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Former IAEA Director-General
July/August 2008
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008
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Before the Day After: Using Pre-Detonation Nuclear Forensics to Improve Fissile Material Security

Daniel H. Chivers, Bethany F. Lyles Goldblum, Brett H. Isselhardt, and Jonathan S. Snider

The next U.S. administration will face many daunting challenges, but none of these are likely to be as pressing as combating the threat posed by nuclear terrorism. Twelve years ago, experts identified “nuclear leakage” —the sale, theft, and diversion of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable fissile materials—as the highest priority in U.S. nonproliferation policy.[1]

Widespread proliferation of weapons-related information and technology in recent years means that the construction of a crude nuclear device is within terrorists’ reach if they are able to acquire sufficient weapons-usable fissile material and are adequately organized.[2]

A global campaign leading to unambiguous physical protection standards for states in possession of weapons-usable material, therefore, is urgently needed to prevent any leakage. Although expanding current tactical efforts such as the Cooperative Threat Reduction program might be helpful, it is unlikely to be sufficient. A more strategic approach is needed that would seek to ensure adequate minimum standards for nuclear security among all states. A movement toward broad adherence to appropriate security levels would benefit from using pre-detonation nuclear forensics to help locate and plug fissile material leaks. Greater sharing of nuclear forensics information and capabilities is necessary if the international community is to promote and enforce a new international norm stressing that fissile material accountability ultimately rests with states.

The Role of Forensics in Deterring and Preventing Nuclear Terrorism

Doing so would apply nuclear forensics in a way different than many security thinkers are now considering. The Domestic Nuclear Event Attribution program, launched by the Department of Defense in 2000, established the policy agenda for nuclear attribution that prevails today: nuclear forensics and attribution capabilities must be improved to assist in determining the state origin of fissile material used in a nuclear attack. By doing so, defense planners hope to patch the hole that terrorists punch in traditional nuclear deterrence strategies. Because terrorists do not control territory that can be held at risk and may be more than willing to die as long as they are able to carry out their initial attack, such deterrence strategies are inadequate today. U.S. defense planners have therefore sought to update traditional deterrence to new realities by threatening any state with retaliation should it be seen as participating in or abetting a nuclear attack.

This approach is supported by a wide spectrum of policymakers. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Del.) recently advocated that a nuclear forensics capability allows for “a new type of deterrence” and would “bring deterrence into the 21st century.”[3] Testifying before a House subcommittee in October 2007, Vayl Oxford, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, explained that nuclear forensics “is a critical nuclear deterrence capability to demonstrate that we can hold perpetrators accountable and also to help find and prevent follow on attacks.”[4] Oxford’s testimony was an elaboration of President George W. Bush’s cryptic statement in October 2006 that the United States would hold North Korea “fully accountable” for any consequences resulting from Pyongyang’s transfer of nuclear weapons or materials.

Still, even an updated deterrent strategy simply may not be effective for some situations because it is not a means of thwarting terrorists from acquiring fissile materials or nuclear weapons, only from using them. Although some states could intentionally transfer nuclear weapons or materials to nonstate actors, others might be the victims of theft. Retaliating against a state that acted in good faith to prevent nuclear theft is not likely to be a productive response; cooperation is inclined to be a more prudent strategy in preventing follow-on attacks. Of course, it is likely that even a culpable state will declare that the fissile materials used in a terrorist attack were stolen. Given this, some policymakers have suggested shifting the burden of proof so that any country that claims theft will be held accountable in a manner similar to a state that is believed to have directly transferred fissile material.[5]

A deterrent strategy supported by post-detonation nuclear forensics does not make explicit the actions states must take to ensure adequate nuclear security, nor does it take full advantage of the ability to use nuclear forensics to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear material. To be sure, those affiliated with the Nuclear Smuggling International Technical Working Group have labored for several years to implement pre-detonation nuclear attribution to prosecute illicit material traffickers.[6] However, a comprehensive strategy must also hold states accountable to their international obligation for adequately securing weapons-usable fissile material. Pre-detonation nuclear forensics can play an important role in this regard.

Speaking at a diplomatic conference, Linton Brooks, the former head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, pressed that states must accept full “sovereign responsibility over activities under their jurisdiction and control—whether that is trade and border controls or regulation of nuclear materials or nuclear facilities that are in conformance with international regimes.”[7] Adequately securing weapons-usable fissile material is among the foremost sovereign responsibilities of states. Poor security of these materials can be revealed by a nuclear terrorist attack or loose fissile material. Credibly holding states responsible in either of these instances rests on using nuclear forensics capabilities to determine the likely source of nuclear materials. These capabilities rely on scientists’ ability to distinguish material formed through different processes and in different parts of the world.[8]

Pre-detonation nuclear attribution can be used to identify the state source of loose weapons-usable fissile material. If such material should escape a state’s control, the state should be forced to establish truly effective physical protection measures or face international condemnation and corrective action. Weapons-usable fissile material found outside of state control would present clear evidence that robust physical protection measures are not in place. Adequate physical protection should mean that all weapons-usable fissile materials remain under state control at all times.

In addition to determining the material’s source, ongoing nuclear attribution research could help identify the “last legal owner.” Determining the production source of fissile material may not be the most important finding for assessing accountability. Many states now possess fissile material produced by other states or could enrich as well as reprocess nuclear fuel purchased from producer states.

The Need for Performance-Based Physical Protection

How is the international community to be assured that a state’s physical protection standards are sufficient? Currently, the international community lacks clear, enforceable standards for the domestic physical protection of fissile material and facilities. This is troubling considering that more than 3,730 tons of fissile materials are stored under widely divergent national standards.[9] Despite several UN Security Council resolutions identifying loose fissile material as a threat to international peace and security, no specific physical protection standards exist.[10]

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)[11] obligates states to meet certain standards for the protection of nuclear materials, but these largely relate to the international transport of materials. A 2005 diplomatic conference sought to address this deficiency via an amendment to the CPPNM in which states agreed that the “peaceful domestic use, storage and transport” of fissile material and nuclear facilities are subject to physical protection standards.[12] To date, only nine states have ratified the amendment, which requires adoption by two-thirds of the 136 CPPNM member states before it enters into force. Even if the amendment were adopted, its coverage would be incomplete as it does not apply to fissile materials and facilities used for military purposes. More than one-half of all fissile materials worldwide are stored in military stocks.

Growing concern regarding the poor security of fissile materials led to the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which mandates that all states establish and enforce “appropriate effective” physical protection and control measures relating to fissile materials. This qualitative standard of physical protection is unfortunately subject to multiple interpretations.[13] In a UN Security Council meeting prior to the passage of the resolution, the United Kingdom’s representative explained that the resolution “leaves up to Member States to decide exactly what steps they need to take.”[14] This status quo is simply insufficient in combating contemporary threats, and some suggest has even failed.[15] Several incidents of loose fissile material following the passage of Resolution 1540 in 2004 suggest that physical protection remains a serious problem.[16]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plays an important role in protecting fissile materials from terrorists. It provides guidelines for states inexperienced with physically protecting nuclear facilities, but such guidelines are only recommendations and not binding.[17] George Bunn recently suggested that the IAEA should play a greater role verifying state compliance with Resolution 1540,[18] recommending that IAEA inspectors check the adequacy of a state’s physical protection measures during their routine inspections. It is difficult to see how a state would permit a direct external review of its nuclear security practices absent any clear indication of gross security infractions. An indirect technical review of a state’s nuclear security measures, where nuclear forensics helps identify states with a nuclear leakage problem through attributing loose fissile material, may lead states to request IAEA assistance in reviewing their practices to avoid future leaks.

Experts at Stanford University recently argued the need to go beyond Resolution 1540’s reporting requirements.[19] They propose a series of questions, termed “implementation indicators,” to vigorously assess how states are implementing their Resolution 1540 obligations. This involves garnering additional information from states regarding their overall systemic approach to material security, including law enforcement capabilities and the effectiveness of accounting measures, among other metrics. Nonetheless, this constructive suggestion is likely not enough. Moving forward, a more quantifiable standard is required to assess the effectiveness of actions states are taking to protect fissile material. Although the Stanford team does not make the recommendation in its report, nuclear attribution would constitute the ultimate implementation indicator.

Building an International Nuclear Forensics Capability

The ability to determine the source of interdicted fissile material or material collected after any attack inherently relies in part on the robustness of information previously collected and stored in a materials database. In other words, source attribution requires reference data against which to compare the characteristics of any sample material. Calls for the development of an international database of fissile materials mainly refer to voluntary submission of materials by states to a central repository. A comprehensive global catalogue of fissile material, including sensitive information about weapons-grade material, would constitute the ideal deterrent.[20] Figure 1 (see print edition) depicts a scheme for dividing nuclear forensic signatures and data into at least two classes, sensitive and nonsensitive information, to aid in classification within states and to encourage and control sharing between partner countries.

Full realization of a comprehensive database is highly unlikely, as states will resist voluntarily sharing such data. Although some useful data can be collected involuntarily,[21] movement toward sharing nonsensitive information is important in building a nuclear forensics database in the near term. Broad access to such data would generate more manageable levels of analytic uncertainty than currently exist. U.S.-Russian cooperation on nonsensitive information sharing would pave the way for wider disclosure. The onus for leadership rests with these two states, as the in-country stocks of separated plutonium and both separated and irradiated highly enriched uranium under Russian and U.S. control amount to nearly 87 percent of the global total.[22] Catalogued information from these two states alone would constitute a sizeable database.

Several states, including Russia and the United States, and international organizations such as the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the IAEA maintain independent inventories of commercial nuclear material samples, safeguards data, and information on seized illicit materials that could be leveraged to make an attribution finding if voluntary state submissions to a central database remain unlikely. Bush’s threat to hold North Korea “fully accountable” was reportedly made public because its credibility rested on the U.S. ability to access the IAEA’s collection of North Korea’s fissile materials.[23] Catalogued materials can also be used to eliminate possible sources of leaks quickly. Discovery that a material does not belong to the United States or one of its allies may be as informative as an implicating result.

Domestic resistance to a centralized database of materials and their characteristics will likely be fierce. The United States may resist the idea of exchanging details or samples of domestic nuclear materials because of the asymmetric advantage it maintains by having such a high level of expertise in its nuclear complex. Any agreement to risk the exposure of this expertise would have to be outweighed by the gain in security the United States received through international collaboration. Still, a reassessment of the existing line drawn between sensitive and nonsensitive information is appropriate in today’s threat environment.

The creation of an international database of fissile material characteristics will necessarily involve a host of challenging procedural issues related to the veracity of catalogued materials. Some important questions remain unanswered. Who is to formally undertake analysis and authenticate any material collected for entry into the database? How is this analysis to be vetted so that the material’s characteristics can be confirmed? It is likely, depending on the sensitivity of the information ultimately collected and stored, that nuclear data will be shared selectively across the database’s participants. General identity characteristics of fissile materials are likely to be shared in a multilateral arrangement, whereas more detailed information would be reserved for bilateral review. The need for a domestic nuclear forensics board to be established has been effectively argued elsewhere.[24] Members of this board would be responsible for interpreting and debating the evidence collected and, more importantly, reaching formal attribution decisions.

Construction of an international nuclear forensics database presupposes agreements between states on the details of how the effort to collect material samples should proceed. These details are only beginning to be discussed among international scientists associated with the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and the Nuclear Smuggling International Technical Working Group.[25] The GICNT, launched by Russia and the United States in 2006 to differentially address and aid in the detection, prevention, protection, and response components of U.S. national defense policy through international collaboration, is emerging as one possible mechanism, whereby participants agreed to “develop technical means to identify nuclear or radioactive materials that could be involved in a terrorist incident.” Despite the stated goals of the GICNT, the primary emphasis of its working agenda remains on detection and response. There is currently no nuclear forensics panel situated under the GICNT and no information in the public domain that suggests a major role for nuclear forensics under the GICNT. Just recently, though, the United States-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism concluded a framework agreement for bilateral cooperation on nuclear forensics, but the details of this agreement are not clear.[26]

A core component of the ongoing foundational work required to build an international database is the standardization of nuclear forensics methods for various types of fissile materials, as well as attribution and related intelligence procedures. These efforts will require the formalization of protocols to transport, distribute, and analyze interdicted materials or collected debris following a nuclear detonation, so that testing and verification of the material can be accomplished as quickly as possible.

Building a robust technical attribution capability among a network of states is distinct from mechanisms that credibly communicate and act on attribution findings. Embedding aspects of the preventative global campaign proposed here under the aegis of a respected international institution will serve to legitimize any attribution finding and subsequent international action by providing a forum for interaction between states. The IAEA, with expertise in assisting states with nuclear security, is well positioned to aid in response when nuclear leaks are identified. Recent recommendations for the future of the agency to 2020 and beyond, commissioned by Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, propose that the IAEA be given a precise mandate to confirm global nuclear material security standards fixed by member states.[27] ElBaradei has also supported the idea of his agency contributing to efforts to internationalize nuclear forensics and work directly with member states to construct an international database for nuclear material characteristics.[28]

Toward International Implementation

Efforts to implement this approach will likely be met with strong resistance by some states and strong support by those states who perceive that they may be the target of a nuclear terrorist attack. At a minimum, it is necessary to garner international consensus on clear and specific standards relating to the physical protection of fissile materials and elevate these standards to a formal legal obligation. Given that a sufficient amount of fissile material might be unaccounted for at present, national inventories of these materials must be taken to determine when strict state accountability should start. Those states with large fissile material stocks have an important stake and responsibility in taking this first step.

Several states voiced concern in the open debates preceding the Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1540 that it would be used as a means to institute sanctions against states. France’s UN representative noted that some states were under the impression that they could be forced to implement certain measures. In response to these concerns, the British UN representative stated that “the draft [of Resolution 1540] was not about coercion or enforcement.… [T]he draft did not authorize enforcement action against State or non-State actors in the territory of another country. Any enforcement action would likely require new Security Council measures.”[29] This diplomatic history suggests states will strongly resist being held accountable for fissile material leaks.

Promoting state accountability of weapons-usable fissile material protection in all cases need not require explicit enforcement. Singling out a state for lax nuclear security may bring international condemnation. A “designated nuclear facility watch list” could be established under the auspices of the 1540 Committee, identifying nuclear facilities from which leaked fissile material was discovered outside state control. Placement on this list could entail substantial state fines or other appropriate measures. In instances of grave security infractions, the matter should be referred to the Security Council.

Specific resistance is also likely considering that some states with a history of poor fissile material security, such as Russia, may feel as if they are being targeted. Experts tracking recent incidents of loose fissile material assert that the majority of interdicted material to date is of Russian origin.[30] Yet, an adverse Russian reaction might be tempered for several reasons. If Russia considers itself vulnerable to a nuclear terrorist attack, as suggested by its leadership role in the GICNT, then it would be prudent to support more robust preventative measures. In addition, as mentioned, Security Council resolutions identify loose fissile material as a clear threat to international peace and security.[31] It will be difficult for Russia not to take action against such a widely recognized threat, especially a threat the country has worked with the United States to address in the recent past.

An international scheme outlining state accountability of weapons-usable fissile material could be crafted to give wide deference to any state in resolving issues associated with its own fissile material as long as the material remains within the state’s jurisdiction. Consequently, appropriate international action would not be triggered until fissile material escapes a state’s jurisdiction. The 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism serves as a model for this sort of arrangement.[32] It gives states broad latitude in managing domestic terrorist threats before such threats can be characterized as “international,” thereby constituting a violation of the convention. Until then, the matter remains an issue to be resolved through domestic law enforcement. At a minimum, any domestic efforts pertaining to loose fissile material should generate a requirement to report such matters.

The dire international consequences of an unattributed nuclear detonation anywhere in the world are clear motivation for all countries to work together to prevent such a tragedy. It is unsettling that many states view loose fissile material as a significant threat to international peace and security but continue to take no specific global action to address this hazard. Present tactics do not constitute an adequate long-term approach to preventing a nuclear terrorist attack, and immediate action should be taken to establish clear international standards regarding the physical protection of fissile material. The new international standard to be pursued is clear and simple: all weapons-usable fissile materials are to be under state control at all times. This standard can be supported and enforced by the promise of pre-detonation nuclear attribution. Moving forward, the policy proposal outlined here is not intended to replace a policy to deter nuclear terrorism but to complement it. Locating and plugging fissile material leaks will demonstrate the strength of existing capabilities and work to ensure that the government need never implement its response the day after a nuclear explosion.

Daniel H. Chivers is an assistant research scientist and Bethany F. Lyles Goldblum is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California-Berkeley. Brett H. Isselhardt is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California-Berkeley and a Lawrence scholar at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Jonathan S. Snider is a doctoral candidate in the political science department at the University of California-Davis and an associate in the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation’s Public Policy and Nuclear Threats program. The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and not those of the U.S. government, the Department of Energy, or Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Differentiating Nuclear Materials From Around the World

Fissile material designed and manufactured in different countries, even different facilities and batches, will have distinct atomic and nuclear signatures. Certain fissile material characteristics, such as isotopic composition and concentration of neutron-absorbing isotopes, for example xenon-135 (“neutron poisons”), are precisely controlled because of their significant effect on the ability to sustain a nuclear chain reaction within the material. Other contaminating materials are less tightly controlled because they do not hinder the intended function of the material. The design choices to control certain parameters and neglect others are utilized by nuclear forensics techniques to determine a material’s source.

Several methods may exist for creating a given end product, and each process will leave its imprint within the nuclear material of interest in the shape or form of the material (morphology), trace contaminants, or even small but detectable changes in the relative abundance of important isotopes (isotopic fractionation). In addition to these process differences, the indigenous environment of the raw material may also leave a lasting impression. Isotope abundances for stable elements, such as oxygen and lead, have detectable composition differences around the world. Other materials from differing parts of the globe also will be composed of starting materials that vary in measurable ways.

Finally, another method for distinguishing nuclear materials, even from the same facility or process, is known as age dating. Once nuclear material has been produced or purified, the radioactive decay process continues within the material, generating a chain of decay products that when analyzed in conjunction, form an intricate stopwatch of a material’s age.




1. Graham T. Allison et al., Avoiding Nuclear Anarchy: Containing the Threat of Loose Russian Nuclear Weapons and Fissile Material (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), p. 2.

2. Matthew Bunn and Anthony Wier, “Terrorist Nuclear Weapon Construction: How Difficult,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 607 (September 2006), p. 133.

3. Senator Joseph Biden, “CSI:Nukes,” The Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2007, p.A17..

4. Vayl Oxford, Statement before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology, Hearing on H.R. 2631, The Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act, October 10, 2007.

5. Joseph Biden, “CSI: Nukes.”

6. Sidney Niemeyer and David K. Smith, “Following the Clues: The Role of Forensics in Preventing Nuclear Terrorism,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2007, pp.14-15.

7. Linton Brooks, Remarks prepared for IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security, London, March 15, 2005.

8. William Dunlop and Harold Smith, “Who Did It? Using International Forensics to Detect and Deter Nuclear Terrorism,” Arms Control Today, October 2006, pp. 6-10.

9. David Albright, “Global Stocks of Nuclear Fissile Materials: Summary Tables and Charts,” Global Stocks of Nuclear Explosive Materials, September 7, 2005.

10. UN Security Council Resolution 1373, S/RES/1373, September 28, 2001; UN Security Council Resolution 1540, S/RES/1540, April 28, 2004.

11. Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, March 3, 1980.

12. “Summary Record of the First Plenary Meeting, Conference to Consider and Adopt Proposed Amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material,” CPPNM/AC/Plen/SR.1, July 4, 2005, p. 1.

13. For a discussion of the distinction between qualitative and quantifiable obligations, see Rudolf Avenhaus and Nicholas Kyriakopoulus, “Conceptual Framework,” in Verifying Treaty Compliance: Limiting Weapons of Mass Destruction and Monitoring Kyoto Protocol Provisions, eds. Rudolf Avenhaus et al. (Berlin: Springer, 2006), pp. 17-21.

14. UN Security Council 4950th Meeting, S/PV.4950, April 22, 2004, p. 12.

15. Anne-Marie Slaughter and Thomas J. Wright, “Punishment to Fit the Nuclear Crime,” The Washington Post, March 2, 2007, p. A13.

16. “Combating Illicit Trafficking in Nuclear and Other Radioactive Material (Reference Manual),” IAEA Nuclear Security Series, No. 6 (2007), pp. 128-131.

17. “The Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities,” INFCIRC/225/Rev.4 (corrected), 1998.

18. George Bunn, “Enforcing International Standards: Protecting Nuclear Materials From Terrorists Post 9/11,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2007, pp. 14-17.

19. Allen S. Weiner et al., “Enhancing Implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540,” Center for International Security and Cooperation, September 2007.

20. Michael May, Jay Davis, and Raymond Jeanloz, “Preparing for the Worst,” Nature, Vol. 443, No. 26 (October 26, 2006), pp. 907-908.

21. Interdicted loose fissile material can be used, once it is properly attributed, to assist in building the requisite international database even if states do not formally submit their material. This indirect means of building a fissile material repository provides incentives for states to participate directly in order to closely manage the distribution of information relating to their nuclear data.

22. Albright, “Global Stocks of Nuclear Fissile Materials.”

23. David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, “U.S. Debates Deterrence for Nuclear Terrorism,” International Herald Tribune, May 7, 2007.

24. Jay Davis, “The Attribution of WMD Events,” Journal of Homeland Security, April 2003.

25. Tim Katsapis, Project on Nuclear Issues meeting, April 11, 2008; Niemeyer and Smith, “Following the Clues.”

26 “Fact Sheet: The United States-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism,” U.S. Embassy, Moscow, June 20, 2008.

27. “Reinforcing the Global Nuclear Order for Peace and Prosperity: The Role of the IAEA to 2020 and Beyond,” GOV/2008/22-GC(52)/INF/4, 2008 (prepared by an independent commission at the request of the director-general of the IAEA).

28. Peter Zimmerman and Hans Binnendijk, “New Nuclear Deterrents,” The Washington Times, August 19, 2007.

29. UN Security Council Press Release SC/8070, April 22, 2004.

30. “Overview of Confirmed Proliferation-Significant Incidents of Fissile Material Trafficking in the NIS, 1991-2007,” CNS Report, 2007.

31. UN Security Council Resolutions 1373 and 1540.

32. “International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism,” UN General Assembly Resolution 59/290, April 13, 2005.

Bush’s Nuclear Reprocessing Plan Under Fire

Miles A. Pomper

The Bush administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program, already under siege, has been further imperiled after recent action by several congressional panels and an April report from the congressional watchdog agency.

Administration officials have claimed that GNEP, which seeks to develop new nuclear technologies and new international nuclear fuel arrangements, will cut nuclear waste and decrease the risk that an anticipated growth in the use of nuclear energy worldwide could spur nuclear proliferation. Critics assert that the administration’s course would exacerbate the proliferation risks posed by the spread of spent fuel reprocessing technology, be prohibitively expensive, and fail to significantly ease waste disposal challenges without any certainty that the claimed technologies will ever be developed.

Current reprocessing technologies yield pure or nearly pure plutonium that can be used in fuel for nuclear reactors or as fissile material for nuclear weapons. GNEP proposes to build facilities that would retain other elements in the spent fuel along with the plutonium, making it less attractive for weapons production than pure plutonium. Critics note that this fuel would still not be as proliferation resistant as when the spent fuel is left intact.

Congress has largely sided with the critics and last year sharply cut the administration’s proposed budget for the program and restricted it to research. (See ACT, January/February 2008.) Capitol Hill appears to be on a similar course this year.

In marking up annual spending legislation for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, the House Appropriations Committee June 25 approved only $120 million for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI), technology research related to GNEP. In February, the administration had requested $302 million. (See ACT, March 2008.) In its accompanying report, the committee called for these funds to be spent only for research into the reduction of waste streams related to reprocessing, the design of safeguard measures for reprocessing facilities, and research on reducing the proliferation risk of reprocessing. As it did last year, it prohibited any funds from being spent on the design or construction of proposed facilities.

In addition, the House panel blocked the administration’s request for tens of millions in funding directly linked to the partnership including those for smaller or “grid appropriate reactors” and those needed to manage the partnership, particularly efforts to recruit developing countries without nuclear capabilities (such as Ghana, Jordan, and Senegal) to join the partnership. The House panel made a similar cut last year, and ultimately a final House-Senate compromise led to a major cut in proposed funding for the program, although less severe than the House had proposed.

Moreover, the Senate Armed Services Committee May 12 approved a provision in the fiscal year 2009 defense authorization bill that would bar U.S. funds intended for nonproliferation programs from being used for GNEP. A House version of the defense authorization bill passed May 22 likewise would not support the administration’s request for $6.9 million in fiscal 2009 nonproliferation funds to go to GNEP under the auspices of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency under the Department of Energy.

In marking up its bill, the House Armed Services Committee wrote in its accompanying report that “the committee finds NNSA’s proposed nonproliferation arguments for GNEP unpersuasive and is not convinced that GNEP will achieve its stated nonproliferation objectives. Rather, the committee is concerned about proliferation risks associated with GNEP. For these reasons, the committee does not support any funding for GNEP activities from within any NNSA Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation program line.” In particular, lawmakers have recently accused the Energy Department of previously and wrongly using nonproliferation funds to support GNEP research in Russia.

GAO Report Challenges GNEP Technology Plans

The committees’ actions came after the watchdog Government Accountability Office (GAO) challenged the administration’s preferred “technology path forward” for the initiative. Energy Department officials said in April that Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, who had been expected to pick such a path by now, would wait to clearly lay out such a path for the transition to the next administration. Nonetheless, administration officials have been far from shy about indicating their preferences.

An April GAO report, released May 22, took issue with the technology plans for GNEP said to be currently favored by the Energy Department. These plans represented industry proposals that the department had solicited. They call for moving forward in the near future with slight variations of current technology in order to build more economical and commercial-scale facilities. By comparison, the initiative’s original plans called first for building smaller, engineering-scale facilities to research and develop more advanced technologies, then building larger-scale facilities.

The Energy Department’s “accelerated approach of building commercial-scale facilities would likely require using unproven evolutions of existing technologies that would reduce radioactive waste and mitigate proliferation risks to a much lesser degree than anticipated from more advanced technologies,” the report said. It added that the Energy Department “is unlikely to attract enough industry investment to avoid the need for a large amount of government funding for full-scale facilities.”

Therefore, the report recommends that the Energy Department “reassess its preference for an accelerated approach to implementing GNEP.”

The report also found that the engineering approach had its drawbacks. Like the current approach, the engineering-scale approach called for the construction of three types of facilities: a reprocessing plant to separate plutonium and other materials from spent reactor fuel and convert them into a new fuel, an advanced reactor to use the new fuel, and a research and development facility.

The GAO concluded that the Energy Department had erred in planning to build an engineering-scale reprocessing plant before developing the necessary reprocessed-fuel and other technologies that would be needed to know the design specifications for such a plant. The report recommended that the department defer building such a plan until “conducting sufficient testing and development of recycled fuel to ensure that the output of such a plant is suitable for recycling.” In many ways, therefore, the report echoes criticisms made by an influential National Research Council report released last fall. (See ACT, December 2007.)

The Bush administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program, already under siege, has been further imperiled after recent action by several congressional panels and an April report from the congressional watchdog agency. (Continue)

New Presidents, New Agreements? Advancing U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Control

Alexei Arbatov and Rose Gottemoeller

With the Sochi Declaration in April 2008, the poker players in Washington and Moscow effectively laid down their strategic arms control cards for the last time in the Bush and Putin administrations. They reiterated their intention to carry out further reductions in strategic offensive arms, they pledged to continue development of a legally binding post-START arrangement, and they restated their commitment to Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for eventual total elimination of nuclear weapons.[1]

They also agreed to disagree on missile defenses, with Russia continuing to object to the U.S. proposal to establish defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and reiterating its own proposal regarding the Gabala and Armavir radar sites. What was absent from the statement was any indication of an intent to press forward and finish the negotiations in time for President George W. Bush to sign a new treaty before he leaves office in January 2009.

In one sense, this slow motion is worrisome because START will go out of force in December 2009, giving the new U.S. president and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, only 12 short months to decide on the follow-on to START. Without START, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) signed in May 2002 will lose the verification and counting provisions that had made this short and streamlined treaty somewhat meaningful. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) expressed this concern very well in a speech in January 2008: “We must not forget that this new concept (SORT) was buttressed by…the START Treaty.… In other words, the conceptual underpinning of the Moscow Treaty depends upon something that is about to expire.”[2]

In another sense, this lack of progress at Sochi is a good outcome. The major difference between the two sides on the future of START remains the Bush administration’s insistence that verification and monitoring measures should be binding only politically; the agreement itself may be legally binding, but its accompanying monitoring regime would not be.[3] Moreover, the administration’s concept for monitoring evidently focuses on a number of transparency measures—visits to missile deployment sites, for example—without a rigorous definition of what activities would be permitted once such an on-site visit was underway. Clear definitions characterized the START verification regime, and the Russians are at ease with such an approach.

They are not at ease with a simple transparency regime. In Russian strategic culture, transparency for the sake of trust is an alien notion. The Russian interagency establishment accepted a transparency regime only once, in the Open Skies Treaty, but that step was decided mostly to supplement the verification regime for the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which did not include the territory of the continental United States, while the Open Skies transparency regime did. The secretive Soviet and now Russian system has traditionally viewed transparency as a way for the other side to acquire intelligence information not available through the usual channels.

Moreover, although Russia currently plays somewhat fast and loose with the rule of law—Medvedev calls this tendency “legal nihilism”—the Russians are sticklers for international treaty law. A legally binding international treaty generally overrides domestic Russian law and regulation, thus a treaty is necessary for successful implementation. In particular, it provides for the access of foreigners to sensitive military and nuclear sites, which would never be permitted under a simple transparency regime agreed on an informal basis.

The mood in Moscow, therefore, is one of wait and see. Russian experts both in and out of government appear to believe that this essential difference concerning legally binding verification measures will not be resolved with the Bush administration. Perhaps more importantly, Russian analysts voice a great deal of concern about the administration’s proposed missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. They are concerned about the long-term impact of unconstrained missile defenses in Europe on the Russian strategic arsenal. They do not believe that the currently proposed deployments, an X-band radar of limited range and 10 anti-missile launchers, will have such an effect, but they do worry that the long-term outlook will not be good once the United States begins such deployments. In particular, they have become neuralgic with concern that U.S. missile defenses in Europe could eventually deny a second-strike capability to the steadily weakening Russian offensive forces.[4]

Waiting for the New President

Along with the conclusion that they cannot “get to yes” with the Bush administration on these issues, the Russians have been watching with great interest relevant developments in the U.S. presidential campaigns. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was first out of the box with a clear statement of intent to pursue further deep reductions. He pledged his allegiance to the goal articulated by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn to begin decisive steps toward achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.[5] Obama also took steps to solidify his own agenda in this regard, authoring a piece of legislation with Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that would speed up U.S. efforts to denuclearize.[6]

What took many in Moscow by surprise was Senator John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) evident willingness to join the denuclearization camp. In a speech at the University of Denver in May 2008, he declared his own allegiance to the goals laid out by Shultz and his colleagues, referring back to their origins with President Ronald Reagan at the Reykjavik summit in 1987.[7] The Russians were particularly surprised at the Denver speech because they were still chewing over McCain’s speech in Los Angeles six weeks earlier when he had roundly criticized Russia and pledged once again to throw the country out of the Group of Eight (G-8) highly industrialized countries.[8] To the Russians, the vigorous agenda of nuclear arms reductions that McCain proposed did not compute with his urge to throw them out of the G-8. With whom did he expect to negotiate?

Russians recall many U.S. political campaigns that have spurned Russia and then returned to achieve agreements at the negotiating table. The most well-known version of this narrative involves Reagan himself, who reached an agreement to denuclearize with President Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik summit after a long journey launched when he declared the Soviet Union to be the evil empire.[9]

Some Russians seem to believe, therefore, that McCain’s anti-Russian rhetoric will be tempered should he take office, and this conviction is growing now that the Denver speech is on the table. Ironically, the talking point still exists in Moscow that Russia can make more headway with a Republican administration than a Democratic one, whose members might be overconcerned about issues such as democracy and human rights—this after eight years of a rather determined Republican campaign of democracy building.

Consensus to Move Forward, but Not on Next Steps

Although action in the negotiations is on hold for the moment, both sides seem to have ample will to move forward once Bush leaves office and the U.S. presidential transition is underway. Certainly neither country is resisting the notion that a follow-on to START must be found and urgently. Each country clearly recognizes the deadline of December 2009 and seems to accept that a successful extension or replacement of START will do much to create a positive environment when the next nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference gets underway in the spring of 2010.[10]

That said, several different options are already on the table, and others continue to be developed. For example, Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn called for a straightforward extension of key provisions of the existing START in their Wall Street Journal op-ed published in January 2008.[11] Russia and the United States, meanwhile, have agreed to the more ambitious goal of seeking a follow-on agreement to START, not merely an extension of the current agreement. Worries exist in both capitals about whether such an agreement can be negotiated, ratified by the two legislatures, and brought into force in a period of little more than a year. For that reason, some experts have called on Russia and the United States to take unilateral steps to extend the life of START and also perhaps to achieve further reductions. For those seeking to achieve a negotiated agreement, the options also range across a spectrum determined by START at one end and SORT at the other.

The pros and cons of these various approaches deserve to be widely debated. Several points may be highlighted to inform the discussion.

• A simple extension of START for the five years called for in Article XVII of the treaty would be the most straightforward approach and would create time and space to achieve a reasonable, negotiated outcome. According to the terms of START, if this step is to be taken, it will have to be decided by the end of December 2008, one year before the treaty goes out of force. Both governments, however, already have moved beyond this position. Each has its own arguments for saying that START is too cumbersome, a Cold War-era treaty that should not be extended. The Russians base their arguments mainly on the expense and complexity of the START Verification Protocol. They are fond of saying that a number of the notifications and inspections required no longer make sense and should be dropped from a future agreement for a streamlined and less expensive verification arrangement. The U.S. side makes a broader argument about the treaty being no longer relevant to the more friendly environment of the current era. Although this argument has become strained in recent years, it continues to be at the center of the Bush administration’s argument against extending START.

• Agreed steps to continue the main constraints of START, such as the limitations, counting rules, and major verification provisions, on an informal basis could be a valuable goodwill gesture should negotiations continue without success after the December 2009 deadline. In fact, they could play a significant role in ensuring confidence in the continued implementation of SORT, which has depended on START remaining in force “in accordance with its terms.”[12] In particular, such steps would ensure that further reductions in strategic forces are mutually transparent and correspond to SORT guidelines. An agreement of this kind also would address the complication that START signatories include Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, who would have to agree to a formal extension of START.

• Another proposal has emerged to base further reductions in strategic nuclear forces on parallel unilateral statements made by the two presidents either immediately before the START deadline or after the deadline has passed. For example, the U.S. president might unilaterally state his intention to reduce U.S. strategic nuclear forces to 1,000 operationally deployed warheads while declaring his intention to eliminate warheads in storage. Such a declaration might begin to assuage Russian concerns about the upload potential of U.S. nuclear systems, a point to be discussed further below. Experts from both countries, however, have raised questions about such an approach. Similar to the transparency problem, Russians tend to see unilateral measures as a trap, forcing in motion reductions or changes in their nuclear arsenal that the United States might very well escape by reversing a unilateral decision. Some U.S. experts, by contrast, argue that the United States should never give something for nothing where the Russian nuclear arsenal is concerned, and the only way to ensure that the two countries are giving and getting in equal measure is through a legally binding negotiated reduction.

• “START-Plus” is another option for which some experts have been arguing.[13] This concept may include extending START until such time as a new treaty is negotiated, building further reductions in launch vehicles and warheads into the START structure, instituting a streamlined START verification regime, and accounting for conventional ballistic missiles under existing START counting rules. At a later stage, it would involve dealing with the problem of nondeployed warheads, for example by placing further limits on the number of delivery vehicles or creating a regime to verify nondeployed warheads, an idea the United States proposed in 1997 as the underpinning for a START III. Russian experts have not been particularly enthusiastic about the START-Plus idea because as in the case of a simple START extension, it will create both military-technical and political problems for Russia. Russian experts believe that START generated some difficulties for operating their strategic nuclear forces and in the future may hamper its planned modernization, in particular the deployment of Topol-M-type ICBMs with multiple warheads, formally called multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). A reworked START, for that reason, would not be the preferred approach in Moscow.

The Idea of an Enhanced SORT

An alternative approach, which we prefer, would be to pursue an enhanced SORT. This would not be a simple extension of SORT, which is six years old and was agreed by the past administration in Moscow and soon-to-be past administration in Washington. An enhanced SORT would not return to the complexities of START, however, which, as the Bush team is fond of repeating, was negotiated during the Cold War, now long over. We must emphasize that we do not love SORT and are joined in that view by other experts in Moscow and Washington. As one senior retired Russian diplomat commented during a recent meeting at the Carnegie Moscow Center, SORT “reflects the times, even if we are unhappy with it.”

An enhanced SORT would in fact remedy SORT’s major weaknesses while addressing the main disagreements that have sprung up between the two sides over its implementation. For the Russian side, the major goal would be to maintain a semblance of parity with the United States while addressing the basic problem with SORT, the lack of acceptable counting rules and corresponding verification procedures. For the U.S. side, the major goal would be to maintain sufficient transparency with respect to Russian strategic nuclear forces while making sure that force cuts would not be too expensive for the United States and would be acceptable in force structure terms, i.e., would not require the United States to move immediately from a triad of nuclear forces to a dyad.

These goals may be achieved by structuring an enhanced SORT so that the upper limit allowed for strategic nuclear forces would be 1,700 deployed warheads, to be achieved by the end of 2012. Presently, this number is the lower end of the 1,700-2,200 reduction level called for in SORT. The main issue to be addressed within this limit would be the counting rules, in particular how to account for the possibility that conventional warheads could be placed on Trident-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) or other delivery platforms and how to understand the U.S. principle of counting only “operationally deployed” warheads.

For the conventional warheads, the United States should simply agree to count them as nuclear warheads. Otherwise, we will end up with verification measures that are much too intrusive and to which neither Russia nor the United States would agree at the current time. Such a counting rule should be acceptable because the United States only plans to deploy a few tens of such conventional missiles. Although the overall treaty limit remains at 1,700, counting them as nuclear will only slightly impact the U.S. strategic nuclear potential.

As far as counting operationally deployed warheads is concerned, Russia is not particularly worried about the United States storing warheads, as also has been the case with all past strategic arms control and reduction treaties. Russia is most concerned about the number of launchers that remain in deployment and the number of warhead re-entry vehicles (RVs) that it would be possible to load on those launchers. Russian experts call this “upload potential.”

In START, this problem was addressed through a rule on downloading, according to which not more than two warhead RVs could be removed from a launcher without converting the MIRV dispensing platform, called the “bus,” to carry fewer RVs. Even then, the maximum number of warhead RVs that could be removed—and credited against START limits—was four. The number of types of missiles that could be downloaded and the overall number of downloaded warheads were limited as well.

Interestingly, at the time START was negotiated, Moscow was interested in much more liberal restrictions on downloading than Washington. Now, as has happened many times in the history of strategic arms control, the positions of the sides have reversed. Because converting MIRV platforms is an expensive and lengthy process that sometimes requires additional flight tests, this downloading rule is in fact a tangible constraint on upload potential, particularly if buses with a smaller number of warheads have not been earlier tested on a given missile type.

We are not proposing to adhere to this downloading rule but would look for a cheaper and more acceptable approach that would give the United States some flexibility and give Russia some reassurance about U.S. upload potential. For example, the two sides could agree to liberalize the START downloading rule: not more than 3-4 RVs could be removed without converting the bus and not more than 4-5 with such a conversion.

Russia could easily agree to a ceiling of 1,700 warheads because it would help to save money by not having to extend the service life of some obsolete systems. It would also allow Russia to allocate more funding to a reasonable force modernization, including early-warning and command and control systems. The Russian triad has been shrinking and, regardless of any treaty, will have no more than 1,800-2,000 warheads by 2012, of which about 70 percent will be deployed on obsolete delivery systems or launchers with an extended service life. Under an enhanced SORT, by 2012, Russia could have a more modern force with about 300 ICBMs (700 warheads), along with eight to nine submarines (600 warheads), and 50 bombers with 400 air-launched cruise missiles. As an option, Russia could make the transition to a more economically rational dyad that would include the same force structure at sea and 350 ICBMs (1,100 warheads) on land. In this case, the bombers would be removed completely from the strategic nuclear arsenal and converted for regional missions.

The United States might find it more difficult. With a limit of 1,700 warheads by 2012, its force structure might include 14 submarines with 336 Trident-2 missiles and approximately 1,000 warheads (3 per missile); 300 ICBMs of the Minuteman III type, with one warhead per missile; and about 400 cruise missile warheads on 40 bombers. (The remaining bombers would be redeployed to conventional missions.) If the United States decided to save money by making no changes in MIRV dispensing platforms, leaving 4-5 warheads on each SLBM, then it would have to reduce further the number of Minuteman III ICBMs and bombers with cruise missiles, or it would have to remove two to four submarines from the strategic nuclear forces.

Thus, the United States would find itself faced with some difficult choices. The more severe the constraints on downloading, the more money the U.S. side would have to spend on converting MIRV platforms, or the more ICBMs, submarines, and bombers it would have to retire from its strategic arsenal.

Much will depend here on the wisdom of Russian diplomacy to achieve an optimal outcome. Maybe even a large U.S. upload potential is less dangerous if it involves converting the Trident-2 MIRV bus, although Russia always finds it useful to achieve the maximum retirement of U.S. strategic weapon systems. In order to gain an outcome that would be more acceptable for Washington, it might be possible to give ground on some issues that are important for Moscow, such as the idea of a ban on deploying strategic nuclear forces outside national territory, counting real loadings (instead of an agreed average number) of weapons on bombers, or limiting missile defenses in Europe.

Still, depending on the new downloading rules, U.S. upload potential would be considerable: 1,000-2,000 warheads. In order to hedge against this potential, Russia might rely on some military-technical options in addition to an enhanced SORT. Foremost among such measures would be maintaining a strategic weapons production base in case Russia must quickly respond to a U.S. upload campaign. Russia has only one option for such a response, deployment of mobile Topol-M missiles equipped with MIRVs. Construction of new silos for fixed ICBMs, bombers, or submarines would simply be too expensive and take too long. At the moment, Russia is maintaining a policy of “balanced modernization” among the three legs of its triad; as a result, it only has enough resources to produce five to seven Topol-M ICBMs per year.

If Russia could expand that production potential to 30-40 missiles per year, along with the necessary RVs, then it would be able to add 1,000 warheads to its deployed strategic arsenal over three to four years if it had to do so in response to a U.S. buildup. Such a missile force would have high accuracy and robust command and control potential and sufficient launcher survivability. It would also have efficient countermeasures to any likely missile defense system. If Russia were able to maintain the production capability for such a force, then U.S. upload potential would not cause Moscow as much worry.

After 2012, Russia and the United States could consider deeper reductions, to a level of 1,000-1,200 deployed warheads, along with reasonable and verifiable reductions in strategic force readiness, which would have the added benefit of easing the transition in both countries from a triad to a dyad force structure. We should not fool ourselves; such measures are complicated by themselves, and they require a lot of work to resolve complex, interconnected problems, among them, what to do about missile defense systems, highly accurate long-range conventional weapons, space weapons, nonstrategic nuclear weapons (“tactical” nuclear weapons), the expansion of NATO and adaptation of the CFE Treaty, inclusion of third countries in further nuclear reductions, and strengthening of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Finally, the question of warhead elimination is crucial. Eliminating warheads will remain a largely symbolic activity and one expensive and difficult to verify if it is not taking place in the context of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). If an FMCT is negotiated, it will be possible to pursue agreed methods to verify and dispose of nuclear warheads and material. This is a completely new and hopeful but thus far largely unexplored sphere of nuclear disarmament.

The New Offense-Defense Relationship

To address these complex problems, one must begin by exploring current U.S. and Russian views of the offense-defense relationship. Strategic stability in the final decades of the Cold War was based on a shared understanding of that relationship, which was first enshrined in the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks interim agreement (SALT I), both of which were signed in 1972. With the 2002 demise of the ABM Treaty, the United States initiated new missile defense deployments in the United States and in Europe and continues to develop new missile defense technologies for deployment either at the theater or the national level. At the same time, Russia continues to maintain its single national missile defense site with nuclear armed interceptors around Moscow and has been building, deploying, and selling highly effective theater defense missile systems, for example the S-300 and S-400.

At the Sochi summit in April 2008, the two sides continued to disagree about the need to deploy missile defense components in the Czech Republic and Poland, but they agreed to continue talking about how Russian and U.S. proposals to address the issue could be reconciled. In particular, they agreed to continue fleshing out confidence-building measures that would assuage Russian concerns about the Czech and Polish sites. Because one of the proposals—having Russian military observers at the deployment sites—would require the approval of Prague and Warsaw, the confidence-building proposals involve third parties and remain far from agreement. Nevertheless, even President Vladimir Putin, who had been the staunchest critic of the U.S. missile defense proposal, offered a “certain cautious optimism” during the Sochi press conference.[14]

Thus, the relationship between missile offense and defense has entered new territory, but there have been no real opportunities for Russia and the United States together to consider the full implications. For that reason, the two countries should sit down at an early time to discuss precisely this topic. The relationship between missile offense and defense could become the first subject of a new set of consultations on strategic stability.

We are aware that there are bad precedents. Strategic offense and defense negotiations were conducted in parallel throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and whereas the offense talks led eventually to START, the defense talks were largely sterile, devoted to a long exchange of angry views with little in the way of substantive outcome. That result is undoubtedly a product of the fact that neither side wanted to place new constraints on strategic missile defenses. In fact, some in the United States were already on the road to planning the demise of the ABM Treaty.

We should do what we can to avoid this precedent because a thorough and good-faith airing of differences on the defense topic will be the key to developing the foundation for very deep reductions in offensive forces as a follow-on to a proposed enhanced SORT. Moreover, without such a good-faith exchange and eventual move toward consensus, it is difficult to see how progress can be made on the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, as called for by Shultz et al. In fact, the need to move toward agreement on missile defenses is a major point that has been reiterated by Russian experts at the Carnegie Moscow Center since these four senior statesmen published their first Wall Street Journal op-ed in January 2007.

At this time, we are not endorsing a new negotiated agreement on missile defenses, for there are too many issues to be explored before either side will be ready to make that commitment. Instead, we are proposing a serious and detailed strategic stability consultation that would first air differences, then turn to developing specific ways in which the United States and Russia might work together in the missile defense arena.

This consultation should have two parts. The first would be an assessment of ballistic missile threats to the Russian and U.S. homelands and threats to allied territories in the Asian and European theaters and a joint consideration of optimal sites and modes of ballistic missile defense deployments to counter these threats. To the extent possible, the assessment should include sensitive information provided by both sides, to back up their own analyses of the threat. This process may also include a joint examination of the missile tests of Iran and other countries of concern, capitalizing on the experience of the START negotiations. During that period, Russia and the United States dedicated special attention to determining ways to verify the range and throw weight of ballistic missiles during tests.

The second part of the consultation would involve an exploration of how to develop significant cooperation between the United States and Russia on missile defenses. This aspiration, first expressed by Reagan at the time of his 1983 “Star Wars” speech, has never come to fruition, although progress has been made in some areas. In particular, the NATO-Russia Council has served as the umbrella for a productive working group on missile defense cooperation in the European theater.[15]

This working group has developed joint definitions of terminology and procedures for interacting on missile defense training, examined how Russian and NATO technologies might be used together in a theater missile defense system, and exercised missile defenses together over the last five years. In the comments of one Russian military expert, NATO and Russia have progressed greatly toward missile defense interoperability in the European theater thanks to the activities of this working group.[16]

Unfortunately, the demonstrable successes of this group have done nothing to dampen tensions over U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in the Czech Republic and Poland. The most successful technical discussions cannot overturn political disagreement, a reality with which the parties will have to grapple at the political level. Nonetheless, a detailed discussion of potential areas of technical cooperation, beginning with a thorough examination of the Russian Gabala and Armavir radar offers already on the table,[17] may play a useful role in addressing these tensions.

This area of consultation should also consider the legal and procedural issues that would facilitate the exchange of information and technologies that would be required to develop joint cooperation on missile defenses. Such issues have significantly complicated other areas of technical cooperation in the 15 years since the demise of the Soviet Union, such as interactions over the International Space Station. Nevertheless, the space program has resulted in successful technology cooperation between Russia and the United States, and its experiences should be mined to develop the agenda for legal consultations over missile defenses.

Although these consultations cannot by themselves clear the air of the grievances that have built up in Russia over missile defenses in Europe, they would begin to develop a new dynamic environment for considering the future of the offense-defense relationship. Because the consultations will take some time to accomplish this result, they should be backstopped from the beginning with confidence-building measures related to missile defenses. These would help early on to develop a better political environment for the discussions and highlight issues that could be fed into the agenda of the consultations. The experience of the NATO-Russia Council working group on missile defenses already provides some good examples of fruitful U.S.-Russian bilateral cooperation in command-post exercises within the context of the broader NATO community.

Another precedent of confidence-building measures that has in fact never been exploited is the New York Protocols of 1997 on delineation of strategic and theater missile defense systems. Russia and the United States negotiated these technical criteria and measures to improve mutual confidence in the scope and nature of the missile defense systems then contemplated or in deployment. The measures particularly emphasized a detailed exchange of technical information about Russian and U.S. missile defense programs. It is time to re-examine these confidence-building measures to see if they could be modified to assuage contemporary concerns about missile defenses, whether in Europe or at the national level.[18]

A third idea for confidence building, which should be rather straightforward to implement, would be to proceed with long-running plans to open a Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC) for monitoring missile launches. The agreement regarding the JDEC was first signed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Putin at their June 2000 meeting in Moscow. Over the next several years, implementation of the center fell prey to bureaucratic issues between Moscow and Washington such as the question of which side would pay for upgrading the school building that had been selected for the site. In addition, the general disinterest of the Bush administration toward negotiated agreements with Russia, especially when negotiated by earlier presidents, served to shelve the JDEC further. The agreement remains intact, however, and the center could be rapidly established as a venue for confidence building on missile defenses.

A Solution on the Czech Republic and Poland?

This serious new examination of the offense-defense relationship could be accompanied in the near term by a formal diplomatic process to resolve the existing differences over the planned U.S. missile defense deployments in the Czech Republic and Poland. If the next U.S. administration decides to proceed with this plan, the basis of a compromise is already clear: Russia would agree to the assembly of the radar and construction of anti-missile base infrastructure as long as it receives technical assurances and is able to monitor on-site that this defense is not directed at Russian deterrence assets. The United States would agree to postpone deployment of interceptors until Iran successfully tests long-range ballistic missiles. Assessment of such tests would be done jointly, on the basis of work already accomplished in the consultative process outlined above, to provide objective analyses of range and throw weight.

Although the basis of a compromise exists, the two sides currently differ on technical details and the question of how to structure an agreement; it will fall to the next administration to clear up these issues. We assume that if the Iranian missile threat is taken seriously in the United States, then it would be worthwhile to Washington to make concessions to Russia, to reassure it, and secure its cooperation, provided that Russian demands do not obstruct the very concept of defense. For example, Moscow’s claim that the Gabala and Armavir radars are an alternative to the radar and interceptor sites in central Europe is groundless and should not be accepted. On the other hand, U.S. insistence on reciprocal on-site inspections at Moscow ballistic missile defense sites is purely political and should be dropped, because this system is of no concern to the United States or NATO.

If and when Russia and the United States reach agreement on this matter, the Gabala, Armavir, and Czech radars might be linked to each other and to the proposed Moscow JDEC and current NORAD command centers and, if need be, to a proposed NATO command center in Brussels. Also, real work could start on making U.S. ground-based interceptors in Europe, sea-based Aegis systems, and other anti-missile systems interoperable with Moscow missile defense, S-300 and S-400 systems, thus laying the ground for the development of a joint or partially common ballistic missile defense. By that time, the work of the consultative groups outlined above should provide necessary and valuable input.

It may be that Russia and the United States never come to develop a new treaty on missile defenses but instead develop an array of cooperative programs that in essence succeed in managing both sides’ understanding of this complicated issue as it relates to strategic offensive forces. In that case, Russia and the United States could proceed with deep reductions in offensive forces, having confidence that the other could not derive advantage on the defense side from that process. Thus, two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States would no longer need to sustain mutual nuclear deterrence as a foundation of their strategic relationship, and they would no longer worry about the destabilizing effect of ballistic missile defenses.


Although Russia and the United States are entering a negotiating interregnum, both sides have ample will to move forward once Bush leaves office and the U.S. presidential transition is underway. Neither country is resisting the notion that a follow-on to START must be found and urgently. Furthermore, interesting proposals are already on the table as to how to replace START and cooperate on future missile defense programs. Therefore, this pause can be thought of as a rare opportunity to think carefully about how to move forward on the strategic nuclear arms agenda.

This process can also be a cooperative one. Historically, when a new leader arrives in power in Washington or Moscow, new arms control proposals would be developed unilaterally, then presented with great fanfare in a speech by the new U.S. president or Soviet general secretary. The negotiations would then begin, but only after a sometimes lengthy period of summitry and ministerial consultations.

The transition this time may be different. First, the talks between the Bush and Putin administrations have been productive, already resulting in understandings on some key issues. In particular, the two sides have agreed not simply to sustain the existing START, but to negotiate a follow-on agreement that would streamline some of START’s more complex verification measures. Furthermore, they have agreed that this follow-on must be legally binding in nature. Second, both sides recognize that there is only a short period in which to work before START expires in December 2009 and no time should be wasted in conducting the normal cycle of summitry and government consultations. Most importantly, communications between the two countries have improved markedly since the end of the Cold War. Although political tensions have sometimes been at nearly a fever pitch in the past year, close discussions have nevertheless continued and not only on a government-to-government level. Nongovernmental experts have also been able to work together more closely and productively than they could have in the past.

For these reasons, we urge that maximum cooperation between Moscow and Washington be maintained during this transition period so that talks can begin very early in the new U.S. administration on finding a follow-on to START and resolving differences over missile defenses. We propose the formula of an enhanced SORT, which we believe has the potential to satisfy current requirements for the strategic forces in each country while laying the groundwork for further and deeper cuts in the future. By building on the arms treaty signed by Bush and Putin, this approach also would incorporate results achieved by those administrations. Such a proposal, effectively an acknowledgement of the Bush-Putin contribution, could be important to gaining the broadest possible political support for the negotiations going forward.

Despite the poor political atmosphere between Russia and the United States, there are good opportunities to achieve a timely replacement to START and to begin developing new joint cooperation on national missile defenses. We have no time to lose, but we also have new potential to work together through this transition period.

Alexei Arbatov is head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Economy and International Relations and a scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center. He previously served as a deputy in the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma. Rose Gottemoeller is director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, former deputy undersecretary of energy for defense nuclear nonproliferation in the Department of Energy, and a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association.


1. For the full text of the Sochi Statement, see Office of the Press Secretary, U.S. Department of State, “U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration,” April 6, 2008.

2. See “Lugar Speech at Conference on Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction,” January 30, 2008, found at http://lugar.senate.gov.

3. Of course, the verification disagreement is not the only difference between Moscow and Washington in the negotiations. The Russians are also very concerned about the lack of counting rules for warheads and launchers if START expires and SORT is left to stand alone.

4. For more on this issue, see George Lewis and Ted Postol, “European Missile Defense: The Technological Basis of Russian Concerns,” Arms Control Today, October 2007, pp. 13-18.

5. For a summary of the steps contemplated, see George P. Shultz, Sidney D. Drell, and James E. Goodby, eds., Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2008). See also George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15; George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13. Both essays can be found at www.nti.org/c_press/c3_opeds.html.

6. The full name of this legislation is the Obama-Hagel Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act (S. 1977). U.S.-Russian strategic arms reduction is only one aspect of the legislation, which emphasizes securing nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials worldwide by 2012. It also supports a new look at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, pursuing a fissile material cutoff treaty, and other major nonproliferation goals. See “Senate Passes Obama-Hagel Provision Aimed at Preventing Nuclear Terrorism,” September 18, 2007, found at http://obama.senate.gov.

7. McCain also stated his commitment to a broad agenda of arms control and nonproliferation goals, including seeking the reduction and perhaps elimination of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and reconsidering the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty with allies and the U.S. Senate. See “Remarks by John McCain on Nuclear Security,” May 27, 2008, found at www.johnmccain.com.

8. See “Remarks by John McCain to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council,” March 26, 2008, found at www.johnmccain.com.

9. An excellent new history on this topic is Melvyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007).

10. For a thoughtful commentary on the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, see Rebecca Johnson, “Politics and Protection: Why the 2005 NPT Review Conference Failed,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 80, Autumn 2005.

11. See Schultz, Drell, and Goodby, Reykjavik Revisited, pp. 78-79.

12. Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, art. II.

13. This description of “START-Plus” is drawn from the presentation “START Anew: The Future of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” by Daryl G. Kimball made at the Carnegie Moscow Center on May 12, 2008. The comments of the Russian experts are also drawn from this seminar.

14. Wade Boese, “Bush, Putin Leave Arms Disputes Unsettled,” Arms Control Today, May 2008, pp. 27-28.

15. For more on this NATO-Russia working group, see “NATO Topics: Missile Defence,” May 16, 2008, found at o.int/issues/missile_defence/index.html.

16. Russian military expert, conversation with authors, Carnegie Moscow Center, May 2008.

17. For a review of issues surrounding the Gabala radar offer, see “Putin Offers Further Missile-Defense Ideas,” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, June 8, 2007, found at www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/06/afd27c1c-8fcb-4484-a8c9-a56503c456bd.html.

18. For full texts of the protocols, which are related to national and theater missile defenses, see www.nti.org/db/nisprofs/russia/treaties/abmdescr.htm.

With the Sochi Declaration in April 2008, the poker players in Washington and Moscow effectively laid down their strategic arms control cards for the last time in the Bush and Putin administrations. They reiterated their intention to carry out further reductions in strategic offensive arms, they pledged to continue development of a legally binding post-START arrangement, and they restated their commitment to Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for eventual total elimination of nuclear weapons. (Continue)

U.S. Issues Broad Threat to WMD Accomplices

Wade Boese

Serious consequences await those that aid terrorists in acquiring or using unconventional weapons under a new policy that national security adviser Stephen Hadley has broadcast. The Bush administration, however, is not clarifying whether the punishment could include U.S. nuclear weapons use, an ambiguity that suits some experts but troubles others.

Speaking May 28 to representatives of some 80 governments attending a Washington meeting on curbing the spread of unconventional arms, Hadley noted that the United States for many years has maintained that any state that employs biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, often referred to collectively as weapons of mass destruction (WMD), against the United States, its forces, or friends and allies could face U.S. retaliation with “overwhelming force.” He then continued by saying, “[T]oday, we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group, or other nonstate actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction, whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts.” Hadley first made a nearly identical statement in a Feb. 8 speech at Stanford University in California.

The Hadley statements expand on previous U.S. warnings by extending the threat of retribution beyond those that use unconventional weapons to those who help an attacker along the way. Moreover, the acquisition of or efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction is sufficient to precipitate U.S. action. In a June 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the Department of State emphasized “a key element” of Hadley’s warning is the “focus to include deterring actors that facilitate terrorist acquisition or use” of weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration’s previous declaratory policy was extolled in the December 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, which was a public version of the classified September 2002 National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 17. In the public document, the administration warned that the United States would reserve “the right to respond with overwhelming force—including through resort to all of our options—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies” (emphasis added). Leaked portions of the classified statement revealed that the phrase “including through resort to all of our options” was a substitute to the NSPD-17’s original and more explicit threat “including potentially nuclear weapons.” (See ACT, January/February 2003 .)

The implication that the United States might use nuclear weapons to respond to biological or chemical weapons attacks was interpreted by some analysts and foreign governments as conflicting with U.S. negative security assurances given in 1978 and 1995 and reaffirmed in February 2002. Those assurances state that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against countries without such arms unless they attack the United States in association or alliance with a nuclear-armed state. Still, the Bush administration threat was not a statement that biological or chemical weapons attack would definitely engender U.S. nuclear retaliation, and U.S. officials in previous administrations had made comparable vague declarations. (See ACT, May/June 1996.)

Bush administration officials, according to a May 8, 2007, New York Times article, convened in May 2006 to discuss whether they should issue a more overt warning to countries that if their nuclear material or weapons were used in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, they would be held “fully responsible.” That meeting reportedly ended inconclusively, but President George W. Bush later warned North Korea after its October 2006 nuclear test that any transfers of nuclear weapons or materials to other states or nonstate actors would pose a “grave threat” to the United States and that it would hold North Korea “fully accountable” for such actions. (See ACT, November 2006 .)

Hadley’s remarks, which expanded the North Korea warning to other states, are opaque as to what exactly would befall an entity complicit in terrorist WMD procurement or use. Although appearing in adjoining sentences, it is not directly stated that the threat of being held “fully accountable” includes possible U.S. use of “overwhelming force,” which at least in NSPD-17 encompassed the potential use of nuclear weapons.

In its June 20 e-mail, the State Department declined to answer whether overwhelming force as recently used by Hadley includes possible resort to nuclear weapons. Instead, the department stated that the United States would “take all factors into account in developing an appropriate response” to a WMD attack. Such a response, according to the department, could include “diplomatic efforts, seizures of funds, military actions, or the use of overwhelming force.” It asserted that past U.S. negative security assurances were still valid.

One former State Department veteran who worked more than 35 years on arms issues agrees that the recent Hadley statements do not contravene historic U.S. assurances. Dean Rust, who retired from the department in 2005, e-mailed Arms Control Today June 23 that the statements are “sufficiently ambiguous as to how [the United States] might hold someone ‘accountable’ for the specified actions.” He added, “[M]oreover, a [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)] non-nuclear-weapon state that deliberately aided a terrorist group to acquire or use nuclear weapons would be in violation of at least the spirit if not the letter of the NPT, in which case the negative security assurance would no longer apply.”

Other experts, including former South African arms control negotiator Jean du Preez, see the Hadley statements as the latest Bush administration step eroding U.S. negative security assurances. (See ACT, July/August 2007 .) Du Preez, who contends that the administration’s 2002 National Security Strategy indicates the United States might use nuclear weapons to deal with other states’ biological or chemical weapons programs, wrote in a June 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the Hadley statement constitutes “a clear abrogation” of U.S. negative security assurances.

Du Preez also questioned how credible the new U.S. threats were, asking “what would be the consequences if evidence shows that an al Qaeda cell in Italy or South Africa is responsible for masterminding, or even worse executing, some sort of WMD attack against the United States or its allies and friends?” Another nettlesome scenario some experts raise is one in which a powerful country such as Russia is somehow implicated in a terrorist WMD attack. Aside from the difficulty of determining if Russia’s role was deliberate, there would be the dilemma of how to respond if it was found at fault. (See ACT, October 2006. ) An October 16, 2006, Defense News article on deterring nuclear terrorists quoted an unidentified former U.S. national security official as saying “a declaratory policy you can’t carry out is the worst thing imaginable.”

Rust said that the new U.S. warnings elevate the importance of the United States being able to accurately trace weapons and material back to their original source. Toward this end, the Bush administration in February requested $30 million as part of its fiscal year 2009 budget request to support a nuclear forensics center established in 2006. The House of Representatives June 18 passed an act to expand that center’s work; the Senate has yet to take up the measure. Some experts calculate that robust forensics capabilities might deter states from transferring nuclear weapons or related materials out of the fear that they would not be able to evade blame if those weapons or materials were used in an attack.


Serious consequences await those that aid terrorists in acquiring or using unconventional weapons under a new policy that national security adviser Stephen Hadley has broadcast. The Bush administration, however, is not clarifying whether the punishment could include U.S. nuclear weapons use, an ambiguity that suits some experts but troubles others. (Continue)

U.S. Presses Poland on Anti-Missile Site

Wade Boese

Frustrated by Polish negotiating demands on a plan to install U.S. anti-missile interceptors in Poland, the United States recently said it had other basing options. Despite vigorous Russian opposition to the potential interceptor deployment in a former Soviet ally, the Bush administration is considering a former Soviet republic, Lithuania, as an alternative.

U.S. government spokespersons June 17 denied that the United States had initiated any formal talks with states other than Poland to see if they would host the interceptors, which are supposedly to defend against Iran’s possible acquisition of intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles. But the spokespersons acknowledged that the United States had identified substitute basing locations to Poland and that there had been general conversations with Lithuania about U.S. missile defense efforts. Lithuanian officials have been quoted denying that there are any negotiations, while saying they would hear the United States out if it came to Lithuania with a specific request.

Tom Casey, a Department of State spokesperson, said that Lithuania had been a recent stop for Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood, a top advocate of the proposed U.S. plan. He also is a key interlocutor trying to blunt Russia’s hostility to the system, which the Kremlin sees as a threat to its nuclear missiles and security.

Casey said Rood’s visit to Lithuania was not to establish a separate “negotiating track,” asserting that the United States thinks it is “very close to an agreement” with Poland. Many analysts see the recently leaked news about Lithuania as a U.S. gambit to gain greater leverage in the negotiations with Poland. A Polish diplomatic source June 19 declined to comment to Arms Control Today, claiming that the Polish-U.S. negotiations were at a crucial stage.

The U.S. negotiations with Poland started in early 2007 at approximately the same time the United States initiated talks with the Czech Republic on hosting a U.S. missile-tracking radar. The U.S. and Czech governments April 3 announced the conclusion of negotiations but have yet to sign an agreement despite reports that the step would occur in May and then June. It is now suggested that a signing ceremony might happen in July, after which the agreement would need to be approved by the Czech parliament to take effect.

Despite the recent delays in the U.S.-Czech process, it has been smoother than the U.S.-Polish talks, which were interrupted by the election of a new Polish government last October. Led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, that government has indicated it is predisposed to hosting the interceptors to bolster relations with the United States. On the other hand, the Tusk government also has demanded that the United States help improve Polish air defense capabilities to offset what it projects will be a greater threat from an angry Russia. Some Polish analysts note that the more bellicose Russian threats grow, the more likely Russia is to drive Poland into an agreement with the United States.

So far, however, the United States has found the Polish price too high, reportedly amounting to billions in military assistance and weaponry, including shorter-range missile defense systems. Polish officials also reportedly are seeking some say in the system’s operation, such as when it will be fired.

Although stating that the United States was not setting a deadline for a deal with Poland, Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesperson, warned that “time is of the essence.” He attributed the rush to growing Iranian missile capabilities, but most observers see the impetus as the Bush administration’s desire to get an agreement in place before it exits office.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has indicated that the earliest construction could start would be next year. Actual work would depend on final agreements with the host countries, parliamentary approval of those agreements, and U.S. congressional funding.

Lawmakers in the Czech Republic, Poland, and the United States have expressed various reservations with the proposed plan. Czech and Polish legislators’ concerns reflect generally negative public opinion about the U.S.-proposed project, which has sparked some hunger strikes in the Czech Republic. U.S. lawmakers have cited concerns about whether the proposed ground-based interceptors are technically the best choice, whether the system can actually work, and its projected costs, which are estimated at approximately $3.5 billion.

Neither presumptive presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), has said he would, if elected, discontinue the proposed European deployment. Indeed, McCain has fully endorsed it, and his campaign has more generally stated that he sees “effective missile defenses” as critical not only to deal with states such as Iran but also to “hedge against potential threats from possible strategic competitors like Russia and China.”

Frustrated by Polish negotiating demands on a plan to install U.S. anti-missile interceptors in Poland, the United States recently said it had other basing options. Despite vigorous Russian opposition to the potential interceptor deployment in a former Soviet ally, the Bush administration is considering a former Soviet republic, Lithuania, as an alternative. (Continue)

Russian Plutonium-Producing Reactors Closed

Stephen Bunnell

On June 5, Rosatom closed the sole remaining reactor at the Siberian Chemical Combine, located in Seversk, ending the city’s 43 years of weapons-grade plutonium production and bringing Russia one step closer to ending production of weapons-grade plutonium.

Production at the reactor, known as ADE-5, was terminated under a joint program between the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear agency. The program was initiated to shutter the three remaining Russian plutonium-producing reactors and replace them with non-nuclear fuel sources. The first of these reactors, ADE-4, also located in Seversk, was closed under the same program in April. (See ACT, May 2008.)

The joint program that facilitated these closures, known as Elimination of Weapons Grade Plutonium Production (EWGPP), aims to halt Russian production of plutonium, which can be used to construct a nuclear weapon, in order to prevent it from being stolen and sold on the black market. In a press release, William Tobey, NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, hailed the closure of ADE-5 as “another step closer to eliminating the production of nuclear weapons-grade plutonium in Russia.” Together, the three reactors were able to produce more than one metric ton of plutonium annually, enough to make 250 nuclear weapons, according to Department of Energy estimates.

Besides proliferation concerns, the reactors also caused worries about safety. All three of them are of the RBMK type, a light-water-cooled, graphite-moderated model that gained infamy through the Chernobyl accident in 1986. These concerns were briefly realized in Seversk in 1993, when a tank containing an industrial solution used to decontaminate decommissioned nuclear reactors exploded, contaminating the surrounding countryside.

The only plutonium-producing reactor that now remains, located near the Siberian city of Zheleznogorsk, is slated to be shut down by 2010. Both Seversk and Zheleznogorsk are former “closed cities,” once-secret settlements that produced plutonium for the Soviet nuclear weapons program during the Cold War.

The United States has been calling for the closure of these plants since the early 1990s. The 1994 “Agreement Concerning the Shutdown of Plutonium Production Reactors and the Cessation of Use of Newly Produced Plutonium for Nuclear Weapons” originally called for ADE-4 and ADE-5 to be shut down in 2000. However, because they provided electricity and heat to Seversk and the nearby city of Tomsk, the deadline was moved back to the end of 2008. ADE-4 and ADE-5 closed eight and seven months ahead of schedule, respectively.

In the meantime, the United States has donated $926 million in order to help refurbish nearby fossil fuel and wind plants to compensate for the loss of energy. According to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which oversees threat reduction projects in the former Soviet Union, these repairs are nearing completion.

North Korea Delivers Nuclear Declaration

Peter Crail

Pyongyang June 26 delivered its long-awaited declaration on its nuclear programs to China, the chair of the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. The six countries, which also include Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, are expected to meet in the following weeks to discuss the declaration and the process to verify it. Washington responded the same day by taking steps to remove certain sanctions against North Korea.

If judged to be satisfactory by the other five parties, North Korea’s declaration would satisfy one of the two key commitments made by Pyongyang in an October 2007 six-party agreement, which outlined steps Pyongyang would take toward denuclearization and the benefits it would receive in return. (See ACT, November 2007. ) The other key obligation, disabling three primary facilities associated with North Korea’s plutonium program, has been proceeding since November 2007 and is scheduled to be completed this fall.

According to the October 2007 agreement, North Korea agreed to provide a “complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs.” Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, stated during a June 24 press conference that “there will be a package for the declaration, which has to cover all of the nuclear programs.”

Hill appears to be referring to an understanding reached in April on the scope of the declaration. Reportedly, it will involve a formal declaration by North Korea on its plutonium program and secret side documents addressing U.S. concerns about any work on uranium enrichment that North Korea may have performed, as well as any nuclear proliferation actions Pyongyang may have taken involving other countries, particularly Syria. (See ACT, May 2008. )

Hill added that the declaration would not address any actual weapons that North Korea produced, stating June 24 that “the weapons are to be determined at a subsequent phase.”

United States Lifts Certain Sanctions

President George W. Bush took action June 26 to ease certain sanctions against North Korea in return for North Korea’s submission of its declaration. He issued a proclamation rescinding the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act toward Pyongyang, and notified Congress of his intention to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 45 days. The Bush administration pledged to take these steps once Pyongyang carried out its commitments under the October 2007 agreement.

U.S. law requires that the president notify Congress 45 days before such a removal from the list would take effect. During that time, Congress can pass legislation to block it, but this may be vetoed by the president.

In a June 18 speech to the Heritage Foundation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated that, during and after those 45 days, the administration will “hold North Korea accountable” for any violations of its six-party agreements, including by reimposing any sanctions waived and levying new ones.

In addition, Rice asserted that lifting application of the Trading with the Enemy Act against North Korea will have little impact on U.S. sanctions against the country. She noted that even though the act would no longer apply to North Korea, “just about every restriction that might be lifted will be, in fact, kept in place because of different U.S. laws.” Moreover, Bush issued an executive order June 26 that continued particular sanctions against North Korea which would have been otherwise lifted. Such measures included maintaining assets freezes against North Korea and North Korean nationals and prohibiting U.S. nationals from registering vessels in North Korea or operating North Korean-flagged vessels.

North Korea might benefit from the lifting of sanctions associated with the terrorism list. U.S. law requires that the administration attempt to block international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, from providing loans to states designated as sponsors of terrorism. The United States can still try to block such assistance, but would not be able to use the terrorism list as a justification once North Korea is removed from the list.

Congress has also taken steps to lift certain sanctions against North Korea for the purpose of permitting U.S. agencies to fund particular activities in North Korea. The House of Representatives June 19 passed legislation allowing the president to waive specific U.S. sanctions imposed on North Korea in 2006 in response to Pyongyang’s test of a nuclear device in October of that year. Those sanctions have hampered the ability of U.S. agencies to carry out work to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear facilities. (See ACT, June 2008. )

The Senate adopted similar legislation May 22. Both provisions were attached to the fiscal year 2008 supplemental spending bill. As of the end of June, the Senate was reviewing the version of the supplemental passed by the House, which was a modified version of the Senate bill passed in May.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated June 13 that dismantling North Korea’s nuclear facilities would cost about $575 million and take about four years to complete.

Pyongyang Prepares for Terrorism List Removal

In likely preparation for its removal from the U.S. terrorism list, North Korea began taking steps in June to distance itself from concerns about its links to terrorism.

On June 10, the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring that Pyongyang has consistently opposed “all forms of terrorism and any support of it.” The foreign ministry indicated that the statement was “authorized by its government,” indicating that the statement comes from the most senior levels of the regime.

Although North Korea has made similar pronouncements in the past, Pyongyang expanded on this position in the recent statement by citing its adherence to several bilateral and international counterterrorism accords.

U.S. officials welcomed the statement. Alexander Arvizu, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told an Institute for Corean-American Studies audience June 10 that the North Korean statement was “just one of the steps” that North Korea would need to take to meet the requirements for removal from the terrorism list.

North Korea has also reversed its long-held position that the issue of its past abduction of Japanese citizens has been “completely resolved.” The official Korean Central News Agency indicated June 13 that, during bilateral discussions with Japan in June, North Korea agreed to “reinvestigate the abduction issue.”

Relations between Japan and North Korea are also being addressed as part of the six-party talks. The key bilateral issue between Tokyo and Pyongyang is Japan’s demand that North Korea account for its abduction of more than a dozen Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s.

Tokyo has frequently expressed concern that the United States would remove Pyongyang from its terrorism list before the abduction issue was resolved. U.S. officials have maintained that although the issue must still be addressed in the course of the talks, it does not have bearing on the U.S. decision regarding the terrorism list. During a Nov. 13 Department of State press briefing, Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey stated that North Korea must be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism “in accordance” with U.S. law, adding that the terrorism list and abductees issues “are not necessarily specifically linked.” (See ACT, December 2007. )

In a Patterns of Global Terrorism report released in April 2004, however, the State Department described North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens as part of the basis for its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Tokyo officially characterized the impending U.S. removal of Pyongyang from its terrorism list in positive terms, with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stating June 25 that Japan “will welcome a move that leads North Korea toward the direction of resolving its nuclear issue.” However, the move also sparked political controversy within the Japanese government and threatens to harm relations between Washington and Tokyo. Regretting the U.S. decision, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters June 25 that the de-listing “could affect the Japan-U.S. alliance and the relationship of trust.”

Israel’s Airstrike on Syria’s Reactor: Implications for the Nonproliferation Regime

Leonard S. Spector and Avner Cohen

IAEA Inspects Alleged Al-Kibar Nuclear Facility Site

On September 6, 2007, in a surprise dawn attack, seven Israeli warplanes destroyed an industrial facility near al-Kibar, Syria, later identified by the CIA as a nearly completed nuclear reactor secretly under construction since 2001.[1]

According to the CIA, the unit was built with North Korean assistance and was modeled on one used by North Korea to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The CIA declared that it had only “low confidence” that Syria was pursuing a nuclear weapons program, however, because the agency had not unearthed evidence of other key facilities that would be needed for such an effort, in particular a plant to fabricate fuel for the reactor and one to extract weapons-usable plutonium from its spent nuclear fuel. Nonetheless, the CIA acknowledged that the reactor was not suited for the production of electricity or for nuclear research, leaving little room for doubt that the unit was intended to produce plutonium for nuclear arms. Although the location of the plant would strongly indicate that it was part of a secret Syrian nuclear weapons program, a recent story in the German weekly Der Spiegel, suggests another possibility: the article cites “intelligence documents” as indicating that the unit was in fact part of a multinational nuclear weapons effort led by Iran, in which Syria and North Korea were collaborating.[2] Both Syria and Iran are non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits such parties from developing and producing nuclear weapons.

What was particularly notable about this attack was what occurred afterward: the near total lack of international comment or criticism of Israel’s action. The lack of reaction contrasted starkly to the international outcry that followed Israel’s preventive strike in 1981 that destroyed Iraq’s Osiraq reactor. To be sure, foreign governments may have reserved comment because of the lack of information after the attack. The Israeli and U.S. governments imposed virtually total news blackouts immediately after the raid that held for seven months, and Syria was initially silent on the matter and then subsequently denied that the bombed target was a nuclear facility. Yet, the international silence continued even after the CIA on April 24, 2008, provided a 12-minute video and an extensive briefing that made a strong case that the target was a North Korean-built reactor designed for producing weapons-usable plutonium.

Was the international community tacitly condoning the 2007 Israeli raid even though it appeared that the Syrian reactor did not pose an imminent threat to Israel, the sole justification under international law for the anticipatory use of military force?[3] Were foreign governments, cognizant that the UN Security Council had been unable to halt Iran’s continuing development of previously undeclared sensitive nuclear facilities, tacitly endorsing Israel’s decision not to invoke the diplomatic tools at its disposal, such as demanding an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation of the site, another traditional prerequisite to the anticipatory use of force?

With the case still unfolding, it is premature to draw firm conclusions about its meaning for the future of global nonproliferation efforts, but two issues will bear close watching. Has confidence in the enforcement of nonproliferation norms eroded to the point that the international community is prepared to accept more readily than in the past the preventive use of force to suppress suspected nuclear weapons programs in certain narrowly defined cases? If so, what does this augur for the future use of military force to arrest Iran’s weapons-relevant nuclear activities?

Contrasting Reactions: Osiraq versus al-Kibar

On June 7, 1981, minutes before sunset, eight Israeli F-16 jet fighters in a surprise raid dropped 16 tons of high explosives on the French-supplied, nearly completed Osiraq research nuclear reactor in Tuwaitha, Iraq’s main nuclear center, some 26 kilometers southeast of Baghdad. Two days later, in a dramatic press conference in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin took full responsibility for the operation, praised its execution as extraordinary, and justified it both on moral and legal grounds. Begin referred to the strike as an act of “anticipatory self-defense at its best.”[4]

The message that Begin conveyed was that the raid on Osiraq was not a one-time operation but rather a long-term national commitment. He ended his press conference with these dramatic words:

We chose this moment: now, not later, because later may be too late, perhaps forever. And if we stood by idly, two, three years, at the most four years, and Saddam Hussein would have produced his three, four, five bombs.… Then, this country and this people would have been lost, after the Holocaust. Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people. Never again, never again! Tell so your friends, tell anyone you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal. We shall not allow any enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction turned against us.[5]

A few days later, in a CBS News television interview, Begin reiterated this doctrinal point: “This attack will be a precedent for every future government in Israel.… [E]very future Israeli prime minister will act, in similar circumstances, in the same way.”[6]

The international community did not share Begin’s view. On the contrary, the Israeli raid against a declared nuclear facility belonging to an NPT signatory state in good standing met with near-universal condemnation. Within two days, the surprised Reagan White House suspended the delivery of F-16 warplanes to Israel (the suspension was cancelled two months later).[7]

If the U.S. reaction, especially in Congress, was somewhat ambivalent, the worldwide reaction from Moscow to Paris was blunt and strongly disapproving. In the UN Security Council, after a week marked by some 40 speeches all fiercely critical of Israel’s action, a tough seven-point resolution, which “strongly condemned” Israel for the strike against Osiraq, was unanimously approved.[8] The resolution characterized the Israeli action as a “clear violation of the UN charter and the norms of international conduct” and admonished Israel to refrain in the future from similar actions. Defending the right of Iraq to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, the resolution urged Israel to accept IAEA inspections on all its nuclear facilities (a step that would force Israel to eliminate its widely assumed nuclear arsenal) and concluded by recognizing Iraq’s right to “appropriate redress.”

The IAEA Board of Governors was equally condemnatory, repeating the Security Council demand that Israel place its nuclear facilities under agency safeguards and warning that Israel might be expelled from the agency if it declined to do so. Finally, on November 10, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution harshly critical of the Israeli attack on Osiraq, with 109 states voting in favor, 34 states abstaining, and only Israel and the United States voting against the measure.

More than a quarter century later, however, after Israel’s similar raid on the al-Kibar reactor, the international repercussions were strikingly different. This time, Israel said nothing after the attack and imposed a tight and unprecedented news blackout on the Israeli press regarding the episode. The Bush administration, which apparently consulted with Israel on its concerns about the site before the attack, was also mute and ordered U.S. officials not to discuss the matter. Although several articles in the U.S. media reported that the Syrian installation was a nuclear facility of some kind, there was no official confirmation of such speculation in Jerusalem or Washington until the CIA release of information in April 2008.[9]

Syria said very little as well. Initially, Syria complained only that Israeli aircraft had violated its airspace and dropped some explosive charges in a remote, desolate area, but Damascus went no further.[10] Two weeks later, Syrian President Bashar Assad confirmed in an interview with the BBC that a Syrian military facility under construction was attacked by Israel but provided no details.[11] At the time, Syria (with North Korean help, according to the CIA) was razing the remnants of the al-Kibar facility, in an apparent effort to remove any remaining evidence of the nature of the installation. Within weeks, a new facility was erected, covering the location of the former reactor.

In subsequent statements, Syrian officials categorically denied that the country was building a covert nuclear facility at the site of the Israeli attack.[12] In early June 2008, Syria agreed to an inspection of the site by an IAEA team, to be dispatched later in the month. With Syria having razed the remnants of the facility and built a new structure in its place, it was not clear whether IAEA inspectors would be able to confirm that the site originally housed a reactor. Nor was it clear whether Damascus would grant IAEA monitors access to other undeclared sites that might house the still unidentified fuel fabrication and reprocessing plants that would be needed for a nuclear weapons program.

In a stunning contrast with developments in 1981, no Arab government commented on the Israeli raid, much less pressed for retaliation against Israel, diplomatic or otherwise. The Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly characterized the state of affairs as the “synchronized silence of the Arab world.”[13] The restraint may have reflected the fact that many Arab governments were not displeased that a possible clandestine Syrian nuclear weapons effort had been dealt a serious setback. Iran, Syria’s closest ally, also remained largely silent on the issue (possibly to avoid calling attention to itself, if it was, indeed, helping to build the facility). Surprisingly, given that virtually nothing was known publicly about al-Kibar at the time, North Korea strongly condemned the Israeli attack, the only state to do so.[14] Some in the Western press took this as evidence that North Korean nationals were involved in the project and may have been injured in the Israeli attack.[15]

Similarly, the matter was not brought up for debate at the UN Security Council. Nor did the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security, address the attack and Syria’s possible violation of its NPT pledges at its meetings, held from October 8 to November 2, 2007.

Perhaps more importantly, this pattern of silence continued after the CIA video and briefings were published on April 24, 2008, which disclosed that Israel had attacked what the U.S. intelligence agency alleged was a Syrian nuclear reactor in a preventive strike. To be sure, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei issued a disapproving statement on April 25. The statement deplored the fact that the United States and Israel had not provided information to the IAEA “in a timely manner, in accordance with the agency’s responsibilities under the [NPT] to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts.” It went on to declare that “the director general views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the nonproliferation regime.”[16] Although expressing concern about the impact of the Israeli strike on the NPT and the IAEA, ElBaradei’s statement did not directly challenge Israel’s exercise of a right to anticipatory self-defense in this case, in sharp contrast to the findings in 1981 of the UN Security Council, the General Assembly, and the IAEA Board of Governors regarding the Osiraq raid.

Indeed, the Security Council, the body that in 1981 had unanimously condemned Israel’s raid as contrary to the UN Charter and “to norms of international conduct,” had an obvious opportunity to debate the matter at its meeting on April 25. At that session, it addressed a major nonproliferation issue, whether to extend the mandate of the council’s committee to oversee implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540. The resolution calls on all UN member states to establish domestic controls and adopt legislation to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Yet, according to the official summary of the debate on the matter, neither the Israeli attack nor Syria’s secret nuclear activities was mentioned.[17]

The Israeli attack also was not criticized at recent international meetings held in Geneva from April 28 to May 9 to prepare for the 2010 NPT Review Conference.[18] Presumably to avoid calling attention to its own alleged misconduct, even Syria did not raise a complaint about Israel’s airstrike in its official statement to the forum but focused instead on the traditional Arab state criticism of Israel for blocking the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East and of the nuclear-weapon states for not making better progress toward disarmament.[19] A number of other Arab states also called for universal adherence to the NPT, the indirect language commonly used to press Israel to renounce its nuclear weapons and join the pact, but again these familiar calls were made without reference to the September 6 airstrike.[20] The United States and Canada complained openly about North Korea assistance to Syria and to Syria’s noncompliance with its obligations under the NPT and under its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Both states not only declined to criticize Israel, but they did not even mention that Israel had attacked the site.[21]

At the recent meeting of IAEA Board of Governors in early June, ElBaradei declared in his opening remarks, “It is deeply regrettable that information concerning this installation was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner and that force was resorted to unilaterally before the Agency was given an opportunity to establish the facts, in accordance with its responsibilities under the NPT and Syria’s Safeguards Agreement.” He went on to stress, however, that “Syria, like all States with comprehensive safeguards agreements, has an obligation to report the planning and construction of any nuclear facility to the Agency. We are therefore treating this information with the seriousness it deserves,” noting that an IAEA inspection team would visit Syria June 22-24, 2008.[22] Nonetheless, the IAEA’s official summary of the meeting does not indicate that the matter was further debated, a silence on the matter that at least one official present confirmed.[23]

Bush Doctrine

Adding to the difficulties of understanding the implications of this case is the Bush doctrine, articulated in the 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy.[24] The traditionally accepted justification for the use of force in the absence of actual aggression was established in 1837 in a U.S.-British controversy known as the Caroline case, which permitted a state to use appropriate military force when not under attack only in case of necessity, “where the attack was imminent and only forcible action could forestall such attack.”[25]

The Bush doctrine sought to expand this definition to justify pre-emptive military action. Highlighting the catastrophic destructive potential of weapons of mass destruction, the readiness of international terrorist groups and isolated leaders of anti-status quo states to use them, and the ease of concealing such weapons, the doctrine declared that “[t]he greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction—and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”[26]

Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice expanded on the new doctrine in an address shortly after the release of the National Security Strategy.

The National Security Strategy does not overturn five decades of doctrine and jettison either containment or deterrence. These strategic concepts can and will continue to be employed where appropriate. But some threats are so potentially catastrophic—and can arrive with so little warning, by means that are untraceable—that they cannot be contained. Extremists who seem to view suicide as a sacrament are unlikely to ever be deterred. And new technology requires new thinking about when a threat actually becomes “imminent.” So as a matter of common sense, the United States must be prepared to take action, when necessary, before threats have fully materialized.

But this approach must be treated with great caution. The number of cases in which it might be justified will always be small. It does not give a green light—to the United States or any other nation—to act first without exhausting other means, including diplomacy. Preemptive action does not come at the beginning of a long chain of effort. The threat must be very grave. And the risks of waiting must far outweigh the risks of action.[27]

The National Security Strategy sparked immediate controversy, in part because it was articulated by the world’s sole superpower and by an administration with a reputation for acting unilaterally and seemingly eager to advance U.S. interests through the use of military force, particularly in the then-looming confrontation with Iraq.[28] The Bush doctrine misfired badly in Iraq, where the U.S.-led intervention was justified as essential to destroy Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs, which were later found not to exist. Nonetheless, the underlying rationale for modifying the norms governing anticipatory self-defense to confront nascent nuclear weapons programs has gained a degree of recognition within the U.S. policy community, even among some who have criticized the Bush administration for its assertive projection of U.S. military might.[29] Internationally, however, the doctrine has remained the target of strong criticism.[30]

Israel’s strike on al-Kibar in September 2007 was, in effect, a clear application of this internationally disfavored doctrine. Given that the al-Kibar reactor had not started to operate and, according to the CIA, Syria’s fuel fabrication and reprocessing facilities had not been discovered and might not yet have been completed, Syria was unquestionably some time away from producing fissile material for nuclear weapons and still further from producing the weapons themselves. Thus, few could argue that Israel met the traditional necessity/imminence standard in the case of the al-Kibar reactor strike. (The same would be true if the reactor was, in fact, part of an Iranian nuclear weapon program.) Moreover, Israel bypassed a key restraint enumerated by Rice, in that Israel did not exhaust or apparently ever initiate other diplomatic means for dealing with this threat. Yet, even then, the international community refrained from condemning the Israeli attack.

Explaining the Silence

What can account for this reaction, now that the major details of the episode have begun to emerge? One senior Middle Eastern diplomat, Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, said at a June 2008 forum in Washington that governments in the region had refrained from commenting because so little authoritative information was originally provided officially by the governments involved. He added that the episode had also been overshadowed by other events in the region and that governments would be more likely to speak to the issue once the IAEA had completed its initial investigation of the incident. Yet, the reasons behind the international silence appear to be considerably more complex and could indicate a broader concern about the underlying weakness of the NPT regime.

Regional politics have certainly played a role. An isolated state with close ties to Iran, Syria is perceived as a disruptive influence in the region, even within the Arab community, making it a decidedly less sympathetic victim of Israeli pre-emption than Iraq in 1981. Also, the specific details of the al-Kibar case itself, coupled with the as yet ineffective efforts to enforce the NPT in the case of Iran, have undoubtedly influenced thinking in foreign capitals.

In contrast to the Osiraq reactor, which was openly purchased from France, declared, and subject to IAEA monitoring, the Syrian reactor was secretly built with North Korean aid, undeclared, deliberately concealed, and not subject to IAEA safeguards. These differences in themselves made the Syrian reactor, once revealed, immediately suspect and lent an element of credibility to Israel’s underlying concerns about the installation. The physical characteristics of the al-Kibar reactor reinforce these points. The Osiraq reactor was appropriately sized and designed for nuclear research; only by a complex scheme of emplacing and removing uranium targets around its core between IAEA inspections could it have been used to secretly produce plutonium for weapons. Al-Kibar, in contrast, was modeled on a reactor specifically designed to produce plutonium for nuclear arms, immediately creating an additional cause for suspicion and concern.

At the same time, Israel’s principal diplomatic option for eliminating the risk posed by the facility—seeking an IAEA investigation, possibly leading to UN Security Council action—hardly appeared promising. Israel has never placed trust in international organizations to guarantee its security, particularly in cases where its very existence may be at stake. Indeed, this is the philosophy behind the 1981 Begin doctrine. In recent years, as international nonproliferation enforcement efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program have escalated from IAEA demands to UN Security Council sanctions, Israel has grappled with the profound dilemma of deciding how long it can rely on these efforts before reverting to the Begin doctrine.

By the time of the al-Kibar raid, the Security Council had adopted two resolutions demanding that Iran cease its uranium-enrichment and plutonium-production-related activities and had imposed sanctions against Iran until it did so. Iran has defied these measures, however, as well as demands from the IAEA that it provide a full explanation of evidence that it conducted work on nuclear weapons at least through early 2004.[31] Meanwhile, Tehran significantly expanded its uranium-enrichment capabilities and indicated its intent to continue doing so, in effect bringing it ever closer to the ability to produce material for nuclear weapons. (On April 25, 2008, the council adopted a third sanctions resolution seeking to halt the sensitive elements of the Iranian nuclear program, Resolution 1803.)

Given this history, had Israel brought the matter to the IAEA, Israel would have had reason to fear that Syria would have followed the Iranian example: stalling for time, delaying inspections, removing evidence, asserting (however falsely) that the site was peaceful in nature, and claiming that it had disguised the unit in order to protect it from possible attack. Moreover, for Israel to have approached the agency might have required it to compromise intelligence about the al-Kibar site and would certainly have led Syria to heavily protect the facility, potentially constraining Israel’s option to destroy the reactor if IAEA inspections and other diplomatic measures failed to prevent its operation. Once it was operating, Israel would have been further constrained because destroying the facility could have created significant radiological fallout.

It probably would be an overstatement to interpret the international silence on the al-Kibar attack as constituting tacit endorsement that diplomatic mechanisms for enforcing the nonproliferation regime have proven ineffective and that threatened states have a right to preventively attack clandestine foreign nuclear facilities. Silence is a convenient, noncommittal reaction that avoids the need for a government to openly take sides in a potentially incendiary international controversy. Nonetheless, the persistence of the silence suggests that states are becoming increasingly concerned about the weakness of the nonproliferation regime in enforcing its norms and, therefore, cautiously more tolerant of an affected state using force preventively, beyond the classic rule limiting anticipatory self-defense to cases where a threat is imminent.[32]

Impact on Nonproliferation

If the international response was indeed an unspoken expression of anxiety about current regime enforcement mechanisms, the most important means to begin to restore confidence in the regime is for the IAEA and the Security Council to act decisively to address the Iranian nuclear program. In its most recent report, the IAEA appears to be intensifying its pressure on Tehran, but the Security Council seems incapable of decisive action because of Chinese and Russian reluctance to impose strong sanctions against Iran. The international response to the Israeli attack should be taken as a clear rebuke for their hesitancy.

After all, Iran pursued a clandestine uranium-enrichment program for some 18 years, with secret support from the Abdul Qadeer Khan nuclear smuggling network, behavior not unlike Syria’s pursuit of the al-Kibar project. Even after placing all of its known nuclear facilities under IAEA inspection, Tehran continues to bring new suspicions on the program. Since 2005, for example, Tehran has rescinded expanded authority it had previously granted the IAEA to conduct inspections on its territory. Moreover, according to U.S. intelligence estimates and documents now in the hands of the IAEA, Iran pursued work specifically on nuclear weapons at least through early 2004, including development of a nuclear warhead for its intermediate-range Shahab-3 missile. As recently reported by the IAEA, Iran has refused to acknowledge or explain this earlier work and has denied the agency the access necessary to confirm that Iran is not currently engaging in any nuclear weapons research or clandestine fissile material production activities.[33]

These are the principal underlying reasons the UN Security Council has demanded, inter alia, that Iran cease all enrichment activities. At the same time, the response to the Syria attack is far from a clear precedent implicitly endorsing the use of military force against the Iranian nuclear program. The cases are not identical. The council has imposed sanctions against Iran under Article 41 of the UN Charter, which excludes the use of military force to implement Security Council mandates. Thus, the al-Kibar strike, even if seen as tacitly expanding the right of preventive attacks against clandestine nuclear programs, can hardly be said to provide Israel or any other state with a green light for attacking threatening nuclear installations in Iran.

Moreover, from an operational military perspective, there is a huge difference between the ability (especially for Israel) to conduct a successful strike against a single, ground-level reactor in nearby Syria and the ability to destroy the dozen or so major nuclear weapons-relevant components of a much larger nuclear program in distant Iran, including Iran’s underground, heavily shielded enrichment facility at Natanz. These are two radically different military missions. Moreover, with allies in Iraq, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, as well as missiles able to reach Israel, Iran would have a wide range of retaliatory measures at its disposal. Thus even if international quiescence regarding the al-Kibar attack might provide a political opening for striking Iran, military realities would make this a very dangerous and daunting effort. Nonetheless, with the recent war of words between Iranian officials, threatening to “erase” Israel and declaring that it will soon disappear, and one potential Israeli candidate for prime minister, Shaul Mofaz, declaring that military strikes to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons looked “unavoidable,” this option cannot be ruled out.[34]

Although other senior Israeli officials criticized Mofaz’s declaration as reckless and driven by domestic considerations, only days before he spoke Israel carried out a major military exercise involving over 100 jet fighters and refueling tankers, apparently intended to rehearse the execution of long-range strikes. Some U.S. officials characterized the maneuvers as a warning to Iran.[35] Moreover, if the Der Spiegel report is accurate and Iran was the hidden hand behind al-Kibar, Israel’s attack against Iran’s nuclear weapon program may have already begun.

Finally, as analysts consider the lasting impact of the al-Kibar attack, some may criticize it as a challenge to the treaty- and inspection-based nonproliferation regime. Although it is still too early to predict the lasting normative legacy of the Israeli action on al-Kibar, the difference in international attitudes between 1981 (Osiraq) and 2007-2008 (al-Kibar and subsequent release of information about the attack) is unmistakable. One explanation may be that in the intervening years, the gross violations of nonproliferation regime compliance rules by Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—all NPT non-nuclear weapon state parties—have altered thinking regarding the legitimacy of unilateral preventive action, at least in cases of undeclared nuclear facilities that are apparently oriented towards the production of weapons.

There may also be a growing appreciation in the international community that military action can sometimes complement and reinforce the regime. Military modalities, such as alliances and security assurances, have traditionally played a supporting role in reducing the motivations of states to go nuclear, but it appears that since the first Gulf War there may be a increased recognition that, in some cases, military action or the threat of such action may also play a more direct role in halting violations of the regime compliance rules. This was the case in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which, with the subsequent work of the UN Special Commission, eliminated Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs; with the threat of military intervention against North Korea in the early 1990s, which facilitated the freeze of Pyongyang’s plutonium program under the 1994 Agreed Framework; and with the enforcement of the inspection requirements in UN Security Council Resolution 687 in Iraq through the threat of invasion in 2002-2003.


Although many details about this incident are yet to be revealed, it is already evident that its reverberations challenging the efficacy of the classic nonproliferation regime and potentially expanding the rights of states to intervene against clandestine nuclear programs in their early stages appear inevitable. Effective investigations by the IAEA in Syria, perhaps unearthing still undiscovered clandestine facilities, and significantly intensified efforts by the agency and the Security Council in addressing the Iranian threat could do much to help restore the regime’s integrity and need to be urgently pursued.

Leonard S. Spector directs the Washington, D.C., office of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and heads its new program on nonproliferation policy and law. Avner Cohen is a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and author of Israel and the Bomb. Deborah Berman of the James Martin Center and Christopher Neu of the U.S. Institute of Peace provided research assistance and made substantive contributions to this article.

IAEA Inspects Alleged Al-Kibar Nuclear Facility Site

Peter Crail

A team of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors led by Deputy Director-General Olli Heinonen carried out inspections at the site of the alleged al-Kibar nuclear facility June 22-24. As of the end of June, the outcome of the inspections was unclear.

Heinonen said June 26 that inspectors were able to take extensive samples at the site in search of traces of evidence and that Syria’s cooperation had been generally satisfactory, Reuters reported.

Saying the inquiry was off to “a good start,” Heinonen indicated that it would take time to evaluate the initial findings and that additional talks with Syrian officials were scheduled. He also hinted that further visits would be needed to resolve all issues.

The inspections were limited to the al-Kibar site although the United States apparently has other sites that it believes the agency should inspect to determine whether Syria had a secret nuclear program. The Washington Post reported May 29 that the United States provided the IAEA with information regarding at least three additional sites it suspects are associated with clandestine Syrian nuclear efforts.

Gregory Schulte, U.S. permanent representative to the IAEA, praised the June visit but warned Syria not to stand in the way of a full inquiry, Reuters reported.

“We call on Syria to fully cooperate with the IAEA and in no way hinder the investigation by refusing the IAEA unfettered access to any site or information needed for the investigation,” Schulte said in a statement e-mailed to the news agency.

Syria claims that the al-Kibar facility was not nuclear related.




1. “Background Briefing With Senior U.S. Officials on Syria’s Covert Nuclear Reactor and North Korea’s Involvement,” April 24, 2008, available at dni.gov/interviews.htm; Ronen Bergman and Ronen Solomon, “Al-Asad’s Atom Program,” Ye’diot Achronot, April 4, 2008.

2. “Syria Turning Toward the West?: Assad’s Risky Nuclear Game,” Spiegel Online News, June 23, 2008, available at www.spiegel.de and Ian Black, “Syria Planned to Supply Iran With Nuclear Fuel, Israel Says” The Guardian, June 25, 2008.

3. UN Charter, art. 51. For discussion of the scope of Article 51, see Ivo Daalder and James Steinberg, “The Future of Preemption,” The National Interest, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter 2005); Anthony Clark Arend, “International Law and the Preemptive Use of Military Force,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 89-103.

4. For the best Israeli narrative of the Osiraq raid, see Shlomo Nakdimon, First Strike: The Exclusive Story of How Israel Foiled Iraq’s Attempt to Get the Bomb (New York: Summit Book, 1987), pp. 230-233.

5. Ibid., p. 240. For a more expanded version in Hebrew, see Shlomo Nakdimon, Tamuz in Flames (Tel Aviv: Edanim, 1993).

6. “CBS News: An Interview with Prime Minister Menachem Begin,” Face the Nation, CBS June 15, 1981 (emphasis added). For the same commitment, in a slightly different wording, see Nakdimon, Tamuz in Flames, p. 384; Nakdimon, First Strike, p. 334.

7. Abraham Ben-Zvi, The United States and Israel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 131-136.

8. UN Security Council Resolution 487, June 19, 2001.

9. See for example Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper, “Israeli Nuclear Suspicions Linked to Raid in Syria,” The New York Times, September 18, 2007; David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, “Israel Struck Syrian Nuclear Project, Analysts Say,” The New York Times, October 14, 2007.

10. For a detailed review of contemporaneous Syrian and other international press and foreign official responses to the incident, see Richard Weitz, “Israeli Airstrike in Syria: International Reactions,” CNS Feature Story, November 1, 2007.

11. “Assad Sets Conference Conditions,” BBC, October 1, 2007.

12. Weitz, “Israeli Airstrike in Syria.”

13. Ibid.

14. Sanger and Mazzetti, “Israel Struck Syrian Nuclear Project, Analysts Say.”

15. “Report: Israeli Forces Seized Nuclear Material During Syrian Raid,” Sunday Times, September 23, 2007.

16. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Statement by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei,” 2008/06, April 25, 2008.

17. “Security Council Extends ‘1540 Committee’ for Three Years to Halt Proliferation of Mass Destruction Weapons, Encourages States to Map Out Implementation Plans,” SC/9310, April 25, 2008.

18. Oliver Meier, “NPT Meet Buoys Hopes for 2010 Conference,” Arms Control Today, June 2008, pp. 35-37.

19. In a sentence that undoubtedly raised diplomats’ eyebrows but did not elicit comment, the Syrian delegate also declared that “Syria reaffirms its continual commitment to its international obligations under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” “Statement of Dr. Faysal Hamoui, Second Preparatory Committee of the 2010 Review Conference of States Parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” April 29, 2008.

20. See “General Statement of Egypt to the Second Preparatory Committee of the 2010 NPT Review Conference,” April 28, 2008.

21. Christopher A. Ford, “Cluster Two – Nonproliferation: Facing Up to the Most Fundamental Challenge to the NPT,” Remarks at the 2nd Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, May 5, 2008. Statement by Colleen Swords Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security Branch and Political Director Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, 2008 NPT Preparatory Committee, April 28, 2008, http://www.international.gc.ca/canada_un/geneva/2008-04-28-en.asp Under Syria’s safeguards agreement, Damascus was obligated to declare any new facility to the agency “as soon as the decision to construct” or “authorize construction” of a new facility were taken. “Strengthening Agency Safeguards: The Provision and Use of Design Information,” April 1, 1992. GOV/2554/Att.2/Rev. 2.

22. “Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei,” June 2008.

23. Western government official, conversation with authors, Washington, DC, June 2008.

24. “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” September 17, 2002, chap. 5.

25. Arend, “International Law and the Preemptive Use of Military Force.” See Lee Feinstein and Anne-Marie Slaughter, “A Duty to Prevent,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004; Daalder and Steinberg, “The Future of Preemption.”

26. “National Security Strategy,” p. 15.

27. Condoleezza Rice, “A Balance of Power That Favors Freedom,” Wriston Lecture, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, October 1, 2002.

28. Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson, “The Sources of American Legitimacy,” Foreign Affairs November/December 2004; Richard Falk, “The New Bush Doctrine,” The Nation, June 27, 2002; Roger Speed and Michael May, “Dangerous Doctrine,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2005.

29. See Daalder and Steinberg, “The Future of Preemption.”

30. In Israel, where the Bush doctrine was perceived as an official vindication of the thinking that led Israel to destroy Osiraq in 1981, there was a sense that the United States adopted the Begin doctrine to address new WMD threats. This assertion is based on numerous conversations with Israeli officials and former officials at the senior level. Israelis, of course, are aware of the practical and political differences in the respective application of this doctrine by Israel and the United States. For Israel, virtually any emergence of a nuclear threat in the region is viewed in existential terms. This is not necessarily the case for the United States.

31. IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006) and 1747 (2007) in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2008/4, February 22, 2008.

32. Israel apparently paved the way for this acquiescent response by sharing crucial evidence with a number of key states, in addition to the United States. Ronen Bergman and Ronen Solomon’s “Dangerous IAEA,” Ye’diot Achronot, June 20, 2008.

33. IAEA 2008 Iran implementation report. Like al-Kibar, it may be added, Iran’s uranium-enrichment program is difficult to justify as a peaceful effort, given the fact that the country has no reactors that use enriched uranium other than the Russian-supplied Bushehr nuclear power plant, for which Russia is also providing all the necessary fuel. See also National Intelligence Council, “National Intelligence Estimate - Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” November 2007, 9 pp.

34. “Iran FM Calls on Muslims to ‘Erase’ Israel,” Agence France-Presse, June 1, 2008; “Iran’s Ahmadinejad Says Israel Will Disappear,” Reuters, June 2, 2008; “Mofaz Criticised Over Iran Threat,” BBC, June 8, 2008.

35. Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran,” The New York Times, June 20, 2008.


On September 6, 2007, in a surprise dawn attack, seven Israeli warplanes destroyed an industrial facility near al-Kibar, Syria, later identified by the CIA as a nearly completed nuclear reactor secretly under construction since 2001. (Continue)

Shorter-Range Missile Defenses Show Progress

Wade Boese

Despite continuing concerns about the capability and testing of Pentagon efforts to develop and deploy anti-missile systems to protect against long-range ballistic missiles, less controversial programs to counter shorter-range missiles are enjoying some success.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced June 5 that it had conducted the second successful intercept test of a Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) Block IV interceptor. Fired from the USS Lake Erie stationed off Hawaii, that missile destroyed a descending target approximately 19 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean.

The Aegis SM-2 Block IV interceptor program differs from the more established Aegis SM-3 project. Both can be fired by the same ships out of the same launching tubes at shorter-range ballistic missiles. But the SM-2 Block IV is designed to counter missiles inside the atmosphere in the final moments of their flight, while the SM-3 is focused on destroying missiles in the exoatmosphere. In addition, the SM-2 Block IV employs a blast-fragmentation warhead that explodes near its target as opposed to the SM-3 interceptor, which releases a kill vehicle that is supposed to seek out and smash its target through a direct collision.

Based on Navy demands for an interceptor that could deal with ballistic missiles in their so-called terminal stage, the MDA and Navy agreed in 2006 to cooperate on the SM-2 Block IV project. A similar program, the Navy Area Theater Ballistic Missile Defense, had been cancelled in December 2001. The MDA is paying for modifications of the Aegis system to enable the firing of the new interceptor, and the Navy is supporting the necessary technical changes to an inventory of approximately 100 SM-2 Block IV missiles so they can perform the required mission.

Meanwhile, the older SM-3 interceptor program has scored 12 hits in 14 intercept tests, including the first-ever experiment last December by a Japanese ship. (See ACT, January/February 2008 .) A second Japanese vessel is expected to conduct another SM-3 intercept test later this year.

Japan is working with the United States to develop a longer-range version of the SM-3 intended to be more capable against long-range ballistic missiles that can travel further than 5,500 kilometers. That system is expected to be available for potential testing in 2014.

By that time, the MDA is hoping to have a fleet of 18 ships capable of launching the SM-3 as well as the SM-2 Block IV. Roughly a dozen ships can currently launch the SM-3, and the MDA is planning to have 38 of those interceptors available for potential use by the end of this year.

The MDA also is pushing ahead with development of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is intended to counter missiles with ranges of less than 5,500 kilometers both inside and outside the atmosphere as they descend. On May 28, the MDA announced that the Army had activated the first unit that will operate the land-mobile THAAD system once it is ready for deployment in 2009 or 2010. Currently undergoing training through 2009, the unit will be responsible for three THAAD launchers and 24 interceptors. Current MDA procurement plans call for 96 total interceptors, but the agency has been pushed by lawmakers and the services to buy more of the interceptors, as well as Aegis SM-3 missiles. (See ACT, June 2008 .)

After failing in six of eight intercept tests between 1995 and 1999, the THAAD system went through an extensive program redesign. Since a 2006 return to intercept testing, THAAD has destroyed five targets in five attempts, including a June 25 test. In that experiment, the THAAD system achieved its first intercept of a separating target; previous tests involved missiles that remained in one piece during their flights.

Despite continuing concerns about the capability and testing of Pentagon efforts to develop and deploy anti-missile systems to protect against long-range ballistic missiles, less controversial programs to counter shorter-range missiles are enjoying some success. (Continue)

EU Levies Sanctions on Iran

Peter Crail

The European Union agreed June 23 to impose a new set of sanctions against Iranian individuals and organizations involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The new sanctions go beyond the measures contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1803, adopted in March, applying restrictions to persons and entities not designated by the resolution. Last year, the EU similarly adopted stricter measures than those required by two earlier council resolutions.

Resolution 1803 required all states to undertake efforts to prevent Iran from financing or procuring technology for its nuclear and missile programs. (See ACT, April 2008. )

Chief among the new sanctions was an assets freeze on Iran’s largest bank, Bank Melli, which will be required to close its offices in Hamburg, London, and Paris. Under the EU legislation, the 27-country group sanctioned Bank Melli for “providing or attempting to provide” support for firms associated with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Resolution 1803 called on but did not require states to “exercise vigilance” regarding their business with Iranian banks, in particular Bank Melli and Bank Saderat.

The EU has not taken similar steps against Bank Saderat, Iran’s second largest bank. A British diplomat explained to Arms Control Today June 27 that Resolution 1803 listed Bank Saderat for its financial connections to terrorist organizations, but the EU action was aimed only at entities engaged in proliferation, which include Bank Melli. The United States imposed financial restrictions on both banks in October 2007. (See ACT, November 2007. )

In addition to Bank Melli, the EU placed similar restrictions on 12 other entities, nearly all of which are Iranian defense firms. The EU also placed assets freezes and travel bans on 14 senior Iranian officials holding leadership positions in key military organizations and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which oversees Iran’s nuclear program.

A German diplomat told Arms Control Today June 19 that the EU had been waiting on the delivery of a revised proposal for negotiations by the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany before adopting new sanctions (see page 37). The six countries have characterized the incentives offer and the UN sanctions as a “dual-track strategy” in which sanctions place pressure on Iran to comply with international demands while benefits are offered as part of a comprehensive package to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The diplomat further noted that, given the poor prospect of winning new support from China and Russia for additional UN sanctions on Iran in the near future, Western states will focus on ensuring the effective implementation of the three resolutions already adopted by the council, citing the lack of capacity of many states to control the export of the types of technologies listed under the sanctions.

The EU sanctions follow a visit to several European countries by President George W. Bush during which the trans-Atlantic strategy on Iran was a major topic for discussion. Following a June 10 U.S.-EU summit, the participants issued a declaration agreeing “to take steps to ensure Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism.”

Iran has been wary of the increasing Western pressure on its financial institutions. According to the Iranian weekly Shahrvand-e Emrooz June 16, Tehran has moved about $75 billion worth of financial assets out of European banks in an effort to mitigate the economic impact of strengthened financial sanctions by the West.

Iranian officials appeared to have confirmed this financial shift recently. Mohsen Talaei, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, told reporters June 11 that Iran’s foreign exchange assets were in a “secure position now, ” adding that “part of Iran’s assets in European banks have been converted to gold and shares and another part has been transferred to Asian banks.”


The European Union agreed June 23 to impose a new set of sanctions against Iranian individuals and organizations involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The new sanctions go beyond the measures contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1803, adopted in March, applying restrictions to persons and entities not designated by the resolution. Last year, the EU similarly adopted stricter measures than those required by two earlier council resolutions. (Continue)


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