Getting to Zero Update

Russia and the United States have begun the exchange of information on their nuclear arsenals under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) as they assess next steps on arms control and also try to resolve their differences over missile defense. The Iranian and North Korean nuclear situations showed no signs of resolution, and instead pointed to more difficulties ahead.

The Latest from BASIC

Commitments to Arms Control and Disarmament

Country Reports

Missile Defense

Additional News and Resources

BASIC has a new weekly brief covering what is next in the world of nuclear weapons. If you would like to receive “This Week” via email, please send your request to: [email protected] with the word “subscribe to This Week” in the subject line.

The Latest from BASIC

BASIC recently released a video compilation of statements in support of the Getting to Zero agenda. The remarks were made during the Visions for a New Century event at Brian Eno’s studio in London, hosted with BASIC and the Ploughshares Fund, in February 2010. Among those interviewed include: musician Peter Gabriel, comedian Rory Bremner, and former U.K. Defence Secretary Des Browne.

View the video:

BASIC in the media and select publications:

Trident Commission
BASIC has set up an independent, cross-party commission to examine the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons policy and the issue of Trident renewal. It will consider the context of the British decision, consider the overall strategy, and the options open to the government prior to a final commitment to build the next generation of nuclear submarines.

Read more:

Commitments to Arms Control and Disarmament

New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

Russia and the United States officially began the exchange of verification information under the New START agreement in mid-March. The two parties to the treaty have completed one round of data exchanges on their nuclear warheads, strategic missiles and launchers, and long-range bombers. They have also hosted special exhibitions, with Russians viewing B-1B heavy bombers and Americans viewing the RS-24 Yars, Russia’s new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Onsite inspections may begin on April 6, which is 60 days after the treaty has entered into force.

Russia has also ratified the African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (Pelindaba) Treaty and again called for the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggested in late February that any talks on fissile materials outside the internationally-agreed forum for those discussions, the Conference on Disarmament, may actually be counterproductive because it may erode confidence in the CD. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, soon after, wielded strong language in urging agreement on an FMCT. She also criticized efforts to hold up negotiating the treaty, which, although not mentioning any particular countries, was a clear criticism of Pakistan, which has used procedural moves to prevent any progress on the treaty for some time, mostly due to competition with India.

Further Reading

“Four Statesmen” pen fourth article on reducing nuclear dangers

George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, contributed their fourth collective opinion to The Wall Street Journal advocating for reductions in nuclear weapons, titled: “Deterrence in the Age of Proliferation,” (March 7, 2011). The Four Statesmen repeated their warnings about the potential for growing nuclear dangers, and recommend that states move away from mutual assured destruction (MAD) and start working together to develop means of deterrence that rely less heavily on nuclear weapons. They also advocated addressing the conflicts that motivate countries to sustain or even build up their nuclear arsenals, and for Russia and the United States to reduce further their arsenals, in particular their tactical nuclear weapons. The article follows their meeting with other experts during a conference on deterrence, which was held at the Hoover Institution last November.
IAEA approves “Nuclear Fuel Assurance” proposal

The IAEA in early March approved a British-initiated plan designed to guarantee uninterrupted access to nuclear fuel for civilian energy. The voluntary bi-lateral arrangements would be made between nuclear supplier and recipient countries, and it is hoped would appeal to countries with developing nuclear energy programs and dissuade them from pursuing their own domestic fuel cycle, which can also be used for a nuclear weapons program. To be eligible for fuel assurance under the scheme, countries would have to be in full compliance with IAEA safeguards and other requirements, including pledging that they will use the fuel only for peaceful purposes and will safely store it. Whether this international facility is taken up by those states it is most clearly aimed at is another thing. Such multilateral arrangements are still viewed by many with suspicion, as an attempt to restrict access to technology that NPT member states have a right to under Article IV.

Japan’s nuclear troubles and their global impact

Japan has suffered its largest ever natural disaster, and the drama still unfolding at the Fukushima nuclear plant has had significant knock-on effects worldwide. The result of the India-Japan nuclear trade deal being negotiated has been thrown into doubt, although India still plans to go ahead with its massive nuclear energy infrastructure investment. Venezuela, however, has halted its plans for a nuclear program. China has also suspended all progress on new reactors as it orders a safety review. The United States is also ordering a safety review of its reactors. Europe is divided on the nuclear issue. Germany has temporarily shut down seven reactors, but France has remained more confident in its nuclear power plants. Russia, Belarus, Poland and Lithuania are all in the midst of either procuring, supplying or considering new reactors, and the Japan crisis has not dissuaded them. Indonesia, also at risk from major earthquakes, has not halted planning for its own nuclear power program. Israel, meanwhile, has begun a reconsideration of nuclear power. Russia also guaranteed the safety of a nuclear reactor it plans to build with Turkey, and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Iran’s Bushehr reactor can withstand earthquakes.

Further Reading

Country Reports

United States

Threat assessments

In early March, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper identified the major threats facing the United States, judging China as the most serious state threat, particularly for its nuclear arsenal. Russia was placed second, primarily on the grounds that the United States recently signed New START with Russia, whereas it has no comparable treaties with China. His remarks ran counter to general White House messaging that emphasizes North Korea and Iran. Clapper holds that those countries do not have the capabilities to seriously threaten the United States. The FBI has suggested that the chance of a WMD-strike on the United States was 100% “at some point” and would most likely be carried out by a terrorist organization, a lone actor or a criminal group.

Next generation of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines

The next class of nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) might feature 16 missile tubes. The current Ohio-class submarines have 24, although under New START four missile tubes on each submarine will be “inactivated,” allowing for 20 missiles per boat. The decision to opt for 16 tubes prompted questioning by some members of the House Armed Services Committee, who worried that the drop from 20-tubes might weaken the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The new head of the Strategic Forces Command, Gen. Robert Kehler, has said that 16 tubes should be sufficient to meet any possible future threats.
Nuclear guidance

President Barack Obama last year ordered a review of key nuclear guidance on force structure and deployment, and it has recently been revealed that the Department of Defense has started the work with the intention of completing it later this year. This has prompted 41 Republican Senators, some of whom voted for ratification of New START with the Russians, to sign a letter initiated by Sen. Jon Kyl, urging the President to consult with Congress before making any significant changes to the guidance.

Further Reading

United Kingdom

Defence Secretary Liam Fox stated that for the moment there could be no downsizing of the SSBN fleet based around the Trident missile, until such time that this could be considered without compromising Continuous at Sea Deterrence (CASD). Fox said in mid-March that the Initial Gate decision on the replacement fleet should happen within the coming weeks, after a considerable delay caused by the complexity of decisions over technical details, particularly the choice of reactor.

Flaws were discovered in the reactors of deployed nuclear submarines, including the current Vanguard-class SSBN fleet and those being installed in the new Astute-class attack submarines. The information has been revealed through the declassification of a submission on the successor submarine project to the Defence Board. According to the submission, the reactors on the submarines could leak and cause a radiation hazard up to 1.5km out from the submarine itself. Decisions over the reactor design for the successor program have apparently contributed to the delay in reaching the Initial Gate phase of the project, but it now appears that the decision has been taken on safety grounds to opt for the new PWR3 designs, currently used by the U.S. navy. This is likely to significantly increase the overall costs of the project, and could introduce further delays in the timetable.

Further Reading


The Russian navy is expected to receive its new submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), the Bulava, this year. The Bulava has faced a number of problems during testing. Russia also anticipates purchasing two SSBNs and 36 ICBMs. However, Russia is not expecting to build its new long-range bomber until 2025, with the design to be completed by 2020. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia will double its missile production output starting in 2013.

Further Reading


The IAEA’s latest report on Iran’s compliance with its safeguards agreement and U.N. Security Council resolutions held little in the way of new and substantial developments. The Agency confirmed that Iran was enriching uranium apace, despite having experienced a setback in which it had to remove 1,000 centrifuges, possibly as a result of the Stuxnet computer virus. The IAEA was unable to report any progress on receiving requested information about Iran’s nascent Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant near Qom, and affirmed that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Iran was in the midst of pushing to upgrade its uranium enrichment facilities, moving from the current IR-1 centrifuges to carbon fiber IR-2 or IR-4 centrifuges. This improvement would increase the efficiency of uranium enrichment and significantly reduce the time necessary for ‘break-out’. However, it has been estimated that the entire centrifuge upgrade process may take as long as two years.

The latest U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) suggests that the Iranian leadership has been divided over whether or not to pursue nuclear weapons and that Tehran is several years away from having a nuclear weapons capability. Robert Einhorn, special advisor for non-proliferation and arms control at the State Department, went on the record to say that he believes that at the very least, Iran is “moving to the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability.”

Iran informed inspectors that it had run into significant trouble at the Bushehr nuclear reactor in February, which required them to unload 163 fuel rods. The problem was apparently the result of a damaged cooling pump and not Stuxnet.

Iran is reported to have been trying to obtain Norwegian missile technology, possibly for use in a potential nuclear warhead delivery system. Both South Korea and Singapore have seized possible nuclear or missile components bound for Iran in the past six months, indicating that it may be stepping up its smuggling operations in response to the latest round of international sanctions. Malaysia has recently seized equipment from two cargo containers believed to contain materials that could be used in nuclear weapons programs. They have begun the process of verification, but note that this process could take weeks or even months and that Malaysia is also seeking information from China, from which the containers had been shipped.

Iranian officials have been suggesting engagement in cooperative nuclear deals with other states in the region, covering trade in both nuclear goods and services, although there were few details. There have been a number of cautionary interceptions of exports from Iran recently, but no clear indication of illicit activity.
Further Reading

North Korea

News came to light in mid-February of work underway on a second launch facility in Dongchang-ri, near the northwest border with China, but there was no clear indication of actual plans for missile testing. Speculation also rose of an imminent third nuclear test, shortly following the revelation that new tunnels were being dug in the underground mines at Punggye-ri, where it had held its two nuclear tests so far. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warned that North Korea may have succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear warheads to a sufficient extent that they could be mounted on missiles and aircraft. The exact number is unknown, but is believed to be “several.”

Reflecting widespread fears, U.S. Admiral Robert Willard, commander in the Pacific, suggested that the North might even attack again. He warned that South Korean tolerance will be very low. Verbal exchanges between the two countries have been more heated and the South recently refused the North’s offer of unconditional talks on its uranium enrichment operation, asserting that the proposal lacked substance. The South reiterated their refusal a couple of days later, suggesting that the talks offer was “far short of acceptable.” Some politicians even called for the return of U.S. tactical nuclear missiles to South Korea as a deterrent against the North, but the South Korean Defense Minister said there would be no such action.

Despite Chinese objections, the United Nations is looking into recommendations on tightening sanctions, which include, (as mentioned by Reuters): “proposals on tightening controls in transit countries for North Korean arms shipments, tougher air cargo measures, widening definitions of banned goods and possible addition of names to lists of sanctioned firms and persons.”

North Korea has recently contacted the Russians and suggested that they are ready to discuss their enrichment program. Russia in turn has been “very critical” of the North Korean nuclear program, according to Seoul’s ambassador to Moscow, but may be cautious in its support for stronger measures for fear of harming its relationship with China. The United States, meanwhile, has refused the offer of direct military talks with North Korea in January and is instead working with South Korea to secure a U.N. Security Council statement to condemn North Korea’s nuclear program.

Further Reading

Pakistan and India

Pakistan is believed to possess well over 100 nuclear warheads (an increase of 40% in two years), and is expected to soon possess the fifth largest nuclear arsenal, overtaking Britain. Most are miniaturized and can be mounted on its ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,245 miles, placing most Indian cities at risk.

In Senate hearings on March 16, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus emphasized that although Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are safe and secure, terrorist groups still hope to obtain them. There are concerns over extremists in India as well. The Minister of State for Home Affairs asserted to the Lok Sabha (lower house of the parliament) that India’s nuclear power plants remain at risk from terrorist attack, and the security challenges will only increase as India builds new nuclear power plants.

A U.S. Federal jury indicted Maryland resident and Pakistani national, Nadeem Akhtar, for allegedly exporting to blacklisted Pakistani organizations materials that could have nuclear-related applications, including nuclear-grade resins, calibration machinery and radiation sensors.

Further Reading


In an apparent U-turn, Syria will allow another inspection related to its suspected nuclear activities, on April 1. The trip, however, is limited to the acid purification plant at Homs, where uranium concentrate is a byproduct, so will not alleviate ongoing concerns. The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Glyn Davies, says this indicates only “relatively minor” cooperation. Syria allowed a one-off inspection in June 2008 at Dair Alzour, the site of an Israeli air raid claimed by Syria to be a non-nuclear military installation, where the inspectors found significant and unexplained traces of man-made uranium. Calls have been made for the IAEA to conduct a special inspection without notice, which would be healthy for the IAEA process as this mechanism was last used in North Korea in 1993. However, the experience then was hardly encouraging—the North Koreans still managed to withhold inspector access. The IAEA reported no other substantial progress in its latest assessment of Syria’s implementation of its safeguards agreement.

The Institute for Science and International Security published satellite photos of what was alleged to be a second nuclear facility, linked to the target bombed by Israel in 2007. The photos, dated from soon after the IAEA inspection request in May 2008, show heightened signs of activity and ISIS fields concerns that the Syrians emptied the buildings and tried to disguise them before the inspection.

Further Reading

Missile Defense

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Moscow this week to meet with officials on a range of issues, including missile defense. U.S. missile defense initiatives have long been a sore point for Russians because they fear that the technology will eventually undermine their nuclear deterrent. A decision taken under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Council last year has committed the two countries to finding common ground. Possible agreement has centered on a plan for the two countries to exchange launch data and share a facility where Russian and NATO militaries would have equal access to missile threat data from Russian and NATO radar systems. The key meeting between Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Secretary Gates, however, was overshadowed by the recently-launched U.S. and allied military operations over Libya and the two officials apparently failed to make much headway over the missile defense impasse.

Further Reading

Additional News and Resources

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