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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Threat Reduction / Nunn-Lugar

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China
China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France
France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

Russia
According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India
India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Israel
Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan
Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Assessing Threats: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit—Remarks By Greg Thielmann to DIAA/DCOR

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Assessing Threats: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

By Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association
Presentation to the Defense Intelligence Alumni Association and
the Diplomats and Consular Officers Retired

Washington, DC
July 27, 2016

In devising a title for my presentation today, I borrowed a phrase popularized by Graham Allison in his 1971 book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Essence of Decision.  I suspect that every public policy student in the 1970s is familiar with it: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

As everyone in this audience appreciates, the “rational actor model” does not explain everything that happens inside government or between nation-states.  So even though the discipline of intelligence analysis is built on an ethos of objectivity, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to argue that assessing threats is no exception to Allison’s aphorism.  I’d like to reflect on some threat assessments I’ve witnessed during my career in the executive and legislative branches of government. 

Backing into Threat Assessment

I backed into threat assessment in my first full-time job with the federal government.  Having just received my Masters Degree in Public Policy, I was hired as a budget examiner in the National Security Division of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  My task was to monitor a $4 billion line item, Navy Research and Development, and look for ways to save money on the function.  (Where I sat certainly influenced where I stood on assessing the threat!)

One of the things that I learned very quickly was that nearly all U.S. Navy R&D spending was then being justified by the need to stay ahead of Soviet military forces.  The Soviets were assessed to pose the only serious challenge to the U.S. Navy for control of the seas and for forcing entry on land.  I was told that Soviet warships were newer than America’s; they were armed with faster torpedoes and more capable surface-to-surface missiles; Soviet submarines were more numerous than their American counterparts; they could dive deeper and travel faster, and were double-hulled and hence less vulnerable to attack. Soviet anti-aircraft defenses were described as the most formidable in the world, and Soviet Backfire medium-range bombers could actually fly all the way to the continental U.S.

Exaggerating the Threat

As I gradually learned about the numerous advantages the U.S. and its allies enjoyed in the maritime realm over the Warsaw Pact, I became suspicious of the way the way the Soviet threat was being portrayed, and began to realize two things about DoD characterizations of foreign threats.

  • First, senior DoD officials and military commanders lean toward prudent worst-case analyses, and justifiably so because underestimating an enemy can be disastrous if deterrence fails and war occurs.
  • Second, OSD and the U.S. military have a vested, bureaucratic interest in exaggerating foreign capabilities to Congress, because doing so tends to increase appropriations for defense.

It was, therefore, unsurprising that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the service intelligence agencies would paint the threat in more dire terms than the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the State Department’s intelligence bureau, INR.  The latter two entities, I concluded, were consistently more objective in characterizing the threat.

After two years in OMB, I began a 25-year career in the Foreign Service, often working in political-military jobs at home and abroad.  In two of my last three tours working for the State Department, I served in INR, where assessing nuclear threats was my principal focus.

My exposure to the U.S. intelligence community, both at State and later on the Senate Intelligence Committee, contributed to my current view that national threat assessments, though dominated by the supposedly unbiased criteria of the CIA, were also skewed toward “worst case” outcomes rather than those judged “most likely.”

One of my “take-aways” from witnessing the threat estimation process up-close over the years was that even the CIA had a vested interest in exaggerating threats:

  • After all, the more dangerous the world, the more necessary it was to have a large and powerful intelligence establishment; and
  • An organization that warns against all manner of calamities is more likely to be able to claim “I told you so” if something bad happens.

Worst-Case Thinking

I think we can all agree that nasty surprises send huge shock waves throughout the national security establishment.  The mother of all such surprises was, of course, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But there have been other notable examples since then -- China’s intervention in the Korean War in 1950, the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Tet Offensive in 1968, and the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.  Indeed, any intelligence analyst’s worst nightmare is failing to provide advanced warning of an adversary’s capability (or plan) to strike.  

And there hasn’t really been any bureaucratic penalty for over-estimating the threat, as the United States did during much of the Cold War – at least not until the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Iraq WMD Fiasco

The second U.S. war against Iraq was justified by the need to stop Saddam Hussein’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  But, of course, we all now know that Saddam’s WMD had been eliminated before the invasion and his ability to reconstitute his WMD programs had been effectively stymied by the UN.

Political Pandering

I realized then that I had underestimated the willingness of the Director of Central Intelligence and other intelligence officials to support the political desires of the White House.  Daily access to President George W. Bush by the DCI and the rapport between them was important to George Tenet.  The numerous visits of Vice President Dick Cheney to CIA had an impact on the agency’s product.  So did the establishment of a DoD Undersecretary for Intelligence, which created a mechanism for bypassing the intelligence community to deliver unvetted intelligence information to the president.

One of the keystones to the Bush administration’s case that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program came from intercepting a delivery of high-strength aluminum tubes to Iraq.  The CIA said these tubes were intended to be used for centrifuges in the production of highly enriched uranium, a critical material used for nuclear weapons.  The Department of Energy, which operated U.S. nuclear weapons labs, correctly assessed that the tubes were not suitable for centrifuges.  (They were actually being used to manufacture artillery rockets.)  INR concurred.

The CIA also assessed that Saddam was importing “yellow cake” from Niger that was needed to manufacture the uranium hexafluoride, which would be fed into the centrifuges.  DOE and INR again challenged the validity of these reports, based on technical analysis and country expertise.

The judgments of the best experts in the U.S. Government on these issues were key to INR’s critical dissent in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD Program.  But when the day arrived to finalize (“coordinate”) the estimate, DOE sided with the 15 other members of the intelligence community, delivering what the White House wanted -- the conclusion that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.  INR was thus left to stand alone in disagreeing with the most important judgment in the estimate.  And INR registered it in a conspicuous dissent on the bottom of page one of the Executive Summary at the bottom of the  one-page summary of the estimate that went to the president.

Congressional Cowardice

The U.S. Congress and the press failed to rigorously examine the intelligence on which the administration’s allegations were based.  (The head of INR was never asked to explain his bureau’s dissent in hearings on the NIE held by Congress.)  By mid-October of 2002, following a brief debate, the Congress authorized the use of force against Iraq – an action many Members of Congress hoped would persuade Saddam to allow the return of UN inspectors.  This pressure, backed by a UN Security Council resolution in November, was successful.  The inspectors returned at the end of the month, resumed on-cite inspections, and began filling in the information, which had been absent since their expulsion in 1998.  But their findings over the next three months were spurned by the administration and largely ignored by Congress and the press. 

Legacies

The invasion was launched in March 2003, but no WMD was found.  The baleful legacy for the Middle East and the U.S. in terms of lives lost and treasure squandered is continuing to be felt, both at home and abroad.  And the decision to invade has now been labeled by people from both political parties as one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in post-Cold War history.

Although the systemic failures ultimately led to a significant reform of the U.S. intelligence community structure and process, those administration officials who were culpable for willfully distorting an already flawed intelligence product were never held to account – either at the polls or in their privileged government positions.

So too did most in Congress escape retribution for their dereliction of duty in failing to revisit the previous year’s authorization to use military force before the invasion.  (In my admittedly biased view, it should have been clear in February 2003 to anyone paying close attention that every evidentiary pillar of support for the administration’s case was collapsing.) 

The Fantasical Thinking of Star Wars

Another insight about threat estimates I’ve gained over the years was the inability of many politicians and military officials to put themselves in the shoes of their adversaries.  This means that decisions made on military measures to meet the threat frequently do not adequately consider either the adversary’s perspective or likely response.

The classical case for me is the U.S. decision in 2002 to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.  That treaty, then 30 years old, had created specific limits on defenses against strategic offensive ballistic missiles, a necessary condition for securing and sustaining reductions in U.S. and Soviet (or Russian) nuclear weapons.  The ABM Treaty had facilitated the limits and reductions achieved by the SALT and START processes.

Moreover, negotiators had agreed on a protocol to the ABM Treaty, which established a dividing line between the strategic missile defense interceptors limited in the treaty, and the theater and tactical missile defense interceptors, which would not affect the strategic balance.  Hence, Patriot and THAAD interceptors, which are used to blunt the effectiveness of ballistic missile use against troop formations, port facilities, air bases, and other point targets, could be produced and deployed without limits under the ABM Treaty.

But when the U.S. revoked the ABM Treaty, the Russians refused to ratify the terms of START II – a treaty on strategic offensive systems, which, among other things, would have eliminated all multiple warheads on Russian ICBMs.  Russia reacted as the U.S. did when faced with Soviet strategic defenses in the 1960s; it increased its strategic offensive efforts to compensate and safeguard the viability of its nuclear deterrent.

The intelligence community has been very reticent to include in its threat assessments the obvious point that strategic missile defense deployments lead to strategic missile offense deployments.  There is no empirical evidence that strategic missile defenses discourage proliferators as its proponents assert – whether it is Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea, or Iran.  And yet, the policy community moves forward with what one missile defense proponent this month termed: “the long-running principled opposition to ‘reject any negotiated restraints’ on missile defenses. 

The Perfidious Persians

In my third and most recent historical example, I find evidence of both assessment problems I’ve wanted to highlight.  In describing  Iran’s ballistic missile program over the last two decades, the U.S. Government has both overestimated the technological threat and underestimated Iran’s determination to thwart U.S. policy on ballistic missiles. 

Ballistic Missile Balderdash I

I go back aways on this issue.  One of my most interesting professional endeavors was to participate in coordination of a 1999 National Intelligence Estimate on the Foreign Ballistic Missile Threat.  This estimate constituted an official reaction to the extremely influential report on the ballistic missile threat in the previous year of the Rumsfeld Commission.  That commission essentially predicted in the spring of 1998 that, within five years, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran would be able to develop ICBMs (a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead 5,500+ km).  An attempted North Korean launch of a satellite a few months later seemed to many to validate Rumsfeld’s dire forecast.

The 1999 NIE assessed that a North Korean ICBM could be launched at any time, an Iranian or Iraqi ICBM could be launched between 2005 and 2010.  In terms of likelihood, the estimate judged that, by 2015: a North Korean ICBM was most likely, an Iranian ICBM was probable; an Iraqi ICBM was possible.

The Rumsfeld Commission report and the NIE helped kill the ABM Treaty and, as collateral damage, the START II agreement.  They helped solidify the congressional view of U.S. missile defense requirements that has lasted 17 years.  They were also spectacularly wrong.  None of these three countries has fielded an ICBM.  When Iraq was invaded in 2003, it was working on a 200 km range ballistic missile. North Korea has come closest, with several launches of a large space rocket that could be used as the basis for developing an ICBM, but the only type of “ICBMs” it has paraded have never flown.  Iran has never tested a missile with a range over 2,000 km. The U.S. military now says that Iran could field an ICBM as soon as 2020, but it is unlikely to have a nuclear warhead for 10-15 years, because of the Iran nuclear deal.

Of course, having squirmed in the uncomfortable position of dissenting from the majority estimates during my years as an intelligence analyst, I jumped on the chance to remind the public in the summer of 2003 (after retiring from the State Department) that Rumsfeld’s five years had expired, asking: where are the ICBMs?  I also enjoyed authoring an Arms Control Association blogpost in 2013, facetiously asking: “What Kind of Glasses Do You Need to See Iranian ICBMs?”

Ballistic Missile Balderdash II

As if exaggerating Iran’s missile prowess was not enough, we now seem to be implying that the Iranians are acting irresponsibly and deceitfully in improving their short- and medium-range ballistic missile force.  This failure to understand and predict Iranian behavior may be more appropriately blamed on the Congress and the press, but both have been aided and abetted by the intelligence community’s silence. 

In the 8-year war that started with Iraq’s invasion of Iran, Saddam Hussein had weapons superiority over Iran across the spectrum: more modern aircraft, missiles, and tanks – and in greater quantities; and an arsenal of chemical weapons along with a willingness to use them.  It was Iraq, which initiated the ballistic missile attacks against Iranian cities.  It was Iraq, which violated the 1925 Protocol against chemical weapons use.  Yet the West supported Iraq in the conflict.

To expect Iran not only to accept the Iran nuclear deal, but also a ban on all medium-range conventionally-armed ballistic missiles, is extremely naïve.  Such missiles are Iran’s only direct deterrent against nuclear-armed Israel.  Moreover, they serve to counterbalance -- although only in small measure – the much larger and more modern air forces of potential enemies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S.

Yet the tenor of discussion in Washington about the Iran nuclear deal gives the impression that this agreement between Iran and the P5+1 includes limits on ballistic missiles.  Politicians assert incorrectly that Iran is “violating” the deal and/or acting irresponsibly as a regional power to even test missiles with ranges over 300 km.  Was anyone in the intelligence community expecting the Iranians to abandon their medium-range missile program?  Did anyone in the IC fail to understand the compromise resulting in watered down language on ballistic missiles in the new UN Security Council resolution?   Well, I guess the answers to these rhetorical questions are classified, but I think the answer to both is “no.”

Lessons

My point in these case studies is not to suggest that prognostication is easy or that I have a perfect track record.  (In fact, I joke about my good luck that some of my correct calls have been publicized, while my mistakes remain classified.)

But I would advise that, before one relies on threat assessments, it is wise to ask about the track record of the assessor, to ask for the kind of evidence on which projections are based, and the probability attached to whatever horrendous outcome the assessor says is possible.  Finally, one must look realistically at how the adversary will respond to U.S. actions.  Otherwise, if we’re not careful, we will prepare for a future that is very unlikely – and in a way, which leads to an outcome that leaves us worse off than before. 

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In relying on threat assessments, it is wise to ask about the track records, evidence, and probabilities.

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

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Volume 8, Issue 1, April 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

Disappointing Budget Request

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

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

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

The drop is even steeper when measured against what the NNSA projected it would request for these programs in its fiscal year 2016 submission, which was issued in February 2015. The agency had said it planned to ask for $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017, or roughly $185 million more than the actual proposal.

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

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

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

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

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

An Energy Department task force report on NNSA nonproliferation programs released last year expressed concern about the recent trend of falling budgets for those programs (see chart). “The need to counter current and likely future challenges to nonproliferation justifies increased, rather than reduced, investment in this area,” the report said.

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

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

Reinvigorating Congressional Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

###

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

Description: 

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

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Most U.S.-Russian Nuclear Work Ends

March 2015

By Kingston Reif

Former Senator Sam Nunn (D.-Ga.), left, and Senator Richard Lugar (R.-Ind) attend a symposium in Washington on December 3, 2012, on cooperative threat reduction. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)After months of signals that U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 was in jeopardy, most work in that area now has ended, according to news reports and Energy Department budget documents. But some limited work will continue in 2015, according to Energy Department officials.

In a meeting last December in Moscow, Russian officials informed their U.S. counterparts that Moscow was ending U.S. cooperation with Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, and U.S. access to Rosatom facilities, the Boston Globe reported Jan. 19.

Joint work to upgrade the security of eight Rosatom sites containing weapons-usable nuclear material “will not be completed with U.S. funding, due to Russia’s discontinuation of this joint work,” according to the Energy Department’s detailed justification of its budget request for fiscal year 2016. Joint work to sustain previous upgrades also is ending, said the document, which was released Feb. 2.

The document states that U.S. support for efforts to convert reactors in Russia that still use highly enriched uranium (HEU) to use low-enriched uranium will continue but be limited to the six pilot reactors that are part of a 2010 agreement between the Energy Department and Rosatom. “The U.S. role in additional reactor conversion cooperation in Russia is anticipated to be limited to only technical exchanges,” the document said.

The Globe article reported that the United States will also no longer provide money to install radiation detectors at Russian ports, airports, and border crossings to deter and detect nuclear smuggling.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have cooperated on an array of nuclear weapons dismantlement, material security, and nonproliferation activities inside Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union. These efforts have been pursued primarily under the auspices of the U.S. Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs.

In June 2013, Russia and the United States agreed to a pared-down replacement for the old CTR agreement. The new arrangement allowed the Energy Department to continue nuclear security activities with Rosatom, but terminated activities involving the Russian Ministry of Defense. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) Many of the activities with Rosatom were scheduled to continue through 2018.

In a Jan. 22 statement, Rosatom said that it would “be ready to return to the cooperation when the American side is ready for that, and certainly, strictly on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, and respect.”

In a Feb. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Energy Department spokesman Derrick Robinson said Russia will fund the security work the Energy Department had been planning to carry out.

Despite the end of work with Rosatom, some cooperative activities would continue, including the repatriation of Russian-origin HEU from third countries, security work with a number of non-Rosatom nuclear sites, and bilateral exchanges on topics such as nuclear security culture and transportation security, Robinson said.

Congress voted last December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia. (See ACT, January/February 2015.) It is not clear from the budget documents how much money, if any, the Energy Department requested for work inside Russia in fiscal year 2016.

In a Jan. 23 Washington Post op-ed, former Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) described Russia’s decision to cut off most aspects of its nuclear security cooperation with the United States as “short-sighted” and “a major setback in the global effort to secure nuclear materials.”

Nunn and Lugar co-sponsored the legislation that established cooperative threat reduction efforts with Russia in the early 1990s.

After months of signals that U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 was in jeopardy, most work in that area now has stopped.

White House Reviewing Nuclear Budget

March 2015

By Kingston Reif

After months of signals that U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 was in jeopardy, most work in that area now has ended, according to news reports and Energy Department budget documents. But some limited work will continue in 2015, according to Energy Department officials.

In a meeting last December in Moscow, Russian officials informed their U.S. counterparts that Moscow was ending U.S. cooperation with Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, and U.S. access to Rosatom facilities, the Boston Globe reported Jan. 19.

Joint work to upgrade the security of eight Rosatom sites containing weapons-usable nuclear material “will not be completed with U.S. funding, due to Russia’s discontinuation of this joint work,” according to the Energy Department’s detailed justification of its budget request for fiscal year 2016. Joint work to sustain previous upgrades also is ending, said the document, which was released Feb. 2.

The document states that U.S. support for efforts to convert reactors in Russia that still use highly enriched uranium (HEU) to use low-enriched uranium will continue but be limited to the six pilot reactors that are part of a 2010 agreement between the Energy Department and Rosatom. “The U.S. role in additional reactor conversion cooperation in Russia is anticipated to be limited to only technical exchanges,” the document said.

The Globe article reported that the United States will also no longer provide money to install radiation detectors at Russian ports, airports, and border crossings to deter and detect nuclear smuggling.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have cooperated on an array of nuclear weapons dismantlement, material security, and nonproliferation activities inside Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union. These efforts have been pursued primarily under the auspices of the U.S. Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs.

In June 2013, Russia and the United States agreed to a pared-down replacement for the old CTR agreement. The new arrangement allowed the Energy Department to continue nuclear security activities with Rosatom, but terminated activities involving the Russian Ministry of Defense. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) Many of the activities with Rosatom were scheduled to continue through 2018.

In a Jan. 22 statement, Rosatom said that it would “be ready to return to the cooperation when the American side is ready for that, and certainly, strictly on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, and respect.”

In a Feb. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Energy Department spokesman Derrick Robinson said Russia will fund the security work the Energy Department had been planning to carry out.

Despite the end of work with Rosatom, some cooperative activities would continue, including the repatriation of Russian-origin HEU from third countries, security work with a number of non-Rosatom nuclear sites, and bilateral exchanges on topics such as nuclear security culture and transportation security, Robinson said.

Congress voted last December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia. (See ACT, January/February 2015.) It is not clear from the budget documents how much money, if any, the Energy Department requested for work inside Russia in fiscal year 2016.

In a Jan. 23 Washington Post op-ed, former Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) described Russia’s decision to cut off most aspects of its nuclear security cooperation with the United States as “short-sighted” and “a major setback in the global effort to secure nuclear materials.”

Nunn and Lugar co-sponsored the legislation that established cooperative threat reduction efforts with Russia in the early 1990s.

Hill Withholds Funds for Work in Russia

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) talks with reporters as he walks to the Senate floor for the start of a series of votes on December 12, 2014, the day that the Senate voted to approve the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2015. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)Congress voted in December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia amid uncertainty about the future of collaborative efforts between Washington and Moscow in that area.

Lawmakers also voted to significantly curtail Defense Department Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs in Russia.

Despite the decision not to fund the budget request for the Energy Department programs, unspent money within the department’s nonproliferation account will allow activities in Russia to continue if Moscow agrees to such cooperation, a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer said in a Dec. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

These provisions were part of the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations and defense authorization bills, both of which Congress passed in December at the end of the 113th Congress. Fiscal year 2015 started on Oct. 1, 2014, and runs until Sept. 30.

Of the money Congress withheld for Energy Department work in Russia, $25.4 million was taken from the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), and $66.9 million was subtracted from the International Material Protection and Cooperation (IMPC) program.

In his e-mail, the Senate staffer said that there is enough unspent money left over from previous years’ appropriations and the spending bill that funded the government from Oct. 1 through mid-December to “complete activities” in fiscal year 2015 “and start new activities” if Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz approves them. According to budget figures shown to Arms Control Today, roughly $100 million remains available to continue work in Russia by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in fiscal year 2015.

Congress also put constraints on the Defense Department’s nuclear security work in Russia. The defense bill prohibits funding for CTR programs in Russia beyond fiscal year 2015 without specific authorization from Congress. “[T]he traditional manner in which the program’s activities have been carried out in the Russian Federation is no longer necessary and no longer sustainable,” said the explanatory report accompanying the bill. “[S]ecuring and destroying nuclear weapons and nuclear material is now a Russian responsibility and one that the United States should no longer fund without Russian cooperation,” the report added.

The decline in congressional support for nuclear security work in Russia comes as Moscow has taken steps to wind down cooperation with the United States, putting the future of such cooperation in doubt. (See ACT, December 2014.)

The omnibus bill provided funding above the budget request for other nuclear security efforts, including an extra $32 million to complete installation of fixed detection equipment to prevent nuclear smuggling at vulnerable border crossings, airports, and small seaports in key countries around Russia and in high-threat areas in the Middle East. The bill also added funds to accelerate efforts to develop a new generation of warhead monitoring technologies and improve capabilities to detect low-yield nuclear tests.

Despite these increases, the final spending level for Energy Department nonproliferation work fell far short of what the Senate appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which funds the department’s nuclear security programs, approved in July. The full appropriations committee and the full Senate never voted on that bill. Although the subcommittee provided about $825 million, well above the budget request of $638 million for the GTRI and IMPC programs, the omnibus bill reduced their funding to $597 million.

Instead, the final funding levels for the GTRI and IMPC programs mirror those approved by the House, which withheld funding for work in Russia and funded other activities at roughly the same level as the budget request.

In the Dec. 19 e-mail, the Senate staffer said that increasing the funding for nonproliferation activities in the omnibus bill “was an uphill battle” for a number of reasons, including the Obama administration’s “inadequate” fiscal year 2015 budget request for nonproliferation “and uncertainty about the future of some of these nonproliferation programs.” In August, 26 senators sent a letter to the White House criticizing the administration’s proposed cuts to nonproliferation programs over the last several years. (See ACT, September 2014.)

Signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 16, the omnibus appropriations bill is a $1.1 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government operating. The bill provides funding for agencies covered by 11 of the appropriations bills for the remainder of the fiscal year and continues spending at last year’s funding levels for the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 27.

The $577 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which Obama signed Dec. 19, establishes spending ceilings and sets policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities.

Overall, the omnibus bill includes approximately $8.2 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the NNSA, an increase of roughly $406 million from last year’s funding level.

New Cruise Missile Funded

The omnibus bill includes a compromise between the Senate and House to provide $9.4 million, the amount the NNSA had requested, to study a refurbishment of the warhead for the nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). The funding figure essentially split the difference between the House, which initially approved $17 million for the study, and the Senate, which provided no funding for the concept study. (See ACT, November 2014.)

According to the Senate staffer, the bill makes no commitment to ultimately fund a life extension program for the ALCM warhead. The bill mandates that before the NNSA moves beyond the concept study phase, the NNSA must provide Congress with a report on the military requirements and preliminary cost and schedule estimates for a refurbishment effort.

The omnibus bill also requires the defense secretary to submit a report to Congress “describing the requirements, anticipated missions, programmed funding by fiscal year, and current program schedule” for the new missile that will carry the refurbished warhead. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2015 budget request delayed the new missile program by three years. According to an aide for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the outgoing chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, the “general intent” of the report “is to have [the Defense Department] better explain” the acquisition strategy for the new missile program.

Meanwhile, the defense authorization bill dilutes provisions in the original House bill regarding the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), Russia’s alleged noncompliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, and the maintenance of U.S. Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos. The House bill barred the spending of any money to carry out the reductions required by New START until Russia met a number of conditions, including “respecting the sovereignty of all Ukrainian territory.” The final bill merely requires a report from the Defense Department stating the reasons that continued implementation of New START is in the national security interests of the United States.

Similarly, the House bill required the Defense Department to prepare a plan for developing new U.S. intermediate-range missiles in response to Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation, but the final bill asks for a report on steps being taken or planned by the department to respond to the violation (see story below). Moreover, while the House bill demanded the maintenance of 450 operational Minuteman III ICBM silos without an end date for that requirement, the final bill requires the maintenance of the silos only until 2021.

Missile Defense Scrutinized

Personnel at the Missile Defense Integration and Operation Center on Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado work at the test control facility during the flight test of a ground-based interceptor on June 22, 2014. (Missile Defense Agency)The defense bill includes provisions to strengthen congressional oversight of U.S. missile defense programs. One section requires that prior to production or deployment of “a new or substantially upgraded interceptor or weapon system of the ballistic missile defense system,” the defense secretary must ensure “sufficient and operationally realistic testing” of the system and that the testing results demonstrate “a high probability” that the system “will work in an operationally effective manner.” The provision also requires the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation to provide an assessment of the “sufficiency, adequacy, and results of the testing.”

Another section requires the defense secretary to commission an independent study on the testing program of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The study must include “an assessment of whether the currently planned testing program” for the missile system “is sufficient to establish reasonable confidence that the…system has a high probability of performing reliably and effectively.”

Plagued by rushed development, cost overruns, and test failures, the GMD system is designed to protect the United States from limited missile attacks by Iran and North Korea. A total of 30 interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California. The Pentagon is planning to deploy an additional 14 interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017.

Overall, the omnibus bill provided $1.1 billion for the GMD system, including $43 million more than the administration requested to upgrade the Capability Enhancement II kill vehicle. The bill also funded the administration’s $99.5 million request to begin work on a redesigned kill vehicle for the system. (See ACT, July/August 2014.)

Congress voted in December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia...

Future of Some U.S.-Russia Work in Doubt

November 2014

By Kingston Reif and Kelsey Davenport

Russia and the United States are continuing to cooperate on key elements of global nuclear threat reduction, but the future of collaborative efforts between the two countries remains uncertain.

In comments last month, current and former U.S. officials said cooperation in some key areas is in doubt after the end of this year.

Containers of highly enriched uranium fuel are prepared for transport to Russia from Almaty, Kazakhstan, on September 29. (Sandor Miklos Tozser/IAEA)In one of the areas of ongoing cooperation, Russia and the United States worked together in late September to assist with the removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Poland and Kazakhstan. The Russian-origin HEU was shipped back to that country for secure storage and elimination.

Janusz Wlodarski, president of Poland’s National Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in September that Poland’s remaining HEU will be shipped back to Russia in 2016. The Polish research reactors that previously ran on HEU now use only low-enriched uranium (LEU), he said.

Operators of the cargo ship that transported the HEU to Russia reported on Sept. 29 that the material reached Russia and was transferred to railroad cars for transport to a reprocessing plant. Poland did not disclose the amount of HEU in the shipment.

More than 10 kilograms of HEU from a research reactor near Almaty, Kazakhstan, were also returned to Russia for secure storage on Sept. 29, the IAEA said Oct. 2. The agency, which assisted in the removal, said that the reactor is being converted to run on LEU.

According to the IAEA, since 2002, Russia and the United States have worked in cooperation with the agency to transfer more than 2,100 kilograms of Soviet-origin HEU from 14 countries back to Russia, where it is secured or down-blended into LEU.

In an Oct. 9 interview with Arms Control Today, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, cited examples of “very solid” nuclear security cooperation with Russia, but expressed concern that because of the ongoing Ukraine crisis, Russia does not seem to be “thinking beyond the end of 2014 about continuing expansive threat reduction cooperation.”

At an Oct. 29 briefing for reporters, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, head of the Department of Energy’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, said nuclear security cooperation between Russia and the United States beyond the end of the year depends largely on the results of an ongoing internal Russian review.

Matthew Bunn, a former adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy who is now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, cited the recent HEU removals as part of “a long-standing effort to reduce the security risks posed by Russian-supplied HEU around the world that would not be possible without Russian cooperation.” Moscow and Washington have so far been saying that this cooperation should continue despite the tensions over Ukraine, but “[c]ooperation within Russia faces more uncertainty at present,” Bunn said in an Oct. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have cooperated on an array of nuclear weapons dismantlement, material security, and nonproliferation activities inside Russia. These efforts have been pursued primarily under the auspices of the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs.

In June 2013, Russia and the United States agreed to a pared-down replacement for the old CTR agreement. The new pact allows nuclear security activities in Russia to continue, but discontinues activities involving the Russian Ministry of Defense. (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

Bunn, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, warned that nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 is now in doubt, as all the work specified in current contracts finishes at the end of the year. “What kind of cooperation will continue after that is very much up in the air,” he said.

For Russian and U.S. security, “[t]he worst outcome…would be no cooperation,” he said.

Funding for U.S. nuclear security work with and inside Russia has been a contentious issue on Capitol Hill this year. The House-passed appropriations bill that funds the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs “provides no funds to enter into new contracts or agreements in the Russian Federation in fiscal year 2015” until the secretary of energy “reassess[es]” the Energy Department’s “engagement” with Russia and certifies that cooperative work with Russia is “in the national security interest of the United States.” Also, the bill redirects unspent fiscal year 2014 funds for nonproliferation projects in Russia to nonproliferation work elsewhere.

In addition, the House-passed version of the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions prohibiting the Defense Department from engaging in “cooperative threat reduction activities” with Russia and bars the Energy Department from funding “any contact, cooperation, or transfer of technology” between Russia and the United States on nuclear security. The provisions include waivers that would allow the executive branch to continue cooperation after certifying that the work is in the U.S. national interest.

The Obama administration strongly opposes House efforts to curtail cooperation with Russia. In statements on the appropriations and defense authorization bills, the administration stated that “[c]ooperation with Russia remains an essential element to the global effort to address the threat posed by nuclear terrorism. Critical bilateral nuclear nonproliferation activities are continuing in a number of key areas, and nuclear security is of paramount importance.”

In contrast to the House, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Energy Department’s nuclear security programs provided about $50 million above the fiscal year 2015 budget request of $305 million for the materials protection account.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee version of the defense authorization bill does not impose restrictions on U.S. nuclear security cooperation with Russia. The bill includes a provision restricting all bilateral security cooperation with Russia funded by the Pentagon, but according to a Senate staffer, the provision exempts the department’s CTR work in Russia from this restriction.

The full Senate has yet to pass either bill.

The vast majority of U.S. nuclear security work in Russia is led by the Energy Department. Its cooperative activities with Russia include returning Russian-origin HEU to Russia from third countries and improving security at Russian nuclear material sites. The Pentagon’s nuclear cooperative work with Russia has diminished in recent years, but still includes technical exchanges on nuclear weapons security topics and dismantling retired Russian nuclear submarines.

Congress left Washington in September without reconciling the differences between the House and Senate bills. It is unclear whether and, if so, when Congress will pass final authorization and appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2015.

Although Russia and the United States are continuing to work together on global nuclear threat reduction, the future of their collaborative efforts after the end of this year remains uncertain.

Nunn-Lugar Program Scaled Back

Daniel Horner and Tom Z. Collina

Russia and the United States on June 14 agreed to a pared-down replacement for a 1992 pact that formed the basis of their joint efforts to control or destroy Russian weapons of mass destruction and related material and delivery vehicles.

The Obama administration described the new pact as a recalibrated extension of the old agreement. But some current and former congressional staffers said they saw it more as the sunset of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, commonly known by the names of the authors of the 1991 legislation that established the effort, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

The new accord replaces the so-called CTR umbrella agreement, which expired June 17.

Cooperation between the two countries will continue “in a broad array of nuclear security and nonproliferation areas,” such as security of nuclear and radiological material and conversion of research reactors from using highly enriched to low-enriched uranium fuel, according to a June 19 State Department summary of the agreement. But Russia “will assume the costs [of] and complete without further U.S. assistance” two main parts of the CTR effort—destruction of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons—the summary said.

That shift is reflected in the roster of “executive agents” listed in the agreement. For Russia, the list includes the State Corporation for Atomic Energy, commonly known as Rosatom, which is the principal Russian agency for the work on nuclear materials security and nonproliferation, but does not include the Ministry of Defense, which was responsible for the work on ballistic missiles, or the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which was the main Russian agency for CTR work on chemical weapons destruction.

For the U.S. side, the executive agents are the Energy and Defense departments. The June 19 summary includes the State Department on its list of agencies that “will remain involved.”

The new agreement “reflects the evolution” of the U.S.-Russian partnership, the summary said. In a June 25 interview, a State Department official said that the effort has developed into “more of an equal partnership” than it was at its inception. Russia is “more comfortable” with that form of the relationship, and so is the United States, the official said.

Russian media reported last year that Moscow may not want to continue the CTR agreement at all because it no longer needs Washington’s financial assistance to carry out the program and does not want to risk revealing sensitive information to the United States. According to Western experts, Moscow had resented being dependent on Washington to pay for securing its own weapons.

The State Department official said that some parts of the program are “winding down,” but described the new agreement as a “continuation of the relationship, just in a different form.”

In a June 17 statement, Nunn, who is now co-chairman and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, acknowledged that “key elements of what we have known as Nunn-Lugar will not be carried forward under this umbrella agreement” and said that “[w]e must find ways beyond this agreement to work together” on issues relating to weapons of mass destruction.

Thomas Moore, a former Lugar staffer who is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a June 21 interview that the joint effort “was going to end sometime, and now it has.” The new agreement “marks the final chapter in the end of the Cold War,” he said.

A Republican congressional staffer expressed a similar view in a June 25 e-mail to Arms Control Today, saying that “[t]he programs that are ending are largely completed, at least as much as the Russians are going to allow us to do. And those that are continuing should continue. Do I have confidence that the Russians will match our standards? No. But I hope they will be good enough. I don’t see that we have any option.”

Paul Walker, a former House Armed Services Committee staffer who heads the environmental security and sustainability program at Global Green USA, had a mixed response. In a June 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he said the new agreement is “a positive step forward,” but he cautioned that “there…remain thousands of nuclear warheads and millions of chemical weapons to dismantle, as well as hundreds of strategic launch systems.”

“Russia no doubt decided that the meager funds weren’t worth the foreign intrusion at their most sensitive military sites,” said Walker, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.

He said he hoped that Russia and the United States “can still work out bilateral agreements specific to projects, for example, to finish construction at the chemical weapons destruction facilities at Shchuch’ye and Kizner so that Russia does not continue to fall behind in [its] destruction schedule.”

The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond by press time to a request for comment.

In addition to the programmatic changes, a key difference between the new agreement and its predecessor is in its liability provisions.

Under the original agreement, the U.S. government and its contractors were shielded from virtually all liability for accidents that could occur under the program’s work in Russia. In 2006, when the agreement was being renewed for the second time, the deal reportedly was on the verge of collapse due to Moscow’s concerns over liability.

Under the new agreement, Russia is to notify the United States when it believes it has grounds for a liability claim against the United States or its employees or contractors. The two sides “shall…attempt to achieve a mutual understanding within 90 days” of the notification. If they do not reach this understanding, Russia can begin legal proceedings.

The liability arrangements are described in a protocol to the 2003 Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR), which replaces the CTR umbrella agreement as the underlying legal basis for the threat reduction work. The MNEPR has traditionally outlined the legal underpinnings for countries to assist Russia with spent nuclear fuel safety and radioactive waste management.

Russia and the United States have replaced the 20-year-old Nunn-Lugar program to provide U.S. assistance to secure and dismantle Russia’s excess weapons of mass destruction with a more limited agreement.

Time Is Now to Act on Treaties to Guard Against Nuclear Terrorism

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Volume 3, Issue 15, December 3, 2012

As the 112th Congress enters its final days, one of its critical priorities should be approving implementing legislation for two treaties that help raise the barriers against nuclear terrorism.

For more than a decade, U.S. defense and security leaders have warned that nuclear terrorism poses a severe threat to American security. The 9/11 Commission report stated, "The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world's most dangerous terrorists acquire the world's most dangerous weapons."

During the 2004 presidential debates, the two candidates agreed that "the biggest threat facing the country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network." At the Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium in Washington, D.C., December 3, President Obama reiterated that "nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security."

The task now is for the United States and other key countries to implement the action steps necessary to get the job done.

At the first 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington, the Obama administration announced the acceleration of U.S. efforts to complete ratification procedures for the two treaties. It urged other countries to do the same.

Congress needs to act on the treaty legislation before it so that U.S. law will align with the norms Washington has been seeking to internationalize. The treaties, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, are common sense measures that enhance the world's ability to prevent incidents of nuclear terrorism and punish those responsible.

The amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials will add standards of protection for the storage and use of nuclear materials and strengthen existing measures for materials in transport, but the United States and other countries have to ratify the amendment before it can enter into force.

The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism creates an important legal framework to investigate, prosecute and extradite those who commit terrorist acts with dirty bombs, nuclear material or against nuclear facilities. Such a framework is necessary for effective international action against nuclear terrorists.

As Andy Semmel, a senior State Department official under George W. Bush, recently noted that these treaties "would strengthen the ability of the United States and, ultimately, the international community, to fight the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism and help prevent nuclear proliferation."

By approving these measures, the United States will set a positive example that can influence the actions taken by other nations and help achieve the ambitious goals that the United States endorsed at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March 2012. One of these goals is entry into force of the amendment for the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials by 2014.

After strong backing for the treaties from the president and his predecessor, the House of Representatives finally passed compromise implementing legislation earlier this year with broad bipartisan support. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan) urged prompt passage of their bill in a November 14 letter to the Senate leadership. They explained in the letter that they had "worked together closely, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and State, to carefully craft bipartisan legislation to finally achieve implementation of the critical treaties."

However, rather than facilitating swift Senate action on the treaties, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) slowed the process in the Judiciary Committee by seeking amendments on issues his Republican colleagues in the House had already set aside.

The Grassley amendments are peripheral to the requirements for effective action against nuclear terrorism at home and potentially counter-productive for spurring other states to adopt necessary measures. His insistence on imposing the death sentence in terrorism cases is especially ill-advised considering opposition from most of the world's democracies and ironic from a senator whose own state eliminated capital punishment from its laws in 1965.

Without fast-track treatment by the Senate of the bipartisan bill from the House, there will be no action on the treaties in the current Congress and possibly none in the next. And U.S. inaction will have a negative impact on progress against nuclear terrorism by other countries. As terrorist groups ramp up their attempts to acquire nuclear material, failure to expeditiously support international measures to cope with this threat is irresponsible.

Members of the current Congress confront an enormous challenge in quickly overcoming the rancor of the election campaign to attend to the nation's business over the few weeks remaining in the current session. Passing the bipartisan legislation from the House on the nuclear terrorism treaties would be an excellent start.--GREG THIELMANN

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

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As the 112th Congress enters its final days, one of its critical priorities should be approving implementing legislation for two treaties that help raise the barriers against nuclear terrorism.

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