting Middle East Nuclear WMD Free Zone Treaty has frozen discussion of practical measures to reduce nuclear and missile dangers in that region.

Another challenge is the relatively low-level of public and policy-maker awareness about the dangers of renewed nuclear competition and the consequences of nuclear weapons use is relatively low in the United States—and perhaps elsewhere.

While there is support among Democrats in Congress for efforts to further cut U.S. and Russian arsenals, there is strong skepticism among Republicans in Congress about any further nuclear reductions, and even though the U.S. Defense Department acknowledges that it cannot afford its costly, all-of-the-above plan to replace each component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal5, for the time being there is bipartisan support for most U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs.

Moving Forward

Obviously, these are very challenging conditions. These difficulties are reflected in the inability to achieve consensus here in Geneva at the CD and in the failure of the nuclear weapon states to meet key 2010 NPT Review Conference commitments and the inability of the states parties at the 2015 NPT Review Conference to agree on an updated action plan on disarmament.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the so-called “step-by-step approach” to disarmament, many non-nuclear-weapon states have tried to catalyze progress through the humanitarian consequences initiative. The effort has helped raise awareness once again about the unique destructive power of nuclear weapons and the dubious legal and moral basis for their possession and use.

But that initiative and the open-ended working group to discuss possible measures “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons" has not yet produced a unified, realistic diplomatic proposal for halting nuclear competition or starting multilateral disarmament talks.

There is no substitute for serious dialogue, the political will and support to achieve results, and international and domestic pressure to achieve meaningful results.

Simply repeating calls for action are not sufficient. Creative, practical ideas are needed to overcome persistent obstacles and new challenges.

It does not appear to me that there is any one initiative that can overcome these broader systemic challenges that impede progress on disarmament.

Rather, it will likely take the pursuit of multiple, practical, and sometimes bold, initiatives on the part of responsible leaders and groups of states.

So, what options might states participating in the OEWG and the CD pursue to jumpstart progress? Allow me to briefly comment on a few that are in circulation here in Vienna and to offer a few others for your consideration.

  • A Ban Treaty
    At the February OEWG discussions some states and civil society campaigners suggested it is time to launch talks on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons possession and use. Such a ban is, in my view, eventually a necessary step toward a world without nuclear weapons.

    But if such a negotiation is launched and concluded, it would not help the nuclear weapon states meet their nuclear disarmament obligations and would not likely do much to change opinion, policies, dangerous nuclear use doctrines, or accelerate progress on the elimination of the nuclear arsenals in the nuclear-armed states.

    This is due in large part to the fact that the nuclear weapons states will simply ignore the process and the results. The key is to draw them in such a way that they are compelled or persuaded to shift their approach and accelerate action toward zero nuclear weapons.
  • Challenge Nuclear Weapons Use and Use Doctrines 
    Another, approach—which would help address the longstanding goal of assuring non-nuclear-weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons—would be to pursue the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument banning the use of nuclear weapons.

    Such an instrument would not, as some have suggested, legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons. Even if the nuclear-weapon states do not initially join in the negotiation or sign the instrument, the process itself and the final product could further delegitimize nuclear weapons, strengthen the legal norm against their use, and put pressure on nuclear-armed states to revise their nuclear doctrines.

    Another approach would be to press each of the nuclear-armed states to report, in detail, on the physical, environmental, and human impacts of their nuclear war plans, if these plans were to be carried out, and how they believe the use of hundreds of such weapons would be consistent with humanitarian law and the laws of war as some nuclear-armed states claim6.

    Such a process could force an examination of dangerous nuclear doctrines and focus public attention on the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use.
  • UN Study on Effects of Possible Nuclear Exchanges Between Weapons States
    Part of the OEWG mandate is to make recommendations on “measures to increase awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation.”

    One important way to do so is to launch a UN study on the climate effects and related humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use.

    Tremendous advances in climate modeling and research on both the immediate effects and impacts on climate and agriculture from large-scale nuclear weapons use have been completed since the United Nations looked at the issue 25 years ago. It is time for an up-to-date UN study and report on these issues to inform current and future debate and decisions on global nuclear policy.
  • Disarmament Discussions in the CD or Through Another Forum
    Theoretically, the CD can be a forum for a dialogue on disarmament. The United Kingdom has put forward a useful, and wide-ranging proposal for a working group to discuss and identify effective measures on nuclear disarmament7. It would appear to be flexible enough to all states’ interests into account. If states do not burden this proposal with poison pill demands, it could help extend the conversations taking place at the OEWG and engage key nuclear-armed states. If launched, it would be vital for all states to bring forward detailed and considered proposals, not tired talking points.

    Another option would be to initiate a series of high-level summits approach to put the spotlight on the issue and spur new ideas. This would complement the ongoing P5 [China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] dialogue on nuclear terms and concepts and the humanitarian impacts initiative.

    Leaders from a core group of states could invite their counterparts from a representative group of 20 to 30 nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states to join a one- or two-day summit on steps to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. The high-level meeting could be a starting point for ongoing, regular disarmament discussions at the expert and ministerial levels on the basis of a clear understanding of the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons use and an objective assessment of the security concerns of states.

    Borrowing a concept from the nuclear security summit process, all participants should be encouraged to bring “house gifts”—specific actions by states that would concretely diminish the threat of nuclear weapons use, freeze or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, reduce the role of nuclear weapons, bring into force key agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or make their nuclear programs more transparent.
  • UN Security Council and UN General Assembly Action to Reinforce the Test Ban Pending Entry Into Force
    The CTBT was concluded twenty years ago, yet entry into force is still many years away. It is essential that states that support the norm against nuclear testing support initiatives that raise the political and legal barriers for testing pending entry into force of the CTBT.

    Specifically, we urge you to actively support a non-binding UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure later this year that:
  1. Calls on all states to refrain from testing and calls upon those states that have not ratified the CTBT to do so at the earliest possible time;
  2. Declares that the conduct of a nuclear test explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT;
  3. Underscores the need for a continuous, real-time global nuclear test monitoring capability to detect, identify, and locate nuclear test explosions, and recognizes the vital contributions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, including the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre.

    In light of the North Korea’s ongoing nuclear testing, the central importance of the CTBT to the NPT and nonproliferation, and the ongoing efforts by several nuclear-armed states to improve their capabilities, the time is right to take this initiative. The place to begin discussing it is the upcoming June 13 high-level meeting in Vienna on the CTBT.
  • Call for Parallel U.S.-Russian Reductions Without a New Treaty
    In 2010, all of the nuclear-weapon states committed “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” including “all types of nuclear weapons.”

    Further nuclear reductions need not wait for a new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty. More states need to call upon the United States and Russia to accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline and call on both states to continue to reduce force levels below the New START ceilings, to be verified with the treaty’s monitoring regime.
  • New START Follow-On Talks No Later Than 2017
    States can also call upon the leaders in Moscow and Washington to begin formal negotiations on a follow-on to New START, and on other relevant strategic weapons issues, no later than 2017.

    The aim should aim to cut each side’s strategic arsenals to fewer than 1,100 deployed strategic warheads and 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, including any strategic-range conventional prompt-strike weapons. Such talks can and should explore a wider range of issues, including transparency and confidence-building steps on tactical nuclear weapons and joint understandings on missile defense capabilities and deployments8. Talks should begin soon and before New START expires in 2021 
  • Reinforce the INF Treaty and Pursue Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missile Limits
    To sustain progress on nuclear disarmament, it is essential to reinforce and expand the INF Treaty. States at the CD and elsewhere need to speak up and call upon the United States and Russia to immediately resolve compliance concerns.

    The United States and other like-minded states could also propose and initiate talks with other states in talks on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems. President Obama could spur progress in this area by cancelling plans for a costly new U.S. air-launched cruise missile, which would have new military capabilities and is destabilizing former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and others have proposed9.

    Such an initiative would allow the United States, Russia and other countries to forgo expensive modernization programs for such missiles, and in cooperation with other key states, head off dangerous cruise missile buildups around the globe.
  • Call On Other Nuclear-Armed States to Freeze Their Nuclear Buildups
    The world’s other nuclear-armed states must do their part too.

    In addition to urging the United States, China, and the other CTBT Annex 2 states to finally take the steps necessary to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Russia and the world’s other nuclear-armed states should be called upon by all NPT states parties to freeze the overall size of their stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals. 

    A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze by the other nuclear-armed states would help create the conditions for multilateral, verifiable nuclear disarmament and an eventual ban on nuclear weapons.

In the coming months and years, creative, bold approaches will be needed to overcome old and new obstacles to the long-running effort to eliminate the potential for nuclear catastrophe.


1. "Race for Latest Class of Nuclear Arms Threatens to Revive Cold War,” By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, The New York Times, April 16, 2016

2. “Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?,” Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, May 2014.

3. “India’s Submarine Completes Tests,” Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Today, April 2016

4. “U.S. Floats New Fissile Talks Formula, “ Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, March 2016.

5. “The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Spending Binge,” by Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, December 2015

6. The June 2013 Report on the Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy of the United States claims that: [t]he new guidance makes clear that all plans must be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict. Accordingly, plans will, for example, apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects. The United States will not intentionally target civilian populations or civilian objects.”

7. Letter dated 19 February from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Conference on Disarmament.

8. “Second Report of the Deep Cuts Commission: Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times,” published by the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, April 2015.

9.“Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile” by Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association Issue Brief, October 19, 2015

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Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties...

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On Nuclear Security, U.S. Must Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

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Volume 8, Issue 1, April 15, 2016

The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists. But the threat is constantly changing and may have grown in recent years in light of the rise of the Islamic State group and indications it may have nuclear and/or radiological ambitions.

Despite noteworthy achievements, however, significant work remains to be done to prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear explosive device or dirty bomb. For example, even after four Nuclear Security Summits there are no comprehensive, legally-binding international standards or rules for the security of all nuclear materials. The existing global nuclear security architecture needs to continue to evolve to become more comprehensive, open, rigorous, sustainable, and involve the further reduction of material stockpiles.

It is thus puzzling that just weeks before the final summit in Washington earlier this month, the Obama administration submitted to Congress a budget that proposed significant spending reductions for key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs that lessen nuclear security and nonproliferation risks, accelerating a trend in recent years of short-sighted cuts to these programs. If implemented, these decreases will slow progress on key nuclear security initiatives, jeopardize the sustainability of those initiatives, and undermine U.S. leadership in this area.

As the Senate and House of Representatives begin their work on the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization and energy and water appropriations bills—which establish spending levels and set policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities—lawmakers should reverse these ill-advised budget cuts. Additionally, Congress should encourage the NNSA to augment its nuclear and radiological security work to help ensure the end of the summit process does not weaken progress toward continuously improving global nuclear and radiological material security.

Disappointing Budget Request

If the risk of nuclear or radiological terrorism isn’t on your mind, it should be. The recent Islamic State group-perpetrated terrorist attacks in Brussels offered another bloody reminder of the danger of terrorism. To make matters worse, reports indicate that two of the suicide bombers who perpetrated the attack had also carried out surveillance of a Belgian official with access to a facility with weapons-grade uranium and radioactive material.

A new report published on March 21 by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concludes that the risk of nuclear terrorism may be higher than it was at the time of the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014 due to the slowing of nuclear security progress and the rise of the Islamic State group.

Against this concerning backdrop, the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department responsible for the bulk of U.S. nuclear security work, in February requested $1.47 billion for core nuclear security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs in fiscal year 2017—a reduction of $62.4 million, or 3.8 percent, relative to the current fiscal year 2016 level. (Note: these figures exclude the administration’s request of $270 million to terminate the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program for excess U.S. weapons plutonium disposition.)

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 $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017, or roughly $185 million more than the actual proposal.

The largest proposed reduction in the request is to the Global Material Security program, which improves the security of nuclear materials around the world, secures orphaned or disused radiological sources—which could be used to make a dirty bomb—and strengthens nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence. Within this program, the NNSA is seeking $7.6 million less than last year’s appropriation for radiological material security programs and roughly $270 million less for these activities over the next four years than it planned to request over the same period, last year.

Most experts agree that the probability of a terrorist exploding a dirty bomb is much higher than that of a nuclear device. This is due in large part to the ubiquitous presence of these materials, which are used for peaceful applications like cancer treatment, in thousands of locations and in almost every country around the world, many of which are poorly protected and vulnerable to theft. A new report published last month by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) noted that only 14% of International Atomic Energy Agency member states have agreed to secure their highest risk radiological sources by a specific date.

Along with reducing the budget for radiological security, the NNSA is planning to transition from a primarily protect-based approach for radiological materials to one that emphasizes permanent threat reduction through the removal of sources and the promotion of alternative technologies, when feasible. While it makes sense to seek to replace these sources as opposed to securing them in perpetuity, this revised approach raises numerous questions, including whether some sources will remain vulnerable for longer than under the previous strategy. At the current planned pace, it would take another 17 years to meet the NNSA’s much-reduced target of helping to secure just under 4,400 buildings around the world with dangerous radioactive material—down from a target of roughly twice that just last year.

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, funding for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development activities would fall to $394 million from its $419 million fiscal year 2016 appropriation. This program matures technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations. The NNSA projected a request of $430 million in fiscal year 2017 research and development funding in its fiscal year 2016 request.

The NNSA has defended some of the reductions to the nonproliferation account on the grounds that several major projects have been completed, thereby lessening resource needs, and that the impact of spending cuts can be mitigated by using unspent money left over from prior years, largely due to the suspension in late 2014 of nearly all nuclear security cooperation with Russia. But the cuts proposed for fiscal year 2017, relative to what was projected last year, are significant, especially to the radiological security and research and development programs where the NNSA does not say they will use unspent balances.

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 (see chart). “The need to counter current and likely future challenges to nonproliferation justifies increased, rather than reduced, investment in this area,” the report said.

Similarly, Andrew Bieniawski, a former deputy assistant secretary of Energy who ran the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and who is now a vice president at NTI, said last month that the agency’s recent budget requests “do not match the growing threat and they certainly don’t match the fact that you are having a presidential nuclear security summit.”

Many members of Congress agree with these concerns. In August 2014, 26 senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget seeking increased funding for NNSA nuclear nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2016. Though the 2016 request was higher than the previous year’s enacted level, it did not meet the Senators’ desire “to further accelerate the pace at which nuclear and radiological materials are secured and permanently disposed.”

Reinvigorating Congressional Leadership

The global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism is at a key inflection point. While the United States can’t tackle the challenge on its own, U.S. leadership and resources are essential. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request was a missed opportunity to advance many good ideas in this space that haven't received adequate attention and investment.

Congress has a critical role to play in this endeavor, and there are a number of steps it can take this year to sustain and strengthen U.S. and global nuclear and radiological security efforts.

First, Congress should increase fiscal year 2017 funding for NNSA radiological security and nonproliferation research and development efforts, the two programs hardest hit by the agency’s proposed budget cuts. Additional funding would allow an acceleration of efforts to secure dangerous radiological materials and ensure the United States is prepared to confront emerging security and nonproliferation challenges.

Congress should also call for a global strategy, stronger regulations, and increased funding to secure and eliminate the most vulnerable highest-risk radiological sources around the world during the first term of the next administration. This multidimensional effort should entail a number of elements, including: securing the most vulnerable sources (where needed); requiring the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement stronger regulatory requirements; supporting universal adherence to the IAEA Code of Conduct on radiological sources; mandating additional cost-sharing by industry; and, where appropriate, accelerating the development and use of alternative technologies. An accelerated international radiological security effort would be consistent with a proposal from Sen. Carper (D-Del.) requiring the administration to craft a plan for securing all high-risk low-level radiological material in the United States.

In addition, Congress should require NNSA to report on its research and development activities and identify opportunities to expand them in areas such as:

  • developing alternatives to high performance research reactors that run on highly enriched uranium (HEU);
  • converting HEU-powered naval reactors to use low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel (the White House announced on March 31 that the Energy Department is forming a research and development plan for an advanced fuel system that could enable use of LEU in naval reactors); and
  • examining ways adversaries could potentially use 3D printing and other new technologies to make nuclear-weapons usable components.

Other ideas that have been put forth to augment NNSA’s (and the rest of the interagency) nuclear security and nonproliferation work worthy of Congressional backing include:

  • completing a prioritization of nuclear materials at foreign locations for return or disposition, to identify the most vulnerable material stocks to focus efforts on, and establishing a time frame for doing so;
  • developing new detection and monitoring technologies and approaches to verify future nuclear arms reductions;
  • outlining a plan for how to expand U.S. nuclear security cooperation with China, India, and Pakistan and addressing obstacles to such an expansion and how they could be overcome;
  • developing approaches to rebuild nuclear security cooperation with Russia that would put both countries in equal roles;
  • building a global nuclear materials security system of effective nuclear security norms, standards, and best practices worldwide;
  • enhancing protections against nuclear sabotage; and
  • strengthening—and sharing—intelligence on nuclear and radiological terrorism threats.

In addition, Congress should seek ways to dissuade other states from pursuing programs to reprocess fuel from nuclear power plants, which lead to the separation of plutonium.

While the Nuclear Security Summit process has seen significant progress in the minimization of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for civilian purposes, global civilian plutonium stockpiles continue to grow. East Asia in particular is on the verge of a major build up of separated plutonium, which could be used in nuclear weapons and poses significant security risks. Japan and China both have plans to reprocess on a large-scale, and doing so would almost certainly prompt South Korea to follow suit.

To its credit, the Obama administration has recently been more vocal in expressing its concerns about these plans. Congress should encourage the administration, and NNSA in particular, to engage in additional cooperative work with countries in East Asia on spent fuel storage options and the elimination of excess plutonium stockpiles without reprocessing.

Over the years, U.S. support for nuclear security programs at home and abroad has resulted in an enormously effective return on investment that greatly strengthens U.S. security, and will be even more important in the years ahead in absence of head of state level summit meetings.

Indeed, there is a long legacy of members of Congress from both parties working together to reduce nuclear risks. For example, in 1991, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991,” which authorized $400 million to create U.S.-led programs assist the countries of the former Soviet Union secure and eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons. This effort became known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which has successfully liquidated thousands of Cold War-era Soviet weapons.

Twenty-five years later, the evolution of security and proliferation challenges requires similarly bold and innovative Congressional leadership.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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

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The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists.

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Live Blogging the Nuclear Security Summit

Recap: The Summit Process and Beyond The Nuclear Security Summit process has forged cooperation and catalyzed action to prevent the common threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism. It has facilitated cooperative efforts between dozens of states to eliminate, consolidate, and secure stocks weapons-usable nuclear material. The process has also accelerated the adoption of tougher standards for the physical protection of nuclear materials where they remain, as manifested today by the news that enough states have ratified the 2005 amendment to the Conventional on the Physical Protection of...

Plutonium Moved in Run-Up to Summit

April 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Japanese plutonium is being shipped to the United States for secure storage and disposition ahead of a fourth summit of more than 50 world leaders to address the security of nuclear materials.

In a joint statement with the United States at the 2014 nuclear security summit in The Hague, Japan committed to removing approximately 331 kilograms of separated plutonium from its Fast Critical Assembly facility, which is used for nuclear research.

The fourth summit will be held March 31-April 1 in Washington. The summits are part of a 2009 initiative by President Barack Obama to secure and minimize the quantities of weapons-usable nuclear materials in civilian use. The first two summits were held in 2010 in Washington and 2012 in Seoul.

The plutonium from Japan is being transported to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina on two UK-flagged ships, the Pacific Egret and the Pacific Heron.

The U.S.-Japanese statement at the 2014 summit said the separated plutonium would be sent to a secure facility in the United States and “be prepared for final disposition.”

It is unclear how the United States will dispose of the material. The plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly originated in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The shipment of separated plutonium is just a fraction of Japan’s total stockpile of that material. Japan declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency in August 2015 that as of December 2014, it had 10.8 metric tons of separated plutonium stored domestically and an additional 37 metric tons stored abroad. But most of the material from the Fast Critical Assembly is of an isotopic composition that makes it particularly well suited for use in weapons.

The U.S.-Japanese statement also called for the removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the Fast Critical Assembly. U.S. and Japanese officials did not respond to requests for information on the status of that material.

In another summit-related development, a shipment of separated plutonium from Switzerland arrived in the United States last month. The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced on March 3 that that country’s entire remaining stockpile of separated plutonium, approximately 20 kilograms, was removed from the Paul Scherrer Institute, where it had been stored since the 1960s. The plutonium was reprocessed from research reactor fuel rods.

The material will be stored at the Savannah River Site.

Switzerland shipped the last of its HEU to the United States in September.

Japanese plutonium is being shipped to the United States for secure storage and disposition ahead of a fourth summit of more than 50 world leaders to address the security of nuclear materials.

Nuclear Disarmament Summitry

April 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

The positive results of the nuclear security summit process from 2010 to 2016 demonstrate how high-level, sustained leadership can catalyze action on a global problem: the threat of terrorists gaining access to nuclear weapons-usable material. More work lies ahead, but the intensive, six-year-long summit process has significantly reduced nuclear vulnerabilities in key states.

As with preventing nuclear terrorism, reducing the catastrophic threats posed by nuclear weapons is a global enterprise that requires renewed leadership, dialogue, and action on the part of all the world’s nations.

Unfortunately, 70 years after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, progress on disarmament is stalled; the risk of nuclear competition and conflict is growing; and several states are expanding or upgrading their nuclear arsenals. There are no active bilateral or multilateral negotiations to further regulate, cap, or reduce the stockpiles of any of the world’s nine nuclear-armed states.

The possessors of the two largest arsenals, Russia and the United States, each deploy more than 1,800 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles—far more than necessary to deter nuclear attack.

In 2013, President Barack Obama announced he is prepared to cut the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal by an additional one-third. So far, Russian President Vladimir Putin has rebuffed the proposal and failed to make a counteroffer. Bilateral talks on further nuclear reductions are on hold indefinitely.

Meanwhile, other nuclear-armed states, such as China, France, India, and Pakistan, sit on the nuclear disarmament sidelines. Leaders in Beijing, Islamabad, and New Delhi profess support for disarmament and “minimum” deterrence, but each is pursuing new land- and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. Although smaller in number, these arsenals are increasingly dangerous and destabilizing.

For nearly two decades, the key countries at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva have been unable to reach consensus to begin negotiations on a fissile material control treaty or to start nuclear disarmament discussions.

The 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference failed to produce an updated, meaningful action plan on disarmament that builds on previous disarmament commitments. The next review conference is another four years away.

Frustrated by the slow pace of progress, more than 150 states attended conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use. Earlier this year, many non-nuclear-weapon states joined an open-ended working group to discuss possible measures “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Some states and civil society campaigners want to launch talks on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons possession or use. Such a ban is eventually a necessary step toward a world without nuclear weapons, but it will not by itself change today’s dangerous nuclear doctrines or eliminate nuclear arsenals. It is not a substitute for the difficult work and bold leadership necessary to reduce nuclear risks and head off new dangers.

As Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and George Shultz argued in an op-ed in 2013, a new multilateral effort for nuclear disarmament dialogue is needed. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested in 2009 that the UN Security Council convene a summit on nuclear disarmament.

Now is the time to seriously consider a high-level summit approach to help overcome the impasse on disarmament. Leaders from a core group of states could invite their counterparts from a representative group of 20 to 30 nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states to join a one- or two-day summit on steps to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

This high-level meeting could be a starting point for ongoing, regular disarmament discussions at the expert and ministerial levels. As Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has argued, the dialogue on disarmament should be based on a clear understanding of the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons use and an objective assessment of the security concerns of states.

Borrowing a concept from the nuclear security summit process, all participants should be encouraged to bring “house gifts”—specific actions by states that would concretely diminish the threat of nuclear weapons use, freeze or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, reduce the role of nuclear weapons, bring into force key agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or make their nuclear programs more transparent.

For instance, U.S. and Russian leaders could jointly announce they will resume negotiations on a follow-on treaty to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Further U.S.-Russian cuts, which are possible even without a new treaty, if combined with a pause in the nuclear buildups by China, India, and Pakistan, could help establish the conditions for future multilateral disarmament talks.

A nuclear disarmament and risk reduction summit process would complement the ongoing dialogue on nuclear terms and concepts involving the five NPT nuclear-weapon states and the humanitarian impacts initiative. Such a process by no means would be easy. But by putting the spotlight on the issue, it could spur new ideas and momentum. 

The positive results of the nuclear security summit process from 2010 to 2016 demonstrate how high-level, sustained leadership can catalyze action...

Russia’s Absence Should Not Be Focal Point of Summit

Russia’s decision to boycott the fourth and final nuclear security summit in Washington this week is concerning, but it should not distract from the important work of the summit process. Even with Russia absent from the table, progress can—and must—be made on enhancing nuclear security worldwide and preventing nuclear terrorism. While Moscow has not been an innovator for enhancing global nuclear security, as the largest possessor of weapons-usable materials its participation in the 2010 , 2012 , and 2014 summits was important. And as part of the process Russia has taken steps to enhance...

Nuclear Security Cooperation After Summits at Risk

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For Immediate Release: March 23, 2016

Media Contact: Joseph McNamara at +1-563-264-6888 or [email protected]

(Washington, D.C.) – An effective new tool for improving global nuclear security is in danger of being lost, according to a new report by the Arms Control Association (ACA) and Partnership for Global Security (PGS). The report concludes that regular, voluntary commitment-making by states has resulted in many of the Nuclear Security Summits’ most important accomplishments, but it is not clear if world leaders will choose to preserve this tool after the six-year summit process ends on April 1.

The new report from ACA-PGS features 53 country profiles that demonstrate how the summits’ political momentum and commitment-making model has resulted in meaningful actions by all of the participating countries. Every state has made at least one national commitment to strengthen nuclear security and some countries have been prolific in their pledges, particularly Canada, Japan, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States. Additionally, more than 90 percent of the participating countries issued voluntary, national progress reports detailing how they were implementing their responsibilities and breaking an important taboo against information sharing.

“Nuclear security commitment-making and progress reporting has been a powerful combination for achieving results at the Nuclear Security Summits,” said Ms. Michelle Cann, Director of Operations and Projects at PGS and report co-author. “The steps that leaders take to preserve these tools at the 2016 summit will be important for the legacy of the process and the future of the global nuclear security system.”

Among the summits’ chief accomplishments are the recovery or elimination of more than 1,500 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium and separated plutonium, the establishment of dozens of new training and support centers, and updates to national laws on nuclear safety and security by most states. The report also proposes that the commitment-making model of diplomacy developed at the summit has itself become a central summit outcome, pointing to its adapted use at the most recent climate conference in Paris.

“Sustainability is the key issue at the 2016 summit,” according to Ms. Kelsey Davenport, ACA’s Director of Nonproliferation Policy and report co-author. “We cannot afford to let nuclear security fall off the political radar with so many challenges still facing the system.”

“There are no international standards and minimum information sharing or review mechanisms built into the global nuclear security system,” said Ms. Jenna Parker, PGS’ Nuclear Security Analyst and report co-author. “These are complicated issues, but the urgency of confronting them is rapidly increasing in today’s decentralized threat environment.”

The full report, The Nuclear Security Summit: Accomplishments of the Process, is available online.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

The Partnership for Global Security mounts a global effort to strengthen global nuclear security governance and promotes practical policies to ensure all nuclear material and facilities are secure.

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An effective new tool for improving global nuclear security is in danger of being lost, according to a new report by...

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Looking into the Future of Fissile Material Production

Jack Wood is a senior from Carbondale Community High School in Carbondale, Illinois. He spent the week of March 14 interning at the Arms Control Association as part of his AP Government class. The following blog is his reaction to a March 15 event put on by the International Panel of Fissile Materials. Last Tuesday, the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) held their biannual meeting at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). IPFM is a Princeton-based organization with nonproliferation experts from multiple countries, both nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-...

The Nuclear Security Summit: Accomplishments of the Process

March 2016

An effective new tool for improving global nuclear security is in danger of being lost, according to a new report by the Arms Control Association (ACA) and Partnership for Global Security (PGS). The report concludes that regular, voluntary commitment-making by states has resulted in many of the Nuclear Security Summits’ most important accomplishments, but it is not clear if world leaders will choose to preserve this tool after the six-year summit process ends on April 1.

Download this report.

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. 

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