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Nuclear Nonproliferation

Papal Condemnation of Nuclear Deterrence and What Is Next

May 2018
By Gerard Powers

At a major Vatican symposium last year, Pope Francis became the first pope to condemn explicitly not only the use of nuclear weapons but also the “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession.”1

The pope’s statement was praised by many of the 11 Nobel Peace Prize laureates and 300 church leaders, diplomats, scholars, and civil society representatives at the symposium on November 10–11, 2017. His statement and the conference were intended, in part, to further the momentum of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which the Holy See had ratified on September 20, 2017, the first day it was open for signature. Predictably, critics have responded to the pope’s statement much as they did the treaty, dismissing it as naïve and utopian, a normative judgment largely irrelevant to the realities of the nuclear predicament.

Pope Francis addresses the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, shortly after celebrating Easter Mass. (Photo: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)The critics seem to have a point, at least for now, as massive nuclear modernization programs, faltering arms control measures, and nuclear brinksmanship harken back to the Cold War era. Yet, the Vatican tends to play the long game. Given its influence as a norm entrepreneur on nuclear weapons and a major transnational actor headed by an influential pope, the critics might want to pay attention.

Deterrence to Disarmament

The November statement is not a major change in the church’s position on nuclear weapons, as has been widely reported. Every pope in the seven decades since Hiroshima, as well as innumerable church documents, have sought to marginalize nuclear weapons and have insisted on the need for progress toward mutual, verifiable nuclear disarmament. The pope’s condemnation of nuclear use is consistent with the church’s long-standing position that the use of nuclear weapons almost certainly would be indiscriminate or disproportionate, risk escalation to nuclear war, cause irreversible harm to the environment, and would break the nuclear taboo, undermining prospects for nonproliferation and disarmament.

What is a departure of sorts is the pope’s condemnation of deterrence. In 1982, Pope John Paul II enunciated an “interim ethic” on nuclear deterrence: “In current conditions,” he said, “‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”2 Pope Francis has now made a prudential moral judgment, based on his reading of today’s very different signs of the nuclear times, that the strict conditions for the moral acceptability of deterrence are not being met. He has not abandoned his predecessor’s formula, but has applied it to current conditions and come to a different prudential moral judgment.

Although Pope Francis’ customary clarity in making this judgment has received considerable attention, it is not significantly different in substance from Vatican statements since the end of the Cold War. In his 2006 World Day of Peace message, Pope Benedict said that the view that states need nuclear weapons for their security is “not only baneful but also completely fallacious.”3 In 2010, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, referred to John Paul’s interim ethic and concluded that, because “nuclear deterrence is preventing genuine nuclear disarmament…the conditions that prevailed during the Cold War, which gave a basis for the church’s limited toleration of nuclear deterrence, no longer apply.”4 In a similar vein, a 2014 study document released by the Vatican concluded that because the disarmament condition for the moral acceptability of deterrence was not being met, “the very possession of nuclear weapons, even for purposes of deterrence, is morally problematic.”5

These and many other official statements have long made it clear that the nuclear powers could take no more comfort in the church’s position on nuclear weapons before the pope’s November statement than they can now. The interim ethic on deterrence was always a function of context, not time. The Holy See’s reading of the changing geopolitical signs of the times has led it to make a prudential moral judgment that time is up on the interim ethic.

One sign of the times is the judgment that the nuclear powers did not take full advantage of the historic opportunity afforded by the end of the Cold War. The Holy See has welcomed the deep cuts in U.S.-Russian nuclear stockpiles. Nevertheless, the “peace dividend” that was supposed to come with these deep cuts has not materialized. Arms control initiatives have stalled, the nuclear-weapon states have not upheld their end of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty’s (NPT) grand bargain, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not gone into effect, and major nuclear powers have embarked on massive modernization programs.6 Therefore, the Holy See has concluded that nuclear deterrence has not been used as a step toward disarmament but has become an end in itself, a principal impediment to disarmament.

North Korea and the 9/11 terrorist attacks are emblematic of a second sign of the nuclear times. According to the 2014 Vatican study document, “[T]he structure of nuclear deterrence is less stable and more worrisome than at the height of the Cold War” due to continued nuclear proliferation and the increased risk of nuclear weapons use, including by terrorists and unstable nuclear-armed states.7 At the same time, nuclear weapons are increasingly irrelevant in the face of terrorism, cyberwarfare, intrastate conflicts, and other major security threats.

These developments have only reinforced the Holy See’s longstanding concerns about the morally problematic nature of deterrence theories based on a conditional intention to use nuclear weapons in indiscriminate and disproportionate ways and the injustice involved in wasting scarce resources on these weapons instead of devoting them to integral human development.

One cannot understand the Holy See’s position now or during the Cold War solely in terms of these ethical and policy considerations, however important they might be. In his November address, Pope Francis cited Pope John XXIII’s understanding of “integral disarmament,” which is far more capacious than conventional understandings of the term.8

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Holy See's secretary for Relations with States, signs the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, at the United Nations on September 20, 2017.  At the same time, he handed over the instrument of ratification. (Photo: Darren Ornitz/ICAN)Integral disarmament assumes that the long-term goal of abolishing nuclear weapons has to be part of a much larger cosmopolitan project of developing a global ethic of peace and solidarity that can ground a system of cooperative security. A realist approach that prioritizes a negative peace, defined largely in terms of military security and balance of power, is based on a mentality of fear and the false security of weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons are an impediment to the kind of cooperative security needed to build a positive peace based on a host of factors: socioeconomic development, political participation, respect for fundamental human rights, strong international norms and institutions, a spirit of dialogue, solidarity in international relations, as well as a change of hearts.9

Although the label would not seem to fit a tradition-bound Roman Catholic Church, the Holy See’s articulation of a moral judgment on nuclear use and deterrence, in the context of a wider vision of a radically transformed world based on conceptions of cooperative security and positive peace, makes the church what political scientists call a “norm entrepreneur.”

Nuclear Ban Strategy

As a norm entrepreneur embracing integral nuclear disarmament, it is not surprising that the Holy See was willing to join its religious-moral voice to the legal-political strategy to delegitimize the nuclear status quo and democratize the nuclear debate through the humanitarian impact conferences and the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty.

At the third of these conferences in Vienna in December 2014, Pope Francis issued a major letter accompanied by a study document, a lengthy moral and policy argument for nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, he included a strong appeal for progress on nuclear abolition in his September 2015 address to the UN General Assembly, his January 2017 World Day of Peace message, and his March 2017 letter to the UN conference negotiating the prohibition treaty. These papal interventions complemented a host of interventions by Vatican officials, especially during the ban treaty negotiations.

The nuclear weapons prohibition treaty takes a page from the landmine treaty’s “coalition of the willing” strategy. These norm entrepreneurs—non-nuclear-weapon states, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies, religious bodies, and nongovernmental organizations—have sought to reframe the nuclear debate, shifting the focus from national security to moral, legal, and humanitarian concerns. This reframing in normative terms reflects a strategic judgment that the current stalemate on nuclear disarmament could only be broken if new international mechanisms were found to stigmatize nuclear weapons and delegitimize the nuclear status quo.

The limitations of this strategy are obvious. It circumvented established processes, and its normative significance is in doubt given the opposition by nuclear-weapon states and most states under their nuclear umbrellas. While acknowledging these limitations, the Holy See, like others behind this strategy, concluded that it was a reasonable step in a complex and long-term process of moving toward a world without nuclear weapons. According to Pope Francis, the treaty “fill[s] a significant juridical lacuna, inasmuch as chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-human mines and cluster bombs are all expressly prohibited by international conventions.”10

This strategy helps break through the stalemate in bilateral and multilateral negotiations. It will not encourage forum shopping, but rather complements the NPT, CTBT, and other treaties. The Holy See has been quite critical of the morally untenable double standard in the NPT, which perpetuates an unjust, unequal, and dangerous nuclear status quo.11 The prohibition treaty reinforces this critique and helps pressure the nuclear-weapon states to abide by their disarmament obligations under NPT Article VI.

The Holy See’s contributions to the treaty negotiations reflect its priorities.12 First, it successfully pressed for incorporating moral language (“the ethical imperative for disarmament”) into the preamble against the legal positivists who sought to exclude it. Second, it supported language about the “waste of economic and human resources” on nuclear weapons. Third, citing the relevance of nuclear weapons to the global common good, it supported the need for creating a new international authority other than the over-stretched International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to administer and implement the treaty. Fourth, the Holy See supported mention of the moral responsibility of states that had used or tested nuclear weapons to assist with victim assistance and environmental remediation, but recommended a voluntary international fund so as not to stimulate further resistance from nuclear-weapon states. Fifth, the Holy See suggested deleting “any” with respect to the catastrophic consequences and legality of the use of nuclear weapons in order to acknowledge the variety of types of weapons and their potential uses. Finally, the Holy See made a half-dozen different proposals to place nuclear disarmament in the broader context of general disarmament and a positive peace, but succeeded only in including peace education alongside disarmament education.

This last point, about the importance of peace and disarmament education, reflects the Holy See’s conviction that the nuclear debate has to be democratized. According to Pope Francis, filling a legal gap was even more important than the treaty’s inclusiveness, the product of “a significant alliance between civil society, states, international organizations, churches, academies and groups of experts.”13

The humanitarian impact initiative and the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty process ensured that the normative concerns for the global common good expressed by the majority of states were not overridden, as they typically have been, by the national interests of the nuclear-weapon states. These processes also gave a greater voice to civil society, which will be so important in garnering public support for the ban treaty, especially in nuclear-weapon states.

Looking Ahead

The Holy See is in the unique position of being the world’s smallest nation-state and the world’s largest religious institution. Its role in the nuclear debate reflects the strengths and limitations of both roles. As a state, it is not surprising that its policy agenda is similar to that of other non-nuclear-weapon states, and that policy agenda is not likely to change significantly now that there is a prohibition treaty.

The Holy See will continue to routinely addresses issues before the IAEA, the Conference on Disarmament, and other international forums. It will continue to join other non-nuclear-weapon states in supporting full implementation of the NPT, including Article VI; a host of other arms control measures, such as the CTBT and a fissile material cutoff treaty; and stronger mechanisms for the IAEA to prevent proliferation, strengthen nuclear safeguards, and enforce arms control agreements.

The Holy See’s most important and distinctive contributions, however, will be less in policy advocacy and more in its ongoing efforts as a religious institution to help ensure that morality is not an uninvited guest at an exclusive party dominated by realists. Amid the irresponsible nuclear saber rattling of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and the ambitious programs to develop smaller, smarter, and more usable nuclear weapons, the Holy See will continue to do its part to complement the prohibition treaty and strengthen the nuclear taboo against use with its clear moral condemnations.

The longer-term and less direct impact will be on deterrence and disarmament. The pope’s moral condemnation of deterrence, which echoes the legal prohibition in the treaty, should be of concern to nuclear-weapon states because the credibility of deterrence depends in part on the moral credibility of the threats involved. Nuclear policies, at least in democracies, cannot survive in the long term if major religious bodies and the general public lose faith in their ultimate moral legitimacy.

Religious appeals on the moral imperative of long-term efforts of nuclear disarmament are not new, but the narrative has changed over the past 20 years as moral, legal, and policy arguments for nuclear disarmament have gone mainstream, with the prohibition treaty being the most recent example. The Holy See is helping to provide the moral vision of a possibility that can scarcely be imagined now. But more is needed.

The credibility of that vision will depend on addressing two dimensions of an ethics gap. First is to elaborate on the pastoral implications of the pope’s prudential judgment that nuclear deterrence is no longer morally acceptable. If nuclear weapons are illegitimate but nuclear disarmament is not achievable in the near future, what is the moral responsibility of Catholic politicians, soldiers, and citizens in nuclear-weapon states who approve defense budgets, work in the nuclear military, and vote for those advocating a strong nuclear deterrent?

Second, the policy debate on nuclear disarmament is now ahead of the moral debate. Catholic scholars, policy specialists, and religious leaders need to collaborate in developing an ethic of nuclear disarmament that is as sophisticated as the ethic of nuclear use and deterrence developed during the Cold War.14 Many questions should be considered, such as what forms of deterrence would be morally acceptable and effective if the world moved to a minimal deterrent, with its tendency to revert to the counter-population targeting that the church has unequivocally condemned, or if the world actually abolished all nuclear weapons, making possession of illicit nuclear weapons even more valuable, more usable, and more destabilizing? Would a world without nuclear weapons require the development of an ethic of “disarmament intervention” akin to humanitarian intervention to deal with rogue states attempting a nuclear breakout?

Nuclear Weapons and the ‘Mentality of Fear’

The following is an excerpt from the address by Pope Francis on November 10, 2017, to participants in the international symposium “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament,” held at the Vatican.

“In this symposium, you have met to discuss issues that are critical both in themselves and in the light of the complex political challenges of the current international scene, marked as it is by a climate of instability and conflict. A certain pessimism might make us think that “prospects for a world free from nuclear arms and for integral disarmament,” the theme of your meeting, appear increasingly remote. Indeed, the escalation of the arms race continues unabated; and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations. As a result, the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty; the promotion of peace; the undertaking of educational, ecological, and health care projects; and the development of human rights, are relegated to second place.

Nor can we fail to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices. If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned, for they exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race. International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms. Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity. Essential in this regard is the witness given by the hibakusha, the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with other victims of nuclear arms testing. May their prophetic voice serve as a warning, above all for coming generations!

Furthermore, weapons that result in the destruction of the human race are senseless even from a tactical standpoint. For that matter, while true science is always at the service of humanity, in our time we are increasingly troubled by the misuse of certain projects originally conceived for a good cause. Suffice it to note that nuclear technologies are now spreading, also through digital communications, and that the instruments of international law have not prevented new states from joining those already in possession of nuclear weapons. The resulting scenarios are deeply disturbing if we consider the challenges of contemporary geopolitics, like terrorism or asymmetric warfare.

At the same time, a healthy realism continues to shine a light of hope on our unruly world. Recently, for example, in a historic vote at the United Nations, the majority of the members of the international community determined that nuclear weapons are not only immoral, but must also be considered an illegal means of warfare. This decision filled a significant juridical lacuna, inasmuch as chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-human mines, and cluster bombs are all expressly prohibited by international conventions.  Even more important is the fact that it was mainly the result of a “humanitarian initiative” sponsored by a significant alliance between civil society, states, international organizations, churches, academies, and groups of experts.

[P]rogress that is both effective and inclusive can achieve the utopia of a world free of deadly instruments of aggression, contrary to the criticism of those who consider idealistic any process of dismantling arsenals. The teaching of John XXIII remains ever valid. In pointing to the goal of an integral disarmament, he stated, “Unless this process of disarmament be thoroughgoing and complete, and reach men’s very souls, it is impossible to stop the arms race, or to reduce armaments, or—and this is the main thing—ultimately to abolish them entirely.”

More moral clarity on these and other issues would reinforce and complement the legal arguments that must be marshalled for the prohibition treaty to gain broader adherence and for sustaining the decades-long process of negotiating and implementing a follow-on convention on nuclear disarmament.

If one of the goals and outcomes of the humanitarian initiative and the landmine ban treaty was to help democratize the nuclear debate, the challenge for the Catholic Church and other religious institutions and civil society actors is to revitalize engagement on an issue that has largely been ignored since the 1980s. As with anti-nuclear mobilization in the 1980s and the current Global Zero campaign, religious institutions will probably not be in the lead. Yet, they can use their vast institutional infrastructure of parishes, dioceses, schools, universities, religious orders, lay organizations, and media to mobilize and motivate around nuclear issues and give added weight to these initiatives.

That has been difficult to do for the past three decades as the nuclear issue moved to the margins of international affairs and understandably receded in the public consciousness. With the exception of the United States, Japan, and Scotland, even episcopal conferences have tended to leave the nuclear issue to the Holy See.

With the prohibition treaty and a return to nuclear tensions and massive modernization programs, some of the ingredients for new anti-nuclear mobilization are in place. The Vatican symposium, a convening of Catholic leaders from Europe and the United States in London in 2016,15 a joint statement by European and U.S. bishops’ conferences in 2017,16 and other developments suggest that the church is poised to re-engage in a significant way. It is not naïve to hope that, as it does so, it can have the kind of influence it had on President Ronald Reagan and his advisers.17 Catholic and other religious voices in Europe could also reinforce opposition to NATO’s current nuclear modernization programs.

The large, high-profile Vatican symposium showed that Pope Francis is moving the moral imperative of nuclear disarmament back to the center of the church’s international agenda. The challenge for the church is to close the ethics gap and strengthen its capacity to continue to inject morality into the nuclear debate and democratize that debate. As with other entrepreneurial endeavors, that will require a new generation of religious leaders, scholars, and professionals with the competence and interest to contribute to the policy and ethical debate on nuclear disarmament.



1. Pope Francis, Address to international symposium “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament” (The Vatican, November 10, 2017), https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2017/november/documents/papa-francesco_20171110_convegno-disarmointegrale.html (hereinafter Vatican symposium).

2. “Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the General Assembly of the United Nations,” June 7, 1982, https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/pont_messages/1982/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19820607_disarmo-onu.html.

3. Pope Benedict XVI, “In Truth, Peace,” December 8, 2005, https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20051213_xxxix-world-day-peace.html.

4. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Lecture at the Woodstock Theological Institute at Georgetown University, March 16, 2010. For a summary of the talk, see Thomas Reese, “Vatican Questions Nuclear Deterrence,” May 12, 2010, http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/vatican-questions-nuclear-deterrence.

5. Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, “Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition,” December 8, 2014, p. 4, www.fciv.org/downloads/Holy%20See%20Contribution-Vienna-8-DEC-2014.pdf (hereinafter study document).

6. Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Statement at the High-Level Meeting of the 68th Session of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament, September 26, 2013, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/2013/documents/rc-seg-st-20130926_mamberti-nuclear-disarmament_en.html.

7. Study document, p. 3.

8. Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963.

9. Pope Francis, Letter to president of UN conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, March 23, 2017, https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20170323_messaggio-onu.html.

10. Vatican symposium.

11. Study document, pp. 8-9.

12. See Drew Christiansen, “The Vatican and the Ban Treaty,” Journal of Catholic Social Thought, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2018): 89-108.

13. Vatican symposium.

14. For a more detailed explanation of this gap, see Gerard F. Powers, “The Nuclear Ethics Gap: Finding Our Way on the Road to Disarmament,” America, May 17, 2010, p. 11.

15. The event was titled “Colloquium on Catholic Approaches to Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament” and was held at the University of Notre Dame London Centre and the Millbank House on May 24-25, 2016. See Catholic Peacebuilding Network, “Colloquium on U.S.-European Approaches to Nuclear Disarmament,” n.d., https://cpn.nd.edu/news-events/past-events/london-2016/ (accessed April 8, 2018).

16. Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich and Bishop Oscar Cantú, “Nuclear Disarmament: Seeking Human Security,” Justitia et Pax Europa and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, July 6, 2017, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/war-and-peace/nuclear-weapons/nuclear-disarmament-seeking-human-security-2017-07-06.cfm.

17. Lawrence J. Korb, “The Vatican Tries to Reduce the Revived Global Threat of Nuclear War,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
December 13, 2017, https://thebulletin.org/vatican-tries-reduce-revived-global-threat-nuclear-war11346.

Gerard Powers is director of Catholic peacebuilding studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. From 1987 to 2004, he was an adviser on nuclear issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Francis has made a judgment that the strict conditions for the moral acceptability of deterrence are not being met.

‘Denuclearization’ Poses Summit Challenge

May 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have agreed to negotiate “denuclearization” at their planned summit, but different expectations for what that means could complicate or even derail their talks.

Stepping back from the personal insults and threats of nuclear devastation hurled at one another just months ago, the two leaders have surprised the world with gestures to ease the way to what would be the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a leader of isolated, communist North Korea. Most notably, Kim announced on April 21 that North Korea will “discontinue” nuclear tests and long-range missile tests, close its nuclear test site, not transfer nuclear weapons and technology to other countries or groups, and refrain from using nuclear weapons unless threatened.

In a photo provided by the White House, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is shown shaking hands with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who secretly flew to Pyongyang during Easter weekend to lay the groundwork for the anticipated summit meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump. (Photo: The White House via Getty Images)Those steps by the Kim regime, however welcome, fall short of what the United States has considered to be denuclearization. The Trump administration regards denuclearization as meaning North Korea “no longer having nuclear weapons that can be used in warfare against any of our allies,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on April 22.

Although administration officials have not been specific, they likely want Kim to dismantle his considerable nuclear weapons infrastructure, which includes warheads, delivery systems, production of fissile material, and weapons research laboratories that together have been a source of national pride and regime security. Measures to ensure that North Korea is not cheating would require elaborate verification provisions and monitoring by international inspectors.

For its part, Pyongyang views denuclearization as a two-sided process that includes U.S. nuclear weapons that are part of Washington’s core defense commitment to allies South Korea and Japan.

This definitional mismatch increases the likelihood that both sides are entering talks with unrealistic expectations.

The Trump national security team has not publicly detailed its approach, but past U.S. administrations have called for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear program to achieve the goal of a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons. This concept, known as CVID, was a principal U.S. demand during the multiparty negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program from 2003 to 2009, known as the six-party talks.

UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea similarly describe denuclearization. Dating back to 2006, when the council passed Resolution 1718 in response to North Korea’s first nuclear test, the body declared that North Korea “shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner.”

CVID also has roots in the January 1992 South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in which Pyongyang and Seoul agreed not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” or to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” The U.S. decision to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea in 1991 helped pave the way for the joint declaration the following year.

For Pyongyang, reportedly, denuclearization must include the removal of U.S. nuclear and strategic assets from South Korea, a commitment not to deploy nuclear and strategic assets during military exercises, and a guarantee that the United States will not conduct a nuclear attack. It is not clear what if any inspections North Korea would insist on to verify the absence of nuclear weapons and strategic assets from the peninsula.

North Korea is also looking for other, related changes, including a peace treaty, lifting of international sanctions, and some form of guarantee against U.S. efforts for regime change.

North Korea’s nuclear-related conditions are less specific and onerous when compared to past instances when it has defined denuclearization. In July 2016, North Korea said that the “denuclearization being called for” applies to the “whole Korean peninsula and this includes the dismantlement of nukes in South Korea and its vicinity.” (See ACT, September 2016.)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) embrace after signing the Panmunjom Declaration during their Inter-Korean Summit on April 27 at the Peace House in Panmunjom, South Korea.  (Photo: Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images)Specifically, North Korea called in 2016 for disclosure of any U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea, guarantees the United States will not redeploy nuclear weapons in South Korea, assurance it will not conduct a nuclear strike on North Korea, and withdrawal of U.S. troops authorized to use nuclear weapons. Although the United States does not deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea, South Korea and Japan are covered by the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent, and strategic assets are used in joint military drills.

Trump has claimed incorrectly that North Korea’s agreement to talk about denuclearization and its April 21 pledge constitutes an agreement to denuclearize. In response to the announcement, Trump tweeted that “we haven’t given up anything and they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, and no more testing!” Another tweet said that “only time will tell” if things will work out with Pyongyang.

North Korea has not made any public commitment to give up existing nuclear weapons, which Kim in his statement to ruling party officials called a “powerful treasured sword for defending peace.” North Korea is estimated to have assembled 10 to 20 nuclear warheads and to have the fissile material for an estimated 30 to 60 nuclear weapons, as well as advanced chemical and biological weapons programs.

Kim’s pledge is a new and positive commitment, but North Korea has hinted previously it would be willing to take such limited steps. In his new year’s address, Kim laid the groundwork for a suspension, stating that North Korea had completed its nuclear and missile programs.

How North Korea’s shorter-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles fit into the denuclearization negotiations is also an open question. Although the promised moratorium on testing intercontinental ballistic missiles may satisfy the United States, it is unlikely to be enough for regional allies, notably Japan, given that North Korea’s short- and medium-range missile systems put that country within range.

Japanese President Shinzo Abe, during an April 17 meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, emphasized the importance of negotiations covering all missile systems, as well as other weapons of mass destruction, such as North Korea’s large stockpiles of chemical weapons.

According to an April 18 White House statement, Trump and Abe raised the bar for the negotiations, stating that North Korea “needs to abandon all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles programs.”

Trump and Kim may have different views as to what precisely is up for negotiation.

Legislatures Act on Ban Treaty

May 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

A number of legislatures are taking steps for ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, while some other states, including two NATO members, are launching studies on the implications of ratifying the landmark treaty opposed by the major nuclear powers.

When the treaty opened for signature in September 2017, 50 states signed and three ratified the treaty. (See ACT, October 2017.) Since then, Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela, as well as Palestine, have ratified the treaty, and eight other states have signed it.

Supporters of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) gathered February 5 in Sydney to urge the Australian and Japanese governments to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. (Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)Further, the treaty is being considered in other countries, such as Austria, where legislation supporting ratification passed the Austrian National Council on March 21 and the Austrian Federal Council on April 5, in both cases unanimously. Once Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen has signed the legislation, and the country will soon submit its instrument of ratification.

Ireland is drafting treaty-implementation legislation, which could pass before the parliamentary recess in July. Campaigners in Ireland are advocating inclusion of the treaty’s prohibition of assistance with banned activities in the implementing legislation, which could mean limiting foreign investment in companies whose products or action contribute to nuclear arsenals.

Costa Rica’s legislative assembly voted unanimously March 15 for legislation in support of ratifying the treaty. Tim Wright, treaty coordinator at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), expects Costa Rica to ratify the treaty in the coming weeks. “We expect to see more ratifications from Latin America in the near future,” Wright told Arms Control Today in an April 17 interview.

Brazilian President Michel Temer is working to have Brazil ratify the treaty by the end of the year, Christian Vargas, deputy chief of mission at the Brazilian embassy in Washington, told the Arms Control Association annual meeting April 19.

In a February speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated she would pursue “early ratification” of the prohibition treaty. But an official in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Arms Control Today in an April 18 email that no parliamentary process to do so had commenced.

The Marshall Islands, where there is strong domestic support for nuclear disarmament derived from the environmental and humanitarian impact of past U.S. nuclear testing there, has begun its legislative process on the treaty. A member of the Nitijela, the islands’ legislative body, submitted a resolution in September 2017 calling for the signature and ratification of the prohibition treaty. The resolution is currently in parliamentary committee.

The committee has held one public hearing, as of mid-March, but plans to hold more, said Bonnie Docherty, lecturer on law at Harvard Law School in an email to Arms Control Today. The committee aims to release its report to the Nitijela in August so that a vote on the resolution can take place before elections in November 2019.

Some officials are concerned about the compatibility of the treaty with the Marshall Islands’ 2003 Amended Compact of Free Association with the United States. The compact guarantees U.S. defense of the island nation in exchange for its promise not to take any action that the United States deems to be against its “responsibility for security and defense matters” in the Marshall Islands. (See ACT, September 2017.) Docherty contends that the two agreements are compatible.

In Switzerland, a member of parliament introduced a motion Dec. 12 requesting that the country sign the treaty “as soon as possible” and submit it to parliament for ratification “without delay.” A National Council vote, originally planned for March 15, had to be rescheduled and will likely occur during the summer session from May 28 to June 15, according to Maya Brehm, adviser to the group Article 36, in an email to Arms Control Today.

The Swiss government recommended Feb. 21 that the parliament reject the motion, citing a “need to clarify important technical, legal and political questions.” The government raised concerns that some treaty provisions “may not be verifiable or that the treaty could weaken existing standards, instruments or forums.” It also stated that it could not sign the treaty before completion of an interdepartmental analysis of the treaty, which is expected by July.

Other states are also launching studies into the implications of joining the treaty.

The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in October 2017 that it would authorize such a review to be completed within a year. The Norwegian Parliament voted Feb. 8 to launch a similar study, although the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs opposes the accord.

“A process to achieve a ban on nuclear weapons that is not supported by any of the countries that actually have weapons of this kind will not, unfortunately, advance the disarmament agenda,” asserted Audun Halvorsen, state secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an April 18 email to Arms Control Today. The prohibition treaty “is not compatible with our NATO obligations. None of our NATO allies support the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and it is not appropriate for Norway to sign a treaty that could undermine NATO’s position as a defense alliance. However, the government is now following up parliament’s request to examine what the consequences of signing the [treaty] would be.”

The study’s conclusions will be available by the end of 2018, Halvorsen added.

Iceland, another NATO member, is also looking into the implications of joining the treaty, according to Wright. Iceland’s new prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who took office in November, is a member of the Left-Green movement and, although still a member of parliament, signed ICAN’s parliamentary pledge to work toward the treaty’s signature
and ratification.

An official in the prime minister’s office, in an email to Arms Control Today, did not comment on Jakobsdóttir’s current views on prohibition treaty ratification. The official underlined Iceland’s commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the country’s desire to see progress on nuclear weapons reductions.

“With Katrín Jakobsdóttir as prime minister, Iceland is in a strong position to join the treaty and lead other NATO countries to support real steps towards nuclear disarmament,” Ray Acheson, director of the group Reaching Critical Will, said in November 2017 after Jakobsdóttir attended a talk she and Wright gave in support of the treaty.

Advocates see support for the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty.

Trump's Threat To Violate The Iran Nuclear Deal And How To Respond



Volume 10, Issue 5, April 30, 2018

President Donald Trump’s unrealistic demands that Congress and Washington’s European partners “fix” the effective 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran is setting the United States up to violate the deal, jeopardize its future, and undermine U.S. credibility and leverage in the region.

Despite the success of the nuclear deal in verifiably blocking Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear bomb, Trump has threatened not to renew U.S. sanctions waivers May 12, as required by the nuclear deal, if the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) and Washington do not conclude a supplemental agreement designed to address what he terms are “flaws” in the accord.

Although E3 and U.S. negotiators have been meeting since Trump issued his ultimatum in January, it looks increasingly likely that Trump will choose not to renew sanctions waivers May 12, putting the United States in violation of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

While there has been progress in areas outside of the nuclear deal that Trump wants to address, such as on ballistic missiles, his demand that an agreement changing the so-called "sunsets"—those provisions of the deal that expire over time—has proven contentious and may prevent the E3 and the United States from finalizing an arrangement. Trump’s claim—that the deal paves the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon in 10 years—is based on a flawed analysis that discounts the value that the permanent monitoring mechanisms and prohibitions put in place by the deal have as a bulwark against nuclear weapons development.

Trump also disregards the fact that his solution, making permanent some of the limitations that expire in 10-25 years under the threat to reimposing sanctions, would violate the accord. Congress and the E3 have rightly resisted agreeing to make demands that would abrogate, or otherwise recast, the terms of the JCPOA. These fundamental differences make an arrangement between the E3 and the United States that addresses Trump’s areas of concerns without violating the agreement difficult to negotiate.

Additionally, given Trump’s record of hostility toward the accord, his campaign pledge to tear up the deal, and his unpredictability, there is no guarantee that even if an agreement on a supplemental arrangement is reached, Trump will accept it or abide by it.

After meeting with Trump and floating the idea of a new agreement that keeps the 2015 nuclear deal in place and, in separate arrangements, addresses regional issues, ballistic missiles, and options for how to address Iran’s nuclear program after the deal expires, French President Emmanuel Macron predicted April 26 that Trump “will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons.”

While it behooves the E3 to continue pursuing negotiations with the Trump administration on an arrangement that satisfies Trump without violating the deal, the E3, Russia, China, Iran, and the U.S. Congress should now prepare to pursue “plan B”–implementation of the JCPOA without the United States. That must include denouncing Trump’s failure to renew sanctions for what is a clear violation of the deal —and taking steps to sustain the nuclear accord.

For as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated in October, the nuclear agreement is multilateral and it is “not up to a single country to terminate it.”

A Clear Violation of the Deal

Reimposing sanctions is a twofold abrogation of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and it is critical that members of Congress and Washington’s P5+1 partners recognize it as such. Not only did the United States commit not to reimpose sanctions, Washington also committed not to interfere with the full realization of sanctions relief.

To the first point, Paragraph 26 of the JCPOA clearly states that the United States “acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and Congress, will refrain from reintroducing or reimposing the sanction specified in Annex II that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA.”

Reimposing sanctions lifted by the deal, particularly when even top U.S. officials and critics of the deal admit that Iran is in compliance with its commitments, clearly abrogates U.S. commitments under this paragraph.

Additionally, the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, given the extraterritorial nature of the measures, will interfere with foreign companies and banks conducting legitimate business with Iran that is permitted by the JCPOA.That would directly inhibit Iran from realizing the benefits of sanctions relief.

For instance, the United States also committed in Paragraph 26 to “make best efforts in good faith… to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting.” In paragraph 28, the United States committed to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”

Even if the administration claims that it is not implementing the sanctions and therefore not violating the deal, failing to renew the waivers will make certain transactions with Iran illegal. Additionally, entities are not going to wait for the Trump administration to start implementing the measures to take actions to comply with the restrictions and avoid being penalized by the United States. The risk of sanctions penalties alone will result in a certain amount of self-enforcement, particularly for the sanctions measures that are due to be renewed May 12.

The Impact of Reimposing Oil Measures

The sanctions that will be reimposed May 12 if Trump does not renew waivers come from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012. The sanctions in the NDAA require states purchasing oil from Iran to make significant reductions in imports every 180 days or risk being sanctioned. While “significant reduction” was not defined in the legislation and it is unclear what standard the Trump administration will use, it was understood by the Obama administration to mean an 18 percent decrease in the total price paid for oil purchases every 180 days. If the sanctions are reimposed, compliance would be assessed Nov. 8, 2018. Failure to meet the “significant reduction” standard would result in sanctions on the foreign banks that process the transactions.

Key U.S. allies will be affected if this measure is snapped back. Right now the top five purchasers of Iranian oil include China, Japan, South Korea, India, and the European Union. Some of these states have already begun reducing purchases of Iranian oil in anticipation of the reimposition. South Korea’s purchases of Iranian oil products were down 40 percent in March 2018, when compared to prior year, although that is partially due to a decrease in the supply of certain oil products.

Reimposing these measures will also have a negative impact on support in Iran to maintain the deal, given the central role that oil sales play in Iran’s economy. The increase in oil sales after the JCPOA was implemented constitutes a significant portion of the sanctions relief Iran has experienced under the JCPOA.

In addition to higher sales since the agreement was implemented in 2016, Iran’s production of oil has also rebounded to 4 million barrels per day, up from the approximately 2.6 million barrels per day during the period from 2012-2016 when the EU oil embargo and the U.S. sanctions from the 2012 NDAA were in place. Crude oil sales are up from 1.1 million barrels per day during the negotiations from 2013-2015, when further reductions were capped, to about 2.5 million barrels per day.

Options for Congress

If Trump fails to renew the sanctions waivers, it is critical that members of Congress immediately denounce his action as a clear violation of the nuclear deal and call upon Washington’s partners in the agreement to sustain the accord.

Failure to call out Trump for violating the deal could be interpreted as an implicit endorsement of his approach and, more broadly, a rejection of multilateral efforts to address issues of proliferation concern. For this reason, it is also critical that members of Congress call on the remaining P5+1 to continue to implement the nuclear deal with Iran.

At a time when the overarching nonproliferation and disarmament architecture is under considerable stress, the nuclear deal with Iran was widely viewed in the international community as a nonproliferation success that averted a nuclear crisis and brought Iran back into compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Now, with the deal under threat from Trump, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, opened the door to Iranian withdraw from the NPT in response to a U.S. violation of the JCPOA, an action which would have grave consequences for the treaty and remove the binding legal prohibition on developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Such an action would not only undermine international security, but it would severely undermine Iran’s own security and standing.

Demonstrating that Trump’s extreme view is outside of the mainstream and the deal still has support from policymakers in the United States may help persuade Tehran from making such a drastic move in response to the U.S. violation.

Members of Congress would also be right to point out that Trump will be responsible for the consequences if the U.S. violation ultimately causes the deal to collapse and the damage that would be done to U.S. credibility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported Iran’s compliance with the accord in 10 consecutive reports and Trump’s own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a critic of the Iran deal, testified to Congress that there is no evidence of Iranian noncompliance with the accord, there is no legitimate reason for Trump to violate the agreement. Given Iran’s full implementation of the JCPOA, a decision by Trump to violate the accord and risk the future of the nuclear deal should be denounced by responsible members of Congress.

EU Measures to Sustain the Deal

Washington’s P5+1 partners, particularly the EU, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have committed to the continued implementation of the JCPOA, irrespective of U.S. actions. To sustain the deal, however, the E3 and the EU must do more than just denounce U.S. actions as a violation and detrimental to the future of the nuclear deal.

The EU can, and should, take actions to block the application of U.S. secondary sanctions and seek to assure Iran that the rest of the P5+1 remain committed to Iran realizing sanctions relief under the deal.

The EU has experience responding to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions. In the 1990s, the EU issued blocking regulation to protect its banks and businesses from U.S. sanctions targeting Cuba by instructing the entities not to comply with U.S. sanctions. In that case, the EU had an assurance from the United States that Washington would not target EU businesses for violating the sanctions.

While a handshake agreement that the United States will not seek to penalize EU businesses in the Iran case is highly unlikely, the EU should still pursue the blocking regulation. The blocking regulation probably will not provide enough guarantee that banks and businesses will be shielded from U.S. sanctions that business with Iran will continue–the penalty of being cut off from the U.S. financial system is likely too high a risk—but it will send an important political signal to Iran that the EU supports the deal. Equally important, it sends a message to the United States the decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran is unacceptable and the EU will not be pressured into abiding by U.S. measures.

The EU could also consider setting up channels to facilitate business transactions with Iran that do not rely on the U.S. dollar. Isolating such transactions from the U.S. financial system could provide an avenue for doing business with Iran and demonstrate to Tehran that the EU is still serious about implementing the deal.

These actions will be critical to try and continue sanctions relief. Failure to do so might push Iran to resume troublesome nuclear activities halted by the JCPOA, such as enrichment to 20-percent uranium-235, an activity currently prohibited by the deal until 2031.

As Zarif told CBS April 22, if “benefits of the deal for Iran start to diminish, then there is no reason for Iran to remain in the deal.”

The EU also has other channels for supporting the JCPOA. One often overlooked benefit of the nuclear deal is the technical cooperation for nuclear research and assistance in advancing nuclear safety and security. The EU and Iran have conducted several meetings to date and the results over some clear benefits to Iran. Pledging to continue to help Iran realize the full benefit of Annex III of the JCPOA is another way the EU can show its commitment to the deal.

Russia and China have also indicated support for sustaining the JCPOA and denounced Trump’s threats to the deal. At a meeting on the NPT in Geneva, Russia and China circulated a statement affirming their "unwavering support for the comprehensive and effective implementation" of the deal and invited all states present to sign on to the agreement. The Russian envoy to the meeting called upon states “not to remain silent in hopes that this situation will somehow blow over by itself but rather to take serious steps to preserve the JCPOA.”

Washington’s P5+1 partners should also use the dispute resolution mechanism set up by the JCPOA to present a united front in the face of the U.S. violation or support Iran if Tehran chooses this path. While the dispute resolution might push the E3 and the EU into the unattractive position of siding with Russia and China against the United States, it would send a strong signal to the Trump administration that the United States is isolated in its rejection of the deal.

Beyond the P5+1

The world is looking to the E3 to save the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran–but it is not just the responsibility of the other P5+1 states to avert the nonproliferation crisis that would follow if Trump reimposes sanctions. States beyond the P5+1 have an obligation to contribute to efforts to sustain the deal and uphold nonproliferation norms.

The UN Security Council endorsed the JCPOA in a 2015 resolution that “calls upon all Member States” to “take such actions as may be appropriate to support the implementation of the JCPOA” and “refraining from actions that undermine the implementation of commitments” under the deal. The preamble of the Resolution 2231 also emphasizes the importance of a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue “would benefit nuclear-nonproliferation.” The Security Council resolution statements may be nonbinding, but they underscore the global importance of the deal for nonproliferation and the responsibility that all UN member states have toward supporting the agreement.

States like South Korea, Japan, and India also have a stake in the economic consequences of any U.S. decision to violate the deal and reimpose sanctions. Not only would they be subject to restrictions on oil purchases from Iran, but banks and entities in these countries engaged in legitimate trade with Iran risk penalties if they do not cut ties with Tehran.

Like the EU, these states may think about what measures they can take to shield businesses and entities from U.S. sanctions. Pursuing strategies similar to the EU blocking regulation would send a strong signal of support for the Iran deal and demonstrate to Washington that there are consequences for blatantly disregarding multilateral accords.


If Trump fails to renew sanctions waivers May 12 it will be a clear violation of the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran. Withholding waivers would be irresponsible, dangerous, and risk a nuclear agreement that is verifiably restricting Iran’s nuclear activities. Trump’s action may not cause the deal collapse, but it certainly jeopardizes the future of the JCPOA and isolates the United States from key allies.

It is critical that members of Congress, Washington P5+1 partners, and the broader international community denounce Trump for violating the agreement if he fails to renew the sanctions waivers. Collapse of the agreement would have international consequences. Defending the JCPOA must be a global responsibility.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, April 25, 2018

Europe Works to Save the JCPOA As time winds down to the May 12 deadline U.S. President Donald Trump set for negotiating a “fix” to the nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) are urging the United States not to violate the agreement and warning Washington of the consequences if the deal collapses. Behind the scenes, E3–France, Germany, and the United Kingdom–and U.S. officials continue working on a supplemental arrangement dealing with the “flaws” Trump demanded the Europeans address before the May 12 deadline to renew U.S...

High-Level Group Calls for Extension of New START Agreement



U.S., European, and Russian Nuclear Experts & Former Officials Issue Urgent Call for Trump and Putin to Take Steps to Avoid a New Nuclear Arms Race

For Immediate Release: April 18, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104.

(Washington, Hamburg, Moscow)—With relations between Washington, Moscow, and Europe at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, a distinguished, high-level group is warning that urgent steps need to be taken to contain nuclear risks and tensions and prevent a new nuclear arms race.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the group notes that: “Existing nuclear arms control agreements are at risk, and both sides are pursuing costly programs to replace and upgrade their Cold War-era strategic nuclear arsenals, each of which exceeds reasonable deterrence requirements. A compliance dispute threatens the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will expire in 2021 unless extended.”

Among the signatories to the statement are: Des Browne, former Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom, Richard R. Burt, former U.S. negotiator of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty; Tom  Countryman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association; retired Major General Dvorkin, a chief researcher at the Center for International Security at the Institute of Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations; Gen. Victor Esin, former Chief of Staff and Vice Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces; Volker Rühe, former Minister of Defense, Germany; Strobe Talbott, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, former Chairman, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The statement was organized by the members of a 21-member German-Russian-U.S. Deep Cuts Commission, which was established in 2013 to develop proposals to overcome obstacles to sensible arms control agreements and further reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles.

Last week at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Robert Soofer announced that the administration will soon “begin a whole-of-government review of the pros and cons of extending the [New START] treaty.”
“Without a positive decision to extend New START, and if the INF Treaty comes to an end, there would be no legally-binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear superpowers for the first time since 1972, and the risk of unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition would grow,” the statement warns.

“Presidents Trump and Putin … should discuss and pursue—on a priority basis—effective steps to reduce nuclear risks and tensions, and to avoid a renewed nuclear arms race,” they write.

Their recommendations include:

  • Immediate Extension of New START Treaty. This treaty imposes important bounds on the strategic nuclear competition between the two nuclear superpowers. The treaty will by its terms expire February 5, 2021, but can be extended by up to five years by agreement by the two sides. Extending the treaty until February 2026 would preserve its significant security advantages—both the limits and the transparency that is provided by the treaty’s verification measures.
  • Intensified Efforts to Resolve INF Treaty Compliance Questions. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty made a major contribution to European and global security by eliminating all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Unfortunately, the treaty is now at risk, with the United States and Russia exchanging charges of treaty violations, and the U.S. government stating that it will not allow Russia to gain a military advantage through its violation. Currently, no meetings are scheduled to address the issue. A resolution of the dispute requires high-level leadership from the White House and the Kremlin.
  • Maintaining a Regular Dialogue on Strategic Stability. U.S. and Russian officials held a round of strategic stability talks in September 2017 but they postponed a follow-up round that was to be held earlier this year. They should make that dialogue a continuing and regular part of the U.S.-Russian agenda.
  • Sustained Military-to-Military Dialogue on Key Issues. Over the past five years, the instances of U.S. and NATO military aircraft and warships and Russian military aircraft and warships operating in close proximity to one another have increased dramatically. NATO has deployed ground forces to the Baltic states and Poland, putting them in closer proximity to Russian ground forces. U.S. and Russian forces also operate in close proximity in Syria. The risk of accidents and miscalculations that could escalate to a full-fledged armed conflict is growing.

The full statement is available online in English and in Russian.


U.S., European, and Russian Nuclear Experts & Former Officials Issue Urgent Call for Trump and Putin to Take Steps to Avoid a New Nuclear Arms Race

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The Risks of Nuclear Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the Role of Congress



Volume 10, Issue 4, April 5, 2018

Curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and the technologies to make them has long been and remains strongly in the U.S. national security interest, especially in the troubled Middle East.

As President Donald Trump decides in the coming weeks whether to continue implementing the successful 2015 Iran nuclear deal, lawmakers could soon be asked to consider a lower-profile, but nonetheless hugely consequential, agreement which would provide for civilian nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry led an interagency delegation to London in late February to discuss a pact, known as a 123 agreement, with a Saudi delegation led by Minister of Energy and Industry Khalid Bin Abdulaziz al-Falih. A 123 agreement, named after a section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, sets the terms for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry (L) and Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih (R) shake hands after a signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding on carbon management, on December 4, 2017 in Riyadh. (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)


The Trump administration has not commented on the status of the talks and no agreement was announced during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Washington the week of March 19.

Though Saudi Arabia says that it is seeking nuclear power for peaceful purposes to diversify its sources of energy, recent statements by the Saudi leadership have cast doubt on the kingdom’s commitment to its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) not to acquire nuclear weapons.

In a bombshell interview with CBS News March 15 bin Salman warned: “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” The Saudi government has also made it clear that it seeks to make its own nuclear fuel.

Engaging in nuclear cooperation with a country that has threatened to leave the NPT carries significant risks. The Trump administration should insist on nonproliferation safeguards that go beyond those required by existing U.S. law, including a Saudi commitment not to engage in uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing activities. These activities are considered sensitive because they can be used to make fuel for nuclear power reactors and for nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, the administration’s interest in revitalizing the U.S. nuclear industry, disdain for the Iran deal, and desire to strengthen the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia casts doubt on whether it will use the significant leverage it has over the kingdom to push for adequately strong safeguards. If Trump walks away from the Iran deal–as seems increasingly likely–and strikes a pact with Saudi Arabia that does not include a Saudi pledge not to enrich or reprocess, the prospects for a dangerous and destabilizing nuclear fuel-making race in the Middle East will greatly increase.

Fortunately, bipartisan opposition in Congress to an agreement that does not block Saudi fuel-making appears to be mounting. Lawmakers should closely scrutinize any agreement with Saudi Arabia to ensure that it contains adequate safeguards. And if it does not, Congress should use its authority to put conditions on the agreement to ensure it does not leave the door open to further proliferation of nuclear fuel-making technologies in the Middle East.

In addition, as Congress reviews the agreement and prepares to consider potentially other agreements in the near future, Congress should strengthen the nonproliferation standards and procedures for congressional review of 123 agreements.

123 Agreements and U.S. Nonproliferation Policy
The United States has appropriately sought to deny the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not already possess them through several avenues, including the terms of nuclear cooperation agreements.

After the Indian nuclear test explosion in 1974, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act in 1978 to mandate that nuclear cooperation agreements include tougher bulwarks to prevent U.S. nuclear assistance from being diverted to military uses. The amendment put in place nine provisions, including the requirement that recipients of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation have in place full-scope international safeguards and may not conduct activities such as uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing unless Washington first consents. The Atomic Energy Act has not been updated since 1978.

In recent years Washington has urged states seeking nuclear cooperation with the United States to agree to a legally-binding commitment to forswear the pursuit of enrichment and reprocessing as a complement to other U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of these technologies. 

This so-called “Gold Standard” was enshrined in a 2009 agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the renewal in 2014 of a pact with Taiwan. Three of the past four 123 agreements that the United States has negotiated not involving a nuclear-armed state have included either a legally or politically binding commitment not to enrich or reprocess.

In addition to the UAE, the United States has negotiated several nuclear cooperation agreements with other partners in the Middle East, including Morocco (1980) and Egypt (1981). The agreements with Morocco and Egypt expire in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

Over the past decade, the United States has also conducted discussions on cooperation with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But these discussions have not resulted in agreements, in large part due to the unwillingness of either country to forswear enrichment and reprocessing.

Saudi Arabia’s Interest in Nuclear Power
Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans for nuclear power. The kingdom says it wants to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. Many observers believe Riyadh will be hard pressed to build even half that many. The kingdom has solicited bids for the first two reactors and hopes to sign contracts by the end of this year.

The Trump administration has pledged to revitalize the U.S. nuclear industry and sees in Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions a major commercial opportunity. The administration is currently conducting a review of U.S. policy toward civil nuclear power.

Riyadh claims that the primary motivation for its pursuit of nuclear power is to help meet the country’s rising demand for electricity and conserve its oil resources for export. However, it is questionable whether Saudi Arabia needs nuclear power to meet these objectives. According to several analyses commissioned by the Nuclear Policy Education Center, development of the kingdom’s natural gas resources and investment in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar would be safer and more economically rational alternatives.

Until recently, Saudi Arabia’s official position had been that it would choose not to enrich or reprocess. The kingdom has no near-term practical need for these capabilities and they would be more expensive than relying on the open market for enrichment services. In a May 2008 U.S.-Saudi memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy cooperation, Saudi Arabia declared “its intention to rely on international markets for nuclear fuel and to not pursue sensitive nuclear technologies, which stands in direct contrast to the actions of Iran.”

The Saudi government, however, would not agree to forgo fuel cycle capabilities in negotiations with the Obama administration and is now stating publicly that it intends to acquire them (though on what timeline is uncertain). In an interview with Reuters in March 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy and Industry Khalid Bin Abdulaziz al-Falih stated: “It’s not natural for us to bring enriched uranium from a foreign country to fuel our reactors.” Al-Falih also said he hopes Washington will “help us with the fuel cycle,” suggesting that Riyadh may be seeking Washington’s blessing and active assistance to enrich or reprocess.

In reality, relying on the international market is what most states with nuclear reactors do to fuel them. How Saudi Arabia would acquire fuel-making technology is unclear and there would be significant obstacles. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a group of 48 supplier countries who implement export guidelines to try to prevent peaceful nuclear trade from contributing to nuclear proliferation, adopted new guidelines in June 2011 that strongly discourage the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology. For its part, the United States does not transfer this technology to anybody. Riyadh could seek to acquire it from Pakistan or North Korea, neither of which are members of the NSG. But this would present its own problems.

Ultimately, Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of nuclear power and interest in enrichment appears motivated primarily by its security competition with Iran, which has violently manifested itself in the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Riyadh also believes the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is highly problematic, both because it limits and does not eliminate Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity and, in Riyadh’s view, enhances Iran’s position in the region.

Recent statements from the country’s leadership suggest the kingdom wants to keep open the option to acquire nuclear weapons under the cover of a NPT-compliant civilian nuclear power program. Disturbingly, neither Trump nor any member of his administration has publicly condemned Bin Salman’s threat to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. It has long been U.S. policy to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, including to U.S. allies and partners. The administration’s silence is even more worrisome in light of statements from Trump during the 2016 election campaign that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by U.S. allies such as South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia is “going to happen anyway.”

The Case for Stringent Nonproliferation Conditions
The likelihood that Saudi Arabia will actually decide to engage in enrichment and/or reprocessing–to say nothing about acquiring nuclear weapons–is unknown but would face significant hurdles. Saudi statements could be designed to deter Iran and/or elicit greater protection from the United States.

Developing the capability to produce nuclear fuel is time-consuming, technically challenging, expensive, and, in a region as volatile as the Middle East, potentially threatening to one’s neighbors. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Trump in a March 5 meeting at the White House that the United States should insist on a Saudi commitment not to enrich and reprocess.

Most importantly, Saudi acquisition of the capability to make the key explosive ingredients of nuclear weapons runs a high risk of undermining the kingdom’s alliance with the United States. There is no other country–or technology–that Riyadh’s leaders can turn to that can provide the same level of proven support and protection.

But Saudi Arabia’s increasingly unabashed nuclear hedging is a threat to the nonproliferation regime that the United States has led for decades. To be consistent with the U.S. historical record of seeking to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, the Trump administration should seek safeguards in any 123 agreement that go beyond the existing nine nonproliferation conditions required by the Atomic Energy Act.

As Harvard University Senior Fellow and former Bush administration official Will Tobey testified to Congress last month, “the United States has never before contemplated, let alone concluded, a nuclear cooperation agreement with a state that is threatening even provisionally to leave the [nuclear] nonproliferation treaty.”

At a bare minimum, the United States should insist that Saudi Arabia sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which allows for expanded agency access to information, sites, and materials to guard against diversion for illicit activities. No non-nuclear country has ever built nuclear weapons under the Additional Protocol.

Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that has yet to adopt the Additional Protocol (Iran has signed and is provisionally implementing it). Washington has not in recent years negotiated a 123 agreement with a state that had not signed up to the measure.

The United States should also seek a prolonged, legally-binding Saudi commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing that does not sunset for the duration of the agreement. The absence of a ban on them would depart from the policy pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations and open the door for the kingdom to pursue fuel cycle capabilities without U.S. approval if it uses technology or materials provided by other suppliers. A typical 123 agreement requires that the U.S. consent to any request to enrich or reprocess U.S.-origin materials or fuel.

In addition, an agreement that does not include the “Gold Standard” could lead the UAE to invoke a provision in its 123 agreement that allows for amending the agreement if Washington strikes a more “favorable” 123 pact with another Middle East country. Egypt’s 123 agreement, which is up for renewal in 2021, contains a similar provision.

Whether the Trump administration is insisting on these safeguards in discussions with the Saudis is unknown. It has not yet briefed Congress on the talks since they formally began.

In testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 22, Perry suggested that the Saudis should adhere to the Additional Protocol. But he refused to say whether the United States is pushing for a prohibition on fuel-making or would consent to or assist in the development of a Saudi fuel-making program. (A permissive agreement that facilitates Saudi fuel-making would exacerbate the negative consequences described above.)

Critics of insisting on tougher nonproliferation standards in an agreement with Saudi Arabia, particularly restrictions on fuel cycle technologies, argue that the United States lacks leverage to convince Riyadh to accept these terms. They also argue that such terms could prompt Saudi Arabia to engage in cooperation with countries, such as Russia and China, that would demand less stringent nonproliferation, nuclear security, and nuclear safety provisions than those contained in the Atomic Energy Act.

These arguments are unconvincing for several reasons.

First, the administration has significant leverage in this case. While the U.S. nuclear industry no longer holds the preeminent supply position that it once did, countries still value the imprimatur of legitimacy for their nuclear efforts that comes with a 123 agreement. More importantly, Saudi Arabia relies heavily on the United States for military and economic support and president Trump is pursuing an expansion of cooperation with Riyadh in these areas. Given the dangerous downsides of the proliferation of nuclear fuel-making in the Middle East, the administration should attempt to use the influence this assistance provides.

Second, 123 agreements set the conditions for nuclear trade, but they are not contracts and do not automatically result in commerce. Even if Washington strikes a deal with Riyadh, there is no guarantee the kingdom will choose U.S. vendors. Regardless, as Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski of the Nuclear Policy Education Center note, Russia and China may not be appealing partners for Riyadh. U.S. nuclear technology has a better record of safety and reliability than what Russia and China have available for export. Meanwhile, Russia is the top supplier of nuclear reactors to Riyadh’s archenemy Iran.

South Korea, which is building four of its APR 1400 reactors in the UAE, is likely to be the most desirable vendor for Saudi Arabia. But given the reliance of this reactor on U.S. technology, exporting it to the kingdom could require a Saudi 123 agreement with Washington. This provides the Trump administration with another significant point of leverage.

Flawed Comparisons to the Iran Deal
Opponents of the 2015 agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear program claim that it undermines efforts to impose restrictions on Saudi enrichment and reprocessing since the Iran deal does not prohibit Iranian uranium enrichment activities.

This too is a deeply flawed—and dangerous—argument. The Iran deal, which is not an agreement for nuclear cooperation, severely and verifiably restricts Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, does not yet have fuel cycle capabilities and does not need them to produce nuclear energy.

The deal also requires—in perpetuity—stringent monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program under the Additional Protocol, which the Saudis have not yet signed.

During the early years of the Bush administration when Iran’s nuclear program was much smaller, pursuing a deal that eliminated Iran’s uranium-enrichment program may have been feasible. But by 2013 when the Obama administration began negotiating with Iran, such an outcome was not possible.

Obama administration officials also clearly stated that acknowledging Iran’s uranium enrichment program did not change longstanding U.S. policy that there is no “right to enrich” under the NPT as claimed by some states or alter U.S. opposition to the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology.

It is clear that Saudi Arabia is concerned that the Iran deal leaves Tehran with too much nuclear capacity, especially after certain limitations on enrichment and fuel cycle activities begin to expire in the mid-2020s. Even more concerning from Saudi Arabia’s perspective is Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region. Bin Salman stated in a recent interview that Iran’s leadership “makes Hitler look good.”

These anxieties will need to be responsibly managed and addressed. But instead of walking away from the Iran deal, the Trump administration should continue to vigorously implement and enforce it. If Trump kills the deal, Iran could respond by resuming nuclear activities limited by the agreement. This would greatly increase the odds that Saudi Arabia will choose to quickly follow a similar path, and perhaps the UAE, Egypt, and other regional states as well. Attempting to counter Iran by facilitating Saudi fuel-making is also unwise. A cascade of fuel making in the Middle East would have profoundly negative consequences for regional security and the nonproliferation regime. The Iran case demonstrates the crisis that can ensue when a state takes steps toward nuclear weapons while maintaining that its program is entirely peaceful. 

Additionally, to address legitimate concerns about the future of Iran’s nuclear program after certain restrictions expire, the administration should pursue opportunities to build on the agreement in ways that strengthens nonproliferation in Iran and regionally and reduces Iran's incentives to expand its enrichment program.

Strengthening Congressional oversight
A growing number of lawmakers are justifiably raising concerns about a potential 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia that does not block the kingdom from engaging in fuel-making.

“The idea of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program with the ability to enrich is a major national security concern,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said at a March 21 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the implications of civilian nuclear cooperation with Riyadh. “Unfortunately from the little we do know from the administration it is looking at this deal in terms of economics and in terms of commerce and national security implications only register as a minor issue–if at all.”

Similarly, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Perry at the March 22 hearing that he “and many others” would oppose a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia that does not include a fuel-making ban.

Once the executive branch submits a signed cooperation agreement to Congress, lawmakers have 90 days in continuous session to consider the pact, after which it automatically becomes law unless Congress adopts a joint resolution opposing it.

If the Trump administration presents lawmakers with a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia that does not contain adequate nonproliferation safeguards, Congress, which has the right to vote on the final agreement, should condition its approval on the adoption of several requirements. Options include:

  • a provision that would automatically terminate the agreement if it is ever determined that Saudi Arabia has sought or has acquired enrichment and reprocessing technologies, for any reason;
  • an annual certification from the president that Saudi Arabia is not seeking, nor has any nuclear technology supplier discussed the transfer of, enrichment and reprocessing technologies to the Saudis;
  • a provision that Congress must approve as an amendment to the agreement any decision by the United States to provide consent to Saudi enrichment and reprocessing; and
  • a commitment from the Trump administration that the United States will use all available means to encourage other members of the NSG to refrain from transferring sensitive fuel cycle technology to any state that does not already possess such technology.

In addition, it is also past time that Congress pursued revisions to the Atomic Energy Act procedures for Congressional review of 123 agreements.

On March 21, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) introduced HR 5357, the Nuclear Cooperation Reform Act of 2018. The bill, which mirrors legislation unanimously approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2011, would add new requirements to the nine conditions already in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act that, if met, would be subject to the same Congressional “fast track” approval process as current law.

Agreements with states that cannot meet the higher set of standards would be subject to a more rigorous process requiring affirmative Congressional approval. Among the new requirements for “fast track” approval would be:

  • the application of the Additional Protocol; and
  • a pledge from countries that do not already possess enrichment and reprocessing capabilities not to acquire these capabilities and/or facilities to conduct them.

A common argument in opposition to earlier versions of the legislation was that by requiring more stringent standards, it would deny NPT members their rights under the treaty.

But asking that states forego enrichment and reprocessing is not about denying rights; it is about asking countries not to exercise rights in the context of a bilateral cooperation agreement with the United States.

In any event, under the bill, Congress could still pass agreements without a fuel-making ban. Such agreements would simply require a higher bar for approval than those containing a ban. This would provide powerful leverage to the executive branch negotiating team in its discussions with the Saudis and future talks with other potential partners.

Another argument is that by requiring tougher standards, other countries will not agree to nuclear cooperation with the United States and instead turn to other suppliers for nuclear trade.

Similar arguments were made at the time Congress was considering the amendments to the Atomic Energy Act via the 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, and they were found to be wanting by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others. The modifications to existing law proposed in the Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman legislation are less stringent than those enacted in 1978 and these amendments did not inhibit the United States from successfully renegotiating most of the existing 123 agreements at that time.

In light of the growing interest in nuclear power in geopolitically sensitive regions of the globe; the inclusion of the "Gold Standard" in the UAE and Taiwan agreements; and the new NSG rules adopted in 2011, it is prudent to update the Atomic Energy Act to better address the proliferation risks of today-and tomorrow.—KINGSTON REIF, with DARYL G. KIMBALL and KELSEY DAVENPORT


As President Trump decides whether to continue implementing the successful 2015 Iran nuclear deal, lawmakers could soon be asked to consider a consequential agreement on nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Subject Resources:

A Dangerous Retreat From Disarmament Diplomacy

March 2018
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, the United States has played a leadership role in global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament diplomacy to help advance U.S. and international security. Past presidents have actively led efforts to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons leading to their eventual elimination, a key obligation undertaken by all states under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

For decades, U.S. presidents have pursued arms control agreements under difficult circumstances, often when relations with foreign adversaries were at their worst. Dwight Eisenhower pursued a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviets, and John Kennedy concluded the Limited Test Ban Treaty. Under Lyndon Johnson, the United States led the way on the negotiation of the NPT and initiated strategic arms talks with the Soviets, which opened the way for Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter to conclude strategic arms limitation treaties.

At their 1985 Geneva Summit, president’s Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev declared: "A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." (Photo: White House Photo Office)Ronald Reagan, under strong public pressure to freeze the arms race, negotiated agreements with the Soviets to ban intermediate-range missiles and verifiably reduce strategic nuclear arsenals. George H.W. Bush took bold steps to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons during the tumultuous final days of the Soviet Union.

Bill Clinton’s administration convinced three former Soviet republics to give up their nuclear weapons, pushed for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), secured the indefinite extension of the NPT, and negotiated a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear program. Even George W. Bush accelerated the pace of U.S. strategic arms reductions under an agreement with Russia. Barack Obama prioritized the negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and, despite worsening relations with Russia, put enormous effort into the negotiation of the complex deal to curtail and contain Iran’s nuclear program.

Now, citing a “threatening security environment,” the administration of Donald Trump is effectively abandoning the United States' traditional global leadership role on nuclear arms control. At the same time, it is accelerating costly plans to rebuild the oversized U.S. nuclear arsenal, pushing to develop and deploy new nuclear capabilities, and expanding the range of circumstances in which the United States might consider using nuclear weapons.

As Trump explained on Feb. 12, the United States is “creating a brand new nuclear force.... We’re gonna be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before.” He continued, “Frankly I’d like to get rid of a lot of ‘em [nuclear weapons]. And if they [other nuclear-armed states] want to do that, we’ll go along with them. We won’t lead the way, we’ll go along with them.”

Trump’s passive and aggressive attitude on nuclear matters is fraught with peril. History shows that nuclear risk reduction and proliferation prevention does not just magically happen. It requires persistent, creative, and energetic U.S.-led diplomacy and engagement with adversaries.

But the Trump administration’s newly completed Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) does not offer any new nuclear risk reduction initiatives. Instead, the report meekly states that “the United States will remain receptive to future arms control negotiations if conditions permit.” The report does reiterate U.S. support for the nonproliferation elements of the NPT, but omits any mention of the U.S. disarmament commitments under Article VI of the treaty. Nevertheless, U.S. diplomats gamely claim that Trump “remains firmly committed to nonproliferation” and will continue to abide by the NPT commitments.

The NPR report does not even commit to the extension of New START, which will expire in three years. If the treaty is allowed to lapse in 2021 with nothing to replace it, there will be no limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time since 1972. At a time when U.S.-Russian relations are strained, New START is even more vital for strategic stability and risk reduction. The NPR report also declares, without any explanation, that the United States will not seek ratification of the CTBT, a treaty the United States and 182 other states have signed that has not entered into force. Worse still, the Trump administration is actively undermining the global nuclear nonproliferation regime by threatening to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal if the other parties do not agree to extend indefinitely the current limits on Iran’s nuclear capacity. The better approach is to fully implement the agreement and seek opportunities to build on its nonproliferation value.

Responsible nations do not ignore their legal and political commitments on nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. They cannot afford to undercut effective treaties and miss opportunities to reduce and eliminate nuclear risk, especially now. This applies to U.S. dealings with North Korea, which has finally indicated it is open to direct talks with Washington. This also applies to Russia, which is violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Absent U.S. leadership, other states and the United Nations will need to put forward creative approaches to bring about a cessation of the arms race, draw all nuclear-armed nations into the disarmament enterprise, and reduce the nuclear danger.

The monthly “Focus” editorials from Arms Control Today are available for reprint on a non-exclusive basis
with permission from the Arms Control Association and link to the original publication online.


Since the beginning of the nuclear age, the United States has played a leadership role in global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament diplomacy to help advance U.S. and international security.

Nuclear Nonproliferation: Six Lessons Not Yet Learned

March 2018
By Pierre Goldschmidt

If one had to choose the most exceptional year in the history of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards regime, it would be 2003. That year saw four events that, it is clear after 15 years, represented important challenges and in some respects missed opportunities for the governments seeking to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

On January 10, 2003, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a unique case so far. On February 21, IAEA inspectors discovered at Natanz in Iran a pilot centrifuge enrichment facility ready to start operation, as well as the existence of undeclared nuclear material. On March 20, U.S. forces invaded Iraq on the pretext that the country still had a weapons of mass destruction program that included nuclear weapons. On December 19, Colonel Moammar Gaddafi announced that Libya was abandoning its 20-year covert nuclear weapons program; and as a result, the IAEA discovered the existence of a vast international network of clandestine nuclear traffic headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan.

A South Korean protester sprays paint on a portrait of then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a rally January 23, 2003 in Seoul protesting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Fifteen years later, North Korea, led by Kim Jong Un, has an arsenal of nuclear weapons in defiance of world powers. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)Incidentally, it was also the year during which, after some 15 years of an IAEA budget policy of zero real growth, the agency’s Board of Governors agreed to increase the regular budget of the safeguards department by 22 percent (in real terms) over a period of four years.

Still, the international community failed to take bold steps similar to what it had done a dozen years earlier. At that time, following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the world discovered that Iraq had developed a clandestine nuclear weapons program over an extended period of time in parallel to its declared peaceful nuclear activities. This was despite the fact that Iraq was a party to the NPT and had had a comprehensive safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA since 1972.

Realizing that a comprehensive safeguards agreement1 did not provide the IAEA with the necessary tools to verify the declarations of non-nuclear-weapon states, the IAEA board in 1997 approved the Model Additional Protocol to provide the tools to draw the so-called broader conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities in a non-nuclear-weapon state and that its declarations are correct and complete.

It is disturbing that no comparable measures were adopted after the 2003 events. The following analysis will focus on Iran’s noncompliance with its IAEA safeguards agreement, North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT, and the lessons not yet fully learned.

The Lessons From Iran

Three major lessons from the experience with Iran relate to dealing with a state found in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement.

Lesson 1: In a case of noncompliance, the IAEA must refer it to the UN Security Council without undue delay. In November 2002, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said, “I believe that while differing circumstances may necessitate asymmetric responses, in the case of noncompliance with nonproliferation obligations, for the credibility of the regime, the approach in all cases should be one and the same: zero tolerance.” Yet, by failing to declare Iran in noncompliance in the IAEA director-general’s November 2003 report and in the ensuing Board of Governors resolution, the IAEA created a damaging precedent with far-reaching consequences still felt today.

When noncompliance is detected by the safeguards department, time is of the essence in reporting it. Any noncompliant state should know that it will be referred within a short period of time first to the IAEA board and then to the UN Security Council. If it proactively cooperates to correct the situation, it should be referred to the council for “information purposes only,” as was the case with Libya in March 2004. If the state in noncompliance adopts a “policy of concealment, with cooperation being limited and reactive, and information being slow in coming, changing and contradictory,”2 as was the case in Iran, the issue should be reported without delay to the council for action.

In the case of Iran, the IAEA board adopted on September 12, 2003, a consensus resolution that called on Iran to “suspend all further uranium enrichment-related activities” and to grant “unrestricted access, including environmental sampling, for the [IAEA] to whatever locations the [IAEA] deems necessary for the purposes of verification of the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations.”

The problem with such a resolution, which the board might well adopt in a future case of noncompliance, is that it is not legally binding. The only way to make it legally binding is to have it adopted by the Security Council. In the case of Iran, a binding resolution was not adopted by the council until December 2006.3 Three crucial years were lost, making the situation practically irreversible.

Lesson 2: In case of noncompliance, the IAEA should temporarily receive expanded verification authority. Under the governing IAEA statute, safeguards are “designed to ensure that special fissionable and other materials, services, equipment, facilities, and information…under [IAEA] supervision or control are not used in such a way as to further any military purpose.” To reach that objective, the statute provides that the agency will have the right and responsibility “to send into the territory of the recipient State inspectors…who shall have access at all times to all places and data and to any person who by reason of his occupation deals with materials, equipment, or facilities which are required by this Statute to be safeguarded, as necessary…to determine whether there is compliance with the undertaking against use in furtherance of any military purpose.”

Pierre Goldschmidt (center), deputy director-general and head of the safeguards department of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visits Iran's Karaj Nuclear Research Centre for Medicine and Agriculture in February 2003. Ambassador Ali Akbar Salehi, who later became the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stands on the far right. In the back is a medical-isotope cyclotron from the Belgian firm IBA.(Photo: Pierre Goldschmidt)Last year marked the 60th anniversary of this forward-looking mandate coming into force. In practice, unfortunately, the commitments accepted by non-nuclear-weapon states under a comprehensive safeguards agreement and even an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement are much more limited, particularly as relates to access to information, persons, locations, and data and documents.4 Iran is well aware of those limitations.

The record shows, particularly in the cases of Iran and North Korea, that the agency will temporarily need expanded verification authority when a state is found in noncompliance or in breach of its obligation to comply with its safeguards agreement and does not show full transparency and cooperation in resolving questions with regard to its nuclear program. This expanded authority needs to go beyond that granted under a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol as clearly reflected in the September 2005 IAEA report on Iran, which stated,

Given Iran’s past concealment efforts over many years, such transparency measures should extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol and include access to individuals, documentation related to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military owned workshops and research and development locations. Without such transparency measures, the [IAEA] ability…to verify the correctness and completeness of the statements made by Iran will be restricted.5

The problem is that these additional transparency measures have not been defined in any precise way. Also, they were not included in Security Council Resolution 1737, in which the council in 2006 decided “that Iran shall provide such access and cooperation as the IAEA requests to be able…to resolve all outstanding issues, as identified in IAEA reports.”

These broader access rights, conducted under “managed access” conditions, must not exclude military sites because it is likely that the military or related actors would be involved in nuclear activities associated with a weapons program, should one exist.6 Denial of, unwarranted delays in, or limitations to access should be reported by the IAEA director-general to the board and, as appropriate, to the Security Council.

Lesson 3: The UN Security Council should adopt a generic resolution preventively dealing with cases of noncompliance.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and Iranian technicians disconnect the connections between the twin uranium-enrichment cascades at the Natanz facility on January 20, 2014, as Iran halted production of 20 percent enriched uranium under terms of a deal with world powers to curtail capabilities that could be used to produce nuclear weapons. (Photo: KAZEM GHANE/AFP/Getty Images)In order to give the IAEA the verification tools it needs in cases of noncompliance, the Security Council should adopt a generic resolution under Article 41 of the UN Charter stating that if the IAEA finds a state to be in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement in accordance with Article XII.C of the IAEA statute, the Security Council upon request by the agency would automatically adopt a state-specific resolution requiring that state to temporarily grant to the agency extended access rights.7 These rights, defined in the Model Temporary Complementary Protocol published in April 2009, would be terminated as soon as the agency’s secretariat and board have drawn the so-called broader conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities in the state and that its declarations to the IAEA are correct and complete.8

This generic resolution should also require the noncompliant state to (1) immediately suspend all nuclear fuel-cycle-related activities as long as the IAEA has not been able to draw the broader conclusion and (2) conclude with the agency, within a limited period of time, a facility-specific safeguards agreement for all its nuclear facilities. The latter requirement is necessary to close the most damaging safeguards agreement loophole detailed below in Lesson 6.

This generic resolution should provide that if the IAEA director-general is unable to report within 60 days of the adoption of the corresponding state-specific resolution that the noncompliant state has concluded the required facility-specific safeguards agreement or that it is fully implementing the other requirement of the resolution, the Security Council would immediately convene to adopt a new Article 41 resolution sanctioning the noncompliant state. The level of sanctions would not be predetermined, and the permanent members of the Security Council would still have a veto right, but it would make the adoption of sanctions at an early stage much more likely and therefore constitute an improved deterrence.

One should bear in mind that, for almost 10 years, the Security Council’s legally binding sanctions against Iran were very limited and essentially targeted designated individuals and entities involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities. These limited sanctions did not stop Iran from continuing to make progress on its nuclear program in contravention of legally binding Security Council resolutions. At the time of the November 2003 report, Iran had no operating uranium hexafluoride-conversion plant and no operating centrifuge plant at Natanz, and the construction of a heavy-water research reactor at Arak had not yet started.

By early 2006, when the IAEA finally reported Iran’s noncompliance to the Security Council, the situation was very different, and there was no way Iran could be compelled to return to the status of its nuclear program at the time of the November 2003 IAEA report.

This fact is reflected in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concluded in July 2015 between Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which allows Iran to continue enriching uranium under a range of restrictions.

The nuclear agreement’s main objective is to ensure that Iran is constrained and monitored for 15 years so that it cannot break out and manufacture a nuclear weapon in less than one year.9 As long as all parties meet their obligations, this objective will be attained. Some of the constraints accepted by Iran represent a remarkable and largely unexpected achievement. Yet, this is really not a long period for Iran; it will soon be 15 years since the IAEA visited Natanz for the first time.

There is little doubt that around 2030, if not before, Iran will be a nuclear threshold state, that is, a state capable of manufacturing more than one nuclear weapon in a period of a few months and having the necessary delivery means. With that in mind, while the nuclear deal’s negotiations were underway, in March 2014 this author recommended privately to high-ranking officials at the U.S. Department of State the inclusion of two provisions.

The first was a requirement that Iran place each of its nuclear facilities under an IAEA facility-specific safeguards agreement. The second was a requirement for Iran to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), as requested in June 2010 under Security Council Resolution 1929. Unfortunately, neither was included in the nuclear deal.

It is difficult to understand on what basis Iran could have objected to these two requirements since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had issued a fatwa stating that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam, and the agreement’s preamble states that “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” France, Germany, Russia, and the UK have ratified the CTBT. So it is most likely that the United States, because it has not yet done so, did not push for inclusion.

The Lessons From North Korea

There are three further lessons to be drawn from the safeguards experience in North Korea.

North Korea shows off a purported nuclear device in a photo released by its official Korean Central News Agency on September 3, 2017. Under leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea has conducted four underground nuclear test explosions in the past five years, after years of failed international nonproliferation efforts. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Lesson 4: In case a nation withdraws from the NPT, the UN Security Council must act promptly and decisively to condemn the action and impose sanctions. Shortly after North Korea submitted its initial report to the IAEA in May 1992 under its safeguards agreement, inconsistencies emerged between its initial declaration and agency findings, centering on a mismatch between declared plutonium production and solutions containing nuclear waste. On April 1, 1993, the IAEA board declared that North Korea was in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement and promptly reported the case to the UN Security Council.

In the meantime, North Korea had declared on March 12, 1993, its intention to withdraw from the NPT. The Security Council in May 1993 adopted Resolution 825, calling on North Korea to reconsider its withdrawal. Since then, North Korea has repeatedly been declared by the IAEA to be in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement.

The Agreed Framework concluded between the United States and North Korea in October 1994 resulted in the latter suspending its NPT withdrawal and agreeing to freeze the operation of a number of sensitive facilities. Unfortunately, because of the imprecise formulation of the framework, North Korea subsequently did not agree to some IAEA verification measures, such as the taking of samples and nondestructive analysis measurements. The North Koreans also did not submit accounting reports to the agency for the facilities covered by the freeze.

In October 2002, the Bush administration said that a North Korean official, confronted with a U.S. assessment, admitted the existence of a clandestine uranium-enrichment program. That was the starting point of a crisis that led to North Korea’s announcement on January 10, 2003,
of its NPT withdrawal.

For a period of 13 years after North Korea was first reported to the Security Council for noncompliance, the council failed to adopt a single resolution condemning Pyongyang, even during the three and a half years that followed its NPT withdrawal. Only after the North Koreans tested a nuclear weapon on October 9, 2006, did the council five days later take legally binding action for the first time by adopting Resolution 1718, which imposed an embargo on arms and luxury goods, an asset freeze, and a travel ban for persons designated as involved in the nuclear program. Further, it imposed a ban on a range of imports and exports and prohibited Pyongyang from conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles.

These sanctions were much too mild and came much too late to dissuade North Korea from continuing with its nuclear weapons program. Since then, North Korea accelerated testing of nuclear weapons and launched increasingly more capable ballistic missiles.

The main factor leading to this serious situation is China’s consistent opposition, until 2017, to effective Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang. China’s stated justification was concern that harsh sanctions could precipitate the collapse of the regime, potentially driving hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees into China and increasing the likelihood of Korean unification under the leadership of the democratic South. China would then have a border with a U.S. ally that is home to more than 25,000 U.S. troops.

Although China’s concerns are legitimate, the consequence of its unconstructive and ineffective attitude until very recently is that North Korea today has an arsenal of nuclear weapons, which it is unlikely to abandon in the foreseeable future. In any case, it is critical for the Security Council to adopt new measures to minimize the risk that other states could one day follow North Korea’s example.

Lesson 5: The Security Council needs to deter withdrawal from the NPT by making the use of the veto right less likely. As exemplified by the cases of Iran and North Korea, one of the greatest difficulties in deterring states from violating their nonproliferation undertakings and from ignoring legally binding Security Council resolutions is the hope that at least one of the five veto-wielding council members will oppose the adoption of effective sanctions.

As a step toward strengthening the nonproliferation regime, the Security Council should adopt a generic and legally binding resolution deciding that if a state notifies its withdrawal from the NPT (an undisputed right under Article X.1), such notification constitutes a threat to international peace and security as defined under Article 39 of the UN Charter.10 This generic resolution should make sure that the Security Council would meet immediately with a view to decide, under Article 41 of the UN Charter, which measures would apply as soon as the withdrawal becomes effective.

This generic resolution should include a statement by the council’s five permanent members that they consider the withdrawal to be such a major threat to international peace and security that, in such a case, they do not intend to exercise their veto right against any state-specific sanctions resolution if they are the only permanent member to do so.

Because this declaration of intention is not legally binding, that generic resolution would not deprive those members of their veto right on any state-specific resolution. It would ensure that the council consider the matter without delay and increase the risk of immediate sanctions for the withdrawing state.

Lesson 6: All nuclear fuel-cycle facilities should be subject to irreversible IAEA safeguards. One of the main outstanding safeguards loopholes that deserves prompt attention is the absence of a requirement for IAEA safeguards to irreversibly remain in force should a state leave the NPT. If one day Iran or any other NPT non-nuclear-weapon state decides to withdraw, its safeguards agreement with the IAEA would automatically lapse under the terms of that agreement. As a result, a state may withdraw from the NPT and use previously safeguarded nuclear materials and facilities to produce nuclear weapons without violating any international treaty. NPT members therefore should strengthen safeguards rules and practices by creating a legal requirement to maintain safeguards even if a state exercises its right to withdraw from the NPT.

Over the past 15 years, states and organizations have submitted proposals designed to close this significant loophole. For example, Luxembourg submitted a working paper on behalf of the European Union to the 2005 NPT Review Conference recommending that states “[a]ffirm as a matter of principle that all nuclear materials, equipment, technologies and facilities, developed for peaceful purposes, of a State Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remain, in case of a withdrawal from the Treaty, restricted to peaceful uses only and as a consequence have to remain subject to safeguards.”11 Germany and France made similar proposals in 2004.

The UN Security Council attempted to address this issue in 2009, passing Resolution 1887, which urges states to “[r]equire as a condition of nuclear exports that the recipient State agree that, in the event that it should terminate its IAEA safeguards agreement, safeguards shall continue with respect to any nuclear material and equipment provided prior to such termination, as well as any special nuclear material produced through the use of such material or equipment.” However, this resolution does not extend to domestically produced nuclear material, equipment, and facilities. Moreover, because it was not adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, it is not legally binding.

None of these proposals have created an effective legal barrier to a state’s utilization of previously safeguarded facilities and materials for military purposes after its withdrawal from the NPT. It seems unrealistic to expect, as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) does, that a country deciding to leave the NPT and expel IAEA inspectors would agree thereafter to enter into a facility-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA, return previously delivered material and equipment to the supplier state, or accept inspectors from the exporting state to conduct verification work that IAEA inspectors are no longer allowed to do.

As this author recommended in March 2015,12 it would be much more effective to require states to conclude a facility-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA before any materials or technology are transferred, rather than as a bilateral and limited fallback obligation after a state has withdrawn from the NPT, as foreseen by the NSG. Indeed, in contrast to comprehensive safeguards agreements, facility-specific safeguards agreements, known as INFCIRC/66-type agreements, do not lapse if the state withdraws from the NPT.

NSG members should formally agree to interpret their “effective safeguards in perpetuity” export criterion13 as requiring the recipient state to have an INFCIRC/66-type safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA before enrichment- or reprocessing-related equipment, technology, or expertise is transferred. NSG non-nuclear-weapon states should lead by example and place all their enrichment and reprocessing facilities under facility-specific safeguards agreements with the IAEA.

For non-nuclear-weapon states, INFCIRC/66-type safeguards agreements concluded with the IAEA are and would continue to be subsumed under existing comprehensive safeguards agreements. They would become operational only if the latter were terminated.

This approach does not create a new safeguards standard, as the Model Additional Protocol did in 1997. Instead, it involves the simple adoption of an older type of safeguards. Therefore, it should face fewer political obstacles, would impose no operational financial burden on the state or the IAEA, and would require only a little extra paperwork at the outset.

By virtue of the current roster of NSG members, if this approach could be achieved, nearly all non-nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the NPT and currently operate enrichment and reprocessing facilities would have endorsed this new mechanism. The only exception would be Iran.

Nuclear-weapon states should also lead by example when it comes to their own facilities. Currently, nuclear-weapon states have a voluntary offer agreement with the IAEA, under which they determine which facilities they will make available for safeguards. The nuclear-weapon states provide the IAEA with a list of these “eligible” facilities. In order to demonstrate commitment to the principle of irreversible safeguards, each nuclear-weapon state should agree to place any enrichment or reprocessing facility on its list under INFCIRC/66-type safeguards agreements.

In such a case, enrichment facilities in China, France, the UK, and the United States, as well as French and UK reprocessing plants, would be subject to irreversible IAEA safeguards. With negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty stalled, this would provide an alternative means of achieving a first step toward a similar goal and may enable the nuclear-weapon states to demonstrate some concrete progress in this area.

What Now?

It is likely that an increasing number of non-nuclear-weapon states will acquire the necessary scientific, technical, and industrial capability to manufacture nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, thereby becoming nuclear threshold states. Indeed, a September 2008 IAEA report on Libya stated that even nuclear weapons designs existed in electronic form.14

It is therefore crucial to adopt without delay measures to deter nuclear threshold states from manufacturing nuclear weapons and then withdrawing from the NPT. As well summarized by Nicholas Miller and Vipin Narang in August 2017,

Nonproliferation efforts relying primarily on export controls and efforts to limit technology may buy time but are clearly insufficient against a motivated proliferator…. To be successful against isolated countries like North Korea, nonproliferation policies must either address the proliferator’s underlying motives—in other words, their sense of insecurity—or they must enlist a strong multilateral coalition that enforces sanctions vigorously, with few exploitable cracks. This is a tall order, but North Korea shows that the stakes are rarely higher.15

To this end, members of the Security Council should discuss and agree on legally binding generic procedures for responding to noncompliance and NPT withdrawal. Because council members would not know which states might be involved in the future, such discussions should be easier and less acrimonious than they would be during the heat of a crisis. An agreement on a set of standard responses to be applied evenhandedly, regardless of the noncompliant state’s allies, would significantly enhance the credibility of the nonproliferation regime.

If adopted, the measures recommended in this paper would make a real difference in protecting against nuclear proliferation. Yet, all countries, most of all the five permanent members of the Security Council, will need to acknowledge that these measures should be adopted now in order to mitigate the consequences of the next proliferation crisis.


1 Under a comprehensive safeguards agreement, the IAEA has the right and obligation to ensure that safeguards are applied on all nuclear material in the territory, jurisdiction or control of the State for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

2 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2003/75, November 10, 2003, para. 50.

3 UN Security Council, S/RES/1737, December 27, 2006. It was only after finding Iran in possession of a document on the production of uranium metal hemispheres, a process related to the fabrication of nuclear weapons components, and after Iran resumed enrichment activities in January 2006 that the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution on February 4, 2006, deciding to report the Iranian file to the UN Security Council. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2006/14, February 4, 2006.

4 For a detailed analysis of these additional protocol limitations and the way they should be temporarily corrected when a state found to be in noncompliance is not fully and proactively cooperating with the IAEA, see Pierre Goldschmidt, “IAEA Safeguards: Dealing Preventively With Non-Compliance,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 12, 2008, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/Goldschmidt_Dealing_Preventively_7-12-08.pdf.

5 IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director-General,” GOV/2005/67, September 2, 2005, para. 50.

6 “The IAEA’s existing authorities should be interpreted to give the Agency the responsibility to inspect for indicators of nuclear weaponization activities.” IAEA Board of Governors and IAEA General Conference, “Report of the Commission of Eminent Persons on the Future of the Agency: Note by the Director General,” GOV/2008/22-GC(52)/INF/4, May 23, 2008 (containing an annex titled “Reinforcing the Global Nuclear Order for Peace and Prosperity: The Role of the IAEA to 2020 and Beyond,” p. 19).

7 Other generic resolutions are UN Security Council Resolution 1373 concerning acts of international terrorism and Resolution 1540 concerning the acquisition of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their means of delivery by nonstate actors.

8 Pierre Goldschmidt, “Concrete Steps to Improve the Nonproliferation Regime,” Carnegie Papers, No. 100 (April 2009), pp. 29-41.

9 The nuclear agreement with Iran includes transparency measures extending beyond 15 years, such as a long-term IAEA presence in Iran, IAEA monitoring of uranium ore concentrate produced by Iran from all uranium ore concentrate plants for 25 years, and containment and surveillance of centrifuge rotors and bellows for 20 years.

10 In Resolution 1540 (2004), the Security Council is “[a]ffirming that proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” It has reaffirmed that statement many times thereafter, but has never “decided” that this is the case under an operative paragraph of a legally binding Chapter VII resolution.

11 "Withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," Working paper submitted by Luxembourg on behalf of the European Union, May 10, 2005, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N05/339/76/PDF/N0533976.pdf?OpenElement

12 Pierre Goldschmidt, “Securing Irreversible IAEA Safeguards to Close the Next NPT Loophole,” Arms Control Today, March 2015.

13 Nuclear Suppliers Group, “Guidelines for Nuclear Transfers,” NSG Part 1, June 2013, para. 6(a)(iv).

14 “Much of the sensitive information coming from the [Abdul Qadeer Khan] network existed in electronic form, enabling easier use and dissemination. This includes information that relates to uranium centrifuge enrichment and, more disturbing, information that relates to nuclear weapon design.” IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” GOV/2008/39, September 12, 2008, para. 38.

15 Nicholas Miller and Vipin Narang, “How North Korea Shocked the Nuclear Experts,” Politico, August 26, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/26/north-korea-nuclear-tests-shock-experts-215533.

Pierre Goldschmidt is a former nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was deputy director-general and head of the Department of Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency from May 1999 to June 2005. This paper is based on the author's presentation at a November 2017 conference held by the Wilson Center and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

More action is needed to avert the next nuclear proliferation crisis. 

Arms Control ‘Under Fire’

March 2018
By Sharon Squassoni

Arms control treaties and nonproliferation agreements are mechanisms that nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states alike rely on to help provide transparency, predictability, and stability for regional and global security. In the last year, several elements of this key architecture have come under fire.

U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control is a key element because both countries together still possess about 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. Without bilateral progress, there is little incentive for others to move forward. However, for the first time in many years, no U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations are under way. If the draft U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is any guide to U.S. policy, there will be no U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations for the foreseeable future. Instead, we could see a return to a nuclear arms race.

(Photo: www.thebulletin.org)Russian officials consistently have asked to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for another five years, to 2026, including an early call from President Vladimir Putin to President Donald Trump. Extending that treaty is an easy, positive step to take, but it hasn't been done. The landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is on the rocks. For four years, both sides have alleged violations, but Russia last year actually fielded a ground-launched cruise missile that violates the treaty. The United States has stated it will remain in compliance, but the NPR puts Russia on notice that the status quo is untenable.

More broadly, the NPR describes the re-emergence of great-power competition and blames Russia for rebuffing U.S. overtures on follow-on negotiations for New START on tactical nuclear weapons. It elevates the reported Russian interest in limited nuclear weapons use to a strategic imperative and concludes that the only response is more U.S. nuclear weapons.

Russia, for its part, has engaged in provocative and illegal behaviors thought to be part of Cold War history. The NPR declares that Russia has not only violated that INF Treaty, but also the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, the Budapest Memorandum, the Helsinki accords, presidential nuclear initiatives … the list goes on. In the words of the NPR, the Cold War is over, but its language on tailored deterrence for Russia is as harsh as any during the Cold War.

With U.S.-Russian relations so strained, there is little room for progress anywhere else, which brings us to the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has been consistent in his dislike of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which puts additional constraints on Iran's capabilities to develop nuclear weapons. In October, Trump did not certify to Congress that Iran was in compliance, but Congress was unable to pass legislation that would provide an alternative approach. Earlier this month, Trump continued to waive sanctions, but called on the Europeans to craft a supplementary deal by May. Trump himself has never offered a single viable alternative. But, so far, he hasn't been willing to unilaterally pull out of the deal as he has threatened. Nonetheless, this is hardly a recipe for stability and predictability going forward.

Other multilateral agreements are in trouble. The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty turns 50 years old in 2020. Twenty-five years ago, in exchange for the indefinite extension of the treaty, the nuclear-weapon states promised to conclude a nuclear test ban, end the production of fissile material for weapons, reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, and in general, progress toward reducing the risks from nuclear weapons. Well, as you know, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was signed 20 years ago, but it still hasn't entered into force. No longer does the United States promise not to test nuclear weapons until the CTBT enters into force, but instead the new NPR states that the United States will not resume nuclear testing unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Finally, the 2020 review of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty will not be pretty, in spite of the conclusion last year of a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts related to the ban treaty, and more than 50 states have signed it so far. Nuclear-weapon states, on the other hand, boycotted the negotiations and have rejected it.

We need more than symbolic victories to achieve a safer, more secure future. We need to do more.

Sharon Squassoni is a research professor at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy in the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University and is a member of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The following remarks, edited for space and style, were made at a January 25 news conference announcing the advance of the Bulletin’s Doomsday Clock by 30 seconds to two minutes to midnight, signifying the most dangerous situation since 1953 following the first U.S. test of a thermonuclear device.




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