"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
WMD Terrorism

Pentagon Defends Global-Strike Plan

Wade Boese

A recently unveiled initiative to arm some U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with conventional warheads has lawmakers wondering whether dangerous misunderstandings and miscalculations could arise with other nuclear powers, particularly Russia. Pentagon officials downplay the possibility, contending that the benefits of the new capability outweigh the potential risks.

The Department of Defense is asking Congress this year for $127 million to start replacing nuclear warheads with conventional warheads on 24 Trident D-5 SLBMs. Within two years, two dozen missiles would be equally dispersed among 12 separate submarines, which means each vessel would carry 22 nuclear-armed and two conventional-armed missiles. The conventional warheads, four per missile, would be either a solid slug or a bundle of rods known as a flachette round, not explosive warheads.

Although the Bush administration revealed its intentions to pursue conventional global-strike capabilities in its December 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, the SLBM option was first detailed in early February as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review. (See ACT, March 2006.) The so-called prompt global-strike concept behind the SLBM conversion seeks to enable the United States to attack a target anywhere in the world with a conventional warhead in less than an hour.

At a March 29 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, legislators expressed some unease about the SLBM proposal. Subcommittee chairman Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) both questioned whether submarines with mixed loads might cause confusion for other countries about the type of missile fired and its intended target. In such a circumstance, they worried a country might mistakenly conclude that it was under U.S. nuclear attack and potentially retaliate with nuclear weapons.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Peter Flory said the Pentagon takes this concern “very seriously.” However, he and General James Cartwright, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, minimized the danger of miscalculation. In addition to its traditional mission of exercising operational control over deployed nuclear forces, Strategic Command over the past few years also has been tasked with overseeing the development and fielding of missile defenses and global-strike capabilities.

Flory said that the United States has emergency communication mechanisms, such as hotlines, with Russia and China “for mitigating any potential risk of misperception.” Cartwright and Flory also stated the United States would rely on advance notification measures and military-to-military talks to help alleviate uncertainty. They further asserted the launch and trajectory of a conventional system could be made to appear differently than that of a nuclear missile.

Cartwright also made the case that the United States has a long record of launching non-nuclear missiles without a negative incident. “Since 1968, we’ve launched 433 of these warheads on these missiles without ambiguity through notification processes,” Cartwright testified. The general was referring to SLBM test launches not involving nuclear warheads, a spokesperson from Strategic Command told Arms Control Today April 21.

Claiming that Russia is the sole country with the current capability to detect and respond rapidly to a ballistic missile launch, Flory argued that “the Russians will know very quickly as they have all the way through the Cold War and up to today what the trajectory is and where the impact points will be.”

Still, Russia detected a missile launch near Norway in January 1995 that led Kremlin leaders to be notified that the United States might have initiated a surprise nuclear attack. Moscow did not immediately order a counterattack and, after anxious minutes, eventually determined that the “missile,” which was a scientific rocket, posed no threat.

Flory and Cartwright maintained that proceeding with conventional SLBMs was worthwhile. Cartwright contended such a capability gives the United States an option for dealing with “fleeting targets” that have a high “regret” factor if they are not destroyed, such as unconventional weapons threats, enemy command and control elements, and terrorists. “In many cases, nuclear weapons are not going to be an appropriate choice for those types of targets, and so you want a conventional alternative,” Cartwright said.

SLBMs were selected over ICBMs as the inaugural conventional prompt global-strike option in part because of their greater accuracy and global range. U.S. ICBM fields are in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming, limiting the missiles’ reach and increasing possible overflight and miscalculation problems, particularly with Russia.

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.



Resolution 1540: Universalizing Export Control Standards?

Scott Jones

In 2003, President George W. Bush called on the United Nations to pass a resolution to “criminalize” the proliferation of “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) by and to nonstate actors. The next year, the UN Security Council obliged, passing Resolution 1540 on the nonproliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as well as related delivery systems.

Based on Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the resolution called for states to comply with a battery of legal obligations and report on their progress in implementing the resolution. It also called for the formation of a new UN committee to receive and compile the reports. That committee’s term was initially set to expire at the end of April, but on April 27 the Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1673 extending the committee’s term for two years.

Inspired by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and by revelations surrounding the proliferation network of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the resolution was explicitly designed to address a gap in current nonproliferation treaties and arrangements as well as deficiencies in national legislation. The gap concerns nonstate actors[1] because, strictly speaking, these groups are not captured by such treaties as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Chemical Weapons Convention.[2]

Still, the treaty ultimately relies on states to curb such nonstate efforts. Resolution 1540 calls on states to put in place “appropriate effective measures to account for and secure” WMD-related items in production, use, storage, or transport and to “maintain appropriate effective physical protection measures” of said items. Most importantly, the resolution seeks to address the absence of universal standards for export controls, representing one of the most far-reaching efforts in this regard since the creation of the NPT.

Now with the recent extension of the committee created to ascertain compliance with the resolution, it is an appropriate time to assess whether the implementation of the resolution has lived up to the goals of the international community. The assessment is mixed. The resolution has played a valuable role in spurring a more focused and sustained effort to create a truly international standard for export controls beyond those of the limited current multilateral regimes. Yet, both the report and the committee’s work illustrate distinct problems with transparency, resources, guidance, awareness, and mandate. If the committee’s extension is to prove truly useful, these issues need to be addressed.[3]

Articulating Universal Export Control Standards

The current de facto standards for export controls are shared among the multilateral export control arrangements: the Australia Group, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Wassenaar Arrangement (see "Multilateral Export Control Regimes"). Because their rules are restricted to their limited membership, however, they also have limited global currency. When strategic technologies were produced by and traded among a smaller number of states, export controls were effectively applied by and between these supplier states. With an increase in the amount of global trade in strategic technologies and dual-use goods (those with both civilian and military applications), regime nonmember countries with weak export controls can compromise international export control efforts.

As Figure 1 indicates, Resolution 1540 identifies the key elements of effective export controls. Specifically, the resolution calls for the creation of “effective” laws to control WMD-related transfers. Leaving aside the ambiguities inherent in “effective,” the first three paragraphs of the resolution provide the legal basis to address brokering, transit, transshipment, and re-export controls and sufficient penalties for violations. As the resolution is legally binding, all UN member states must adopt such laws, albeit in a manner according “with their national procedures.” Likewise, paragraph six of the resolution calls on states to develop “national control lists and calls upon all member states, when necessary, to pursue at the earliest opportunity the development of such lists.”[4]

In addition, states must develop an enforcement capacity to police exports and transfers of sensitive items. States are urged to “develop and maintain appropriate effective border controls and law enforcement efforts to detect, deter, prevent and combat, including through international cooperation when necessary, the illicit trafficking and brokering in such items in accordance with their national legal authorities and legislation and consistent with international law.”[5]

To ensure compliance with the “effective” laws, the resolution calls on states to “develop appropriate ways to work with and inform industry and the public regarding their obligations under such laws.” That is because, apart from direct theft of strategic goods and technologies (e.g., fissile material), WMD acquisition efforts are based on otherwise routine commercial transactions.[6] States such as Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and others were able to procure sensitive technology, innocuous-looking dual-use materials, and know-how through direct and semi-commercial channels. They did this by using already existing networks of scientists, technologists, and businessmen who had been cooperating for decades in the WMD procurement efforts of various countries, the Khan network being the most recent example. They operated through real or shell companies, brokerage firms with shady antecedents, and insignificant and/or overlooked warehousing facilities around the world. Much of the proliferation took place by exploiting loopholes in existing national export control systems of major supplier states whose policies have been shaped by the guidelines of the multilateral regimes.[7]

The resolution acknowledges this reality in its comparative detail of export control standards. Unlike materials accounting, physical protection, and control, export control requirements contain specific references to, for example, brokering and transshipment controls. Both brokering and transshipment controls speak directly to the actual means by which proliferants seek to acquire dual-use items. For instance, the most recent example of dual-use brokering, the 2004 arrest of Israeli Asher Karni for allegedly re-exporting U.S.-made triggered spark gaps from South Africa to Pakistan, suggests that proliferation is also being driven by middlemen.[8] Dubai may not itself be the source of dangerous technologies or materials, but it found itself at the center of the Khan network in a transit and transshipment capacity.[9]

In summary, Resolution 1540 identifies the necessary elements of effective national export controls: legal basis, enforcement capacity, and industry-government relations. Although the resolution’s universality is viewed somewhat skeptically by many—it was approved by the 15 members of the Security Council rather than the 191 members of the UN General Assembly—it was unanimously adopted.[10] Nevertheless, as with similar resolutions, the likelihood of implementation is problematic for reasons of scale, resource, and commitment.

Implementation Problems

Although the resolution delineated general export control standards, implementation has been and will be limited by perceptual and awareness problems associated with export controls. To states outside the current multilateral export control regimes, export controls are unfamiliar tools. Even within the regimes, export control development varies greatly.[11] Compounding matters, trade controls are unpopular internationally. For several years, the multilateral export control regimes have been viewed as “supplier cartels” engineered to keep high technology from developing countries.[12] Further, heavily trade-dependent countries in regions such as Asia view trade controls as antithetical to their economic development. This wariness is to some extent enshrined in the resolution. Rather than explicitly seeking to curtail trade in dual-use goods, which would have complicated the adoption and the implementation of the resolution, the Security Council adopted the politically expedient term “related materials.”[13] Yet, it is precisely dual-use goods, materials, and technology that reside at the heart of the proliferation problem.

Through the resolution, a 1540 Committee was created to assess compliance. Within its original two-year mandate, the committee, composed of Security Council representatives and select outside experts, developed a matrix to review the national reports in a comprehensive, systematic manner. Yet, its ability to do so effectively has been limited. The resolution, for instance, does not specify what would constitute “appropriate effective national export and transshipment controls.” Additionally, the committee is not empowered to establish such criteria. [14] Therefore, the effort to assess implementation has been undermined by the absence of commonly agreed-on definitions. The work of the committee has also been hampered by resource constraints and the routine political complications surrounding the UN in general and the Security Council specifically.[15]

Adherence to the resolution by all 191 members is complicated by the fact that export controls are a relatively novel concept to many countries. As one staff member of the 1540 Committee commented, “[O]ne should not underestimate the lack of understanding of the resolution, especially with respect to export controls.”[16] To many states, the obligations accruing from the resolution are simply not clear. This situation is evident in various reports. For example, Yemen’s submission is only five lines long. Other countries have done even less: according to a draft April 21 report from the 1540 committee to the Security Council, roughly a third of the UN membership (62 countries) had yet to submit their first national report by the end of the panel’s original two-year term.

To help such countries, Resolution 1540 invites states to offer assistance to other “states lacking the legal and regulatory infrastructure, implementation experience and/or resources” to “fulfill the provisions of the resolution,” but it does not demand that they do so. In other words, Resolution 1540 is an unfunded mandate: compliance is required without direct recourse to resources. According to the 1540 committee, 46 countries, of the 124 countries submitting reports, have offered assistance, the bulk of which is devoted to export controls. At least 37 of these states made offers of or have programs in place for direct, or country-to-country, assistance; and at least 31 reports provide detailed data on offers or programs in at least one category by type (training or expertise); scope (legal or implementation); subject (physical protection or export controls); and region. Interestingly, Pakistan is among the 46 states offering export control assistance.[17]

With respect to requests for assistance, 32 states have requested assistance in implementing the resolution. Twenty-four of these states have made specific requests, but some of the requests are quite general. For example, Jordan states that it is “ready to cooperate with countries which are able to provide assistance, in terms of either legislation or operational skills and resources, with a view to implementation of the resolution.”

On the other hand, some states with recent negative export control experiences have eschewed any assistance. For instance, in its 1540 report, Malaysia, which hosted an important supplier to the Khan network, contends that, “[c]urrently, Malaysia does not require assistance in implementing the provisions of the resolution within its territories.”[18] Iran, on the other hand, which received materials from the Khan network, has requested general assistance: “[d]ue to its long sea and land borders and given the huge amount of financial and human resources required for the implementation of the resolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes assistance in form of expertise, technical, and financial resources. Specific requests, if deemed necessary, will be announced in the future.”

Despite the offers, up to now the United States has been the only major provider of export control assistance.[19] Extending its export control assistance programs beyond the approximately 45 countries with which it currently cooperates would call for financial support orders of magnitude beyond its current operating budget.[20] The Group of Eight, under the auspices of the “Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction,” has called for similar support for export control assistance. However, actual support has flagged since this effort was launched several years ago. Similarly, the European Union has developed an export control assistance strategy, enunciated in the “Action Plan against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” approved by the EU Political and Security Committee at a meeting on June 10, 2003. Yet, the EU currently does not have an integrated policy toward international export control assistance.[21] At this point, it is unclear how offers of and requests for assistance would be efficiently coordinated, let alone financed.[22]

Conclusion: Next Steps

In the two years since its inception, Resolution 1540 has, at a minimum, expanded the normative awareness and rhetorical repertoire of the nonproliferation community. A more expansive reading of the resolution suggests that it can bring all states into the nonproliferation system, including states such as Pakistan, whose absence has vexed supply-side nonproliferation efforts. Specifically, the resolution establishes a truly universal means by which to create export control standards outside the otherwise restrictive multilateral export control regimes. For example, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei observed that “we must tighten controls over the export of sensitive nuclear material and technology. The nuclear export control system should be binding rather than voluntary, and should be made more widely applicable to include all countries with the capability of manufacturing sensitive nuclear related items.”

Although the implementation of Resolution 1540 faces considerable obstacles, even to its partial realization, the resolution provides a critical template on which to build a truly international consensus on the form, if not scope, of export controls. Ostensibly created to address the nonstate-actor gap, the resolution also concentrates on state-based proliferation programs. For example, Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf argued, “I would submit that the resolution also looks at state-state transactions, as well as state-nonstate transactions. There’s a whole universe of state-state, state-nonstate, nonstate-nonstate, nonstate-state [transactions], and all of those need to be covered by comprehensive export controls and rigorous enforcement.”[23] Such a comprehensive approach is necessary to ensure a proper balance between global trade and nonproliferation, a balance articulated in the resolution.

There are obvious problems of conceptual clarity, resources, oversight, and implementation, but the resolution should not be viewed as a final document. Instead, the resolution should serve as the starting point for a wider dialogue on how best to manage trade in strategic items, many of which are critical for the development of modern economies.

The Security Council and the 1540 committee have begun this dialogue with Resolution 1673 and the panel’s report to the Security Council.

The council, in addition to calling on those states which have not filed a report at all to do so “without delay”, encouraged all states that have submitted such reports to provide “additional information on their implementation.” Such steps, the council suggested should include additional information on implementation of export controls.

In its resolution, the Security Council called for greater outreach activities to increase understanding of the resolution and explore “experience sharing and lessons learned in the areas covered by resolution 1540.”

It also called for enhanced technical assistance to carry out the resolution. For its part, the committee suggested that the Security Council examine the feasibility of identifying model legislation to aid states in meeting their obligations.

Yet, if the 1540 instrument is to move beyond the rhetorical into the practical, perhaps shifting to a treaty-level mechanism, it will require further legal, conceptual, and financial support. These demands will necessitate a significantly fortified committee or other coordinating body capable of establishing working-level best practices for export control systems, identifying noncompliance, directing assistance, and ensuring maximal coordination with pre-existing regimes, i.e., the multilateral export control regimes.

Scott Jones is a senior research associate at the Center for International Trade & Security at the University of Georgia.


Multilateral Export Control Regimes

Scott Jones

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is an informal institution comprised of 45 states, more than half of which are nuclear technology suppliers. It establishes common guidelines governing nuclear transfers in an effort to ensure that civilian nuclear trade does not contribute to nuclear weapons acquisition. NSG guidelines on nuclear exports were first published in 1978. Fourteen years later, prompted by the concern about Iraq’s clandestine efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, the NSG established additional guidelines for transfers of nuclear-related dual-use equipment, material, and technology.

The Australia Group (AG) is an informal arrangement that aims to allow exporting or transshipping countries to minimize the risk of assisting chemical and biological weapon proliferation. The group was formed in 1984 with 15 members at Australia’s initiative, as a response to evidence about chemical-weapon use in the Iran-Iraq War. As of April 2006, participants in the regime include 39 governments and the European Union.

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is an informal and voluntary association of countries sharing the goals of nonproliferation of unmanned delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. The countries seek to coordinate national export licensing efforts aimed at preventing proliferation. The group was originally established in 1987 and the number of members has increased steadily to its present total of 34 countries. It controls exports of missiles (and related technology) whose performance in terms of payload and range exceeds stated parameters. There are two categories of items controlled. Category I includes complete systems and subsystems capable of carrying a payload of 500 kilograms over a range of at least 300 kilometers and specially designed production facilities for such systems. Category II includes missile-related components such as propellants, avionics equipment, and other items used for the production of Category I systems.

The Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) is an informal agreement of 40 states established in 1996 to prevent countries from acquiring large and dangerous stockpiles of conventional weapons and sensitive technologies by encouraging members to share information on their exports to nonmembers. There are two agreed lists of items: a munitions list, which comprises conventional weapons almost exclusively designed for warfighting, such as tanks and fighter aircraft, as well as military explosives, toxicological agents, biocatalysts, and other military agents; and a dual-use technology list that is broken into two tiers. Tier 1, the basic list, is made up of sensitive items and technologies, and tier 2 consists of very sensitive items that are subject to more stringent monitoring.




1. The UN Security Council Resolution 1540 definition of a nonstate actor is an “individual or entity, not acting under the lawful authority of any state in conducting activities which come within the scope of this resolution.”

2. For a recent review of the terrorist weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat, see John Eldridge, “Terrorist WMD: Threats and Responses,” Jane’s International Defence Review, September 1, 2005.

3. For an excellent summary analysis of select country reports, see Lars Olberg, “Implementing Resolution 1540: What the National Reports Indicate,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 82 (Spring 2006).

4. A control list for nonproliferation export controls is the legally established means of verifying the types of goods, services, and technologies that will be controlled and therefore reviewed by the licensing system. Control lists define the products being controlled by describing the technical specifications of items that require a license in order to export. A typical nonproliferation export control list contains categories for nuclear, chemical, biological, missile, dual-use, and conventional weapons technologies. Traditionally, national dual-use control lists are derived from the multilateral export control regimes as a minimal basis for control.

5. Resolution 1540 was designed to accommodate the Proliferation Security Initiative. Jofi Joseph, “The Proliferation Security Initiative: Can Interdiction Stop Proliferation?Arms Control Today, June 2004, p. 6.

6. The Abdul Qadeer Khan network revealed the extent to which commercial networks were engaged in illicit trade. In addition, studies on terrorist group WMD acquisition efforts indicate they are similarly relying on trade rather than theft. See Gavin Cameron, “Multitrack Microproliferation: Lessons From Aum Shinrikyo and Al Qaeda,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 22, No. 4 (October-December 1999).

7. Even advanced Western countries were not immune to exploitation by the Khan network. See “ Pakistan’s Quest for UF6 Sensors Underlines Limits of NSG Controls,” NuclearFuel, March 28, 2005.

8. Institute for Science and International Security, Asher Karni Case Shows Weakness in Nuclear Export Controls, (2004).

9. See Mathew Swibel, “Trading With the Enemy,” Forbes, April 12, 2004.

10. The U.S.-initiated resolution required several months of debate and revisions before winning approval. See Wade Boese, “Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution on Denying Terrorists WMD,” Arms Control Today, May 2004.

11. Center for International Trade and Security, Strengthening Multilateral Export Controls: A Nonproliferation Priority (2003).

12. The Sunshine Project, Export Controls: Impediments to Technology Transfer Under the Convention on Biological Diversity (2004).

13. As defined by Resolution 1540, related materials are “materials, equipment and technology covered by relevant multilateral treaties and arrangements, or included on national control lists, which could be used for the design, development, production or use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery.”

14. The 1540 Committee adopted its terms of reference on August 13, 2004. The terms delineate the guidelines for the conduct of the committee’s work and indicate that the committee may decide to establish cooperative arrangements, as necessary, with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or, if appropriate, with “other relevant international, regional and sub-regional bodies, including Security Council committees.” The committee is also to “undertake its tasks with utmost transparency.” Nevertheless, the terms do not define the operative provisions of the resolution, such as defining the necessary and sufficient components of “effective” export controls or safeguards.

15. For issues regarding the legitimacy of Security Council legislation, see Merav Datan, “Security Council Resolution 1540: WMD and Non-state Trafficking,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 79 (April/May 2005).

16. For the original source for these statistics, see Richard Cupitt, “Export Controls and Implementing UNSC Resolution 1540 (2004),” Presentation made at the Carnegie Conference on Non-Proliferation, November 7-8, 2005, found at http://www.carnegieendowment.org.

17. Draft Report To The Security Council By The Committee Established Pursuant To Resolution 1540 (2004); Olberg, “Implementing Resolution 1540.”

18. After initial nuclear transfers to Iran, Khan reportedly expanded his network of customers to include Libya and North Korea. Khan’s network was based on a complex structure of international suppliers that shipped components unimpeded by ineffective controls. Details of Libya’s acquisition trace the network to Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, South Africa, Switzerland, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and possibly others. Malaysia’s lack of an export control system was a key consideration for Khan in engaging a company in Malaysia to manufacture centrifuge components. See Christopher Clary, “Dr. Khan’s Nuclear WalMart,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 76 (March/April 2004).

19. Some European states and Japan provide export control assistance to less-developed countries, albeit on a fraction of the scale provided by the United States. European officials recently indicated in private discussions that they are considering additional measures at the request of the 1540 Committee. Such steps might include organizing regional meetings to aid countries that have not reported to the committee or filed incomplete reports. Communication with Annalisa Giannella, April 5, 2006, Brussels.

20. The U.S. Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance program, which provides essential technical and material assistance to recipient countries to help them carry out these nonproliferation efforts, was budgeted at approximately $40 million for fiscal year 2004.

21. Nonproliferation and export control assistance programs and projects are developed nationally by individual member states. EU assistance, such as denuclearization programs in Russia, is financed using a variety of different national and collective mechanisms. Some projects are managed by the authorities of member states, and others are managed by the commission.

22. For a similar point, see Wade Boese, “Implications of UN Security Council Resolution 1540,” Presentation to the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management panel discussion, March 15, 2005, found at http://www.armscontrol.org.

23. Wade Boese, “The Bush Administration’s Nonproliferation Policy: An Interview With Assistant Secretary of State John S. Wolf,” Arms Control Today, June 2004, p. 14.


Global Cleanout: Reducing the Threat of HEU-Fueled Nuclear Terrorism

Alexander Glaser and Frank N. von Hippel

The greatest opportunity for would-be nuclear terrorists or countries seeking a quick bomb or two are poorly secured sites that contain significant quantities of highly enriched uranium, (HEU)—uranium containing a high percentage of the chain-reacting isotope uranium 235. HEU is the material of choice for terrorists or for states that seek to proliferate clandestinely without testing their weapons.

Unlike plutonium, HEU can be worked without special protections. It can also produce a full-yield explosion in a simple gun-type design in which one subcritical mass of HEU is fired into another. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, built with about 60 kilograms of 80 percent enriched HEU, used this design. Today, there is little disagreement that a terrorist group could design a workable gun-type device. It is therefore critical to make current stocks of HEU as inaccessible as possible.

The most effective approach in the long term to the risk of diversion or theft of HEU is to eliminate it from as many locations as possible and blend down excess HEU to low-enriched uranium (LEU). In contrast to HEU, LEU contains less than 20 percent U-235.[1] It is considered non-weapons-useable primarily because the amount of uranium needed to set off a sustained nuclear chain reaction—about one critical mass—is so large.

The United States and Russia have already slimmed down their stockpiles of weapons HEU somewhat. At the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States together had about 2,000 metric tons of HEU, enough for about 35,000 gun-type or more than 100,000 implosion-type bombs. Other countries had an estimated 60 tons. Most of this material was in weapons. Due to the downsizing of their nuclear stockpiles, Russia and the United States declared, respectively, 500 and 174 metric tons of HEU as excess.[2] Most is being blended down to LEU for use as power-reactor fuel.[3]

Outside of its use in weapons, HEU also is used as a fuel for naval and research reactors and for the production of certain medical isotopes. Recently, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced that an additional 200 tons of excess U.S. weapons uranium will be reserved for future use as naval reactor fuel (160 tons) and space-reactor and research-reactor fuel (20 tons) and blended down to LEU for use as research and power reactor fuel (20 tons).[4]

The size of the reserve for the nuclear Navy indicates that the naval-reactor fuel cycle will be a major challenge to the goal of reducing global stockpiles of HEU. This issue has been explored elsewhere.[5] We therefore focus here primarily on uses of HEU in land-based civilian reactors.

Although the current global HEU stockpile for land-based reactors (50-100 metric tons)[6] is much less than the quantities of HEU in nuclear weapons and reserved for naval reactor fuel, it is still enough for at least 1,000 gun-type devices. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) estimated in 2004 that there were 128 research reactors and associated facilities worldwide with at least 20 kilograms of HEU.[7]

Many of these facilities are in urban locations with only modest security, presenting potential targets to would-be nuclear terrorists. A large fraction are in Russia, which has yet to give adequate priority to cleaning out facilities containing HEU that is no longer needed. At several sites, there is enough HEU to make more than 10 gun-type weapons.

Decommission Excess Reactors

Whereas power reactors are fueled with uranium that is less than 5 percent enriched, HEU is still widely used to fuel civilian research reactors. During the 1950s and 1960s, as part of their competing Atoms for Peace programs, the United States and the Soviet Union built hundreds of research reactors domestically and for export to more than 40 other countries. In response to demands for longer-lived fuel and maximum reactor performance, exports restrictions were relaxed, which resulted in most of these reactors being fueled with weapons-grade HEU enriched to more than 90 percent.

Figure 2 shows the countries that have or have had HEU-fueled reactors. Fortunately, according to our research, 13 of these countries no longer have HEU because of international efforts to convert research reactors to LEU and to return their irradiated HEU-containing fuel to its country of origin.

Most of the world’s aging HEU-fueled research reactors are no longer needed. Two International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) research-reactor experts put it this way at the 2003 international Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) conference: “Only reactors with special attributes (such as a high neutron flux, a cold [neutron] source, in-core loops to simulate power reactor conditions) or with commercial customers (such as radioisotope production or silicon doping) are adequately utilized.”[8]

Eliminating excess reactors would reduce the total number of research reactors worldwide from hundreds to tens. In some cases, research reactors could be replaced by accelerator-driven neutron sources. A few years ago, the United States decided to build such a neutron source at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The laboratory had first proposed building a powerful new research reactor but ran into opposition because it was to be fueled with HEU.

Just shutting down an HEU-fueled reactor, however, is not sufficient. To eliminate the danger of diversion or theft, the HEU fuel must be removed, i.e., the reactor must be “decommissioned.” In 2000 the IAEA’s International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group urged consideration of proper decommissioning of 258 shutdown research reactors worldwide. In a follow-up analysis, one reason cited for these reactors not being decommissioned was “the hope that the reactor will be returned to operation.”[9]

To make a decommissioning program attractive in Russia and elsewhere, it might be necessary for concerned countries to invest in strengthening the surviving research-reactor centers. Such assistance should be conditioned, however, on the management being willing to allow research groups from decommissioned facilities to become “users groups” on a nondiscriminatory basis. Such arrangements are standard in the United States and western Europe but are still foreign to Russia, where a group does not have an opportunity to do experiments if it does not have its own reactor.

Reactor Conversion and Fuel Takebacks

So far, the United States has shied away from promoting the decommissioning of reactors. Instead, it has focused on converting facilities to less-risky fuels. Both the Soviet Union and the United States launched efforts in the late 1970s to convert HEU-fueled research reactors to lower-enriched fuel. By 1991 the Soviet Union had converted most of the foreign research reactors that it supplied from 80 percent to 36 percent enriched fuel. The collapse of the Soviet Union halted the program, however, and also created a new group of independent countries with HEU-fueled reactors. The Energy Department estimates that Soviet-designed research reactors inside and outside Russia today use a total of about 350 kilograms of HEU fuel per year.[10] In 1993 the United States began to work in Russia to revive the Russian program with the objective of converting all Soviet-designed research reactors to LEU. The first such conversion, in the Czech Republic, was completed in October 2005.[11]

The United States began its own efforts to convert HEU-fueled reactors to LEU in 1978. The original purpose of the U.S. RERTR program was to convert to LEU foreign reactors to which the United States was supplying HEU fuel. In 1986 the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission required that the nongovernmental research reactors that it licenses in the United States (mostly located at universities) also convert to LEU if such fuel is available and if the Energy Department makes available the funding for the conversion. By the end of 2005, the program had converted or partially converted 31 foreign and 11 domestic reactors. These research reactors had previously required together annually about 250 kilograms of fresh HEU.

The bulk of the task, however, remains to be done. The Energy Department’s list still contains 120 operating HEU-fueled reactors, and this list is incomplete. The Energy Department also estimates that the world’s remaining HEU-fueled research reactors consume about 1,000 kilograms of HEU per year. About 500 kilograms of this HEU is for Western-designed reactors, mostly supplied by the United States, and the remainder provided by Russia and China. The RERTR program estimates that 41 of these reactors can be converted using existing LEU fuels.[12] However, of the Western-designed reactors, 10 that consume the bulk of the HEU cannot be converted until advanced LEU fuels are developed.[13]

These 10 research reactors have compact, high-powered cores designed to maximize neutron intensity for testing reactor fuels and materials to high irradiation levels and for neutron-scattering measurements used to probe the arrangements of atoms in complex materials.

Because a high concentration of U-235 is needed for compact cores, HEU is an ideal fuel. To achieve a similar density of U-235 in an LEU-based fuel has been the primary challenge for the conversion program.

The approach of the RERTR program has been to develop 20 percent-enriched LEU fuels that make up for the lower level of enrichment by increasing the relative concentration of uranium vis-à-vis other elements in the nuclear fuel. In 20 percent-enriched LEU, unlike HEU, each gram of U-235 is diluted with 4 grams of uranium 238. So, the uranium density in the LEU fuel must be about five times higher than in the HEU fuel. Fortunately, the densities of the HEU fuels that have to be replaced are mostly quite low, between 3 percent and 9 percent of the density of solid uranium. The most advanced LEU fuel commercialized thus far has a uranium density of 25 percent of solid uranium. A higher uranium density fuel, which was to be commercialized this year, has not fared well. Because of its unexpected poor irradiation performance, the availability of fuels with the densities required to convert the research reactors into those with compact, high-powered cores has slipped to approximately the year 2010. The most promising fuel currently under development—solid uranium alloyed with molybdenum—has a uranium density of 84 percent of that of solid uranium and could be used to convert all remaining high-powered research reactors.[14]

Spent Fuel

The residual uranium in spent HEU fuel is also still potentially usable for weapons. It typically contains about half of its original U-235. HEU that was originally weapons grade is of special concern because it is still near weapons grade.[15] For some years after discharge from the reactor, the spent fuel is considered “self-protecting” by the IAEA because the radioactive fission products it contains emit highly dangerous gamma rays as they decay.[16]

As this radiation field dies down with time, however, the spent fuel becomes a greater proliferation concern. Typically, research-reactor fuel elements are no longer self-protecting 25 years after discharge.

In 1996, therefore, the United States invited foreign countries that had received U.S. HEU fuel to ship back two common types of spent HEU fuel and began to work in 2002 with Russia similarly to retrieve Soviet/Russian-origin HEU fuel from outside Russia. As of the end of 2005, however, only about a ton of the U.S.-origin fuel had been returned to the United States.[17] Progress in returning Russian HEU is at an even earlier stage. About 122 kilograms of HEU in un-irradiated fuel had been shipped back to Russia, but as of November 2005, fuel originally containing approximately 2,000 kilograms of HEU that had been shipped from Russia to 17 countries remained abroad.[18] The United States in 1999 also established a Materials Consolidation and Conversion (MCC) program to acquire excess Russian civilian HEU and blend it down to 20 percent-enriched LEU. This low-profile program has made steady progress. As of the end of 2005, about 7 tons of an estimated 17 tons of excess Russian civilian HEU had been blended down, but as yet, not a single site has been completely cleaned out.[19]

Overall, therefore, although programs to reduce the number of locations where HEU can be found are in place, they have achieved only a small fraction of their objectives, despite the additional impetus given by the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Post-September 11 Developments

In 2004 the Energy Department responded to congressional concern about how slowly the HEU cleanout programs were moving by combining its reactor-conversion and spent HEU fuel takeback efforts into a Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) program. Then-Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham committed that the GTRI would help Russia repatriate all Russian-origin fresh HEU fuel by the end of 2005—which has since slipped to 2006—all Russian-origin spent HEU fuel by 2010, and all U.S.-origin HEU spent fuel by 2014. Abraham also pledged to convert all U.S. civilian research reactors to LEU by 2013—now 2014—and to convert all other research reactors “throughout the world.” All told, Abraham promised that the United States would spend about $450 million on this effort. [20] That comes to about $45 million per year over 10 years, which is about the current level of effort.

These are laudable goals. Unfortunately, Russia, which accounts for about one-third of the world’s HEU-fueled reactors and more than half of the world’s civilian HEU, has yet to make a commitment to convert or decommission any of its own HEU-fueled research reactors. President George W. Bush took pressure off of Russia to do so at a February 2005 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders agreed to limit to “third countries” U.S.-Russian cooperative efforts to deal with the danger from HEU-fueled reactors.[21] Russian government officials have reportedly used this agreement as a reason for suspending further discussions with the United States on the conversion of Russia’s own HEU-fueled reactors. Fortunately, as discussed below, Russia’s nuclear institutes still appear open to cooperation in this area.

Toward a Comprehensive Program

Current efforts also largely exclude reactor types that make up about half of the world’s HEU-fueled reactors: critical assemblies and pulsed reactors. Worldwide, there are at least 38 HEU-fueled critical assemblies and 19 HEU-fueled pulsed reactors. Most are among the 59 HEU-fueled research reactors listed in the 2004 RERTR Program Execution Plan as “research reactors using HEU fuels that are not part of the RERTR Program.”[22]

These reactors do not consume fuel, but their cores often contain huge quantities of HEU.

Critical assemblies are used to determine the physics properties of proposed reactor-core designs. Most pulsed reactors were designed to determine the effects of neutron bursts from nearby nuclear explosions on nuclear warheads and other objects. The fuel of both types of reactors is only slightly radioactive—orders of magnitude less than required for self-protection.[23]

Once again, most of these reactors could be decommissioned. Most critical assemblies are obsolete because their mission can be accomplished today by inexpensive and highly accurate computer simulations. Indeed, Russia has more than 60 percent of the world’s HEU-fueled critical assemblies because it has decommissioned so few. An effective program needs to be mounted to help it do so. In 2002 the Moscow-based Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, which has 12 HEU-fueled critical assemblies, requested U.S. assistance to decommission most of them. The Energy Department’s MCC program has recently begun discussions with Kurchatov about this proposal.

Likewise, most pulsed reactors are no longer needed because the effects of their neutron bursts can be simulated with computers. In 2004 Abraham cited this as a reason to shut down one of the Sandia National Laboratory’s two HEU-fueled pulsed reactors: “[A]fter operations of three years or perhaps less, the Sandia Pulsed Reactor will no longer be needed, since computer simulations will be able to assume its mission.… When its mission is complete, this reactor’s fuel will be removed from Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico, allowing us to reduce security costs at Sandia and further consolidate our nuclear materials.”[24]

For those facilities that will be kept, steps should be taken to convert them to LEU or at least to reduce significantly the enrichment of their fuel. An indication that this is possible is provided by two Russian facilities with huge HEU inventories:


  • One critical facility at the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering in Obninsk contains 8.7 tons of HEU, as well as 0.8 tons of plutonium, mostly in the form of tens of thousands of disks less than 2 inches in diameter. Some of the HEU is at a 36 percent-enrichment level, while some is weapons grade (90 percent). It appears that the safer 36 percent-enriched uranium should be sufficient for mocking up large breeder reactor cores, which is the main mission of the facility.[25]
  • A pulsed reactor at the Institute of Experimental Physics in Sarov ( Russia’s counterpart to the Los Alamos National Laboratory) contains 833 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium, enough for 15 Hiroshima bombs. The GTRI program recently committed to fund a proposal from the institute to do a feasibility study on converting this reactor to LEU. The MCC program could potentially help fund the conversion.[26]

Other HEU-Fueled Reactors

There are also other types of civilian HEU-fueled reactors that should be addressed. For example, Russia has a fleet of seven civilian nuclear-powered icebreakers whose 11 reactors currently annually require HEU fuel containing about 225 kilograms of U-235.[27]

The Moscow-based Bochvar Institute, which develops Russia’s nuclear fuels, began in the late 1990s to develop LEU fuel suitable for a floating nuclear power plant whose reactor design is derivative from one used to power Russia’s nuclear icebreakers. The privately funded Nuclear Threat Initiative is negotiating with the Bochvar Institute to build on this work and develop LEU fuel that could be used to convert the nuclear icebreakers.

Russia also has dedicated HEU-fueled isotope-production reactors. Two high-powered isotope-production reactors at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Urals are reportedly fueled with weapons-grade uranium. During the Cold War, they consumed an estimated 800 kilograms of HEU per year, mostly for the production of tritium for weapons.[28]

Today, given Russia’s smaller number of operational nuclear warheads, the primary use of these reactors is probably to produce radionuclides for medical and other civilian purposes. They might therefore be appropriate targets for a cooperative conversion effort.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The recently launched GTRI hopes to achieve complete elimination of HEU-fuel shipments to research reactors outside Russia by 2014. Few of the critical assemblies and pulsed reactors that collectively contain huge quantities of barely irradiated HEU have been targeted yet, however, and Russia has not yet agreed to convert or decommission its own HEU-fueled reactors.

What is needed is a broader international effort to decommission HEU-fueled research reactors that are no longer needed, accelerate the conversion of operating research reactors for which replacement LEU fuel is available, and assure that fuels are developed as soon as possible to convert the remaining HEU-fueled research reactors that are still needed.

The key countries whose cooperation is required are those that have built and exported or that operate large, high-powered, HEU-fueled research reactors, large critical assemblies, or pulsed reactors. China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States account for more than 90 percent of the global civilian HEU inventories and demand. Their joint engagement in an accelerated conversion and cleanout effort would likely bring along the other countries that receive or have received fuel from the major HEU suppliers.

The reluctance of Russia’s government to give this effort high priority domestically at the same time that the leading Russian nuclear institutes have been asking for U.S. funding for projects to convert or decommission their HEU-fueled reactors illustrates the importance of working directly with the institutes as well as on a government-to-government level. This bottom-up approach, in which U.S. programs engage the Russian institutes directly and the institutes help get their government’s approval, has been key to virtually all successful U.S.-Russian cooperative nuclear security initiatives.

More serious engagement by high-level U.S. officials is also required. The recent acceptance by the White House of a limitation to U.S.-Russian cooperative efforts on HEU cleanout to “third countries” illustrates the types of misstep that can occur when high-level officials are not adequately informed.

Finally, consideration needs to be given to ways to make it more attractive to decommission or shut down little-used HEU-fueled reactors. In particular, consideration should be given to facilitating the concentration of research-reactor or accelerator neutron services in regional centers of excellence open to all appropriate scientists.

If the international community takes its responsibility to prevent nuclear terrorism and to support nonproliferation efforts seriously, a global cleanout of civilian HEU could be achieved within the next five to eight years.



Ending HEU Use in Medical-Isotope Production

Alexander Glaser and Frank N. von Hippel

Some medical-isotope production reactors use highly enriched uranium (HEU) as a “target” for neutron bombardment to produce the fission product molybdenum-99. The decay product of this isotope, Technicium-99, is used annually in tens of millions of medical procedures.[1] There is currently no domestic producer of this material and the Department of Energy estimates that a total of 85 kilograms of weapon-grade HEU are used for this purpose annually in reactors in Belgium, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and South Africa.[2]

Argonne National Laboratory has developed a means of substituting low-enriched uranium (LEU) for the more dangerous HEU in this process. Two smaller producers have converted to LEU and another is in the process of doing so. But the largest producers do not want to incur the cost of conversion. Two of them, Nordion of Canada and Mallinckrodt, which produces in Europe, backed a successful lobbying effort to include a provision in this year’s Energy Policy Act. This provision suspends the application of a 1992 law that conditions exports of U.S. HEU to foreign users on their willingness to convert to LEU as soon as LEU fuel or targets become available.

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.



1. Six-hour half-life technicium-99m emits a 0.14 MeV decay gamma ray used for medical imaging.

2. Office of Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration, “RERTR Program Project Execution Plan,” February 16, 2004.

Alexander Glaser is a member of the research staff of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and Frank N. von Hippel is a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton. An abridged version of this article will appear in the February 2006 issue of Scientific American.


1. See A. Glaser, “About the Enrichment Limit for Research Reactor Conversion: Why 20%?” International Meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (hereinafter referred to as RERTR conference), Boston, November 2005.

2. See David Albright et al., Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

3. See Laura Holgate, “Accelerating the Blend-Down of Russian Highly Enriched Uranium,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, June 2005.

4. See Wade Boese, “ U.S. Trims Nuclear Material Stockpile,” Arms Control Today, December 2005, p. 29.

5. Chunyan Ma and Frank von Hippel, “Ending the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium for Naval Reactors,” Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, p. 86.

6. David Albright and Kimberly Kramer, “Civil HEU Watch: Tracking Inventories of Civil Highly Enriched Uranium,” Institute for Science and International Security, August 2005. The estimate of 165-184 tons includes 123 metric tons of excess U.S. weapons HEU and 10 tons of BN-350 spent fuel in Kazakhstan not included in our estimate. Also, we believe that their range of 15-30 tons for civilian HEU in Russia may be low.

7. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Needs to Take Action to Further Reduce the Use of Weapons-Usable Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors,” GAO-04-807, July 2004, p. 28.

8. Pablo Adelfang and Iain Ritchie, “Overview of the Status of Research Reactors Worldwide,” RERTR conference, Chicago, October 2003.

9. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Safety of Research Reactors,” Topical Issues Paper No. 4, p. 10.

10. Office of Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), “RERTR Program Project Execution Plan,” February 16, 2004.

11. NNSA, “NNSA Completes Czech Research Reactor Conversion,” November 4, 2005.

12. Bieniawski, Statement, RERTR conference, Boston, November 2005.

13. NNSA, “RERTR Program Project Execution Plan.”

14. Pure uranium metal is not suitable as a reactor fuel because it swells seriously under irradiation at only a fraction of the desired fuel life.

15. The enrichment of a high-burn-up fuel that was originally 93 percent would still be above 75 percent. The critical mass of the 75 percent HEU would be only about 30 percent higher than that of the original material.

16. The IAEA considers a spent fuel element self-protecting if the dose rate one meter away exceeds one Sievert (100 rems) per hour. Five Sieverts over a period of less than two weeks is a median lethal dose for an adult. See IAEA, “The Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities,” INFCIRC/225/Rev. 4, June 1999.

17. Michael Dunsmuir, interview with author, September 2005. About 13.7 tons (80 percent) of the 17.5 tons of HEU reported as still abroad in 1993 was in the European Union (EU), within which much of the material was traded between facilities and some reprocessed. U.S. officials believe that 2 tons of 35 percent-enriched HEU exported to the EU was blended down there to LEU. See Albright, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996, pp. 245-253.

18. Andrew Bieniawski, Presentation, RERTR conference, Boston, November 2005.

19. Tom Wander, interview with author, November 2005.

20. IAEA, “Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham,” Vienna, May 2004.

21. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “U.S.-Russia Joint Fact Sheet: Bratislava Initiatives,” February 2005.

22. Table B8 of the RERTR Program Project Execution Plan includes 21 reactors identified as critical assemblies and 10 identified as “fast burst,” “prompt burst,” or pulsed.

23. In the case of critical assemblies, this is because they release fission heat at an extremely low rate, typically only about 100 watts instead of millions. Pulsed reactor fuel accumulates only trace quantities of fission products for a different reason: they operate at high powers but mostly in infrequent pulses for less than one-thousandth of a second.

24. “Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham for the Security Police Officer Training Competition,” May 7, 2004.

25. The core of Russian’s BN-600, which is HEU fueled, has a peak enrichment of 26 percent. See O. M. Saraev, “Operating Experience With the Beloyarsk Fast Reactor BN600 NPP,” Technical Committee Meeting on Unusual Occurrences During LMFR Operation, IAEA, Vienna, November 1998, p. 103. Thirty-six percent-enriched fuel therefore should be more than sufficient. See also Frank von Hippel, “Future Needs for HEU-Fueled Critical Assemblies,” RERTR conference, Boston, November 2005.

26. The MCC program pays the Elektrostal Fuel Fabrication Facility and the Dimitrovgrad Scientific Research Institute of Atomic Reactors to acquire and blend civilian HEU down to 20 percent LEU and dispose of the LEU. Part of the payment is passed on to the organization that is releasing the excess HEU. This incentive payment could be used to defray much of the cost of the core conversion, and some of the blended-down material could be used to fuel the converted core.

27. Oleg Bukharin, interview with author, September 2005.

28. “Lyudmila” and “Ruslan” are reportedly light-water reactors, each with a 1000 thermal-megawatt capacity. Oleg Bukharin, “Analysis of the Size and Quality of Uranium Inventories in Russia,” Science & Global Security, Vol. 6 (1996), p. 59.


Preventing a Nuclear Katrina

Daryl G. Kimball

Surveying the devastation the day after Hurricane Katrina struck Gulf Coast towns and cities, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) likened the storm force to a nuclear attack. “I can only imagine this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago,” he told reporters. Not quite, Governor.

The blast, fire, and radiation effects of the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed some 140,000 people by the end of 1945 and injured still more. A similar weapon used today against a major city would wreak similar or even more extensive death and damage.

The nation must and will help the greater New Orleans region recover from the worst U.S. natural disaster in decades, but there is no evacuation or post-disaster triage plan sufficient to deal with a terrorist attack with even a “small” nuclear weapon, let alone a conflict between states involving nuclear weapons. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put it mildly when he asked, “[I]f we can’t respond faster to an event we saw coming across the Gulf [of Mexico] for days, then why do we think we’re prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?”

The only cure is prevention. Success primarily depends on depriving terrorists access to nuclear bomb material, which they cannot produce on their own. But it only takes about 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) or 8 kilograms of plutonium to fashion a nuclear bomb. Worldwide, there are about 1,900 metric tons of HEU and more than 1,800 tons of plutonium in civilian and military stockpiles in dozens of countries. In the absence of U.S. support for a global, verifiable ban on fissile material production for military purposes and a phaseout of production for civilian purposes, the stocks will only grow.

Significant quantities of nuclear weapons-usable material remain all too vulnerable as a result of inadequate security and accounting at hundreds of nuclear facilities, particularly in the former Soviet republics. The International Atomic Energy Agency has documented at least 18 cases of theft or smuggling of weapons-usable fissile material since 1993. In July, Georgia disclosed it had thwarted four more attempts to steal HEU over the last two years. Russia also possesses at least 3,000 relatively more portable and less secure tactical nuclear weapons.

Just as essential levee protection and Louisiana coastal wetlands restoration projects were ignored or shortchanged, the president and most members of Congress have also failed to act on many of the recommendations of expert panels on nuclear terrorism. The 2001 bipartisan Baker-Cutler task force report on Department of Energy nonproliferation programs with Russia praised the program’s “impressive results” but warned that diffuse management and budget shortfalls leave an “unacceptable risk of failure” with potentially “catastrophic consequences.”

The panel recommended ramping up funding for nuclear security in Russia to $3 billion annually for 10 years. Nevertheless, critical nuclear threat reduction programs were cut in the fiscal year 2002 budget submission. Congress later restored the funding, and the administration has sought and received substantial contributions from European allies. In the administration’s latest budget request, Energy and Department of Defense programs to secure nuclear material and weapons were approximately $515 million.

Some projects have been accelerated. U.S. officials report they have “secured” 75 percent of Russia’s estimated 600 metric tons of plutonium and HEU and will complete the rest by 2008. Additionally, nearly 50 of Russia’s known nuclear warhead sites now have state-of-the-art security. Still, there may be as many as 100 sites that do not. Clearly, there is more that must be done and quickly.

Congress itself has complicated and slowed the work by requiring the president to certify Russian compliance with arms control agreements before releasing funds for securing and disposing of Russia’s dangerous nuclear and chemical stockpiles. This year, Congress should finally pass legislation to suspend this self-defeating requirement. To overcome lingering distrust, break through disputes about who is liable for accidents, and reaffirm their mutual commitment to the task, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin must corral their own bureaucracies and put nuclear threat reduction at the top of the agenda.

One of their highest priorities should be higher funding and early completion of the Energy Department’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative. This includes returning U.S. and Russian-origin HEU and spent fuel from vulnerable sites throughout the world and converting the 105 civil research reactors that use HEU fuel to low-enriched uranium fuel. They should also agree to new tactical nuclear weapons transparency and security arrangements and begin to decommission and dismantle obsolete tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe and elsewhere.

As Bush himself said in 2001 about the threat of nuclear terrorism, “History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act.” Mr. President, now is the time to accelerate action on effective measures aimed at preventing the ultimate disaster before it is too late.


UN Adopts Nuclear Terrorism Convention; Treaty Seven Years in the Making

Claire Applegarth

The UN General Assembly April 13 adopted an international convention addressing the threat of nuclear terrorism, bringing an end to more than seven years of negotiations on the document. The treaty criminalizes the possession, use, or threat of use of radioactive devices by nonstate actors, their accomplices, and organizers “with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury” or environmental or property damage.

Originally proposed by Russia in 1998 and entrusted to the oversight of an ad hoc committee established to tackle the issue of international terrorism, the convention, titled the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, is now the 13th such UN legal instrument on terrorism and the first concluded since Sept. 11, 2001. It was adopted by consensus and will open for signature Sept. 14 during the 60th Anniversary Summit of the United Nations. It will enter into force after 22 governments have ratified it.

Beyond criminalizing acts of nuclear terrorism, the convention also will require governments either to prosecute terrorist suspects in domestic courts or extradite them to their home countries. It further encourages increased exchanges of information and greater cooperation between countries in the pursuit of terrorist suspects.

In a brief mention of preventative nuclear security measures, the treaty urges states to ensure the protection of radioactive materials, “taking into account” recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The convention also classifies as a punishable offense any attacks on nuclear facilities that could risk the release of radioactive material.

Although widely welcomed as an important contribution to the international legal framework governing terrorism and nuclear security, the agreed treaty text does not represent as ambitious a document as some nations had hoped. In an April 1 news conference, Albert Hoffman, the South African coordinator of the negotiations, said that a number of proposals were ultimately excluded from the treaty’s scope so as to facilitate its universal adoption.

According to Hoffman, some delegations had expressed concern that the convention exempts military activities and personnel from prosecution for similar offenses as those articulated in the treaty. Other delegations would have liked to see the treaty protect against acts of terrorism committed by state actors involving nuclear weapons or materials. The final convention does not address state use of nuclear weapons.

States were also unable to reach consensus on a definition of terrorism, one of the key points of contention prolonging the negotiations, which was ultimately left out of the final convention. A recent report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, released late March 2005, proposed to define terrorism as “any action…intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.”

Annan’s report, entitled “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All,” also called for UN General Assembly approval of the nuclear terrorism convention and for “consolidating, securing and, when possible, eliminating hazardous materials and implementing effective export controls” as key elements of a strategy to deny terrorists access to nuclear materials.

Congratulating the General Assembly on its approval of a convention that represents “a vital step forward on multilateral efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism,” Annan also urged states to finalize a draft comprehensive legal instrument addressing international terrorism. This broader convention, however, will have to revisit the problem of reconciling differing states’ views on a definition of terrorism.

Slow Start for UN WMD Committee

Wade Boese

Nearing the halfway point of its lifespan, a UN committee is just starting its primary task of pinpointing weak spots in national laws and export controls that terrorists might exploit to acquire missiles and chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Established by the unanimously approved UN Security Council Resolution 1540 last April (see ACT, May 2004), the committee is tasked with reviewing reports volunteered by governments on their steps to meet the resolution’s legally binding requirement to institute “appropriate, effective” measures denying nonstate actors lethal weaponry. The resolution did not define what constitutes “appropriate” and “effective,” leaving that standard up to the committee to interpret.

The committee’s purpose in conducting the reviews is to identify where governments have overlooked or not owned up to proliferation loopholes in their national statutes, border controls, and export control systems. The committee is comprised of representatives of the current 15 members of the Security Council.

Although reports started trickling in around an October deadline last year, the committee’s consideration of those reports did not get underway until March.

An extended process to hire independent experts to assist in vetting the reports contributed to the delay. The committee selected four experts last December, but the last one did not arrive in New York to begin work until March. The experts are from Brazil, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Up to three more experts might still be hired.

India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and Syria have all joined the recognized nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—in submitting reports. As of March 23, a total of 105 countries had reported to the committee. North Korea is a notable exception.

Many of the other 80-some governments that have yet to file reports are from Africa and the Caribbean. Some of these states contend they do not believe the resolution applies to them because they lack the weapons and materials on which the resolution is focused. Others maintain they do not have the capacity or resources to execute the resolution’s mandate.

Still, Washington, other capitals, and the committee are urging all countries to file reports. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Mark Fitzpatrick asserted in a March 17 speech that “proliferators look for the path of least resistance—the unprotected border, the unenforced regulation, [and] the lax licensing system.” Therefore, Fitzpatrick concluded, “[e]ach state’s critical review of its own laws and regulations will help locate national, regional, and international gaps.”

The resolution calls on countries with the ability to do so to help others comply with its terms. London, Moscow, and Washington, among others, have pledged their willingness to lend such assistance, but none has been requested so far.

How the committee will seek to redress the problems or shortcomings revealed by the national reports remains unclear. An official close to the committee said its first resort would probably be notifying individual capitals of the committee’s concerns and recommendations for possible remedial steps. No judgments have been reached about follow-up steps that might be taken.

U.S. officials have said they do not view enforcement as one of the committee’s responsibilities, although they assert that their stance might be revisited.

A U.S. government official stated March 15, “The fact that Resolution 1540 has been adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter means that the obligations outlined in the resolution are legally binding on member states and that states can face punitive action for failing to fulfill their obligations.”

British government officials, as well as representatives of other foreign governments, hold that, because Resolution 1540 does not spell out consequences for noncompliance, an additional Security Council resolution would be required to punish a state for not fulfilling the resolution.

In addition to its hired experts, the committee has pledged to seek outside advice and assistance from international institutions. These include the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors peaceful nuclear programs worldwide to make sure they are not being used illicitly to produce weapons, and the Chemical Weapons Convention’s implementing body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. However, the committee is still trying to determine what type of information it wants from them.

Both U.S. and British officials have criticized the committee’s work pace. Emyr Jones Parry, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said after the December selection of experts, “I would be less than frank if I did not wonder why it has taken us so long to get to where we are.” The U.S. government official speaking March 15 commented, “The work of the [Resolution] 1540 committee, while slow to begin, is showing promise in assessing and evaluating how to close gaps against proliferation.”

Time is limited for the committee. Its expiration date, which could be extended, is set for April 28, 2006.

Implications of UN Security Council Resolution 1540



Presentation to the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management Panel Discussion, March 15, 2005

Wade Boese
Research Director, Arms Control Association

I want to thank the hosts today for inviting me to speak with such a distinguished panel on this important topic. This is an important topic because Security Council Resolution 1540 could have far-reaching and significant implications for the international nonproliferation regime, and thereby U.S. and world security. I want to emphasize the word could. That word is important because the resolution is an initiative that governments, with the necessary prodding, might still forge into an effective instrument. It isn’t there yet, and, I fear, the odds may be stacked against such an outcome.

In my view, those odds stem from five primary challenges, each of which I will discuss further:

  • Vague guidelines and definitions
  • National enforcement
  • International enforcement
  • A weak structural foundation, and
  • Legitimacy

Before exploring these five challenges further, let me note that my remarks are based on two assumptions. One, that Resolution 1540 in practice applies to trying to stop all WMD-related proliferation, not just that to non-state actors. And, two, the resolution opens the door for the international community, through the Security Council, to penalize governments failing to abide by the resolution’s terms since 1540 was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Vague Guidelines and Definitions

Suffice it to say that the Resolution 1540 is short on specifics. What items specifically are supposed to be controlled? Should all items on the control lists of the Australia Group, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Wassenaar Arrangement be subject to all countries’ national export controls? If yes, that would be a remarkable step toward harmonizing and universalizing these export control regimes, which is something that International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has called for.

Moreover, what are “appropriate effective” laws, physical protection measures, and border controls? And, does the last one apply to just goods or people too? Would U.S. border controls—given the mixed record of keeping out illegal immigrants—be sufficient in this regard or would they be found lacking? This all depends on how governments decide to interpret and apply the resolution. Standards must be set. Governments should err on the side of ambitious rather than cautious.

National Enforcement

Once these ambitious laws, physical protection measures, border controls, and export controls are on the books, they must be enforced. It’s not enough to simply codify these obligations and restrictions; they must be acted upon. Proliferators are not going to change their behavior simply because stricter rules or measures are put on paper.

Exhibit A would be China. Since 1992, Beijing has issued a series of proclamations and regulations limiting exports of ballistic missiles and their technologies in order to conform with the export guidelines followed by the 34-member Missile Technology Control Regime. Still, the State Department regularly imposes proliferation sanctions on Chinese entities. During its more than four years in office, the Bush administration has imposed proliferation sanctions 112 times; 62 of those sanctions have been on Chinese entities, including state-run businesses. Many of these sanctions stem from alleged missile-related transactions with Iran.

Whether Beijing is turning a blind eye toward this proliferation activity or it simply does not have the capacity to stop these transactions isn’t really the issue here. Although clearly, the former is of greater alarm. The fundamental point is that a government must be both willing and able to enforce its laws, export controls, physical protection measures, and border controls to successfully impede proliferation. Governments should not simply view Resolution 1540 as a law-making exercise. If they do, proliferation will continue; just as missile proliferation has from China.

International Enforcement

How the international community responds as a whole to poor national enforcement, intentional or unintentional, also looms large. Will the international community, in the form of the Security Council, apply the same rules and standards to all or will it be selective in which governments will be taken to task for not fulfilling their legally-binding responsibilities? A universal approach will lend the resolution greater legitimacy and prevent the emergence of zones or regions where proliferators feel they can act with impunity.

My concern is that the resolution could be implemented in a way reflecting the Bush administration’s general approach to proliferation, which is that the problem is bad actors, not bad weapons. From this perspective, it’s more important to focus on certain regimes rather than taking a more comprehensive approach to eliminating WMD wherever it may be found, regardless of whether that source is a U.S. friend or foe. This approach greatly influences the administration’s Proliferation Security Initiative or PSI, which I believe is a fine concept, if not a bit oversold.

First, interdiction is not as novel as some in the administration make it out to be. Second, PSI does not legally empower governments to do anything that they could not do before. This issue of legal authority in PSI is a bit of a red herring because ultimately the initiative’s success rests upon good intelligence. You can’t intercept something if you don’t know where it is.

To be sure, PSI has a broad mandate of intercepting threatening shipments at sea, on land, or in the air. But the administration has narrowed the scope of the initiative by caring more about the specific recipients than the suppliers. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher noted, “The country of origin is obviously important, but destination is much more important.” Although predating PSI, the administration’s decision to permit Yemen to receive its North Korean Scud missiles intercepted by Spanish forces in December 2002 points to this selective approach.

Furthermore, John Bolton, a chief architect of PSI, said in an interview with my organization’s monthly publication Arms Control Today, “There are unquestionably states that are not within existing treaty regimes that possess weapons of mass destruction legitimately. We’re not trying to have a policy that attempts to cover each and every one of those circumstances.” In other words, India, Israel, and Pakistan are not under PSI scrutiny despite their possession of the very weapons and materials that the initiative is trying to stop the trade in and the exposure of the A.Q. Khan network operating from Pakistan.

Islamabad ’s punishment of Khan, or more appropriately lack of punishment, also raises the question of how Washington and other capitals might respond under Resolution 1540 to another government taking such a lenient stand against a confirmed proliferator. A country’s temporary standing in the global war on terror or other political considerations should not trump enforcement of the resolution. As the A.Q. Khan network amply demonstrated, proliferation has many sources, including perceived allies, whose allegiances and motivations are always subject to change. Setting standards that hold allies accountable for the same transgressions or failings as enemies is essential for protecting against the long-term dangers posed by proliferation.

If the United States and the international community take a similar tack with Resolution 1540 as that with PSI—as a tool to be used against a few select states, while neglecting others—the resolution will certainly fail. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Semmel has warned, “a single state supplying critical materials or technologies could defeat the efforts of us all.” Resolution 1540 will surely be only as strong as its weakest link.

A Weak Structural Foundation

Another potentially limiting factor of Resolution 1540 that is also apparent in PSI is the lack of a solid foundation. This reflects the Bush administration’s skepticism about formal, multilateral institutions. In PSI, no secretariat has been established, no formal channels for sharing intelligence have been created, no obligations to participate in exercises or operations exists, and no specific funding is set aside for PSI’s operation. The whole initiative conforms to the administration’s preference for acting with coalitions of the willing that permit the greatest freedom of action possible. Likewise, the administration opposed the creation of a permanent committee to oversee Resolution 1540, opting instead for a two-year life span.

This is shortsighted. Two years might not be enough time to identify the problems, let alone solve them. In addition, there are vows to lend assistance to those in need under the resolution, but at this time those are simply vague promises. Perhaps a donor contribution fund should be established, experts identified, and best practices collected and distributed to give governments some idea of what resources may be available to help them live up to Resolution 1540. One can imagine some governments being reluctant to acknowledge shortcomings in their export control systems for which they would be held accountable without having some assurances that they alone will not bear the responsibility for improving or strengthening those systems. Adding some flesh and muscle to the bones of Resolution 1540 would help, but this is a tall order given that the committee only has one more year before it expires.


All of these four challenges will impact whether governments view Resolution 1540 as legitimate. However, Resolution 1540’s legitimacy over the long run will not be based solely on its own merits. Much of the world will be waiting to see how the norm against exporting WMD, delivery vehicles, and related materials (i.e. nonproliferation) will be translated into a norm against possession as well (i.e. disarmament). By not addressing existing arsenals, Resolution 1540 is vulnerable to charges that it is just another discriminatory, supply-side mechanism designed to keep the developing world down. Therefore, Resolution 1540’s ultimate success will also hinge upon parallel actions by countries armed with WMD to reduce the quantity and salience of such arms. Without such steps, a mix of apathy, cynicism, and mistrust will undermine the resolution.

Realizing Potential

If this quick analysis appears a bit pessimistic, it is only because Resolution 1540 has such great potential. In the resolution lies the opportunity for expanding the tools and mindsets necessary for slowing proliferation beyond those countries that are members of the exclusive, some would say discriminatory, export control regimes.

It could also serve to overcome one of the biggest obstacles inhibiting trust among the nuclear-weapon states, as well as between those states and the non-nuclear-weapon states: secrecy. In operative paragraph 3(a), Resolution 1540 orders states to develop appropriate effective measures to account for their weapons and materials subject to control. Once accomplished, the potential exists for that information to be shared. If some type of mechanism were established to facilitate this activity, it would address one of the major criticisms of the non-nuclear-weapon states about being kept in the dark by those with nuclear arms. This matter will be raised repeatedly at the forthcoming nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May.

Still, the crux of the debate at the upcoming review conference will be whether all states are living up to their treaty obligations and whether some states are unfairly taking on greater burdens than others. Such questions must be avoided in implementing Resolution 1540. For the resolution to succeed, each government's obligations must be clearly spelled out and all must be held equally accountable. Otherwise, weak links will emerge and proliferators will exploit them.

Thank you.

*On April 28, 2004, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1540 requiring all states to adopt “appropriate effective” measures to prevent non-state actors from acquiring biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, as well as the means for their delivery. See “Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution Denying Terrorists WMD,” Arms Control Today, May 2004, and “ U.S. Disappointed with Worldwide Response to WMD Resolution,” Arms Control Today, December 2004.



Presentation by ACA Research Director to the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management Panel Discussion

Subject Resources:

Congress Seeks Nonproliferation Measures

Timothy Westmyer

As Congress began a new session in January, lawmakers kicked off the year with a flurry of proposals to stem the spread of nuclear arms and other deadly weapons, with most focused on ostensibly preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced legislation Jan. 24 designed to secure and dispose of Russia’s nuclear material. The omnibus bill authorizes spending of close to $300 million among five nonproliferation activities. It also endorses efforts by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) to end congressional restrictions on the programs and expand them beyond the former Soviet Union.

Proposed spending includes $60 million for the Department of Energy to convert one or more nuclear-weapon facilities in Russia to non-defense-related work. The conversions are part of the Nuclear Cities Initiative, which lapsed in 2003 because of disputes over liability protections afforded to U.S. contractors. The bill also calls for an additional $40 million in funding to President George W. Bush’s $416 million request for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program under the Department of Defense budget. In addition, the Defense and Energy Departments each received authorization for $25 million to work with Russia to account for and destroy its tactical nuclear weapons.

Russia is estimated to hold thousands of tactical nuclear weapons, or smaller “battlefield” nuclear bombs, in undisclosed locations. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker last October urged Russia to provide more information about its tactical nuclear weapons arsenal. (See ACT, November 2004.) Legislation introduced Feb. 1 in the House by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) authorizes efforts to inventory and secure these arms.

On Jan. 26, Reps. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), John Spratt (D-S.C.), and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) put forth a series of measures on how to reduce nuclear terrorism. They said the measures were based on recommendations made by the federal commission that probed the Sept. 11 attacks. (See ACT, September 2004.)

The bill authorizes an additional $100 million for the Global Cleanout Initiative, which promotes efforts to eliminate fissile materials and related technologies in at-risk sites worldwide. The Biden bill authorizes $95 million for similar efforts.

Their legislation would establish a White House nonproliferation czar and charge this official with coordinating all federal government nonproliferation activities. The measure also urges the creation of a parallel office within Russia. The Schiff-Shays bill similarly recommends establishing a U.S. director.

Both the Tauscher bill and Shays-Schiff bill call for $50 million to be spent on boosting Bush’s Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The money would be used to aid states supporting the PSI mission of intercepting proliferation in progress.

House GOP members made their views known on halting proliferation by releasing a Jan. 26 report through the House Republican Policy Committee entitled “All Tools at Our Disposal: Addressing Nuclear Proliferation in a Post 9/11 World.” The report stresses safeguarding nuclear material from terrorist organizations or regimes hostile to the United States.

The report deems as vital the development of enhanced detection technology and stricter International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections via the Additional Protocol, which expands the methods and tools inspectors can use to detect clandestine nuclear programs. It calls for increased exploration of “proliferation-resistant” nuclear energy technologies to make it more difficult for countries to abuse civilian nuclear energy industries allowed under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Despite the administration’s position that a proposed fissile missile cutoff treaty cannot be “effectively verifiable,” the report concludes that the United States should negotiate a treaty “that is effective and verifiable.” The proposed treaty would outlaw production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons purposes.

U.S. Diappointed With Worldwide Response to WMD Resolution

Wade Boese

Roughly one-third of UN members have complied with a unanimous Security Council resolution request to detail their efforts to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring or developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), disappointing the United States, the resolution’s main architect.

Passed April 28, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 ordered all governments to put in place “appropriate, effective laws” to deny terrorists access to biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons; their delivery systems; and related materials. (See ACT, May 2004.) The resolution further asked all capitals to report within six months on their completed or planned steps toward fulfilling this mandate. Although the requirement for instituting the proper laws to thwart terrorists is legally binding, the follow-up reporting is voluntary.

Some 70 countries, including China, France, India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have provided the requested reports; 54 of them met the Oct. 28 deadline. Iran, Israel, and North Korea are among the approximately 120 states that have not submitted reports.

The United States sees the reports as essential for helping identify and remedy weaknesses in other countries’ laws, export controls, and practices aimed at thwarting terrorists from obtaining weapons and related materials. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation Andrew Semmel warned in an Oct. 12 speech in London that “[n]one of us is stronger than the weakest link.”

The substance of the submissions varies greatly, according to a U.S. government official interviewed Nov. 10 by Arms Control Today. Some total a few pages, while the U.S. report exceeds 60 pages, cataloguing all U.S. laws, programs, and policies pertaining to WMD control.

The U.S. official said Washington is concerned that the dearth of reports volunteered sends a “potentially bad message” about how countries perceive the resolution and their obligations under it. Noting that reports are still trickling in, the official said the United States is not “leaning on anybody yet” but that Washington “can’t be patient forever.”

The 15-nation Security Council approved Resolution 1540 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which opens the door to punitive actions, such as sanctions, to enforce the resolution. Although Semmel said the United States did not “envision enforcement” as being necessary, he added, “We, of course, will revisit this view if it becomes evident that countries are not taking their [Resolution] 1540 obligations seriously or are ignoring their responsibility to put in place the legal and regulatory infrastructure required under the resolution.”

If governments have concerns about their abilities to live up to the resolution, they are encouraged to seek outside assistance. No capitals have yet asked for U.S. advice or aid.

Some countries have reportedly claimed that the resolution is irrelevant to them because they lack weapons of mass destruction or related materials and technology that could be used to make such arms.

Washington considers this view shortsighted because of the growing spread of advanced technologies; the interconnectedness of the world economy; and proliferators’ skills at using front companies, false end-use destinations, and shipment routes through countries with weak trade regulations. “Proliferators, like those involved in the Khan network, have shown their cunning in using not the quickest or most cost-effective routes to ply their dangerous trade, but in seeking the path of least resistance,” Semmel declared. Led by Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Khan black market network is suspected of having incorporated entities stretching from western Europe to Southeast Asia to hawk nuclear contraband to Libya, Iran, North Korea, and possibly others. (See ACT, March 2004.)

A special committee, chaired by Romania and including representatives from all other current Security Council members, is responsible for assessing implementation of the resolution. The committee is currently working to hire six experts to help evaluate the national reports.

Although the U.S. official said Washington hoped the experts would be selected by the end of November, a Romanian government official implied in a Nov. 10 interview with Arms Control Today that the process might not be completed until December. The Romanian official also gave a more upbeat assessment about the number of reports submitted, describing it as a “good response.”

A month-long delay in choosing the experts would likely not sit well with the United States, which is already concerned that the time to hold governments accountable under the resolution is rapidly dwindling. The committee’s lifespan, which can be extended, is set to expire in April 2006.

The U.S. worry is, in part, a problem of its own making. Washington lobbied for a specific time limit for the committee because of its opposition to creating any additional permanent UN bureaucracy.

Russia, U.S. Bolster Regional Nuclear Security Following Terrorist Attacks

Claire Applegarth

A series of recent terrorist attacks in Beslan and Moscow attributed to Chechen rebels have spurred the United States and the Kremlin to step up activities to guard Russia’s high-risk nuclear materials.

The Russian Atomic Energy Agency announced Sept. 1 that Russia had moved additional troops to guard dozens of its nuclear facilities in the wake of the attacks, which included the seizure of a school in North Ossetia, a suicide bombing in Moscow, and the downing of two Russian airplanes. The announcement, reported by Reuters, did not specify the number of troops dispatched or the names of nuclear facilities slated to receive the additional security.

The United States did not formally respond to the report of the Russian troop movement, but Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton alluded to the liability posed by loosely guarded Russian reactors in a Geneva press conference Sept. 10. He said that “the recent tragedy in Beslan is a good example of the risk that they [the Russians] fully understand: that if terrorist groups are capable of carrying out that kind of operation, how much more horrible it would be if such a terrorist group got a nuclear weapon.”

In its most recent threat reduction effort in the region, the U.S. Department of Energy successfully returned 11 kilograms of enriched uranium fuel to a secure Russian facility from Uzbekistan on Sept. 9. Approximately three kilograms of the uranium consisted of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which could be used to make a nuclear bomb. The U.S.-funded retrieval project was completed under the Energy Department’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI).

The mission is the fifth such Russian fuel repatriation project undertaken since 2002, following removals in Bulgaria, Libya, Romania, and Serbia. In total, however, 20 sites in 17 countries have been identified as possessing Russian or Soviet-origin fuel that needs to be retrieved. The Energy Department aims to repatriate all fresh HEU fuel of Russian origin to Russia by the end of 2005 and all spent fuel by 2010.

The threat of nuclear theft became a central point of discussion during the Global Threat Reduction Initiative Partners’ Conference in Vienna, Austria, Sept. 18-19. Russian Atomic Energy Agency head Alexander Rumyantsev urged the nearly 600 delegates attending from more than 90 countries to “consistently and constantly improve the complex of measures aimed at ensuring nuclear and physical security.” Rumyantsev reported to Agence France-Presse Sept. 15 that Russian officials have managed to recover small quantities of weapons-grade uranium stolen over the past 25 years but that greater cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and foreign governments is needed to prevent future theft.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told attendees at the conference that countries with nuclear materials “must…be the responsible custodians of these materials and the facilities in which they are located.” He also stated that the United States has helped eliminate 216 metric tons of HEU, has secured 43 percent of unspecified weapons-usable material in Russia, and anticipates securing all Russian navy nuclear-warhead sites by the end of 2006.


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