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The World

BWC Meeting Stumbles Over Money, Politics

January/February 2019
By Jenifer Mackby

States-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), facing cancellation of meetings due to longstanding financial arrears by some member countries, achieved agreement on a funding mechanism that will allow them to meet and to continue paying the accord’s small secretariat staff.

Medical workers disinfect the coffin of a suspected Ebola victim on August 13, 2018, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In December, delegates to the Biological Weapons Convention conference in Geneva considered how to improve international measures against diseases such as Ebola, misuse of scientific advances such as gene editing, and possible covert bioweapons programs. (Photo: John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images)Delegates attending the meeting of states-parties in Geneva on Dec. 4–7 established a working capital fund, financed by voluntary contributions, to provide short-term financing pending receipt of contributions from member countries.

Yet, despite the broad support for outcomes from the BWC experts meeting held in August, delegates did not reach consensus on measures proposed by the experts to strengthen the convention. Many delegations blamed Iran, supported by Venezuela and a few others, for the lack of consensus. There was also evident tension between the United States and Russia.

The annual meetings of experts and of states-parties will provide further opportunities for consideration of measures to strengthen the convention prior to the BWC ninth review conference in 2021.

In Geneva, one day was cut from the December meeting’s planned four-day schedule due to lack of funding. The financial problems of the BWC, which outlaws biological arms, stem from some states being years late in annual payments and from slow payment by many other states, as well as from UN financial rules and practices. The United Nations now stringently requires that funding for meetings and staff contracts be received before spending is committed, rather than anticipating that funds will cover expenses as states pay later in the year, as had been the practice.

Although a number of states-parties are in arrears, five of them—Brazil, Venezuela, Nigeria, Libya, and Argentina, in descending order of arrearages—account for more than three-quarters of the debt. This produced tensions in the meetings, as the nonpayers were seen to be jeopardizing the efforts of the majority who meet their financial commitments.

In the report of the Geneva meeting, states-parties in arrears were requested to pay outstanding amounts, and all parties were urged to pay invoices more quickly. The working capital fund is expected to enable the BWC to hold meetings and to provide the secretariat staff, known as the Implementation Support Unit, with one-year contracts rather than the current shorter-term contracts.

Nevertheless, the accumulated deficit may force some curtailment of BWC meetings planned for this year.

A number of substantive topics were discussed in Geneva. For example, Russia and the United Kingdom presented a working paper and side event recommending ideas on how to respond following a BWC violation and request for assistance. Such support would include measures such as well-equipped, on-call response teams and mobile diagnostic laboratory capabilities.

France and India proposed a database that, if a state-party were exposed to danger from a violation, would match requests for assistance with offers of help such as specific expertise; protection, detection, decontamination assistance; and provision of medical and other equipment.

India and the United States authored a paper suggesting ways to strengthen national implementation measures with appropriate legislative, regulatory, and administrative provisions; national export controls that would penalize offenders; a list of items requiring authorization before export; and cooperative training and capacity-building activities.

A Chinese initiative on a code of conduct continued to interest many states-parties, while Kazakhstan presented a working paper about a seminar it held in October on national implementation measures, cooperation, and assistance.

The BWC has gained 17 states-parties since 2012, bringing the total to 182. However, there are still 10 nonsignatory states, and five signatories that have not ratified the convention. Of particular concern to many experts are countries in the Middle East: Israel has not signed, and Syria and Egypt have not ratified
the convention.

The BWC faces evolving challenges that include scientific advances, such as gene editing, that raise new dangers if abused, while many countries believe that more should be done to improve protections against threats from naturally occurring diseases, such as Ebola, from possible covert state biological weapons programs and from terrorist groups seeking biological weapons.

In addition to the worsening relations between Russia and the United States outside of the BWC context, the two countries have traded accusations of noncompliance with the convention. The U.S. State Department 2018 report on compliance stated that Russia’s annual BWC submissions “have not satisfactorily documented whether its bioweapons program was completely destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes.”

For its part, Russia has questioned the presence of U.S. Defense Department personnel at public health laboratories in former Soviet states, in particular at the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Georgia. Russia suggested that this center and others were producing biological weapons. In November 2018, Georgia hosted a group of international experts for a “transparency visit” to the Lugar Center to dispel Russian allegations. Such on-site visits are seen to enhance confidence in compliance. Russia and the United States have also traded charges recently at meetings of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

At the outset of the Geneva meeting, the United States refused to accept Venezuela as a vice-chair because of its humanitarian, economic and political crisis, in addition to its non-payment of dues to the BWC. As a result, the meeting proceeded “on an exceptional basis” without any vice-chairs. This upset Venezuela and a number of members of the Non-Aligned Movement. In addition, the United States challenged the status of the “State of Palestine” as a BWC state-party.

A Dec. 5 statement endorsed by 15 nongovernmental organizations and 27 individuals warned that the BWC is “in a precarious state” due to the financial and political issues. Nevertheless, the group noted the substantive discussions held at the 2018 BWC experts meeting and said that states should focus on governance mechanisms to prevent scientific advances that could undermine the norm against biological weapons.

(Article has been corrected to remove a reference to Venezuela as a "rogue state.")

States-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention agree on a financial fix, but little else.

UN Body Seeks Mideast WMD-Free-Zone Talks

December 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre


The UN General Assembly’s disarmament committee called on Secretary-General António Guterres to convene a conference next year for further talks on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.

The discussions in the General Assembly First Committee also revealed deepening tensions between the United States and Russia on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, chemical weapons, and outer space security, as well as strains between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states over how to make progress toward nuclear disarmament.

On the WMD-free-zone conference proposal, 103 countries supported the resolution introduced by the Arab League and 71 abstained. Only the United States, Israel, and Micronesia voted against.

If adopted by the General Assembly in December as anticipated, a first conference will last one week during 2019, and subsequent conferences will be held each year until an accord on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is adopted. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit would prepare background documents for the conferences.

Canada, the United Kingdom (which abstained), and the United States criticized the resolution, stating in separate explanations that they believe it is not inclusive. The United States opposed it because of its “focus on isolating Israel,” Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), tweeted on Oct. 18. Israel, which is widely thought to possess nuclear weapons, does not support the conference proposal. Wood stated that the United States would only support actions with consensus support among all states in the Middle East.

The United States and Israel also rejected a different resolution, introduced by Egypt, calling for progress on creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. This resolution has been introduced at the United Nations every year since the 1980s and is usually adopted by consensus without being taken to a vote. In explaining its decision to vote against Egypt’s resolution this year, Israel blamed the Arab League for breaking consensus on the subject by proposing the new resolution calling for a conference in 2019.

The UN meeting also was marred by stark divisions between the United States and Russia on several critical issues. Russia tried to introduce an emergency resolution urging states to “preserve and strengthen” the INF Treaty after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 1987 accord. The committee rejected Russia’s resolution because it was introduced after the deadline, although there was a heated exchange between the United States and Russia on it.

The United States was also at odds with Russia on weapons in outer space, voting against every resolution introduced on the subject, including one on preventing a space arms race and a ban on putting weapons in space first. The United States and Israel were the only countries to vote against the resolution on preventing a space arms race, and the United States was one of three to reject the resolution on “further practical measures” to prevent a space arms race.

A dozen countries opposed Russia’s resolution, which recommended negotiating a multilateral instrument banning putting weapons in space first, while 40 abstained. In a U.S.-UK-French explanation of the vote on Nov. 5, Cynthia Plath, U.S. deputy permanent representative to the CD, called the resolution hypocritical and not verifiable and said it did not address threats from anti-satellite weapons.

Instead, the three countries support non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures, according to the statement. Yet, this year, the United States opposed a resolution on transparency and confidence-building measures in space, which it had co-sponsored with China and Russia every year since 2012.

This year’s resolution differed from last year’s by inviting states to report on steps taken to implement the resolution and to convene a panel discussion on challenges to space security and sustainability. Plath said on Nov. 6 that the resolution makes an “unacceptable linkage” between proposals for “voluntary, pragmatic” transparency and confidence-building measures and the “commencement of futile negotiations” on “fundamentally flawed arms control proposals,” despite no mention of negotiations commencement in the resolution text.

On another matter, Russia voted against the annual resolution on the Chemical Weapons Convention, which condemns the use of chemical weapons and stresses the importance of implementing the convention, as it has since 2016. Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, condemned Russia for blocking accountability for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in an Oct. 10 statement.

Member states were split on two controversial resolutions on nuclear disarmament. Japan’s annually introduced resolution on disarmament, which last year was supported by the United States but criticized by a number of other states as undermining disarmament commitments, faced criticism from both camps this year. (See ACT, December 2017.)

Austria explained to the conference on Nov. 1 that it abstained on the resolution because it restates agreed disarmament language, misrepresents the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and undermines the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

For its part, the United States rejected language reinserted into the resolution about the importance of nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI, which commits states-parties to pursue disarmament, and agreements reached at NPT review conferences in 1995, 2000, and 2010, a source told Kyodo News on Nov. 10. The United States was successful in eliminating an initial clause in the resolution that would have called on North Korea to sign and ratify the CTBT, according to the same source.

The first UN resolution to welcome the adoption of the prohibiton treaty and encourage all states to sign and ratify it passed the First Committee with 122 states voting in favor, 41 voting against, and 16 abstaining. All nuclear-armed states except for North Korea, which abstained, voted against the resolution.


UN Disarmament Resolutions

During its 2018 session, the UN General Assembly First Committee adopted several resolutions on nuclear disarmament. Below are some of those resolutions.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons
Reaffirms that the use of nuclear weapons would be a “crime against humanity” and requests that the Conference on Disarmament (CD) commence negotiations on a treaty prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Adopted by a vote of 120-50 with 15 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.44)

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Urges states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as soon as possible and to maintain the current nuclear testing moratoriums until the entry into force of the treaty. Adopted by a vote of 181-1 with four abstentions. North Korea voted against the resolution. (A/C.1/73/L.26)

Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices
Urges the CD to agree on and implement a program of work that includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Adopted by a vote of 180-1 with five abstentions. Pakistan voted against the resolution. (A/C.1/73/L.58)

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons
Stresses the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons use and emphasizes that the only way to prevent their use is total elimination. Calls on states to prevent the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and to exert all efforts to achieve total nuclear disarmament. Adopted by a vote of 143-15 with 23 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.23)

Ethical Imperatives for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World
Declares that “all states share an ethical responsibility” to “take the effective measures, including legally binding measures, necessary to eliminate and prohibit all nuclear weapons, given their catastrophic humanitarian consequences and associated risks.” Declares that “greater attention must be given to the impact of a nuclear weapon detonation on women and the importance of their participation in discussions, decisions and actions on nuclear weapons.” Adopted by a vote of 130-34 with 18 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.62)

Reducing Nuclear Dangers
Calls for a “review of nuclear doctrines and, in this context, immediate and urgent steps to reduce the risks of unintentional and accidental use of nuclear weapons, including through de-alerting and de-targeting nuclear weapons.” Adopted by a vote of 127-49 with 10 abstentions. (A/C.1/73/L.43)

The United States votes against and spars with Russia on other matters at UN session.

Nuclear Ban Treaty Reaches 19 States-Parties

November 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons gained seven additional signatories and four additional states-parties at a second signing ceremony Sept. 26, the United Nations-declared International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Myanmar’s Union Minister for International Cooperation U Kyaw Tim signs the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on behalf of his country, also known as Burma, on Sept. 26 at the United Nations. (Photo: ICAN / Darren Ornitz Photography)Two countries signed the treaty shortly after the ceremony, bringing the total number of states-parties to 19 and signatories to 69 as of Nov. 1. The treaty enters into force after ratification by 50 states.

“I love seeing states sign and ratify #nuclearban treaty,” Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), wrote on Twitter. “Each one of these states is chipping away at the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and moving us closer to a world without nuclear weapons.”

The treaty, adopted in July 2017 and opened for signature two months later, includes prohibitions on the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of nuclear weapons for all states-parties. It also stipulates that states-parties must provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use and environmental remediation for land affected by nuclear weapons.

“When the treaty was opened for signature one year ago, the secretary-general noted that it was the ‘product of increasing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, including the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of their use,’” Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, stated at the recent ceremony. “The number of signatures and ratifications to date shows that these concerns remain paramount in many states’ minds.”

Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Brunei, Guinea-Bissau, Myanmar, Saint Lucia, Seychelles, and Timor-Leste signed the treaty at the signing ceremony; Gambia, Samoa, San Marino, and Vanuatu ratified it. Twenty-one of the 69 treaty signatories are from the African continent, 13 from Asia, 13 from North America, 10 from South America, seven from Oceania, and five from Europe, including the Holy See. The Oceanic region has the most states-parties (five), while Africa has the fewest, with only one.

The pace of signatures and ratifications is similar to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which had 71 signatories and 14 states-parties a year after it opened for signature.

Close to 50 non-nuclear-armed countries expressed support for the treaty during the initial week of the UN General Assembly First Committee meeting. However, nuclear-armed countries and many of their allies scorn the treaty, as reflected in several of their statements and a strong joint denunciation by China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States. Proponents of the treaty “do not offer solutions to these security challenges, or even acknowledge that they play a role in states’ thinking about deterrence and disarmament…. Instead, they seem to believe that we can skip to the final step of this process—simply banning nuclear weapons—and trust that the details will work themselves out,” Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the committee on Oct. 10.

Several states have recently published reports on their investigations into national consequences for treaty accession. Sweden, which launched such an inquiry a year ago, has said that it would publish the results by Oct. 31. The Swiss government decided in August against signing, although there is continuing action in the legislature favoring signature. (See ACT, May 2018.) Norway, a NATO member covered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, released its review in early October. Kjølv Egeland, a fellow at the Norwegian Academy of International Law, tweeted on Oct. 9 that the report concludes that Norway signing the treaty is “off the table for now,” given that it would contradict nuclear deterrence policy.

Civil society groups, such as the Norwegian Academy of International Law, have issued reports considering the implications of joining the treaty. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in Sweden, an ICAN partner organization, published a compilation of essays urging Swedish ratification and examining the treaty’s relationship to Swedish security arrangements and trade. On Oct. 29, Norwegian People’s Aid, a member of ICAN’s steering committee, released the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor, assessing the compliance of 197 states with the treaty.

But nuclear-armed states and their allies remain steadfastly opposed.

India Closes on Russian Missile System Deal

November 2018
By Shervin Taheran

India defied threats of U.S. sanctions by finalizing a $5.4 billion deal to purchase five batteries of the Russian S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft system, following an Oct. 5 summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India-Russia Business Summit in New Delhi on October 5.  (Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images)The United States previously said the deal could trigger penalties against India under section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), an action that would complicate the Trump administration’s efforts to expand U.S. trade and diplomatic relations with India. For that reason, some senior administration officials, such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have argued for granting India a sanctions waiver in this case.

The 2017 law provides for imposition of secondary U.S. sanctions against firms or countries that make a “significant” purchase from sanctioned entities in Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. The S-400 contract is with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms export agency, which is the subject of U.S. sanctions.

In September, the United States imposed sanctions on China for purchases of the S-400 system. Another buyer, NATO-ally Turkey, has not been penalized yet, although the United States and other NATO members have raised objections to the purchase because the system is incompatible with NATO’s defense architecture. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) China was sanctioned after receiving the weapons system from Russia, and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Oct. 25 that Turkey will aim to begin installing the Russian air defense systems by October 2019.

A clause in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows the president to issue a waiver to CAATSA sanctions. Trump administration officials, before the formal Indian-Russian S-400 agreement, had been vague on the prospects that the president would grant India a waiver. When asked directly on Oct. 11, U.S. President Donald Trump failed to offer a direct answer, but said that India will find out “sooner than you think.”

India has repeatedly asserted its desire to retain independence and variety in its national defense resources. Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at an Oct. 25 conference that Mattis “understood” India’s need to purchase the system, following their meeting during a defense ministers conference in Singapore.

The S-400 system is an advanced, mobile, surface-to-air defense system of radars and missiles of different ranges, capable of destroying a variety of targets such as attack aircraft, bombs, and tactical ballistic missiles. Each battery normally consists of eight launchers, 112 missiles, and command and support vehicles.

As a historically nonaligned country, many of India’s weapons systems are Russian, but it is also continuing to purchase U.S. weapons and equipment.

Senior U.S. administration officials have noted that they do not want the CAATSA sanctions to alienate strategic allies who may still rely on Russian equipment for historical reasons. In a July 20 letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis supported the amendment to the 2019 NDAA to provide waivers for allies who are “transitioning to closer ties” with the United States. Waivers can avert “significant unintended consequences” toward U.S. strategic interests, he wrote.

Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said on Aug. 29 that, “on CAATSA, Mattis did plea for an exemption for India, but I can’t guarantee a waiver will be used for future purposes.” The Pentagon would still be significantly concerned if India purchased major new military systems from Russia, he said.

Other countries considering purchasing the S-400 system are Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In June, the French newspaper Le Monde noted a leaked letter by Saudi King Salman to French President Emmanuel Macron threatening “military action” if Qatar is allowed to deploy the S-400 system, which is viewed as a threat to Saudi security.


Will the U.S. follow through on its sanction threat against New Delhi?

Trump Challenges Europeans Over Iran Deal

October 2018
By Terry Atlas and Kelsey Davenport

The Iran nuclear deal remains on life support, as U.S. President Donald Trump redoubles his efforts to kill an arrangement that is successfully restraining Iran’s nuclear program.

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the UN General Assembly on September 25, denouncing what he called the “corrupt dictatorship” in Iran. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Nearly five months after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 accord, Iran continues to comply with restrictions on its nuclear activities as the European Union, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom seek work-arounds to renewed U.S. sanctions on the Islamic republic.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote in a Sept. 23 column in The Washington Post that he is allowing a “short grace period” to see what the other parties to the accord, including Russia and China, are able to do to offset Trump’s pressure tactics, notably U.S. efforts to prevent Iranian oil sales. U.S. officials are pressuring states that import Iranian oil to cut purchases or face severe sanctions that will enter back into effect Nov. 5.

The other parties to the nuclear deal met at the United Nations on Sept. 24, the eve of Trump’s second General Assembly address, to assess what they called “practical proposals” to offset U.S. actions and to protect “legitimate business” dealings with Iran. Afterward, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, speaking alongside Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the parties agreed to establish a “special purpose vehicle” to facilitate purchases of Iranian imports and exports, including oil.

“In practical terms, this will mean that EU member states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran, and this will allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran in accordance with European Union law,” she said. “And it will be open to other partners in the world.”

This puts the countries, including close U.S. allies, in direct defiance of Trump, who told the General Assembly on Sept. 25 that the United States will increase its “campaign of economic pressure” on Tehran. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, warned allies and others against trying to evade sanctions.

Bolton characterized the European plan as just rhetoric and suggested any such action would have consequences. “We do not intend to have our sanctions evaded by Europe or by anyone else,” he said in a speech Sept. 25 detailing the administration’s redlines for Iranian leaders.

Trump, at the UN, said the oil-related sanctions will be followed by other punitive measures to thwart what he characterized as a “corrupt dictatorship” that still harbors nuclear weapons ambitions and foments turmoil in the Middle East through its support of militant groups.

“We ask all nations to isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues,” he said. Further, using language linked to potential regime change, he said, “[W]e ask all nations to support Iran’s people as they struggle to reclaim their religious and righteous destiny.”

But it is the United States that appears isolated. At a special UN Security Council session chaired by Trump Sept. 26, called to highlight nonproliferation priorities, top leaders one after the other directly criticized his decision to abandon the Iran deal and urged Tehran to continue to comply with the accord.

The Trump administration, which denies an overt goal of regime change, has said it is seeking to force Iran to negotiate a more wide-ranging deal that includes restraints on its regional interference and ballistic missile program and tighter restrictions on nuclear activities.

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly on September 25. World leaders gathered for the 73rd annual meeting at the UN headquarters in New York. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)Iran has ruled out such talks, at least until the United States returns to the nuclear accord negotiated during the Obama administration. Trump’s offer of direct talks “is not honest or genuine” given his actions, Rouhani said in his column. Rouhani told the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25 that beginning a dialogue starts with ending threats and unjust sanctions.

The Europeans have been particularly determined to try to preserve the 2015 pact because it has effectively halted Iran’s nuclear advances and reopened a lucrative market for European trade and because they are alarmed by a drift toward an imaginable U.S. war with Iran, encouraged by Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is unclear whether their new initiatives to shield companies from U.S. sanctions will have much effect, with major European companies already abandoning Iran.

More important may be what actions Iran’s biggest oil purchasers, China and India, take in light of the U.S. sanctions. Both have substantially reduced oil purchases, although it is uncertain what Beijing may decide in light of growing trade disputes with the Trump administration.

Iran agreed to the nuclear deal in return for the lifting of U.S., EU, and UN sanctions, hoping for a boost to the country’s struggling economy. In the face of rising tensions with the Trump administration and internal mismanagement of the economy, the value of the Iranian currency has plummeted by as much as 70 percent in the past year, fueling protests against Rouhani’s government.

Iranian officials have said they could restart nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium at prohibited levels, within days if there is a decision to do so. An Iranian decision to exit the nuclear deal might play well for anti-U.S. sentiment, but would pose a different set of risks for the regime.

Iran has continued to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Aug. 20, the first since the United States began reimposing sanctions Aug. 7. The report also said Iran is abiding by the deal’s more intrusive IAEA monitoring and verification mechanisms, which provide inspector access “to all the sites and locations” necessary to visit.

The IAEA reports do not contain any details on what sites the agency visits outside of Iran’s declared nuclear program, but there are some indications that inspections took place at two universities in Iran in July. According to several news outlets, protests broke out over the IAEA presence.

The report does not mention a reported new advanced-centrifuge production facility. The official Iranian news agency IRNA on Sept. 9 quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying that the facility is “fully complete and set up.” The construction of such a facility does not violate the deal, but it would be a violation if Tehran manufactured centrifuges outside of the narrow scope of production permitted by the accord.

The IAEA report also does not mention the stolen trove of secret Iranian documents, which Israel disclosed earlier this year, relating to Iran’s past nuclear weapons activities. But Nicole Shampaine, a U.S. official at the U.S. Mission in Vienna, told the IAEA Board of Governors Sept. 12 that the United States supports the “IAEA’s careful assessment of the newly acquired archive materials from Iran’s past nuclear weapons program. She said the existence of the documentation demonstrates that Iran “sought to preserve the information and expertise from that past program.”

EU plans steps to get around U.S. sanctions on Iran.

U.S., Russia Impede Steps to Ban ‘Killer Robots’

October 2018
By Michael Klare

The latest effort toward imposing binding international restrictions on so-called killer robots was thwarted by the United States and Russia, pushing off the divisive issue to a November meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Participants at a Geneva meeting in August on lethal autonomous weapons systems, held under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, called for future talks after failing to reach consensus on imposing international restrictions. (Photo: United Nations Office at Geneva)For five years, officials representing member-states of the CCW, a 1990 treaty that seeks to outlaw the use of especially injurious or pernicious weapons, have been investigating whether to adopt a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. In late August, a group of governmental experts established by the CCW met to assess the issue, but it failed to reach consensus at a Geneva meeting and called instead for further discussions.

The impasse reflects the tensions over an advancing set of technologies, including artificial intelligence and robotics, that will make possible systems capable of identifying targets and attacking them without human intervention.

Opponents insist that such weapons can never be made intelligent enough to comply with the laws of war and international humanitarian law. Advocates say autonomous weapons, as they develop, can play a useful role in warfare without violating those laws.

Concern over the potential battlefield use of fully autonomous weapons systems has been growing rapidly in recent years as the pace of their development has accelerated and the legal and humanitarian consequences of using them in combat have become more apparent. Such systems typically combine advanced sensors and kill mechanisms with unmanned ships, planes, or ground vehicles.

Theoretically, fully autonomous weapons of this sort can be programmed to search within a predesignated area for certain types of threats—tanks, radars, ships, aircraft, and individual combatants—and engage them with onboard guns, bombs, and missiles on their own if communications are lost with their human operators. This prospect has raised the question whether these weapons, if used in a fully autonomous manner, will be able to distinguish between legitimate targets, such as armed combatants, and noncombatant civilians trapped in the zone of battle. Likewise, will they be able to distinguish between enemy combatants still posing a threat and those no longer capable of fighting because of injury or illness?

Humans possess the innate capacity to make such distinctions on a split-second basis, but many analysts doubt that machines can ever be programmed to make such fine distinctions and so should be banned from use.

Under the terms of the CCW, the 120 signatory states, which include China, Russia, and the United States, can negotiate additional protocols prohibiting certain specific classes of weapons. So far, five such protocols have been signed, including measures banning landmines, incendiary weapons, and blinding lasers.

Starting in 2014, some member states have sought to initiate negotiations leading to a similar protocol that would ban the development and use of fully autonomous lethal weapons. Others were resistant to moving directly toward negotiations, but agreed to a high-level investigation of the issue. For that purpose, CCW member states established the experts group, comprised largely of officials from those states, to assess the implications of fielding autonomous weapons and whether starting negotiations on a protocol was justified.

In the discussions that followed, several distinctive positions emerged. About two dozen countries, including Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, and Mexico, advocated for a legally binding prohibition on use of such weapons. A number of civil society organizations, loosely allied through the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, also urged such a measure.

Another group of states led by France and Germany, while opposing a legally binding measure, support a political declaration stating the necessity of maintaining human control over the use of deadly force.

Wherever they stand on the issue of a binding measure, nearly every country represented in the experts group at the August meeting expressed opposition to the deployment of fully autonomous weapons. Nevertheless, a small group of countries, including Israel, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, rejected a legal prohibition and a political declaration, saying more research and discussion is necessary.

For the United States, the resistance to a declaration or binding measure on autonomous weapons can be read as instinctive hostility toward any international measure that might constrain U.S. freedom of maneuver, a stance visible in the Trump administration’s animosity towardother multilateral agreements, such as the Iran nuclear deal.

Further, U.S. opposition stems from another impulse: many senior U.S. officials believe that leadership in advanced technology, especially artificial intelligence, cyberoperations, hypersonics, and robotics, is essential for ensuring U.S. success in a geopolitical contest with China and Russia. “Long-term strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 26.

“Our military remains capable, but our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare,” he said. To reclaim that edge, the United States must restore its advantage in all areas of military competency, including through “research into advanced autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and hypersonics.”

U.S. policy requires that a human operator be “in the loop” when making decisions before a weapons system, such as a missile-carrying drone, fires at a target.

Still, the determination to ensure U.S. dominance in artificial intelligence and robotics virtually guaranteed U.S. opposition to any outcome of the experts group that may hinder progress in developing military applications of machine autonomy. “We believe it is premature to enter into negotiations on a legally binding instrument, a political declaration, a code of conduct, or other similar instrument, and we cannot support a mandate to enter into such negotiations,” Joshua Dorosin, deputy legal adviser at the State Department, said at the experts group meeting Aug. 29.

Because decisions of the group are made by consensus, U.S. opposition, mirrored by Russia and a few other countries, prevented it from reaching any conclusion at its meeting other than a recommendation to keep talking.

Follow-up steps will be determined by CCW states-parties. They are due to meet in Geneva on Nov. 21–23, although it is unlikely they will reach consensus on anything beyond continuing discussions.

Member organizations of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are lobbying participating delegations to act more vigorously and to consider a variety of other pathways to banning the development of fully autonomous weapons systems, perhaps outside the CCW framework.

The impasse reflects the tensions over advancing technologies for systems capable of autonomously identifying and attacking targets.

Cluster Munitions Ban Marks Progress

October 2018
By Jeff Abramson

Delegates of states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, meeting Sept. 3–5 in Geneva, once again condemned any use of the weapons and celebrated successes in the decade since the treaty opened for signature.

Human Rights Watch has said there is evidence that Sudan dropped cluster bombs on civilian areas of Southern Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains in February and March 2015. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)The annual meeting ended a half day early without controversy as states welcomed the March accession of Sri Lanka and Aug. 31 ratification by Namibia, which will become the 104th state-party when the treaty enters into force for it in February. Conference President Carlos Morales Dávila, Nicaragua’s deputy permanent representative to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva, also congratulated Croatia, Cuba, Slovenia, and Spain for reporting completion of the destruction of their cluster munition stockpiles.

Research published by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor program before the meeting found that 99 percent of stocks declared by states-parties had already been destroyed, a collective total of 1.4 million cluster munitions and more than 177 million submunitions. Under the treaty, states have eight years to destroy their cluster munitions. Thus far, no state has missed its deadline.

As it documented beginning in 2012, the program reported ongoing use of cluster munitions by the Syrian government. Fewer incidents were confirmed in 2018, however, likely a result of difficulty in obtaining information and a change in the Syrian civil war as governmental forces recaptured more territory. Fewer casualties from such munitions were cited, with 187 recorded in 2017 in Syria, down from 860 in 2016, although the report said the total was certainly higher “as available data does not capture all the casualties that occurred.”

The report also identified cluster munitions use in Yemen during the latter half of 2017 by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting the Houthi, with such use beginning in 2015. None of the countries involved in the use of cluster munitions in that conflict are parties to the treaty.

As in prior years, states-parties adopted a final report that “condemned any use by any actor” of cluster munitions.

In a video message, Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, called the convention an example of “disarmament that saves lives.” She said that the treaty has “had a concrete impact on the ground,” lauding stockpile destruction efforts and progress on clearance of contaminated land. According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, at least 93 square kilometers of contaminated land were cleared in 2017 and at least 153,000 submunitions destroyed, an increase of 6 percent and 9 percent, respectively, from 2016.

More than a dozen nonsignatories to the treaty attended the meeting, but the United States continued its approach of not attending. Although it is the world’s largest financial contributor to land clearance efforts, Washington insists that cluster munitions remain relevant military tools. In November 2017, the United States altered a policy that was to take effect at the end of this year barring the use of cluster munitions that result in a more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance rate. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Next year’s meeting of states-parties is planned for Sept. 2–4 in Geneva, to be led by Aliyar Lebbe Abdul Azeez, Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva. In 2020, Sabrina Dallafior Matter, the Swiss ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, will preside over the treaty’s second review conference.

Four more countries complete elimination, as states-parties increase to 104.

CTBT Grows Amid Calls on N. Korea to Join

October 2018
By Shervin Taheran

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has gained some renewed attention as nations called on North Korea to join the treaty as a way to demonstrate its sincerity in declaring an end to its nuclear testing.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo (2nd from right) looks on as the prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, signs the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on September 25.  With the addition of Tuvalu, the number of signatory states grew to 184. Thailand became the 167th country to ratify the CTBT. (Photo: CTBTO)Meanwhile, Thailand became the 167th country to ratify the CTBT. With the Sept. 25 signature by the island nation of Tuvalu, the number of signatories was brought to 184. But the treaty will not enter into force until it is ratified by the eight remaining nations listed in its Annex 2: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, and the United States.

At a ministerial-level meeting of the “Friends of the CTBT” states Sept. 27, the foreign ministers of Australia and Japan, who co-chaired the meeting, and of Belgium, Finland, Iraq, Japan, and the Netherlands called on North Korea to ratify the CTBT.

The meeting reinforced a message sent to North Korea in June by the foreign ministers of Belgium and Iraq urging a “legally binding and irreversible end” to its nuclear testing, such as through the signature and ratification of the CTBT, as part of a denuclearization agreement. Belgium and Iraq are co-presidents of the 2017 Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT and will continue in this role until the next Article XIV conference in 2019.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini reaffirmed this sentiment in remarks at the meeting, urging North Korea to join the CTBT “without delay.” She noted that verifying the closure of the North Korean nuclear test site “could benefit” from the technical assistance of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

There has not been much public discussion about what the technical verification of the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear test site would look like, and questions remain about the roles of the CTBTO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in such a process. At a Sept. 6 UN event marking the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said that the organization is ready, if called upon, “to contribute to the process of verifiable denuclearization.”

Miroslav Lajčák, president of the UN General Assembly and Slovakia’s foreign minister, at the Sept. 6 event noted that North Korea’s decisions to suspend nuclear and missile tests were positive steps. Still, he said that signing and ratifying the CTBT “would lead to progress on the Korean peninsula.”

Thailand’s ratification is the last for a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “thereby reaffirming ASEAN’s long term goal of making the region of Southeast Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone,” said Virasakdi Futrakul, Thailand’s deputy foreign minister.

Thailand becomes 167th country to ratify the treaty.

ATT Tackles Diversion, Not Controversy

October 2018
By Jeff Abramson

States-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are working to improve implementation even as they continue to avoid controversial conversations about specific arms transfers.

Morning commuters and delegates arriving for the fourth conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), held in Tokyo, were met by campaigners holding “missing” posters illustrating real-life cases of weapons that have been diverted into the illicit trade. (Photo: Control Arms)During opening remarks Aug. 20 at the fourth conference of ATT states-parties in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono identified as “two imminent challenges” the universalization of the treaty and its effective implementation. In doing so, he welcomed the addition of five new treaty members since the 2017 conference of states-parties, bringing the total to 97 once the treaty takes effect in November for Brazil, the most recent to ratify.

The treaty establishes common standards for international trade in conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade. Measures include required consideration of whether transferred arms would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, as well as reporting on national implementation measures and annual arms transfers.

To address implementation issues, a special focus was placed on weapons diversion. During the five-day meeting, treaty members endorsed a three-tier approach to sharing information and welcomed documents on relevant existing instruments and possible measures to prevent and address diversion.

Reporting remains a challenge. The Control Arms coalition’s ATT Monitor found that 73 percent of states-parties had met their obligations to submit an initial report on national implementation measures. As of June, 48 states had submitted separate, annual arms transfer reports out of 89 required to do so for a 54 percent reporting rate, a decline from the previous year’s 65 percent.

States agreed to continue a working group on transparency and reporting and endorsed an outreach strategy to improve compliance with reporting requirements.

As with previous annual conferences, states generally avoided discussion of controversial arms transfers, particularly ones to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (See ACT, October 2017.) Those countries are leading a coalition fighting the Houthi in Yemen that has been criticized for frequently striking civilians and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis. States that are still supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition risk going down in history as being complicit in war crimes in Yemen, Amnesty International said in a Sept. 17 statement.

Next year’s conference of states-parties is planned for Geneva on Aug. 26–30 and will be led by Jānis Kārkliņš of Latvia.

A special focus was placed on weapons diversion.

NATO Presses Stand on Nuclear Weapons

September 2018
By Monica Montgomery

Leaders of the 29 NATO member nations approved changes to the alliance’s policies on nuclear deterrence and nonproliferation during their July 11–12 summit in Brussels.

NATO leaders gather for a working dinner at the Art and History Museum in the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels on July 11. (Photo: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AFP/Getty Images)The 2018 Brussels summit declaration states that “NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture also relies on United States’ nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe,” a shift from the alliance’s 2016 Warsaw declaration stating that the posture relied “in part” on U.S. forward-deployed nuclear weapons. Neither the 2014 nor 2012 summit statements explicitly referred to the need for U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. (See ACT, September 2016.)

This phrasing suggests that NATO credits an increased role to the 150 to 200 B61 nuclear gravity bombs believed to be deployed on the territory of five NATO states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey). The move comes after the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report published in February, which asserted that the B61 warheads contribute to the “supreme guarantee of Alliance security.” (See ACT, March 2018.)

The 2018 declaration also addressed in stronger terms alleged Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The 2016 declaration highlighted the importance of the INF Treaty and called on Russia “to preserve the viability of the INF Treaty through ensuring full and verifiable compliance,” but the new declaration devoted greater attention to the issue. NATO leaders stated that “the most plausible assessment would be that Russia is in violation” of the treaty, as Washington has asserted for several years, and supported a renewed dialogue between the United States, Russia, and NATO allies to bring the treaty back into full force.

Further, the 2018 declaration deviated from previous summit documents on a number of international nonproliferation agreements and treaties, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Iran nuclear deal, and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Although the 2016 declaration called for the universalization of the CTBT, the 2018 declaration called on all states “to declare and to maintain a voluntary moratorium [on nuclear testing]…pending the potential entry into force” of the CTBT.

The 2016 summit statement commended the Iran deal, but the 2018 document did not mention it. This reflects European efforts to preserve the agreement after U.S. President Donald Trump’s May 8 decision to have the United States withdraw from the accord, which he labeled “a horrible, one-sided deal.” (See ACT, June 2018.)

The 2018 declaration also praised U.S. and Russian reductions in strategic nuclear weapons under New START and expressed “strong support for its continued implementation,” while stopping short of calling for an extension of the treaty beyond its 2021 expiration date. New START had not been mentioned since the 2010 summit document.

The declaration follows the trend of recent NATO summits to highlight the importance of nuclear weapons in NATO strategy amid worsening tensions between Russia and the West.

In addition to changes on the nuclear policy front, the summit also took steps to buttress NATO’s conventional deterrence posture. These included the establishment of an Atlantic Command post, an invitation to Macedonia to join the alliance, and approval of the “Four 30s” initiative to provide in a NATO-Russia crisis 30 troop battalions, 30 squadrons of aircraft, and 30 warships within 30 days to bolster combat readiness.

Prior to the summit, many feared an explosive performance due to Trump’s worsening relationship with allies in recent months. Trump particularly has criticized NATO’s European members and Canada for failing to share the NATO financial burden, despite increases in their defense spending for the fourth year in a row. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

The alliance meeting ended with leaders disputing Trump’s public assertion that he had won additional defense-spending commitments from them. Still, Jamie Shea, a NATO deputy assistant secretary-general, called the summit declaration “the most substantive…the most complete, [and] the most consensual” NATO agreement in years.

Leaders toughen language favoring forward-deployed U.S. nuclear weapons.


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