Getting to Zero Update

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference concluded at the end of May on a positive note. However, the months ahead look uncertain. Diplomatic relations over the North Korean and Iranian programs continue to deteriorate, and there still lacks a firm indication on whether the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will be ratified by the end of the year.


Recent BASIC Publications

See additional BASIC publications on the 2010 NPT RevCon:

Commitments to Disarmament and Arms Control

New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) President Barack Obama submitted the New START treaty to the US Senate on May 13 and the Foreign Relations Committee has since followed with numerous hearings. Bi-partisan support is evident and witnesses across the political spectrum have testified to the merits of the treaty. Witnesses, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and James Baker, have argued that the treaty will provide the United States with more information about the Russian arsenal through its verification and information exchange measures and will help to build confidence by restricting the number of deployed warheads on each side.

However, some skeptics, including Senators Jim DeMint (Republican – South Carolina) and James Inhofe (Republican – Oklahoma), have repeatedly questioned whether agreeing to the treaty could limit US freedom to deploy new missile defenses, and have in general raised doubts as to whether the United States should enter into any agreement with Russia. Still, heads of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senators John Kerry (Democrat – Massachusetts) and Richard Lugar (Republican – Indiana), have said that the committee should complete its review by the end of the summer which could leave enough time for ratification by the end of the year. Breaking developments over an alleged Russian spy ring in the United States threatened possible delays in policymaking related to Russia, but no evidence existed to suggest that the accused spies had obtained any sensitive US security information and State Department Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley said that the case should not affect the START ratification process.

President Dmitry Medvedev submitted the treaty to the Russian Duma at the end of May with the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committees having recently commenced their consideration, on June 17 (Vremya Novostei, June 17, 2010, p. 5). In April, President Medvedev had remarked during a speech before an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC that he hoped Russia and the United States could have synchronous ratification and warned that if they fail to ratify the treaty, it would “mean that we have gone back to some kind of Soviet times.”

New START snapshot for Russia and the United States: Verifiable aggregate limits to be implemented within seven years after the treaty enters into force

  • 1,550 deployed warheads.
  • “A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM [Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile] launchers, SLBM [Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile] launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.”
  • “A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.”

For the full texts of the treaty, visit the US State Department’s website:

Further Reading

  • Shaping a Common Vision of Security between Russia and the United States
    Rose Gottemoeller, presentation at Ploughshares Fund-
    PIR Centre Conference, June 25, 2010

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference

In the aftermath of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT RevCon), leaders now face a series of follow-up tasks that will challenge their current policies on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The RevCon achieved consensus on an action plan in the Final Document for the first time in ten years that included a series of commitments under each of the three pillars of the treaty: nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The highlight was the breakthrough agreement to work toward holding a conference on a Middle East Zone free from weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, by 2012. The measure was seen as promising for its potential to bring both treaty-member Iran and non-member Israel together to discuss security issues, although the singling out of Israel in the Final Document as the only regional non-member of the Treaty was strongly criticized by US officials.

The Final Document requires the five Nuclear Weapons States of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States to report back on their progress on nuclear disarmament by 2014 – one year before the next RevCon. Progress will be measured by markers such as a reduction in arsenals, the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines, and the alert status of weapons. However, the NWS did not agree to a timetable for the elimination of nuclear weapons, which had been one of the goals of the large bloc of Non-Aligned Movement countries going into the conference. The Document notes the UN Secretary-General’s five-point nuclear disarmament proposal, including the consideration of a nuclear weapons convention that would ultimately ban all nuclear weapons or “agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments,” but the goal of producing a convention was not collectively agreed upon at the conference.

The issue of tactical nuclear weapons was sensitive, especially for Russia. In the end, the NWS chose not to mention them by name (either as sub-strategic or tactical) and instead agreed to more broad language that called on countries to commit to “reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons, deployed and non-deployed,” and to “address the question of all nuclear weapons regardless of their type or their location as an integral part of the general nuclear disarmament process.”

The Final Document did include language on the necessity of bringing the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, and called on NWS to continue their moratoria until the remaining required countries adopt the treaty. The text also highlights the importance of reaching agreement on banning fissile material production – negotiations which currently reside in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). The Final Document announces an invitation to the UN Secretary General to convene a high-level meeting in September of 2010 in light of the long-standing impasse at the CD.

The Document also highlighted the danger of nuclear energy programs serving as a cover for weapons programs and pointed to the continuing imperative of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) access to all relevant facilities. The RevCon underscored “the importance of resolving all cases of non-compliance with safeguards obligations in full conformity with the IAEA statute and the respective legal obligations of Member States. In this regard, the Conference [NPT RevCon] calls upon Member States to extend their cooperation to the Agency.” The language is considered to be a challenge to Iran, but Iran was not called out by name. However, North Korea, which ended its membership in the NPT in 2003, and has since conducted two nuclear tests, was called on by name to rejoin The Six Party Talks and to return to the treaty as a verifiably non-nuclear weapon state. India and Pakistan were again urged to forego their nuclear weapons and join the NPT.

As anticipated, the Conference was unable to agree on making the Additional Protocol the new verification requirement for remaining in good standing with the NPT, a move which has been opposed by many members of the NAM in particular. No agreement was made on increasing the costs of withdrawal from the treaty, other than to acknowledge that many states wish to see this happen.

Further Reading

NATO and Tactical Nuclear Weapons

NATO’s review of its Strategic Concept continues and nuclear weapons have been on the agenda. During the Alliance’s informal meeting of Foreign Ministers in Tallinn, Estonia on April 22-23, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged a division within the Alliance on whether to maintain tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in Europe but added that personally, he felt that they contributed to deterrence. However, he did question the credibility of these weapons in missions for deterring terrorists. The Secretary General confirmed that ministers agreed not to take any unilateral actions on the TNW issue and that “broad sharing of the burden for NATO’s nuclear policy remains essential.” When asked whether it would be necessary for countries to actually retain the TNWs on their territories to take part in nuclear burden sharing, Rasmussen said only that this would be part of discussions continuing until November, when the review is due for completion.

The US position has been to assure allies that it will retain the status quo for now – until all allies have the opportunity to decide collectively on whether to retain the TNWs in Europe. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton elaborated on the position during the meeting in Tallinn:

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. As a nuclear alliance, sharing nuclear risks and responsibilities is fundamental. …In any future reductions, our aim should be to seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, relocate those weapons away from the territory of NATO members, and include non-strategic nuclear weapons in the next round of US-Russian arms control discussions.”

At a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on May 18, Secretary Clinton emphasized the US preference for reducing TNWs in Europe only through negotiations with Russia: “[W]e are not going to withdraw our tactical nukes unless there is an agreement for Russia to similarly discuss with us withdrawal of their tactical nukes.”

The “Group of Experts” released on May 17 its report that is meant to serve as guidance to the Secretary General as he leads the review of the Strategic Concept. Titled “NATO 2020: Assured Security, Dynamic Engagement,” it reflects the Experts’ collective opinion that “As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO should continue to maintain secure and reliable nuclear forces, with widely shared responsibility for deployment and operational support, at the minimum level required by the prevailing security environment,” and that any changes in nuclear policy should be made by the Alliance as a whole. The report said the Group would “welcome consultations with Russia in pursuit of increased transparency and further mutual reductions” in TNWs.

Further Reading

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

During the course of the NPT RevCon, Indonesia announced that it would start the process of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and would no longer make this process contingent on the United States going first. Indonesia is one of the Annex 2 nations whose ratification of the treaty is required before it may enter into force. The remaining states are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States. Trinidad and Tobago and the Central African Republic ratified the CTBT at the end of May.

Further Reading

G8 Summit

During its summit in Muskoka, Canada, on June 25-26, the G8 reaffirmed its goal of “creating conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.” The group called for strengthening the NPT and pursuing the follow-on actions agreed by consensus in the RevCon’s Final Document. The Final Communiqué expressed the G8‘s “gravest concern” over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and called on North Korea and Iran to meet requirements established by the IAEA, and UN Security Council resolutions.

Further Reading

Country Reports

United States

Along with the New START treaty, President Obama was required to submit his plan for financing the US nuclear arsenal over the next ten years, which will total $180 billion, to: “(1) maintain delivery platforms; (2) sustain a safe, secure, and reliable U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile; and (3) modernize the nuclear weapons complex.” Although the full report was classified, the summary emphasizes “sustaining a strong nuclear deterrent for the duration of the New START treaty and beyond,” investing over $100 billion in nuclear weapons delivery systems and $80 billion to “sustain and modernize” the nuclear weapons complex.

On the first day of the NPT RevCon, the United States contributed to transparency around nuclear arsenals by disclosing the number of nuclear warheads in its active stockpile: 5,113. According to a Defense Department press release, the United States has “several thousand” more warheads that are retired and await dismantlement.

President Obama also outlined his administration’s National Security Strategy in a 60-page report released on May 27. “Pursue the Goal of a World Without Nuclear Weapons” and “Strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty” were the first in a list of tasks set out under the report’s section on “Reverse the Spread of Nuclear and Biological Weapons and Secure Nuclear Materials” (pp. 23-24). The report reflected language frequently used by the President to convey his Prague vision, saying of the “world without nuclear weapons” agenda:

“[I]ts active pursuit and eventual achievement will increase global security, keep our commitment under the NPT, build our cooperation with Russia and other states, and increase our credibility to hold others accountable for their obligations. As long as any nuclear weapons exist, the United States will sustain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal, both to deter potential adversaries and to assure U.S. allies and other security partners that they can count on America’s security commitments.”

A law established in 1986 requires the President to transmit annually a national security statement to Congress.

Further Reading

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom experienced the creation of a coalition government between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties during the RevCon. The new Foreign Secretary, William Hague, followed the US lead by announcing the number of warheads that it holds in its nuclear arsenal: 225 (the previous government had announced a maximum of 160 deployed warheads, a number confirmed by the new government). With the United States, the United Kingdom is attempting to shift pressure for more transparency toward China and Russia, which have not disclosed official arsenal figures. France revealed in 2008 that it has under 300 warheads.

Mr. Hague also announced that the United Kingdom will conduct a review of its nuclear declaratory policy, as well as a value-for-money review of the submarine modernization program. The policy will strongly consider as an option the Obama Administration’s recent declaration that nuclear weapons would not be considered for use against non-nuclear weapon states in good standing with their NPT obligations.

The Liberal Democrats had campaigned before the election as skeptics of moving ahead with full Trident replacement, pointing to the amount of expenditure required at a time of belt-tightening. The Conservatives have defended the current plans, agreed by Parliament in March 2007. Their Coalition agreement points to these tensions: “We will maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinized to ensure value for money. Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives.” British officials told the Financial Times that options for review could include relying on land or air-launched nuclear capabilities, or reducing the number of nuclear armed submarines from four to three — an option considered to be more likely than the former.

Further Reading


Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program worsened as the UN Security Council imposed another round of sanctions, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported no progress with Tehran over outstanding questions, and another attempt to facilitate a nuclear swap for Tehran’s research reactor ran into the sand, at least temporarily. All while Iran continued to enrich uranium, including up to levels near 20 percent.

The UN Security Council passed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran on June 9 for continuing to enrich uranium and its lack of cooperation with the IAEA. (The official record of the debate and text is available here.) The resolution (1929) broadens an already-existing arms embargo, places more restrictions on finance and shipping industries, and specifically targets the interests of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It also calls for cargo inspections similar to those used for North Korea, and blacklists Javad Rahiqi, the head of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center. The United States and the EU have since used the resolution to push forward their own additional sanctions. The EU agreed that it will impose sanctions that further target travel, trade, including on potential dual-use technologies, and the gas and oil industries. The US Congress passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 that will aim to restrict Iran’s access to refined petroleum products, and limit its access to the energy sector overall, along with tightening restrictions on Iran’s banking relations. President Obama signed the Act into law on July 1. The director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, said in an ABC television interview that despite new rounds of sanctions, the penalties are unlikely to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, warned that the United States and EU should be careful not to pass additional sanctions that will hurt Russian business interests in Iran. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reassured Iran that the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran should be capable of operating in August, after pre-launch tests are completed. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said he expects the plant to be fully operational by mid-September.

Brazil and Turkey voted against imposing the sanctions (Lebanon abstained). The two countries had on May 17 brokered the Tehran Declaration with Iran, which was then followed the following day with a US declaration that they had achieved full support amongst the P5 for the sanctions resolution, passed three weeks later. The timing of this announcement suggested contradictory linkage in the minds of all parties between the two initiatives, an indication that the United States was not prepared to allow Iran to use this deal to delay the imposition of sanctions.

Under the original proposal of October 2009, Iran would export 1,200 kg of its enriched uranium in exchange for 120 kg of uranium enriched up to levels sufficient for its IAEA-monitored Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which is used primarily for medical purposes. This new deal would allow Iran to keep its 1,200 kg of uranium stationed in Turkey as a “safety deposit” until it receives the fuel for the TRR – a process that could take around a year. Iranian leaders have little trust in the main participants in the original deal, Russia or France, or in the IAEA and the United States, responsible for the original offer. The ‘Vienna Group’ (the United States, Russia, France and IAEA) have gone back to Tehran with questions about the latest proposal. Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has said that Iran will meet again soon with Brazil and Turkey to discuss the deal, and that Iran was open to negotiations with others too on the deal specifically, clarifying that the earlier announcement by President Ahmadinejad of a two-month moratorium on negotiations specifically excluded the deal.

The IAEA released a report on May 31, which laid out its continuing frustrations with Iran’s level of cooperation to clear up questions over allegations of studies related to nuclear weapons work and its failure to comply with UN resolutions, and concluded that no progress had been made over the key question of whether all of its nuclear-related work has been in “peaceful activities.” Since the IAEA’s last update in February, Iran has continued to refuse providing design information on its Fordow facility, has slightly increased its rate of production of enriched uranium at the Natanz plant, and allegedly removed sensitive equipment from the Jabr Ibn Jayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran. Iranian officials refuted the latest report, denying that its nuclear activities are for military ends and that the Agency misinterpreted the purpose of the experiments at the research laboratory, saying that sensitive equipment had not been removed.

Further Reading

  • Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran
    Report by the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency,
    GOV/2010/28, May 31, 2010
    (Available via the website of the Institute for Science and International Security.) documents/

North Korea

Escalating tensions around the Korean peninsula dimmed prospects for moving ahead with the Six Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. An international investigation into the sinking of a South Korean warship that had occurred on March 26 laid the blame squarely on a North Korean torpedo attack. The attack is considered by Seoul and Washington to be a violation of the armistice established at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Pyongyang’s refusal to accept responsibility for the incident left little room for focusing on negotiations intended to encourage more transparency and halt North Korea’s nuclear efforts. Pyongyang said it would hold direct military talks with Seoul about the fatal sinking that killed 46 sailors, if the international armistice commission does not become involved. Reuters obtained a letter dated June 29, sent from North Korean to the United Nations, requesting direct talks with South Korea for the purpose of reinvestigating the incident.

The RevCon’s Final Document and the G8 Summit’s Final Communiqué called on North Korea to rejoin the Six Party Talks, and ultimately rejoin the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. The G8 also “deplored” the torpedo attack. Pyongyang responded by warning that it would resort to escalating the conflict if it were punished for the incident, and through its official KCNA news agency blamed the United States for rising tensions around the Korean peninsula and claimed that the situation “underscores the need for the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to bolster its nuclear deterrent in a newly developed way to cope with the US persistent hostile policy toward the DPRK and military threat toward it.” North Korea left the NPT in 2003 and while it may have enough fissile material for up to ten weapons, little is known about its holdings or even whether it has been able to successfully weaponize. North Korea was also facing fresh accusations of assisting Myanmar (Burma) in developing a nuclear weapons program, an allegation which both countries have denied.

Radiation levels near the North and South Korean borders were reported to be eight times higher than usual on May 15. Media coverage included consideration of whether the increased levels were due to a possible third nuclear explosive test by North Korea, or an accident in the region, while additional speculation linked the concentration to a dubious claim made by North Korea on May 12 that it had mastered the technology for creating a nuclear fusion reaction. However, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) had not detected any tremors that would be indicative of a nuclear test, a conclusion further supported by South Korea’s Science Ministry. Other analysis suggested that the radiation could have come from other countries, including Japan, which restarted a breeder reactor on May 6.

Further Reading


There is a controversial and expanding list of countries that have reached nuclear supply deals with India since 2008 when the Nuclear Suppliers Group ended a 34-year ban on exporting nuclear technology to India. Canada was the latest on June 28, and Japan recently commenced discussions. The talks with Tokyo are considered to be extra sensitive because of Japan’s history and stance toward nuclear weapons, and India’s possession of a nuclear arsenal outside of the NPT – a status which Japan has repeatedly criticized. The business newspaper Nikkei said that Japan has been pressured by the United States and France to agree to a deal because it would allow General Electric and Areva to use nuclear suppliers that are based in Japan for their projects in India, where both companies have already won contracts to build nuclear reactors.


President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to visit China from July 6-11 amid news that China was progressing with plans to build two nuclear reactors at the Chashma atomic complex in Pakistan, a state possessing nuclear weapons outside of the NPT framework. The development comes a few months after the United States had rebuffed entreaties from Pakistan for a deal similar to the one Washington struck for allowing the exportation of nuclear technology to India. The United States has subsequently said that the NSG should first grant approval of the arrangement before the plans go ahead. British officials have also voiced skepticism. The NSG decided in late June that it was unable to agree to the deal, because China had not provided enough information on its nuclear plans with Pakistan.

Further Reading

Missile Defense

Missile defense was the focus of renewed attention in the Senate as the Foreign Relations Committee conducted numerous hearings on the New START agreement. During a hearing on May 18, Senator Jim DeMint (Republican-South Carolina) questioned the treaty’s limitation on the development of US missile defenses and whether Russia’s understanding of the agreement could cause problems with the treaty, and subsequently requested but was been denied minutes of the US-Russian negotiations. The treaty makes indirect reference to missile defenses in the Preamble, stating that the parties “recogniz[e] the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms.” Administration officials have said that the treaty does not place any limits on missile defense other than to disallow the use of old Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) silos for constructing missile defense systems, a conversion that US officials have said would be less cost effective than building new ones. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates affirmed during the May 18th hearing, “The treaty will not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible, nor impose additional costs or barriers on those defenses.”

George N. Lewis (Cornell University) and Theodore A. Postol (MIT) wrote an article for the May edition of Arms Control Today in which they criticize the poor performance of Standard Missile (SM)-3 interceptors, which constitute the core of the Obama Administration’s “phased adaptive approach” to US missile defense. They argue that missile defense system test conditions have been unrealistic and that the success rate of intercepts has been exaggerated – based upon videos of the tests. The authors point out that sometimes a test was considered to be successful even if the interceptor hit only the body of the missile, which could result in pushing the missile off track, but not destroying the warhead and add that simple countermeasures could also thwart missile interception. Lewis and Postol warn that US policymakers should be skeptical of the missile defense track record while considering financial and political investments in the technology. In an equally highly technical rebuttal, Richard Lehner of the Missile Defense Agency points out that telemetry data (which was classified) and sensor views from the tests that the MDA had identified as successful, showed the “complete destruction of the target missiles.”

Ahead of a NATO Defense Ministers meeting in June, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asserted that the Obama Administration’s missile defense plan is not only technically feasible, but “is the kind of investment that makes sense.” He confirmed that the Allies will address at the Lisbon Summit in November the political decision to adopt the US initiative as a NATO plan. The Obama Administration was also said to be accelerating efforts for carrying forward a similar missile defense plan in the Middle East but on a more low-key basis because of Arab allies’ nervousness around explicit US military presence in the region.

Further Reading

  • Briefing to the National Research Council Committee on An Assessment
    of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in
    Comparison to Other Alternatives

    Theodore A. Postol and George N. Lewis, National Research Council,
    Washington, DC, May 19, 2010,2010_2x1.pdf

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