Getting to Zero Update

NATO proceeded quietly with its Strategic Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, while U.S. and Russian disagreements over missile defense continued. The United States was also conducting a review of nuclear targeting. In the United Kingdom, the “successor” to the Vanguard-class submarine that carries Trident missiles officially entered “Initial Gate,” or the initial design phase. These developments were taking place behind the scenes of more visible diplomatic maneuvers. U.S. President Barack Obama is currently on a week-long visit to Europe, during which time the United States and United Kingdom are to formally announce the establishment of a joint National Security Strategy Board, before the President heads to France for the G8 Summit.

The Latest from BASIC

Commitments to Arms Control and Disarmament

Country Reports

Missile Defense

Additional News and Resources

The Latest from BASIC

BASIC and the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC) held a briefing on Capitol Hill on Next steps in nuclear negotiations, which included expert presentations on Russian-U.S. arms control relations and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), from Pavel Podvig, Ed Ifft, and Raymond Willemann.

BASIC, in cooperation with the Peace Union of Finland, organized a roundtable event on “NATO´s Nuclear Deterrence and Defense: A Nordic perspective.” The discussion was part of a project on NATO’s nuclear posture, by BASIC, the Arms Control Association (ACA), and the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH). On May 23-24, these organizations were joined by ISIS Europe in hosting a conference in Brussels on “Revising NATO’s Nuclear Deterrence Posture: Prospects for Change” (draft agenda, PDF). Visit BASIC’s website for future reports on these meetings and see related publications, below.


Latest from the Nuclear Policy Paper series on NATO’s nuclear posture, a joint project by ACA, BASIC, and IFSH:

Other select articles from BASIC:

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, the overall strategy, and the options open to the government prior to a final commitment to build the next generation of nuclear submarines.

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Commitments to Arms Control and Disarmament

Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe

NATO formally but quietly began its Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) during its Foreign Ministers meeting in Germany, held on April 14-15. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned that the DDPR, which will cover the appropriate “mix of conventional, nuclear, and missile defense forces NATO will need going forward,” should be completed by the time of the next alliance summit, to be held in the United States in 2012.

Also during the meeting, Poland, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands, shared with NATO’s Secretary General their “non-paper” (PDF, available on the website of the Federation of American Scientists) that proposes seven measures for “increasing transparency and promoting confidence with regard to tactical nuclear weapons in Europe” between NATO and Russia. The measures included: using the NATO Russia Council (NRC) as the main forum for confidence building measures; exchanging information on their tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) arsenals; “seek[ing] to agree on a standard reporting formula” for the arsenals; notifying each other on a voluntary basis of their plans to move TNWs; exchanging visits between military officials; exchanging “conditions and requirements for gradual reductions” of TNWs in Europe; and, holding an NRC seminar on nuclear doctrines, with a focus on TNWs. Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Slovakia also declared their support for the approach.

Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and WMD terrorism, said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that “big challenges” remain for U.S.-Russian talks on tactical nuclear weapons.He noted the disparity between U.S. and Russian numbers of these weapons and the varying emphasis placed upon them in respective U.S. and Russian military doctrine. However, he does see some hope because the smaller number of Russian TNWs compared to the height of the Cold War and their apparent central storage allows “for greater transparency, which is where we think we need to begin: an exchange of information on numbers, types (and) locations, to set a baseline so we can then begin a conversation about possible agreements for reductions.”  Former Ambassador Steven Pifer said during a panel discussion at the Arms Control Association’s Annual meeting that U.S. Administration officials have said that they can “conceive” of a negotiated withdrawal of U.S. TNWs from Europe, but that this would depend on what the rest of such an agreement contained.

The Dutch peace group IKV PAX Christi has published a report on NATO member country opinions on U.S. nuclear deployments in Europe. The report (PDF) concludes that “there is sufficient political will within NATO to end the deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe” although acknowledges that leaders from some countries, including particularly Hungary, Lithuania, and France, were opposed to withdrawal and that relying on negotiations with Russia to move the process forward would indeed be difficult.

Further Reading

New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

Russia and the United States were continuing to carrying out the verification provisions of New START with the first on-site inspections having begun during the first half of April.

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee has passed an amendment to the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would disallow any reductions agreed under New START through 2017 unless the Departments of Energy and Defense first certify to Congress that they are following through on previously promised modernization plans for the nuclear weapons complex, and places other restrictions on implementing the treaty or making future reductions. However, the bill was still due to be debated on the House floor and will also need to pass through consideration by the Senate.
Further Reading

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

Speaking before the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association in Washington, DC, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher spoke of her strong support for the U.S. ratification of the CTBT, and announced that the Administration still intends to launch an “educational” effort on the treaty. However, Undersecretary Tauscher made clear that the administration would take as much time as necessary in order to make the case for the treaty’s ratification, which she said centered around three issues: 1.) The United States no longer needs to test nuclear weapons; 2.) a CTBT in force will obligate other states not to test; and, 3.) the marked improvement in capabilities to detect cheating. During the same event, Democratic Senators Robert Casey (Pennsylvania) and Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) both expressed doubts about whether a vote would take place before 2012 and sensed that much work will need to be done before two-thirds of the Senate would support the treaty.
Further Reading

Conference on Disarmament (CD)

The second session of the CD began in Geneva on May 16 and will run until July 1. Leaders did not expect to make any progress on breaking the impasse over a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) within the 65-member CD, in which Pakistan has been blamed for blocking negotiations.The United States was consulting with France and the United Kingdom on moving the FMCT process outside of the Conference.
Further Reading

Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones

On May 2, U.S. President Barack Obama submitted to the Senate for advice and consent for ratification Protocols I and II of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (“Pelindaba”) Treaty and Protocols 1, 2, and 3 of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (“Rarotonga”) Treaty. According to a White House statement, the treaties “reinforce both the commitment of nations not to pursue nuclear weapons and the nearly 65-year record of their non-use. The protocols to the treaties, once ratified, will extend the policy of the United States not to use or threaten use of nuclear weapons against regional zone parties that are members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in good standing with their non-proliferation obligations.” The statement also noted that the United States will pursue similar agreements for the other two treaties in force for Southeast Asia and Central Asia.

There has been reluctance among Republicans to permit hearings on the Pelindaba and Rarotonga protocols, which would require two-thirds approval in the Senate for ratification, with Senator Jon Kyl (Arizona), for example, disapproving of the associated declaratory policy.
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Country Reports


The United States is undergoing a re-evaluation of its nuclear force levels and targeting. President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon, wrote in the Financial Times on April 17 that the evaluation will develop new options for more reductions in deployed strategic, and also “non-deployed and tactical nuclear weapons,” and prepare the United States for further arms control negotiations with Russia. In an interview with Arms Control Today, White House coordinator for arms control and WMD terrorism, Gary Samore, said of the review, “It’s likely to take quite a bit of time because we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations. Reductions below the level that we have now are going to require some more fundamental questions about force structure.”

When asked during a Pentagon news briefing on May 18 whether he still would consider eliminating one leg of the nuclear triad within the context of budget pressures, Defense Secretary Robert Gates responded, “If the political leadership of this country decides that it must reduce the investment in defense by hundreds of billions of dollars, then I don’t think we can afford to have anything that’s off the table.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) admonished the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to incorporate long-term risk planning into the Life Extension Programs (LEP) for nuclear warheads, or they could incur serious schedule and cost problems.The GAO focused its report on how the United States will be hard-pressed to meet its current B-61 LEP goals. The full B-61 LEP is to combine four existing B-61 variants into one that would ultimately be assigned to both U.S. strategic aircraft and the tactical nuclear-capable aircraft in Europe for NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements.

Further Reading


On May 18, the Trident successor nuclear weapons submarine project officially moved into the early design phase known as “Initial Gate.” The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) website affirmed that “the main build decision for the submarines will not be taken until 2016, more detailed design work will be undertaken and long-lead items ordered so that the first submarine is delivered in 2028.” Defence Secretary Liam Fox (Conservative) said, “We do not know how the international environment will change over the next 50 years and we cannot dismiss the possibility that a direct nuclear threat to the UK might emerge,” with the MoD release stating that the successor program will provide for a “UK nuclear deterrent well into the 2060s.”

The MoD’s plans were provided in greater detail in its “Initial Gate Parliamentary Report.” MoD will also conduct an 18-month review of alternatives, to be led by the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner that has been opposed to a full replacement of the current Vanguard-class fleet.

The government has agreed to select Pressurized Water Reactor 3 to power the successor submarines.The decision may add an additional several billion pounds to the program’s original cost estimates of over £20 billion. The nuclear reactors that are in the current Vanguard fleet, and still being installed on the Astute-class attack submarines, have additional safety risks [see GTZ Update March 2011] that would preclude the successor program from using similar designs. The decisions around the successor submarine’s reactor contributed partly to the delay in entering the Initial Gate phase.


Russia will attempt another test of the submarine-launched Bulava missile from the Dmitry Donskoi in mid-June. The embattled Bulava program had been put on hold after a higher-than-anticipated number of test failures. The Defense Ministry has said that four more successful tests of the Bulava would allow it to enter service by the end of the year. Russian officials also plan to use new Borei class submarines to attempt their first tests of the Bulava this year. Russia has also conducted two tests of the long-range Sineva missile within the past month.

During his annual address to lawmakers, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin repeated his country’s commitment to double its manufacturing rate of missiles starting in 2013. Russian officials have also recently repeated warnings that they will bolster their country’s missile capabilities if they see U.S. and NATO missile defense plans as threatening to their nuclear deterrent. (See the section on Missile Defense below.)

Further Reading


South Korea’s President Lee Myung-Bak had called on North Korea to renounce nuclear weapons, and in return, Pyongyang would have a seat at the next Nuclear Security Summit, which will take place in Seoul in 2012. But North Korea quickly rejected the offer and conveyed intentions to continue its nuclear program. On May 15, U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth began a visit to South Korea for talks on North Korea’s nuclear program and also on food aid to the country.

Meanwhile, Reuters has released excerpts from a U.N. panel report on North Korean sanctions. The panel alleges that North Korea and Iran have been exchanging ballistic missile technology in violation of international sanctions. However, the panel concluded that the sanctions have made North Korea’s nuclear program and missile activities more difficult to pursue.

Further Reading


Chinese leaders visited Washington, DC in early and mid-May as part of stepped-up efforts to improve dialogue and trust between the two governments.Policy officials from both countries took part in the U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue series of meetings. These were followed by military to military discussions at their highest level in seven years. The talks took place against the backdrop of a number of tension points, including economic disagreements, the U.S. continuing its arms sales to Taiwan, China extending its support for Pakistan’s nuclear energy program, and the United States wanting China to increase pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. Days later, China was trying to rebuff allegations stemming from a U.N. investigation that it has served as a transshipment area for illicit trading of ballistic missile technology between Iran and North Korea.

China has released its “white paper” on defense: China’s National Defense in 2010. The document offers little information on the nuclear forces specifically, and where it does, it reaffirms previously stated positions: “China consistently upholds the policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, adheres to a self-defensive nuclear strategy, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”  The Paper also includes a review of its positions on “Arms Control and Disarmament,” which includes calling on other nuclear weapons states to “negotiate and conclude a treaty on no-first-use of nuclear weapons against each other.”

Further Reading


The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) analyzed a satellite photo obtained by Newsweek and concluded that Pakistan was completing construction of a fourth plutonium nuclear reactor, which could enable Pakistan to double the rate at which it can make nuclear weapons.

Scrutiny of Pakistan’s government and nuclear arsenal rose again after it was revealed that before he was killed by U.S. forces, Osama bin Laden had been hiding in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, for five years – either with the ignorance or acquiescence of the Pakistani military. Militants raided a naval base in Karachi on May 22. Pakistani forces retook the base after 17 hours of fighting, but the attack added to the anxiety over the security of Pakistani military locations.

Writing in an article which also appeared in Newsweek, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, A.Q. Khan, defended the program and argued that nuclear deterrence has protected Pakistan from a fate similar to Iraq or Libya’s: “Don’t overlook the fact that no nuclear-capable country has been subjected to aggression or occupied, or had its borders redrawn.”

Further Reading


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors produced on May 24 its regular update on the “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of SecurityCouncil resolutions.” This latest report [PDF made available by the Institute for Science and International Security] noted that no substantial progress had been made in determining that all of Iran’s nuclear activities have been in peaceful purposes. In particular, the report reiterated concerns about alleged “activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” and that since the last report, the “Agency has received further information related to such possible undisclosed nuclear related activities, which is currently being assessed by theAgency.” The report also stated that there are still “indications that certain of these activities may have continued beyond 2004.”

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, had sent a formal letter to EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton in early May saying that Tehran is willing to join in more talks over its nuclear program with the P5+1/E3+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States). President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced frustration with the subsequent and apparent rejection coming from the EU, whose representative said that Iran’s request for a resumption of talks indicated no new proposals or concessions that would lead to addressing concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. During a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 17, Lady Ashton indicated that she was still working on a formal reply to Tehran, and would be continuing consultations with the United States and other partners first.

Within recent days, the EU blacklisted more individuals and companies for their connections to Iran’s nuclear program and the United States also imposed sanctions against more foreign entities for having conducted business with Iran’s energy sector. Earlier in May, U.N. investigators reported that sanctions were slowing Iran’s nuclear program overall. Also, U.N. investigators have alleged that Iran and North Korea have been sharing ballistic missile technology in violation of international sanctions.

In conjunction with National Nuclear Technology Day observances in early April, Iranian officials lauded their country’s nuclear accomplishments in the midst of an intensifying sanctions regime and the Stuxnet computer virus that plagued the nuclear program last year. They also announced the successful testing of advanced centrifuges, which would replace their older model centrifuges currently in operation. However, experts are dubious about Iran’s current ability to mass produce advanced centrifuges in the near future.

Russian engineers completed a successful pre-launch test of the Bushehr nuclear reactor, which is to be used for electrical supply. The plant has incurred numerous setbacks, with a significant technical problem delaying its launch back in February, which necessitated the unloading of fuel rods. Bushehr began low-level operations in mid-May and Iranian officials have said that the plant should now begin full operations by July.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the U.S. Congress on May 24, warning that the United States will need to sustain international pressure on Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons: “The more Iran believes that all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation.” Earlier in May, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Haaretz that even if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, that it would probably not use them against Israel.

Further Reading


The IAEA Board of Governors produced on May 24 a report on the “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic” [PDF made available by the Institute for Science and International Security]. The report focused on Dair Alzour, a site to which the IAEA has been requesting more access for several years. U.S. intelligence alleges that Damascus had been building an undeclared nuclear reactor at Dair Alzour, with the assistance of North Korea, before it was bombed by Israel in 2007. The report concludes that the site was “very likely” a nuclear reactor, contrary to Syria’s contentions, and that Syria should have declared the reactor to the Agency. U.S. and some European leaders have been attempting to intensify pressure on the Syrian government to allow a fuller IAEA inspection of Syria’s program, especially while the Assad government is under the new and added stress of domestic political protests.

Missile Defense

NATO and Russia were still attempting to seek common ground over ballistic missile defense ahead of the NATO-Russia Council Defense Ministers meeting in June. In mid-May, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev again called on NATO to give Russia an equal role in missile defense architecture in Europe. President Medvedev also warned the United States during a press conference a week before the G8 Summit, “If we don’t work this out, then we will have to take steps to counter it … we are talking about forcing the development of our nuclear strike potential.” “This would be a very bad scenario, a scenario that would throw us back to the Cold War era.”  Moscow has lobbied for one shared system, or one that would have their systems cover responsibility for certain sectors, whereas Washington and Brussels have insisted that missile defense systems and coverage for Europe remain independent and separate from Russian control. Russian leaders have also called for specific legal guarantees from the United States that missile defense will not threaten Russia by undermining its nuclear deterrent, but key U.S. lawmakers have expressed opposition to such an agreement. Presidents Medvedev and Obama are expected to discuss missile defense on the sidelines of the G8 Summit in Deauville, France on May 26-27.

The United States conducted a test of the shipboard Aegis combat system on April 15 in the Pacific Ocean. The system is part of the Obama Administration’s Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) plan for developing missile defense for the United States and allies. The SM-3 missile successfully intercepted the intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) target, which had a range of over 1,900 miles (about 3,058 km) – the longest to date. It was also the first test of the Aegis system to rely on missile tracking data from a remote radar. However, this test did not include a target with countermeasures, which would replicate more realistic operational conditions.

The United States and Romania made a joint announcement on May 4 that the former will deploy Aegis Ashore SM-3 missile interceptors at the Soviet-built Deveselu Air Base in southern Romania by 2015 as part of Phase II of the four-phase PAA. The planned versions of these interceptors (SM-3 Block 1B), however, are not exactly the same as the ones that were used in the April 15 test, which were SM-3 Block 1A. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has raised questions about the MDA’s production and testing schedule and making commitments to deploy the Aegis Ashore system in Europe before full testing takes place.

Further Reading

Additional News and Resources

UK launch of “Countdown to Zero”

“Countdown to Zero” is being launched in the United Kingdom on June 21, 2011. The film will screen simultaneously at venues across the United Kingdom and Ireland and then link up live to London’s BAFTA for a high-profile panel discussion.

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