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

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Nuclear Nonproliferation

Renewing Waivers for Nuclear Projects with Iran Serves U.S. Interests

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Volume 11, Issue 7, April 29, 2019

A critical decision in the long-running effort to block Iran’s potential path to nuclear weapons is just days away. The Trump administration must decide by May 2 to renew sanctions waivers allowing required nuclear cooperation projects with Iran detailed in the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal to continue or let the waivers lapse. Failure to grant the waivers would jeopardize U.S. nonproliferation priorities and increase the risk that the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will collapse. Tehran is already threatening to withdraw from the JCPOA and, more seriously, the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) after the United States announced April 22 that it would no longer grant waivers to states seeking to purchase Iranian oil.

When the Trump administration first issued the 180-day nuclear cooperation waivers Nov. 5, it stated that allowing these projects to go forward would “impede Iran’s ability to reconstitute its weapons program and lock in the nuclear status quo until we can secure a stronger deal”—a clear acknowledgement that the U.S. benefits from these crucial nonproliferation projects.

The waivers were necessary after U.S. President Donald Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions on Iran–despite Tehran’s clear record of compliance—and withdrew from the accord in May 2018. Had the Trump administration not issued the waivers, the United States could have penalized foreign entities involved in the nuclear projects for conducting legitimate work required by the JCPOA and endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2231.

Despite the fact that these nuclear cooperation projects help to reduce Iran’s nuclear weapons potential, the White House may allow the waivers to expire in order to try to ratchet up the pressure on Iran even further. Six Republican Senators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo April 9 encouraging the Trump administration to allow the waivers to lapse in order to put additional pressure on Tehran. These members of Congress and some officials within the Trump administration appear to believe that the United States can coerce Iran’s leaders into a new set of negotiations designed to produce a “stronger deal” that addresses Iranian regional activities that Washington views as destabilizing and requires Tehran to capitulate to all U.S. demands on the country’s nuclear program. So far, this strategy has only isolated the United States and damaged Washington’s credibility.

In an April 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Pompeo said the decision regarding the nuclear cooperation projects is “complicated,” but did not indicate if the waivers would be renewed. Reportedly, Pompeo favors granting the waivers, but Iran hardliners in the National Security Council are opposed to renewal.

Failure to renew the waivers for JCPOA-related nuclear cooperation projects will not advance the Trump administration’s plan to maximize pressure on Iran in pursuit of a mythical “better deal,” which appears to be a thinly disguised call for regime change. Rather, it would be an own goal that sets back U.S. nonproliferation priorities and compounds Trump’s irresponsible decision to jeopardize the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions. It also risks putting the remaining P4+1 parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the EU) in violation of the deal by preventing them from meeting obligations under the agreement to assist Iran with certain nuclear projects, thus giving Iran a further justification to abandon the agreement.

Jeopardizing Critical Nonproliferation Projects

If the Trump administration does not issue the waivers, it will put at risk critical projects that serve U.S. and international nonproliferation and security interests, particularly the conversion efforts at the Arak reactor and the Fordow facility, a former uranium enrichment site.

Arak: Prior to the negotiation of the JCPOA, the unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak posed a proliferation risk that the United States and its negotiating partners sought to mitigate with the nuclear deal. If Iran had completed the reactor as originally designed, it would have produced enough plutonium for an estimated two nuclear weapons per year.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran removed the calandria, or core, from the Arak reactor, filled it with concrete, and committed not to undertake any additional work at the site based on the original design. The IAEA verified the removal of the calandria and continues to monitor the reactor site. In addition, Iran committed to modify the reactor so that, when operational, it would produce a fraction of the necessary plutonium for a nuclear weapon on an annual basis.

Iran also agreed to ship out the spent fuel from the reactor for 15 years, preventing Tehran from accumulating several years’ worth of plutonium and then reprocessing it into a form suitable for nuclear weapons. The JCPOA established a working group “to support and facilitate the redesign and rebuilding” of the Arak reactor. (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section B, Paragraph 5.1.) China agreed to lead the work with the United States providing critical support verifying the design. When the Trump administration withdrew from the deal, the UK took over the U.S. role.

If China is prevented from fulfilling its contract on the Arak work, Iran may decide at some point to restart construction on the reactor, perhaps based on the original design. If Tehran were to go down that path, it would pose a proliferation risk and provide Iran with a source of plutonium, which when separated, could be used for nuclear weapons.

However, once the reactor is converted, it would be more difficult and time consuming for Iran to use it for weapons purposes or to revert back to the original design. Given the nonproliferation benefits of modifying the Arak reactor and the risks of Iran returning to its original plan for the reactor, supporting and allowing conversion efforts to continue clearly serves U.S. interests.

Fordow: A similar argument can be made for the Fordow site. Prior to the negotiation of the JCPOA, Iran was enriching uranium to 20 percent uranium-235 at Fordow. While 20 percent uranium-235 is still far below the 90 percent considered weapons grade, it poses a greater proliferation risk as it is easier to increase enrichment from 20 percent to 90 percent than it is to move from 3.67 percent (reactor grade and Iran’s current limit under the JCPOA) to 20 percent.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium and having any nuclear material at the Fordow facility for 15 years. Iran also had the reduce the number of centrifuges at Fordow from about 2,700 first generation IR-1 machines to 1,044. Of the 1,044 centrifuges, two cascades (348 centrifuges) will be used for stable isotope production.

The JCPOA stipulates that Iran will convert the facility into a “nuclear physics, and technology centre ” and encourage international collaboration in certain areas of research. (See JCPOA, Annex I, Section H, Paragraph 44.) The IAEA is also permitted daily access to the site under the JCPOA and the deal notes that Russia will assist with the conversion efforts.

Turning Fordow into a nuclear physics center, reducing the centrifuges at the site, and using a portion of them for stable isotope production serves U.S. and international nonproliferation interests. It significantly reduces the risk that Iran will reconstitute the facility for uranium enrichment and, by having a regular Russian and IAEA presence at the site, it provides greater assurance that if Iran were to begin to transition Fordow back to a uranium enrichment plant, the international community would quickly be alerted to that fact.

Additionally, the Fordow facility is located within a mountain that would render it nearly impossible to destroy using conventional military means. A military strike is not a viable option for addressing Iran’s nuclear program should Tehran exit the JCPOA and resume more troublesome nuclear activities, and it is more likely to incentivize the country to pursue nuclear weapons. But the invulnerability of Fordow to a strike underscores the importance of retaining the JCPOA and preventing the proliferation risk that would come if Iran were to reconstitute uranium enrichment at the Fordow site.

Other Projects: Additional JCPOA-supported projects that could be impacted if the United States does not grant waivers include the transfer of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel to Iran for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which produces medical isotopes, and Russia’s assistance at the Bushehr nuclear power reactor.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is allowed to import limited quantities of fuel enriched to 20 percent uranium-235 under IAEA monitoring for the TRR. The P4+1 are required by the deal to assist Iran in obtaining the fuel. (See JCPOA, Annex I, Section J, Paragraph 60.) If Tehran is unable to purchase the 20 percent material, it could lead Iran to resume enrichment to that level, which poses a far greater proliferation risk than the 3.67-percent uranium-235 limit that Iran is required to abide by for 15 years under the JCPOA.

At Bushehr, Iran’s sole civil nuclear power reactor is fueled by the Russians. Russia also removes the spent fuel. Sanctioning Russian entities involved in the operation of the reactor and the spent fuel removal risks incentivizing Iran to increase its enrichment capacity to fuel that reactor, again posing a greater proliferation threat.

Additionally, these projects, particularly the conversion of Fordow to a stable isotope production and research center and the modifications of the Arak reactor, are tangible benefits for Iran that incentivize its continued compliance with the nuclear deal. Currently, as a result of Trump violating the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions, Iran’s economy has suffered, and foreign entities have withdrawn from the Iranian market. Nevertheless, research and development activities like the Fordow and Arak projects still provide Iran with benefits and incentives to remain in the agreement.

Putting U.S. Partners and Allies in Violation of the JCPOA

In addition to halting projects that benefit U.S. security and nonproliferation objectives, failure to grant the waivers allowing nuclear cooperation projects to continue risks putting the remaining P4+1 parties to the deal in violation of the agreement.

The impact of halting nuclear cooperation differs from the impact of foreign entities exiting the Iranian market in order to avoid being penalized under U.S. sanctions reimposed by Trump. Reimposing sanctions put the United States in violation of the JCPOA, but the deal does not guarantee Iran any particular level of economic benefit or require the P4+1 to guarantee that companies will do business with Iran. Therefore, the decision by companies to sever contracts with Iran did not abrogate P4+1 commitments under the deal.

However, unlike the economic sanctions, certain nuclear cooperation projects are required by the JCPOA and have been endorsed by the UN Security Council. If entities involved in these projects halt work out of fear of being sanctioned and the P4+1 are unable to meet their obligations to assist with these projects, it risks putting them in violation of the deal.

On Fordow, Annex III of the JCPOA states that “the transitioning to stable isotope production of two cascades will be conducted in a joint partnership between the Russian Federation and Iran, on the basis of arrangements to be mutually agreed upon.” (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section C, Paragraph 7.1.) Russia’s work at Bushehr would also be at risk if the Trump administration does not issue a waiver. In addition to providing fuel for the reactor and removing spent fuel, Rosatom, Russia’s state-run energy organization, is currently working on an additional two reactor units at the site.

If the United States does not grant a waiver allowing Russia’s state-run energy organization Rosatom to continue working at Bushehr and Fordow, it will put Moscow in the difficult decision of deciding between meeting its explicit commitments under the JCPOA and risking U.S. penalties or violating the nuclear deal.

Similarly, Annex III of the JCPOA states that the Arak working group “will provide assistance needed by Iran for redesigning and rebuilding the reactor” and agree upon steps to provide an “assured path forward to modernize the reactor.” (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section B, Paragraphs 5.1; 5.5.)

The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is the primary entity involved in the Arak reactor redesign project and the CNNC and Iran agreed upon a contract in 2017 for the initial phases of the work. However, despite receiving a wavier in November, Iran has raised concerns about the pace of work at Arak, as CNNC reportedly considers the guidance provided by the Trump administration on the waiver to be vague and insufficient. Given CNNC’s global reach and ambitions, the company is likely adverse to any risk of sanction by the United States and would be unwilling to continue the project without a waiver.

There are additional implications for revoking the waivers beyond the nuclear deal with Iran. Rosatom, for instance, is involved in a number of nuclear cooperation projects with U.S. entities. If Washington refuses to grant the waivers allowing legitimate work under the JCPOA to continue, Rosatom and others could choose to retaliate by terminating projects with U.S. based entities. That could inhibit competitiveness of the U.S. nuclear industry and adversely impact their operations.

The General Nonproliferation Value of Nuclear Cooperation

Beyond the nonproliferation and JCPOA-compliance benefits of issuing the waivers, there is value to encouraging and supporting additional nuclear cooperation projects suggested in Annex III of the agreement. Unlike the work at Arak, Fordow, the TRR, and Bushehr, these projects are optional, yet fulfilling them would have significant nuclear security and safety benefits. Additionally, it would continue to provide greater transparency into Iran’s civil nuclear activities.

Iran currently operates two reactors, the TRR and the Bushehr reactor, and has ambitious plans to expand its nuclear program for energy generation. Yet Iran lags behind international standards and best practices for nuclear safety and security. Iran is not a party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 amendment, nor the Nuclear Safety Convention. Iran also does not publish its nuclear regulatory practices, so it is difficult to determine if Tehran is meeting international standards for governing its civil nuclear activities. Annex III of the JCPOA encourages cooperative work to address these critical gaps on nuclear security and safety, including measures such as strengthening emergency preparedness, training and workshops on nuclear safety and security, the establishment of a nuclear safety center, and assistance to strengthen physical protection at nuclear facilities.

Cooperative work on several of these areas is already underway. The EU-Iran high-level seminars on nuclear cooperation have begun the initial phases of constructing a Nuclear Safety Center and assisting Iran with updating its regulatory frameworks to reflect international best practices. This work is proceeding and does not appear, at this time, to be impacted by U.S. sanctions.

This type of assistance project benefits not only Iran, but the entire region. A nuclear incident, caused either by accident or an intentional act of sabotage, would have an impact beyond Iran’s borders. It is in the best interests of Middle Eastern countries, particularly those in the Persian Gulf, that Iran’s nuclear activities are safe and secure. Without the JCPOA, or if the United States aggressively targets entities involved in legitimate nuclear cooperation, it is unlikely that these projects will continue.

Conclusion

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions was irresponsible and unjustified. If the Trump administration refuses to renew the waivers allowing nuclear cooperation projects to continue it would compound his dangerous decision to abandon the agreement.

Supporting nuclear cooperation with Iran benefits U.S. nonproliferation priorities and national security. It also allows the remaining parties to the deal to meet JCPOA requirements. Additionally, these projects provide greater insight and transparency into Iran’s nuclear activities and can provide important safety and security benefits.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

Description: 

Failure to grant the sanctions waivers detailed in the 2015 Iran nucelar deal would jeopardize U.S. nonproliferation priorities and increases the risk that the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will collapse.

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Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament: Striding Forward or Stepping Back?


April 2019
By Paul Meyer

Few would contest that the regime built on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is currently going through a rough patch, to put it mildly. Long-simmering frustrations with the lack of progress in fulfilling the treaty’s Article VI commitment on nuclear disarmament erupted in recent years in the form of a broadly based humanitarian initiative leading to the 2017 conclusion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

A protester in Sydney in 2018 urges Australia to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty has highlighted public dissatisfaction with the pace of nuclear disarmament. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)The new treaty has posed a major challenge to the status quo. Backed by 122 states at the time of its adoption, the treaty has now garnered 70 signatures and 22 ratifications, with 50 ratifications needed for the pact to enter into force. Some nuclear powers, particularly the United States, have begun new initiatives to try to maintain their control over the direction of NPT activity.

The prevailing nuclear orthodoxy of the NPT community, which relied on the treaty’s five nuclear-weapon states to set the scope and pace of disarmament commitments, has been contested by a super majority of NPT members. These reformers have opted for an alternative path to nuclear disarmament by means of a treaty that rejects and stigmatizes nuclear weapons and the doctrines of nuclear deterrence associated with them. In so doing, they have opened up a fissure within the NPT membership that has put the nuclear-weapon states and their nuclear weapons-dependent allies into the role of a dissident minority, albeit one that possesses the very weapons the reformers seek to eliminate.

This schism will not be readily repaired. On one hand, there are the non-nuclear-weapon states, which have lost faith in the hollow and self-serving pledges of the nuclear-weapon states regarding nuclear disarmament. These states are using the prohibition treaty to embrace a new doctrine. On the other hand, there are the Old Believers who continue to espouse the hallowed texts from decades of NPT meetings that promise nuclear salvation through the so-called step-by-step approach to disarmament. In the NPT context, this has meant increasingly ritualized calls for entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which still needs eight ratifications, including the United States and China; the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) within the Conference on Disarmament, a more than 20-year fantasy; and further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of possessing states, a goal undermined by the juggernaut of nuclear force modernization speeding in the opposite direction.

For the United States, the high priest of nuclear orthodoxy, the developments of the last few years have proven disconcerting. The negotiation and completion of the prohibition treaty represents an affront to U.S. authority. With its nuclear-weapon state counterparts, the United States found it easy to denounce this heresy and to press France and the United Kingdom to do likewise.

At the same time, it was difficult to continue to promote the virtue of the step-by-step approach in the face of the contradictory evidence as to its efficacy. This situation has led some in Washington to conclude that a change in tack was required, a discreet modification of the liturgy to deploy during the upcoming NPT services.

A New Approach to Create an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament

The new approach was manifested in a working paper entitled “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament” submitted by the United States to the second preparatory committee meeting for the 2020 NPT Review Conference, held in Geneva in 2018. The United States has recently decided to rename the initiative “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND), replacing an empirical term such as “conditions” for the vaguer and more subjectively determined concept of “environment.” The rationale behind the original paper remains the same and its initial paragraph sets out the essence of the problem it perceives with respect to nuclear disarmament: “If we continue to focus on numerical reductions and the immediate abolition of nuclear weapons, without addressing the real underlying security concerns that led to their production in the first place, and to their retention, we will advance neither the cause of disarmament nor the cause of enhanced collective international security.”1 In order “to get the international community past the sterility of such discourse,” the working paper recalls that the United States has previously “spoken in broad terms of the need to create the conditions conducive for further nuclear disarmament” and now “seeks to lay out some of the discrete tasks that would need to be accomplished for such conditions to exist.”

 

 

The paper refers to several steps in a wide range of political-security fields ranging from greater acceptance of existing best practices at the more modest end of the spectrum, such as the adoption of an additional protocol to a country’s safeguards agreement based on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Model Additional Protocol, to fundamental transformations of interstate relations at the ambitious end, such as “a world in which the relationships between nations, especially major powers, are not driven by assumptions of zero-sum geopolitical competition, but are instead cooperative and free of conflict.” In between are conditions on altered threat perceptions, reduced regional tensions, diminished nuclear capabilities, enhanced transparency, comprehensive verification, and effective compliance enforcement measures.

A focus on conditions facilitating nuclear disarmament is not a novel element. Following U.S. President Barack Obama’s celebrated April 2009 speech in Prague invoking the need to move toward a “world without nuclear weapons,” NATO was moved to incorporate these ideas into its authoritative 2010 Strategic Concept. This primordial policy document was adopted at the Lisbon summit in November of that year and is still in force. In it NATO’s leaders state, “We are resolved to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the [NPT], in a way that promotes international stability, and is based on the principle of undiminished security for all.”2 On the surface, this stance seems aligned with the NPT and its nuclear disarmament goal, but the alliance has never defined these conditions or how it will contribute to their creation. In more recent years, NATO communiqués have stressed that “progress on arms control and disarmament must take into account the prevailing international security environment. We regret that the conditions for achieving disarmament are not favorable today.”3

The New York signing ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)This stance, however expedient for allies, ignores the reality that the international security environment was hardly any better during the Cold War, yet the alliance made great efforts with considerable success to devise agreements to reduce arms and promote cooperation. Nine years after the Strategic Concept, there is still no more wisdom regarding what NATO deems to be the essential conditions for nuclear disarmament
and how it is helping to achieve those conditions.

No NPT Article VI commitments to cessation of the arms race and to nuclear disarmament are conditioned by the considerations cited in the U.S. paper. At one point, the paper even acknowledged that this “new focus” will require commitments going beyond those embodied in the NPT. Although no author is identified on the U.S. paper, it bears the hallmarks of Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford, an official who has served with distinction under Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Fortunately for those trying to assess the significance of the new departure represented by the CEND initiative, Ford elaborated on the concept in December 2018 remarks about the 2020 NPT Review Conference.4

Ford traced the evolution of the CEND concept to deliberations leading up to the February 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review report and the subsequent preparation of the working paper submitted to the NPT Preparatory Committee in April 2018. “This new initiative aims to move beyond the traditional approach that had focused principally upon ‘step-by-step’ efforts to bring down the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, but that did so in ways that did not provide a pathway to address the challenge of worsening security conditions, did not address nuclear build-ups by China, India and Pakistan, and did not provide an answer to challenges of deterrence and stability in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, and that had clearly stalled,” says the paper.

A Rejection of the Step-by-Step Approach

The significance of this appraisal of the effectiveness of the traditional approach on disarmament cannot be overstated. Ford is essentially saying that it has failed and it is time to move beyond it because it has been unable to deliver on earlier NPT review conference agreements, including the CTBT’s entry into force, FMCT negotiations, further reduction of the nuclear-weapon state arsenals, and a diminished role for nuclear weapons in strategic policies.

In addition to this core failure, the traditional approach does not provide a means of countering the current deterioration of security conditions or for addressing the nuclear build-ups of nuclear-armed nations not party to the NPT. According to Ford, a new discourse is required that is “both more realistic than these traditional modes of thought and more consonant with the security challenges facing the real-world leaders whose engagement is essential for disarmament.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford is spearheading the U.S. initiative “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.” (Photo: Paul Morigi/Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)Such a major departure in disarmament diplomacy would normally have been a product of extensive prior consultation with affected allies and partners, but there is no public evidence that this has occurred. Indeed, this new doctrine pulls the carpet from underneath U.S. allies and partners who have dutifully been affirming the superiority of the step-by-step approach to fulfilling the NPT’s nuclear disarmament obligations. Particularly in the context of the diplomatic struggle over the humanitarian initiative and the development of the prohibition treaty, the U.S. nuclear dependents have faithfully argued the merits of the step-by-step, or progressive, approach to achieving nuclear disarmament. One illustration was given at the UN General Assembly First Committee last fall on the part of 30 non-nuclear-weapon states allied with the United States through NATO or bilateral accords. These states declared, “We are firmly committed to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free-world and believe it is best pursued through a progressive approach consisting of pragmatic, inclusive and effective steps.”5

Similarly, the most recent Group of Seven consensus statement on nonproliferation and disarmament asserts, “[W]e support further practical and concrete steps in the fields of nuclear arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation.”6 Even the United States and its nuclear-weapon partners France and the United Kingdom remained rhetorically committed to the step-by-step approach until recently. For example, a 2015 explanation of a vote at the First Committee delivered on behalf of the three by the UK ambassador stated, “To create a world without nuclear weapons that remains free of nuclear weapons, however, disarmament cannot take place in isolation of the very real international security concerns that we face. We believe that the step-by-step approach is the only way to combine the imperatives of disarmament and of maintaining global stability.”7

It would seem that “the only way” is receiving a radical reinterpretation in Washington, one that will cause considerable diplomatic heartburn for those allies who have long asserted that the step-by-step approach is the sole viable path toward nuclear disarmament. The attachment of most non-nuclear-weapon states to this position lay in part to the authority these steps had as a result of their inclusion in a succession of consensus outcomes of NPT review conferences, notably those of 1995, 2000, and 2010. The steps could also be assessed more objectively than the general formula of the disarmament commitment in NPT Article VI.

To abandon this approach and its measurable benchmarks in order to embrace the vague and subjective criteria of the new environment discourse will be a difficult policy pill to swallow for those allies who have doggedly supported the mainstream, NPT-centric prescription for achieving nuclear disarmament. It will be particularly difficult for those non-nuclear allies who face significant domestic constituencies disappointed by their governments’ rejection of the prohibition treaty that will press for tangible indications that the step-by-step approach is yielding results. Although supporting a progressive approach toward nuclear disarmament has a positive ring to it, expectations will necessarily build for its proponents to demonstrate actual progress, which is unlikely in the current circumstances. This movement of the policy goalposts also will complicate prospects for success at the 2020 NPT Review Conference, an outcome ardently sought by the non-nuclear-weapon states, especially in the wake of the failed 2015 review conference.

A Problematic Model for Operationalizing the Concept

It is not only the doctrinal switch that Ford has introduced that may prove problematic, but also his concept as to how this new environment discourse is to be operationalized. His model for a Creating the Conditions Working Group is the earlier International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, a U.S.-initiated process launched in 2014 that currently has some 25 participating states. The partnership has been geared to studying the verification procedures and technologies that would need to be developed to support nuclear disarmament. Its first phase ended in 2017 with the identification of 14 steps key to the nuclear weapons dismantlement process, and a second phase is currently underway with a view to tabling a final report at the 2020 NPT Review Conference. The partnership reached out to a variety of states, but a majority of its members are U.S. allies. Russia and China, which initially attended partnership meetings as observers, are apparently no longer participating.

In Ford’s view, the working group would consist of 25 to 30 countries “selected on the basis of both regional and political diversity” but filtered by a prior commitment to the new approach. States would be invited to comment on the “key issues that, if addressed effectively, could improve prospects for progress on nuclear disarmament” on the basis of the 2018 U.S. paper intending to agree on such a list as an “initial deliverable” for the working group. Ford envisages the establishment of up to three subgroups to be assigned a specific functional topic and with co-chairs “chosen from among states and individuals most able to provide constructive contributions.” Washington presumably will be making these choices because Ford states that the United States will organize and staff an executive secretariat to oversee the exercise. It is projected that planning for the new working group will be underway by the time of the NPT preparatory committee meeting this month and the working group will be fully operational before the 2020 review conference.

Such a “made in the USA” concept for implementing a multilateral effort is likely to meet resistance from several quarters, most notably from the non-allied nuclear-weapon states but also from partners that may fear that the enterprise will be too controlled and its areas of inquiry too constrained by U.S. preferences.

After decades of espousing practical measures for disarmament, non-nuclear allies will be sensitive to charges that the CEND initiative represents a huge distraction from the effort to achieve measurable progress in achieving the existing disarmament commitments agreed by all NPT parties. With its implication that little can be done in terms of progress on disarmament obligations until a broad spectrum of conditions are met, the CEND initiative risks being viewed as a talk shop disconnected from the disarmament process in which states are discussing how a conflict-free halcyon future for the world can be realized.

Conclusions and Alternative Recommendations

Those concerned with the NPT’s fate will not find the new U.S. approach reassuring. Not only does it undermine years of consistent allied support for an approach to nuclear disarmament grounded in the NPT and the political commitments made in successive review conferences, it suggests that these allies have been unrealistic and mistaken in their policies. By proposing that the agreed NPT benchmarks on nuclear disarmament should be ignored in favor of developing a new list of conditions that would facilitate an eventual disarmament progress, the United States is raising the bar on such progress and linking it to transformations in the international security landscape far removed from NPT-specified obligations.

To have a diplomatic strategy that offers some prospects of bridging the acute differences among NPT members at the 2020 review conference, the United States and other nuclear-weapon states should consider several measures.

Instead of investing in the new working group process with its attendant risks, they must ensure that any new mechanism to support the NPT is grounded in the actual legal and political commitments of the treaty. This could include an open-ended working group of NPT parties to examine the impediments to progress in realizing the specific nuclear disarmament-related steps agreed within the NPT process. Such an initiative would be rooted in the collective results of previous NPT proceedings and could be presented as such rather than as a quixotic pursuit of benign relations among states.

An effort should be made to accept the proposals developed over the last years to enhance transparency as part of a strengthened NPT review process, as agreed when the treaty was indefinitely extended in 1995. Although many non-nuclear-weapon states have called for greater transparency from the nuclear-weapon states, the carefully considered proposals of the 12-member Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) merit special attention.8 Not only are these proposals relevant and substantive in themselves, but cooperation with the NPDI group, which comprises supporters and opponents of the prohibition treaty, would make diplomatic sense in any broader effort to repair the rift within the NPT. NPDI members include several prominent and influential NPT parties, and for the nuclear-weapon states to persist in their dismissal of their constructive contribution is only going to further sap any bridge-building efforts at the review conference.

The results of the work undertaken by the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification should be introduced into the review conference in a manner that suggests that it will facilitate actual nuclear disarmament steps. Demonstrations on how these verification approaches can be applied to real-world dismantlement of surplus nuclear weapons and fissile material would go a long way toward proving that the partnership is more than an interesting academic endeavor.

The nuclear-weapon states should tamp down their anti-prohibition treaty rhetoric in the lead-up to the review conference. It might be satisfying in a debating club context to denounce treaty supporters as engaging in “magical thinking” or “conditions-blind” absolutism, but the 122 states that have expressed support for the prohibition treaty are all NPT parties whose support will be necessary to arrive at any substantive consensus outcome for the 2020 review conference. A more respectful and diplomatic discourse is in order.

Finally, the greatest positive contribution to the NPT review conference would be tangible demonstrations by the nuclear-weapon states, particularly the United States and Russia, of their commitment to nuclear disarmament by means of further reduction of actual arsenals, the exercise of restraint in any modernization plans, and the resumption of strategic dialogues and cooperative arms control arrangements.

For friends of the NPT, the lead-up to the 2020 review conference is fraught with difficulties, none more significant than the chasm that has opened between varying concepts of effectuating NPT obligation on nuclear disarmament. Although out-of-the-box thinking is always welcome in disarmament diplomacy, it should be based on the cumulative legal and political commitments of the NPT, the most universal agreement on nuclear affairs. Demonstrating compliance with these commitments is the surest route for reinforcing the NPT’s authority during this period of crisis. To ignore this approach risks creating the conditions for nuclear disaster rather than nuclear disarmament.

 

ENDNOTES

1. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament (CCND): Working Paper Submitted by the United States,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.30, April 18, 2018.

2. NATO, “Active Engagement, Modern Defence: Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation,” n.d., para. 26, www.nato.int/lisbon2010/strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf (adopted November 19, 2010).

3. NATO, “North Atlantic Council Statement on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” September 20, 2017, https://www.nato.int/cps/us/natohq/news_146954.htm

4. Christopher Ashley Ford, “The P5 Process and Approaches to Nuclear Disarmament: A New Structured Dialogue,” Remarks to Wilton Park conference, December 10, 2018, https://www.state.gov/t/isn/rls/rm/2018/288018.htm.

5. “Statement on the Progressive Approach,” October 18, 2018, http://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/
1com/1com18/statements/18Oct_Group.pdf
.

6. Group of Seven, “G7 Statement on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament,” April 11, 2017, http://www.g7.utoronto.ca/foreign/170411-npdg_statement_-_final_.pdf.

7. “Explanation of Vote Before the Vote by Ambassador Matthew Rowland, UK Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament on Behalf of France, the United Kingdom and the United States,” November 2, 2015.

8. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Proposals by the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative to Enhance Transparency for Strengthening the Review Process for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.26, April 11, 2018.

 


Paul Meyer is a fellow in international security at Simon Fraser University and a senior fellow at The Simons Foundation in Vancouver, Canada. He served in an array of international security positions during a 35-year diplomatic career with the Canadian Foreign Service.

 

A U.S. initiative to define a better environment for nuclear disarmament threatens to undermine the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime.

The Future of the Nuclear Order


April 2019
By Rebecca Davis Gibbons

Foreign policy pundits have bemoaned the unraveling of the post-World War II international order in recent years, describing threats to the multilateralism and liberalism enshrined in postwar institutions. An often overlooked component of that structure is the global nuclear order, which, like other parts of the postwar system, was created for magnanimous and selfish aims: reducing the dangers of nuclear weapons for all and serving the interests of the world’s most powerful states.

Amb. Elayne Whyte Gómez, permanent representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations at Geneva, and president of the UN conference that negotiated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, speaks to the media in July 2017. (Photo: Eskinder Debbie/UN)Today, the global nuclear order is also at risk of unraveling. Taken for granted for too long, the nuclear order requires visionary leaders with the same foresight as the postwar order-makers to undertake bold measures in search of a renewed bargain between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear nations.

Challenges to the Global Nuclear Order

The long-established global nuclear order, as scholar William Walker has explained, comprises two linked systems of order. First, there is the “managed system of deterrence,” by which the nuclear powers, mainly the United States and Soviet Union and later Russia, have pursued deterrence and stability in a rule-bound system, such as with arms control agreements. Second, there is the nuclear nonproliferation order, in which many states have agreed not to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for specific benefits.1

Both systems are faltering. Within the deterrent order, U.S. and Russian leaders are failing to maintain traditional arms control treaties and increasing the salience of nuclear weapons. Pointing to Russian cheating, the United States has announced it will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August, and Russia is following suit. The current U.S. administration has not yet shown an interest in extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) after it is set to expire in 2021. As restrictions are being lifted, Russia and the United States are exploring destabilizing weapons advancements. Last year, President Vladimir Putin announced a series of new nuclear military capabilities, including a nuclear torpedo and a nuclear cruise missile, neither of which is constrained by current arms control agreements.2 In recent weeks, the United States announced plans to test previously banned intermediate-range weapons after its INF Treaty withdrawal is complete.3

The nuclear nonproliferation order is in no better shape, primarily due to the pace of nuclear disarmament.4 Reflecting this concern, 122 nations, but nary a nuclear-weapon state, voted in July 2017 to adopt a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. Making the argument that nuclear weapons use is inconsistent with international humanitarian law, these states and their civil society partners have sought to stigmatize nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence.5

U.S. and Russian plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals further exacerbate tensions with non-nuclear nations, as many believe the two powers are not adhering to their nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligation to pursue negotiations toward disarmament. With one side viewing nuclear weapons as inherently immoral and the other seeing nuclear deterrence as a way to maintain security for itself and its allies, there appears to be little space to bridge this divide until the nuclear possessor states move toward nuclear reductions and disarmament.

To make matters worse, NPT parties will this month begin the final preparatory committee meeting before the treaty’s review conference next year, when they will be reminded that 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1995 decision to extend the treaty indefinitely. The United States and many of its allies pushed hard for indefinite extension in the 1990s, while some non-nuclear-weapon states sought a more limited 25-year extension, recognizing they would lose leverage over the nuclear states if the treaty were extended permanently. Current nuclear trends surely cause many states to regret the 1995 decision.

The divisions among the NPT community and between the United States and Russia are difficult enough, but they will have to be addressed in a world markedly different than the Cold War period when the two nuclear orders were established by the two superpowers. China, the second-largest economy in the world, is modernizing its military, including its nuclear arsenal, but has little experience in the negotiations and transparency required by nuclear arms control treaties. Other states are rising as well, indicating an emerging multipolar world. Finally, the rise of information technology has eased high-speed communication around the globe, allowing for individuals and groups to connect and coordinate for a variety of purposes, including advocacy. The reach and influence of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
is evidence of this relatively new form of power.

Short-Term Forecast

The year 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force. Although this milestone warrants celebration, important work remains. It is unlikely the NPT, the cornerstone of the nonproliferation order, will face a mass exodus of states soon; but without change, it will likely suffer a slower but no less consequential death. Lower-ranked officials will come and give routine speeches at NPT meetings, but little of importance will happen because states will not prioritize the treaty. The NPT will no longer be a vehicle for states to discuss important issues of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear technology. It will calcify in a manner similar to the UN Conference on Disarmament, which has not completed a treaty in more than 20 years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin review a military honor guard during Putin's visit to Beijing on June 8, 2018. The two leaders appear unlikely to participate in a U.S. initiative to identify barriers to nuclear disarmament. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)Disagreement over the pace of disarmament is at the heart of the current NPT divide. In December 2018, Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, argued that the U.S. arsenal has come down to such low numbers that the traditional step-wise nuclear reductions of the past are no longer prudent. Instead of further reductions, the United States seeks to work with other states to identify the obstacles to disarmament and address them. The plan, now called “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND), is for working groups of 25 to 30 states each to meet and explore ways to overcome specific challenges. At the 2018 NPT Preparatory Committee meeting, the United States issued a working paper that identified a set of goals that Washington argued would enable further arms reductions.6 These included denuclearizing North Korea, addressing regional tensions and conflicts, establishing a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction, achieving universal compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and improving transparency surrounding nuclear doctrines and arsenals.7

The goal of solving global conflicts to establish more amenable conditions for future disarmament is laudable, but there are significant challenges inherent in the working group approach. With the current administration’s rejection of multilateral strategies, such as the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement, U.S. leaders are not in the best position to lead a multilateral effort.

Furthermore, there is the question of who will participate in the CEND meetings. Will these working groups include the diverse membership the United States seeks? As the CEND initiative was presented as an alternative to the nuclear prohibition treaty, it would not be surprising if prohibition treaty proponents choose not to participate. After all, the prohibition treaty and the CEND process take conflicting normative approaches to nuclear weapons. For the prohibition movement, these are immoral weapons at odds with international humanitarian law—possession has no justification. In contrast, underlying the CEND initiative is the idea that these weapons are necessary and appropriate tools of deterrence as long as certain geopolitical conditions exist.

In addition, it is difficult to imagine China and Russia engaging productively in this new approach. Both states regrettably have already left the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), the organizational model for the CEND process. The partnership is undertaking important work addressing the many technical and political challenges of future nuclear warhead verification. China and Russia send an unfortunate message by choosing not to attend future meetings.

It seems probable that only the United States and its allies and partners will participate in the CEND work. If so, the approach will worsen divisions that already strain the nuclear order. Surely, the United States is not in an enviable position. On one side, to those seeking a nuclear weapons ban, the CEND initiative looks like a way for the United States to appear to make progress on disarmament without taking meaningful steps toward nuclear reductions. On the other hand, Washington appears to lack partners for a real arms control discussion, as demonstrated by the Russian and Chinese decisions to skip IPNDV meetings. One step in the right direction would be for the United States to seek a five-year extension on New START. This is the least the United States can do to keep the deterrent order on life-support until there is an opportunity to work constructively with Russia again.

Envisioning the Next Nuclear Order

The preservation of the nuclear order will not succeed without the type of dedicated and visionary leadership that led to post-World War II arrangements. Although near-term prospects are dim, a reinvigorated nuclear order will require current and emerging global powers to create a renewed consensus that addresses the challenges to the deterrent order and the nonproliferation order. In broad strokes, this new consensus includes a widened circle of nuclear nonproliferation state-leaders to reflect changing power dynamics, a renewed and more credible commitment to reducing nuclear dangers, and strategic dialogues to reduce risk and mitigate conflict among nuclear weapons possessors.

A sustainable nuclear order for the 21st century must accommodate changing global power dynamics. Based on economic projections, China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia are anticipated to be among the top powers by 2050, with India and China expected to surpass the United States by gross domestic product by 2030.8 Emerging powers should be invited and encouraged to assume leadership roles within a renewed nonproliferation order. This change should not be too difficult; just as the United States and the Soviet Union sought to limit the number of nuclear weapons possessor states for strategic reasons,9 so too will rising powers prioritize proliferation as their interests become global. Nonetheless, without encouragement, these powers may continue to rely on the United States to hold the line on proliferation as it has since the end of the Cold War. U.S. leaders can assist China and India by consulting on past and present U.S. nonproliferation diplomacy and encouraging greater transparency about their nuclear arms. The interests of Indonesia and Brazil also must be weighed in any new consensus. Indonesia has long been a proponent of nuclear disarmament and led the charge for 25-year rolling extensions at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. Brazil was one of the last states to join the NPT, doing so in 1998. Its late accession reflects Brazil’s complicated relationship with the nuclear nonproliferation order. Most recently, Brazil has refused to conclude an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, but it was an important leader in the negotiations toward the nuclear prohibition treaty.

Together, the established and emerging global powers should pledge publicly to work together in a political process to promote nuclear nonproliferation. The new consensus should accept the IAEA Model Additional Protocol as the global safeguards standard and add constraints on any additional sites for enrichment and reprocessing. These sensitive technologies were not mentioned in the NPT text, and some states have claimed it is their “right” under the treaty to possess such technology for peaceful uses. A new consensus should reject this idea while credibly committing to providing a wide range of civilian nuclear technology, including access to enriched uranium for peaceful uses through the global marketplace with additional assurances through global fuel banks.

In a renewed nonproliferation consensus that brings India into the leadership of the nonproliferation order, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan should be included in meetings and discussions as nuclear weapons possessor states. This de facto expansion of possessor states in a new nuclear nonproliferation order could only occur alongside a commitment by all nuclear weapons states to play a role in the deterrent order by reducing the role of nuclear weapons, seeking risk reduction measures, making significant nuclear reductions, and eventually pursuing disarmament. Incorporating all current nuclear weapons states into this political process matters because none of them should be able to avoid these commitments.

To make these commitments more credible after decades of broken promises, the nuclear possessor states should develop a sequence of steps, beginning with further U.S. and Russian reductions, that would put them on a path toward strategic stability and a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons. These steps could include changes in nuclear posture, such as removing nuclear weapons from high alert levels over time and separating warheads from delivery vehicles. In addition, the new steps could be made within a context in which nuclear weapons, conventional strategic weapons, and missile defenses are all on the negotiating table.10 Exclusively focusing on strategic nuclear weapons will not be effective. The more powerful nuclear-armed states could offer inducements in the form of aid to the other nuclear states to keep them participating in the process.

While working through these complex strategic issues, the major powers should identify and mitigate the conflicts that underlie their perceived need for nuclear weapons. In this way, the CEND initiative represents an important idea but one that requires buy-in from the highest levels of leadership in all nuclear weapons states. During this process, all states would contribute to improving verification technology and protocols for a world with many fewer nuclear weapons. Furthermore, as states dismantle weapons or down-blend nuclear weapons-grade fuel, they should keep meticulous records of the activities so the information would be useful in a future disarmament process.11

All of the above sounds far-fetched in the current geopolitical environment, but one factor that could help push forward a new nuclear consensus is the nascent norm against nuclear weapons possession. The still emerging norm could increasingly affect the thinking of citizens around the world as they become concerned about the loss of traditional arms control agreements, the development of new nuclear weapons, and new arms races. Beginning a process of greatly reducing the number of nuclear weapons would be much easier for leaders if their citizens thought possessing such weapons were wrong.

Crafting the NPT was challenging for the two Cold War-era superpowers. Developing a renewed bargain in a more multipolar system, even a tacit one that is political in nature and does not necessarily require new treaties, will be much more difficult. The leaders of the relevant states must be motivated to make a generational commitment to major changes to sustain the nuclear order. This is a task on par with addressing global climate change; it is a job for visionary leaders. Of the many challenges inherent in this process, maintaining momentum through executive leadership changes is one of the toughest. There is no hard and fast way for leaders to tie the hands of their successors, but by engaging the public and seeking its buy-in for the process, leaders increase the chance that their successors will continue moving forward.

Some U.S. leaders may reject the notion that a new nuclear order is needed. They may be happy to be free of the NPT disarmament obligation if the treaty collapses. After all, some already see it as merely a convenient fiction that helps maintain the NPT and reduces proliferation pressures. Yet, rejecting the commitment to disarm and losing the nonproliferation order risk a world in which capable states perceive fewer constraints on pursuing proliferation activities. In other words, even if one thinks the treaty’s disarmament requirement is a convenient fiction, it cannot last in perpetuity. It is not feasible to expect states to remain non-nuclear-weapon possessors without a disarmament commitment, a promise that has existed for 50 years. The disarmament movement would be further catalyzed by the United States and other nuclear-weapon states walking away from the commitment to negotiate eventual disarmament.

These tasks are immense. A world with multiple rising powers, a declining superpower, and influential civil society activists is one in which new political bargains will be difficult to forge. Even the most compelling leaders will be challenged by these order-sustaining projects. Yet, not taking up the challenge to adapt the nuclear order to new political realities means an increasingly nuclear-armed world in which nuclear war and nuclear accidents become more likely.

 

ENDNOTES

1. William Walker, “Nuclear Order and Disorder,” International Affairs, Vol. 76, No. 4 (October 2000): 703–724.

2. For a broader discussion of the breakdown of the nuclear order, see Steven E. Miller, Robert Legvold, and Lawrence Freedman, “Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age: Nuclear Weapons in a Changing Global Order,” American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2019, pp. 19–26, https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/publication/downloads/2019_New-Nuclear-Age_Changing-Global-Order.pdf.

3. Robert Burns, Associated Press, “U.S. Plans Tests This Year of Long-Banned Types of Missiles,” March 13, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/ea243a96bc254378ba92f1e3e8761389.

4. For example, see Rebecca Davis Gibbons, “Our Deep Divide Over Nuclear Disarmament,” The Hill, December 11, 2018.

5. Rebecca Davis Gibbons, “The Humanitarian Turn in Nuclear Disarmament and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 25, Nos. 1–2 (2018).

6. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament (CCND): Working Paper Submitted by the United States,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.30, April 18, 2018.

7. For more on this approach, see Rebecca Davis Gibbons, “Can This New Approach to Nuclear Disarmament Work?” War on the Rocks, January 23, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/01/can-this-new-approach-to-nuclear-disarmament-work/.

8. Of course, long-term economic forecasting is an uncertain enterprise. For one recent study of the future economic order, see “The Long View: How Will the Global Economic Order Change by 2050?” PricewaterhouseCoopers, February 2017, https://www.pwc.com/world2050.

9. On the argument that great powers care more about nuclear proliferation than other states, see Matthew Kroenig, “Exporting the Bomb: Why States Provide Sensitive Nuclear Assistance,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 103, No. 1 (2009): 113–133.

10. A number of organizations and analysts have considered how such reductions could take place. See for example, the Deep Cuts Commission, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Global Zero, and the work by James Acton and George Perkovich at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. For a treatment of U.S.-Russian reductions, see Justin Anderson and Darci McDonald, “Deter and Downsize: A Paradigm Shift for Nuclear Arms Control,” Arms Control Today, March 2017, pp. 15–20.

11. Sebastian Philippe, discussion with author, March 2019.

 


Rebecca Davis Gibbons is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Project on Managing the Atom and International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, where her research focuses on nonproliferation and the movement to prohibit nuclear weapons.

 

 

Visionary leadership is needed to renew the bargain between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear nations.

IAEA Says Iran Abiding by Nuclear Deal


April 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

The head of the international organization charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal said Iran is meeting its obligations under the accord and warned against states trying to influence verification activities. Less than three weeks later, the United States imposed sanctions against Iranian officials and institutions that Washington alleges are working to retain nuclear weapons-related expertise in Iran.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano cautioned in March that some nations' efforts to micromanage the nuclear agency's monitoring of Iran would threaten the credibility of its findings. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)“Iran is implementing its nuclear commitments,” said Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in March 4 remarks to the agency’s Board of Governors. Amano urged Tehran to continue adhering to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The United States, which withdrew from the agreement in 2018, levied new sanctions on March 22 against Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, purported to employ staff from Iran’s past nuclear weapons research activities.

“This is a way for them to keep the gang together, as it were, and to provide a reconstitution capability for that weapons program,” said a senior administration official briefing the media March 22. The sanctions impose travel and commercial restrictions on 14 individuals and 17 entities.

The IAEA quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, released publicly just days after Amano’s statement, contains additional details demonstrating that Iran is abiding by the deal’s terms. It notes that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is below the 300-kilogram cap set by the JCPOA and that Iran has not enriched uranium above the limit of 3.67 percent uranium-235, far below the 90 percent level considered useful for weapons purposes.

The report notes that the agency has had access to “all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit.”

Amano also continued to defend the importance of the IAEA’s independence in evaluating information related to its efforts to monitor peaceful nuclear activities. He emphasized that the IAEA “undertakes analysis and takes action in an impartial, independent, and objective manner.”

Amano’s March 4 statement is not the first time that he has pushed back against attempts by some nations to direct the agency’s verification work. “If attempts are made to micromanage or put pressure on the agency in nuclear verification, that is counterproductive and extremely harmful,” he said, adding that “independent, impartial, and factual safeguards implementation is essential to maintain our credibility.”

Although Amano did not identify specific states, Israeli officials have called on the IAEA to visit undeclared sites in Iran and follow up on materials that Israel stole from an Iranian archive in January 2018 and shared with the agency later in the year. In September at the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specifically called on the IAEA to visit a site identified by Israeli intelligence as housing materials and documents related to Iran’s past nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, October 2018.)

Despite reports of the United States promising Israel that it would pressure the IAEA to follow up on the archival material, Jackie Wolcott, U.S. representative to the IAEA, appeared to defend the agency’s process during her March 5 remarks to the IAEA board. Wolcott said Iran must address questions raised by the archival material, but emphasized that the United States supports the “IAEA’s continued, careful assessment of the nuclear archive materials.” She said Washington has the “highest confidence that the agency will independently and professionally review these materials, in combination with all other available information, to appropriately inform its monitoring and verification activities in Iran.”

Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, said on March 8 that, “despite the many efforts of certain enemies” to “divert the attention of the IAEA,” cooperation between the agency and Iran is “constructive.”

The IAEA report raised the need for additional budgetary contributions from IAEA member states to meet the cost of implementing the JCPOA. IAEA monitoring activities in Iran are projected to cost 9.2 million euros ($10.4 million) in 2019, of which 4 million euros ($4.5 million) is extrabudgetary. The report noted that the agency has 3.1 million euros ($3.5 million) in extrabudgetary contributions available to meet the costs of JCPOA-related activities for 2019.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request includes $106 million to meet the U.S. assessed contribution to the IAEA, down slightly from the $111 million request in fiscal year 2019, but more than the $103 million appropriated last year. The budget request also includes $88 million in voluntary contributions to the IAEA, similar to requests over the past several years.

Although Iran continues to abide by the nuclear agreement, Gharibabadi emphasized that the remaining parties to the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union—“must ensure Iran’s enjoyment of JCPOA-related benefits by adopting appropriate measures.”

Those parties to the deal have taken some steps to preserve trade with Iran after the United States reimposed sanctions in May 2018. These efforts, however, have provided few tangible benefits to date.

France, Germany, and the UK announced in February the creation of a financial mechanism to facilitate trade, known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), that will initially focus on humanitarian goods exempt from U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Per Fischer, the German official heading INSTEX, visited Iran in early March to discuss the mechanism. Following his visit, Iranian officials said on March 19 that Tehran set up a counterpart to INSTEX, the Special Trade and Finance Institute, which should allow the trade mechanism to become operational.

Iran does not appear to be expecting much economic benefit from INSTEX. Bahram Qassemi, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said on March 19 that Iran does not expect the new mechanism to work “miracles” and will continue to pursue avenues of trade with other countries. He said that could include trade with China, Turkey, India, and Russia in their national currencies, bypassing the U.S. financial system.

 

Iran faces more U.S. sanctions as IAEA confirms its compliance with nuclear deal.

Deep Divisions Challenge NPT Meeting


April 2019
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Long-standing disputes about nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament show no signs of easing as nations meet in April for the final preparatory meeting before the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, oversees the U.S. initiative “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.” (Photo: Paul Morigi/Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)The 2019 NPT Preparatory Committee will meet from April 29 to May 10 in New York. Although Shahrul Ikram, permanent representative of Malaysia to the United Nations, was originally slated to chair the meeting, he has been replaced by Syed Mohamad Hasrin Aidid, the Malaysian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

Despite recent efforts to make progress on the treaty’s core contentious issues, including nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, deep divisions remain and have worsened in some ways.

Topping the list of issues dividing NPT parties is the pace of disarmament by nuclear-armed nations. Since 2018, the United States has sought to advance a controversial disarmament initiative, U.S.-Russian relations have further deteriorated, and nuclear-weapon states remain frustrated by the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

At the 2018 session of the preparatory committee, the United States outlined its new approach to nuclear disarmament in a working paper titled “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament.” (See ACT, June 2018.) The approach was renamed “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND), Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a conference in Washington in March, after some states raised concerns about the word “conditions.”

The U.S. initiative calls for convening working groups with representatives from 25 to 30 regionally and politically diverse states, according to Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, who described the plan in December 2018 remarks. Ford said implementation planning for the working groups would begin by the 2019 session of the preparatory committee and the groups would be “in full swing” by the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

The United States insists the approach is a good-faith effort to advance disarmament under challenging security conditions, but several states are skeptical.

“International security will not be advanced, nor the treaty preserved, by nuclear-weapon states creating doubt about their intention ever to fulfill their disarmament obligations,” New Zealand representative Dell Higgie told the preparatory committee on April 23, 2018.

Many states have expressed interest in taking part in the initiative, a State Department official told Arms Control Today March 21. The Netherlands announced in January that it would host an expert conference in Geneva on April 15 to “stimulate the dialogue initiated by the U.S. NPT working paper.”

Meanwhile, U.S.-Russian relations have continued to worsen since the 2018 session of the preparatory committee, particularly highlighted by the U.S. announcement that it intends to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August. Poor U.S.-Russian relations caused turmoil at the 2018 meeting, as Russia criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the multilateral agreement that capped Iran’s nuclear activities, and the United States accused Russia of using chemical weapons and violating the INF Treaty. Still, the five NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) held a successful meeting in Beijing in late January, Thompson said.

The 2019 preparatory committee session will be the second NPT meeting since the July 2017 adoption of the nuclear prohibition treaty. Seventy nations have signed the treaty, and 22 have ratified it, nearly half of the 50 ratifications needed for the pact to enter into force. At the 2018 preparatory committee meeting, France and Russia devoted paragraphs of their statements to condemnation of the treaty, while dozens of states welcomed its adoption. Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament, claimed that states supporting the prohibition treaty tried to “undermine the NPT.” To clarify, the State Department official told Arms Control Today that “we do not intend to make opposition on the TPNW the centerpiece of our approach to disarmament” at NPT meetings and that the United States will focus instead on promoting CEND.

Another long-standing point of contention among NPT parties is the pursuit of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

At the 2019 preparatory committee meeting, this debate will be affected by a new U.S. approach and a UN conference later this year. The United States introduced a divisive working paper at the 2018 NPT meeting that encouraged promoting conditions conducive to a zone and stated that the “NPT review cycle cannot be the primary mechanism for progress” on the zone.

The Non-Aligned Movement, the African Group, and the Arab League pushed back in statements at the 2018 meeting, contending that the NPT was indefinitely extended in 1995 in part due to a pledge to establish the zone. The State Department official said that “some Arab states sought to misrepresent the paper as an effort to impose additional preconditions,” arguing that the U.S. approach “remains the most viable and productive way ahead.”

In November, the UN secretary-general will convene a conference in New York to make progress on creation of the zone, Rafael Grossi, Argentine permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the likely chair of the 2020 review conference, told a Washington meeting in March. The UN General Assembly First Committee approved the UN conference in an October 2018 resolution, although the United States, Israel, and Micronesia voted against it and 71 others abstained. (See ACT, December 2018.)

A rare point of agreement among NPT states surrounds the issue of the right to peaceful nuclear energy for all NPT states. At the Washington meeting, Grossi emphasized the positive contribution of the right to nuclear energy and suggested convening regional working groups and involving stakeholders from the nuclear industry and regulators leading up to the 2020 review conference.

Some experts, however, have expressed concern that some NPT states could object to a focus on nuclear energy as a diversion from making progress on disarmament or the WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Persistent tension between nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states threatens to undermine the last preparatory meeting before the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress No Funding for U.S. INF Missiles in Europe

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The INF Treaty prohibited all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The official figures above show missiles deployed November 1, 1987, shortly before the INF Treaty was signed. The treaty also required destruction of 430 U.S. missiles and 979 Soviet missiles which were in storage or otherwise not deployed. The treaty prevented the planned deployment of an additional 208 GLCMs in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The Pershing IAs, under joint U.S.-German control, were not formally covered by the INF Treaty but were also to be eliminated by U.S. and West German agreement. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty led to the verifiable elimination of over 2,500 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe and helped bring an end to the Cold War.

But now, the United States and Russia are on course to withdraw from the INF Treaty in six months over a long-running dispute over Russian compliance with the treaty.

Termination of the INF Treaty opens the door for Russia and the United States to develop and deploy more and new types of ground-launched intermediate-range missiles–a move that would increase the risks of a destabilizing new missile race.

You can help stop this!

A group of leading U.S. Senators has re-introduced the "Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019," which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile until the Trump Administration meets seven specific conditions, including identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system, and in the case of a European country, have it be the outcome of a NATO-wide decision.

This bill is a step in the right direction. New U.S. ground-launched cruise deployments in Europe or elsewhere would cost billions of dollars, take years to complete, and are militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies because existing weapons systems can already hold key Russian targets at risk.

Your Senators need to hear from you.

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U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Agreements at a Glance

June 2017

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: August 2019

Over the past four decades, American and Soviet/Russian leaders have used a progression of bilateral agreements and other measures to limit and reduce their substantial nuclear warhead and strategic missile and bomber arsenals. The following is a brief summary.

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements

SALT I

Begun in November 1969, by May 1972, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had produced both the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which limited strategic missile defenses to 200 (later 100) interceptors each, and the Interim Agreement, an executive agreement that capped U.S. and Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) forces. Under the Interim Agreement, both sides pledged not to construct new ICBM silos, not to increase the size of existing ICBM silos “significantly,” and capped the number of SLBM launch tubes and SLBM-carrying submarines. The agreement ignored strategic bombers and did not address warhead numbers, leaving both sides free to enlarge their forces by deploying multiple warheads (MIRVs) onto their ICBMs and SLBMs and increasing their bomber-based forces. The agreement limited the United States to 1,054 ICBM silos and 656 SLBM launch tubes. The Soviet Union was limited to 1,607 ICBM silos and 740 SLBM launch tubes. In June 2002, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM treaty.

SALT II

In November 1972, Washington and Moscow agreed to pursue a follow-on treaty to SALT I. SALT II, signed in June 1979, limited U.S. and Soviet ICBM, SLBM, and strategic bomber-based nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles (defined as an ICBM silo, a SLBM launch tube, or a heavy bomber) and placed a variety of other restrictions on deployed strategic nuclear forces. The agreement would have required the Soviets to reduce their forces by roughly 270 delivery vehicles, but U.S. forces were below the limits and could actually have been increased. However, President Jimmy Carter asked the Senate not to consider SALT II for its advice and consent after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, and the treaty was not taken up again. Both Washington and Moscow subsequently pledged to adhere to the agreement’s terms despite its failure to enter into force. However, on May 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan said that future decisions on strategic nuclear forces would be based on the threat posed by Soviet forces and not on "a flawed SALT II Treaty.”

START I

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), first proposed in the early 1980s by President Ronald Reagan and finally signed in July 1991, required the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads as counted using the agreement’s rules. The agreement required the destruction of excess delivery vehicles which was verified using an intrusive verification regime that involved on-site inspections, the regular exchange of information (including telemetry), and the use of national technical means (i.e., satellites). The agreement’s entry into force was delayed for several years because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing efforts to denuclearize Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus by returning their nuclear weapons to Russia and making them parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and START I agreements. START I reductions were completed in December 2001, and the treaty expired on Dec. 5, 2009.

START II

In June 1992, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin agreed to pursue a follow-on accord to START I. START II, signed in January 1993, called for reducing deployed strategic arsenals to 3,000-3,500 warheads and banned the deployment of destabilizing multiple-warhead land-based missiles. START II would have counted warheads in roughly the same fashion as START I and, also like its predecessor, would have required the destruction of delivery vehicles but not warheads. The agreement's original implementation deadline was January 2003, ten years after signature, but a 1997 protocol moved this deadline to December 2007 because of the extended delay in ratification. Both the Senate and the Duma approved START II, but the treaty did not take effect because the Senate did not ratify the 1997 protocol and several ABM Treaty amendments, whose passage the Duma established as a condition for START II’s entry into force. START II was effectively shelved as a result of the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty.

START III Framework

In March 1997, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to a framework for START III negotiations that included a reduction in deployed strategic warheads to 2,000-2,500. Significantly, in addition to requiring the destruction of delivery vehicles, START III negotiations were to address “the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads…to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads.” Negotiations were supposed to begin after START II entered into force, which never happened.

SORT (Moscow Treaty)

On May 24, 2002, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty) under which the United States and Russia reduced their strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each. The warhead limit took effect and expired on the same day, Dec. 31, 2012. Although the two sides did not agree on specific counting rules, the Bush administration asserted that the United States would reduce only warheads deployed on strategic delivery vehicles in active service (i.e., “operationally deployed” warheads) and would not count warheads removed from service and placed in storage or warheads on delivery vehicles undergoing overhaul or repair. The agreement’s limits are similar to those envisioned for START III, but the treaty did not require the destruction of delivery vehicles, as START I and II did, or the destruction of warheads, as had been envisioned for START III. The treaty was approved by the Senate and Duma and entered into force on June 1, 2003. SORT was replaced by New START on Feb. 5, 2011.

New START

On April 8, 2010, the United States and Russia signed New START, a legally binding, verifiable agreement that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers) and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800. The treaty-accountable warhead limit is 30 percent lower than the 2,200 upper limit of SORT, and the delivery vehicle limit is 50 percent lower than the 1,600 allowed in START I. The treaty has a verification regime that combines elements of START I with new elements tailored to New START. Measures under the treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring. The treaty also provides for the continued exchange of telemetry (missile flight-test data on up to five tests per year) and does not meaningfully limit missile defenses or long-range conventional strike capabilities. The U.S. Senate approved New START on Dec. 22, 2010. The approval process of the Russian parliament (passage by both the State Duma and Federation Council) was completed Jan. 26, 2011. The treaty entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and will expire in 2021, though both parties may agree to extend the treaty for a period of up to five years. Both parties met the treaty’s central limits by the Feb. 5, 2018 deadline for implementation.

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements
  SALT  I SALT II INF Treaty START I START II START III SORT

New START

Status Expired Never Entered Into Force Expired Expired Never Entered Into Force Never Negotiated Replaced by New START In Force
Deployed Warhead Limit N/A N/A N/A 6,000 3,000-3,500 2,000-2,500 1,700-2,200 1,550
Deployed Delivery Vehicle Limit US: 1,710 ICBMs & SLBMs
USSR: 2,347
2,250 Prohibits ground-based missiles of 500-5,500 km range 1,600 N/A N/A N/A 700
Date Signed May 26, 1972 June 18, 1979 Dec. 8, 1987 July 31, 1991 Jan. 3, 1993 N/A May 24, 2002 April 8, 2010
Date Ratifed, U.S. Aug. 3, 1972 N/A May 28, 1988 Oct. 1, 1992 Jan. 26, 1996 N/A March 6, 2003 Dec. 22, 2010
Ratification Vote, U.S. 88-2 N/A 93-6 93-6 87-4 N/A 95-0 71-26
Date Entered Into Force Oct. 3, 1972 N/A June 1, 1988 Dec. 5, 1994 N/A N/A June 1, 2003 Feb. 5, 2011
Implementation Deadline N/A N/A June 1, 1991 Dec. 5, 2001 N/A N/A N/A Feb. 5, 2018
Expiration Date Oct. 3, 1977 N/A Aug. 2, 2019 Dec. 5, 2009 N/A N/A Feb. 5, 2011 Feb. 5, 2021*

*New START allows for the option to extend the treaty beyond 2021 for a period of up to five years.

Nonstrategic Nuclear Arms Control Measures

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

Signed Dec. 8, 1987, the INF Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to verifiably eliminate all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Distinguished by its unprecedented, intrusive inspection regime, including on-site inspections, the INF Treaty laid the groundwork for verification of the subsequent START I. The INF Treaty entered into force June 1, 1988, and the two sides completed their reductions by June 1, 1991, destroying a total of 2,692 missiles. The agreement was multilateralized after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and current active participants in the agreement include the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are also parties to the agreement but do not participate in treaty meetings or on-site inspections. The ban on intermediate-range missiles is of unlimited duration.

Both the United States and Russia have raised concerns about the other side’s compliance with the INF Treaty. The United States first publicly charged Russia in 2014 with developing and testing a ground-launched cruise missile—the 9M729 missile—with a range that exceeds the INF Treaty limits.

Russia denies that it breached the agreement and has raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance. Moscow has charged that the United States is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that could also be used to fire cruise missiles, using targets for missile defense tests with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and is making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles. On Oct. 20, 2018 President Donald Trump announced his intention to “terminate” the agreement citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s missiles, and on Dec. 4, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Russia in “material breach” of the treaty. The Trump administration provided official notice to the other treaty states-parties on Feb. 2 that it would both suspend its obligations to the treaty and withdraw from the agreement in six months—per the treaty's terms—and "terminate" the agreement unless Russia returned to compliance by eliminating its ground-launched 9M729 missiles. 

On Aug. 2, 2019, the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty.

Presidential Nuclear Initiatives 

On Sept. 27, 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced that the United States would remove almost all U.S. tactical (nonstrategic) nuclear forces from deployment so that Russia could undertake similar actions, reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation as the Soviet Union dissolved. Specifically, Bush said the United States would eliminate all its nuclear artillery shells and short-range nuclear ballistic missile warheads and remove all nonstrategic nuclear warheads from surface ships, attack submarines, and land-based naval aircraft. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated on Oct. 5, pledging to eliminate all nuclear artillery munitions, nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, and nuclear landmines. He also pledged to withdraw all Soviet tactical naval nuclear weapons from deployment. Under these initiatives, the United States and Russia reduced their deployed nonstrategic stockpiles by an estimated 5,000 and 13,000 warheads, respectively. However, significant questions remain about Russian implementation of its pledges, and there is considerable uncertainty about the current state of Russia’s tactical nuclear forces. The Defense Department estimates that Russia possesses roughly 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons and the numbers are expanding. The United States maintains several hundred nonstrategic B61 gravity bombs for delivery by short-range fighter aircraft. 

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Putin Sets Hypersonic Deployment Plan

 

Russia’s Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle was successfully tested Dec. 26 in the presence of President Vladimir Putin and will be deployed during 2019, according a Kremlin statement. Putin noted the Avangard system, built to carry a nuclear warhead, will be “impervious to current and future” air and missile defenses of a “potential enemy,” a response to long-standing Russian concern that U.S. missile defense systems in combination with U.S. nuclear forces enable Washington to threaten Moscow’s retaliatory nuclear capability. The latest test is the third reported success out of six reported tests of the Yu-71 configuration since 2013. According to reports, the first two Avangard launchers will be deployed on two SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles based at Dombarovsky in 2019, and a total of 12 are expected to be deployed there by the end of 2027. A hypersonic glide vehicle, which travels at speeds of 5,000 to 25,000 kilometers per hour, can change its trajectory during flight and fly at varying altitudes.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Putin Sets Hypersonic Deployment Plan

WMD-Free Middle East Proposal at a Glance

December 2018

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102

Updated: December 2018

As part of a package of decisions that resulted in the indefinite extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the 1995 NPT Review Conference called for “the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.” First put forth by Egypt in 1990, the Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone (WMDFZ) proposal expanded on longstanding calls to establish a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East. Both measures, intended to be pursued in parallel, have garnered broad international support but practical progress has since been elusive.

Background

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) first endorsed calls for the establishment of a NWFZ in a resolution approved in December of 1974 following a proposal by Iran and Egypt. From 1980 to 2018, that resolution had been passed annually without a vote by UNGA and endorsement for the proposal has been incorporated in a number of UN Security Council Resolutions. In 2018, the resolution was brought to a vote with the United States and Israel voting against. From 1991 onwards the IAEA General Conference has also adopted annually without objections a resolution calling for the application of full scope safeguards on all nuclear facilities in the region “as a necessary step for the establishment of the NWFZ.”

Prompted by Egypt in 1988, the UN Secretary General undertook a “Study on Effective and Verifiable Measures which Would Facilitate the Establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East” that looked at conditions surrounding the creation of NWFZ and made a number recommendations including a list confidence building measures. A 1989 IAEA Technical Study also looked at various modalities for the application of safeguards on nuclear facilities in the Middle East as a necessary step to establishing a NWFZ.

Despite extensive international support and the catalogue of resolutions endorsed including by all regional states, practical progress has been stymied by sharp disagreements between countries in the region over the terms and the sequence of steps leading to the establishment of the zone. Reflecting differing perceptions of threat and security concerns existing in the region, Israel has closely linked discussions on the establishment of the WMDFZ with the existence of durable peace and compliance with international obligations by states in the region. Arab states have said that no such linkage should exist and that the establishment of WMDFZ would contribute to peaceful relations.

Basic Elements of the Middle East WMDFZ

A future WMDFZ would commit parties not to possess, acquire, test, manufacture or use any nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as their delivery systems as provided for in the 1995 NPT Review Conference Middle East resolution. Definitions for what constitutes these types of non-conventional weapons are contained in international treaties on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as the 1948 United Nations Commission for Conventional Armaments. A shared understanding would also be required to regulate the types of delivery systems that would become subject to the prohibitions under the zone. Discussions have included proposals for banning all ballistic missiles with ranges in excess of 150 km.

Territory: The 1989 IAEA Technical Study, which first took up the geographic delimitation of a future Middle East NWFZ, applied the concept to a region extending from Libya in the west, to Iran in the east, and from Syria in the north to Yemen in the south. A subsequent UN Study expanded the concept further by including all League of Arab states, plus Iran and Israel in the zone. The Arab League has officially endorsed the UN Study delimitation and Israel has raised no objection other than note that any country in the region should be publicly recognized and accepted as an integral part thereof. Suggestions of including Afghanistan, Pakistan as well as Turkey in the eventual zone have not gained any significant traction.

Verification: One of the principles recognized by UNGA Resolution 3472B on NWFZs in 1975 was that such a zone “should provide for effective verification of compliance with the commitments made by the parties to the Treaty.” Israel has long insisted that any future WMDFZ must also provide “for mutual verification measures” while other proposals have included calls for setting up a regional organization to ensure compliance.

The WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East: 2010 - present

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, state parties were able to agree for the first time to five practical steps to make progress towards implementing the 1995 NPT Review Conference Middle East resolution. The United States, Russia and the United Kingdom, the treaty depository powers and sponsors of that Resolution, committed to work together with the UN Secretary General to convene a regional conference to discuss the issue in 2012. Other measures agreed included the appointment of a WMDFZ facilitator as well as designation of a government that will host the conference. 

The European Union has also offered to host a seminar, a follow-up on the one organized in Paris in 2008, to discuss steps that would facilitate work on establishing the Free Zone ahead of 2012 Conference.

In November 2011, a two-day meeting was held at the IAEA headquarters. Proposals by 97 participating nations included:

  • to continue working towards the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East;
  • to consider declarations of good intentions as a first step to break the current stalemate;
  • to make the best and most constructive use of every opportunity on the international agenda; and
  • to identify specific and practical confidence-building measures.

The regional conference on the establishment of a WMD free zone in the Middle East proposed by the NPT was set to be held in Finland in December 2012, and Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava was name as the facilitator.

On November 23, the United States issued a statement postponing the December 2012 conference. The conference has not yet been rescheduled, and the co-conveners are offering different opinions as to when it should be held, and the reasons for the delay. The U.S. statement cited "present conditions in the Middle East" and the lack of agreement by participating states on "acceptable conditions" for the December conference. No timeline for rescheduling was included. In a November 24 statement, Russia called for the conference to be held before April 2013, citing that the preparations had already reached an "advanced stage" and that the reason for postponement was that not all states in the region agreed to participate in the conference. At the time of the announcement, conference facilitator Jaakko Laajava, had not yet secured Israel's attendance. While Iran announced that it would attend on November 7, it also said it would not engage with the Israelis at the conference, and some experts believe Iran only announced it would attend because Tehran knew that the December 2012 meeting would not take place.

On April 29, 2013, Egypt walked out of the NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting in Geneva in protest of the conference's postponement and called for it to be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Between October 2013 and June 2014, Laajava, with the support of the conveners, has held five consultations with the countries in the region aimed at reaching consensus on an agenda for the conference. The last consultation was held in June 2014. The Arab League member states and Israel have attended every meeting. Iran was present only at the first consultation in October 2013, but is regularly briefed on the outcomes of the consultations.

During the 2015 NPT Review Conference, Egypt led the Arab League in pushing a new proposal to dispense with the facilitator and three of the conveners (Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), leaving the UN Secretary General as the sole authority for holding the conference within 180 days of the Review Conference ending. The Egyptian proposal also called for the creation of two working groups. Working Group I would deal with the scope, geographic demarcation, prohibitions and interim measures. Working Group II would deal with verification measures and implementation mechanisms.

A modified version of the Egyptian proposal appeared in the draft final document of the 2015 NPT Review Conference. The draft final document called for the UN secretary-general to convene a conference by March 1, 2016, aimed at “launching a continuous process of negotiating and concluding a legally binding treaty” that establishes a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

The document called for the secretary-general to appoint by July 1 a special representative to facilitate the process. The facilitator would work with the secretary-general, as well as Russia, the UK, and the United States, to consult with the states in the region on the agenda for the conference.

Under the language in the draft document, if an agenda for the conference were agreed before the March deadline, the secretary-general would have to convene the conference within 45 days of agreement on the agenda.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada decided not to support the draft final document from the NPT review conference based on the language concerning the Middle East WMD-free zone. The United States, speaking at the conference, said it objected because the plan to set an agenda and hold a conference was not based on "consensus and equality," and that the document proposed "unworkable conditions" and "arbitrary deadlines."

The WMD-free zone in the Middle East initiative continued to be a key discussion topic at the first NPT preparatory committee meeting in 2017 leading up to the 2020 Review Conference. The Arab League did not present a unified statement on the issue, marking a growing divide among members on the subject. Instead, Egypt, Iran, and a group of 12 Arab League members, including Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, each offered separate working papers on advancing the WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

In 2018, the UN First Committee adopted a resolution introduced by Egypt on behalf of the Arab League for the UN secretary-general to convene a conference on taking forward a WMD-free zone in the Middle East in 2019 and every year thereafter until a zone is achieved. Israel, Micronesia and the United States voted against the resolution and 71 countries abstained.

 


Chronology of Important Dates

1974 – The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) approves resolution endorsing the goal of establishing a NWFZ in the Middle East following a proposal by Iran.

1980 - Israel joins international consensus allowing the General Assembly to pass a resolution supporting the goal of NWFZ without a vote.

1989 - The IAEA Secretariat issues report titled “A Technical Study on Different Modalities of Application of Safeguards in the Middle East."

1990 - The Egyptian proposal to establish an expanded WMDFZ in the Middle East is first submitted before the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

1991 – The UN Secretary General releases a “Study on Effective and Verifiable Measures which Would Facilitate the Establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East” outlining, amongst other things, a number of confidence building steps that could contribute to the establishment of the zone.

1991 – The IAEA General Conference passes resolution on “the Application of IAEA safeguards in the Middle” as a necessary step towards the establishment of a NWFZ in the region. The resolution has since been passed annually without objections.

1991 – The UN Security Council Resolution 687 endorses goal of establishing a WMDFZ in the Middle East.

1992 – Discussions on regional arms control begin under the aegis of the Arms Control and Regional Security Group (ACRS), a multilateral regional body born out of the Madrid Middle East peace talks. Envisaged to include discussions on a future WMDFZ, talks were placed indefinitely on hold following disagreement between Israel and Egypt over the agenda for discussing WMDFZ related issues.  Iran and Iraq were not party to these talks.

1995 - The NPT Review Conference adopts a Resolution on the Middle East calling on states to take practical steps to make progress in the establishment of WMDFZ in the region. Member agreement on resolution was seen as key to securing the indefinite extension of the NPT.

2000 - The NPT Review conference reaffirms the goal of 1995 Middle East Resolution and says that the resolution remains “valid until its goals and objectives are achieved.”

2006 – The WMD Commission Final Report calls for an intensification of international efforts to establish a WMDFZ in the Middle East.

2010 - The NPT Review Conference endorses five practical steps to make progress towards the goal of establishing a WMDFZ in the Middle East. Action steps adopted include convening a regional conference to discuss the issue in 2012 and appointing a WMDFZ Facilitator.

2011 - Two-day meeting held at IAEA headquarters on a WMDFZ in the Middle East.

2012 - The conference on the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East is postponed due to a lack of consensus on the agenda.

October 2013-June 2014 - Five consultations are held for the states in the region to discuss moving forward on establishing an agenda for the conference.

May 2015 - The draft final document of the 2015 NPT Review Conference presented a new plan for moving forward on a conference to establish the zone. The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada objected to the document based on these provisions, thus preventing consensus and the adoption of the final document.

 

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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