Getting to Zero Update

Nuclear weapons non-proliferation and disarmament developments seemed to be caught in a holding pattern, despite the upswing in news on the Iran and North Korea programs during recent weeks, including the release of the more detailed IAEA report on Iran’s alleged nuclear weaponization efforts. The United States and NATO were continuing, very quietly, with their own strategic and policy reviews. They had not made any progress on reaching a resolution over missile defense with Russia. The most concrete step forward was the naming of a facilitator for the 2012 conference on a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East.


The Latest from BASIC



BASIC Trident Commission

The BASIC Trident Commission held a “Question Time” in the Palace of Westminster on October 31 in London. Panelists included: Baroness Shirley Williams; Dr. Julian Lewis, MP; Sir David Omand, former senior official, UK Ministry of Defence; Tim Hare, former director, nuclear policy, UK Ministry of Defence; and Prof. Michael Clarke of RUSI, with Anita Anand of the BBC chairing.

Panelists answered questions about the future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons posture and the relevant global security environment. Paul Ingram produced a summary of the event.

In conjunction with the event, BASIC consultant Dr. Ian Kearns produced the first study for the Commission: “Beyond the United Kingdom: Trends in the Other Nuclear Armed States”.



Workshop on a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East


BASIC brought together a small group of experts in Malta in early September for an exchange of ideas and perspectives on realizing a 2012 conference on a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East. Moderator Paul Ingram provided a personal summary of the issues that the facilitator of the conference will need to consider, addressing issues such as political interests, process and timing, transparency, and broader regional developments.




The future of NATO’s nuclear weapons
Amb. Rolf Nikel, Nuclear Policy Paper, No. 9 in a series put together by the Arms Control Association, BASIC, and the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, November 2011.



This Week – A view on what is coming up in the nuclear world:



BASIC in the Media (external links)




Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East


BASIC’s meeting in Malta was held before the announcement that Finland will be hosting the 2012 Conference on a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East. The Finnish Under-Secretary of State, Jaakko Laajava, has been named as the facilitator of the conference. Attending states have not yet been confirmed as Laajava has indicated he will be holding talks with relevant countries in order to secure their participation. It is widely expected that all of the Arab states will attend. If the conference is going to have any significance, however, the participation of Iran and Israel will be crucial. Iran is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but has been designated by the United Nations as in violation of its treaty obligations. Israel is not a member of the NPT and the only nation in the region with nuclear weapons, although its arsenal remains undeclared. As the main sponsors of the original initiative proposing the establishment of a WMD-Free Zone in the region, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia are also expected to participate in the conference.


Further Reading


U.N. Secretary General renews plea for disarmament

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reiterated his plea for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation at the U.N. Nuclear Disarmament Conference on October 24, 2011. The secretary general stated that he wanted to “see disarmament facts on the ground,” calling for leadership by nuclear-weapon States, greater effort to bring the CTBT into force, and more transparency by nuclear-weapon States on their disarmament efforts. He also reiterated the need for nuclear-weapon States to maintain their pledge not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear State, and called for the elimination of other types of WMD and for the development of controls over missiles, space weapons, and conventional arms. Disarmament, the secretary general noted, is “weapon reduction,” by which he means “weapon destruction.” A key component of this effort is international verification, including over the disposition of fissile materials. He also called for the ratification of nuclear-weapon free zones in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.


Further Reading

  • Perception in First Committee ‘World Cannot Afford to Stand Still’ on Disarmament, but Divergent Views Emerge on Reasons for Stagnation, Ways to Overcome it
    United Nations General Assembly, GA/DIS/3445, October 25, 2011
  • New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms
    U.S. State Department, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Fact Sheet, October 25, 2011 (figures as of September 1, 2011, taken from required data exchange between Russia and the United States)



United States

U.S. lawmakers have sought to offer proposals for how nuclear weapons-related programs will be treated among pending budget reductions, which currently face a deadline of November 23. Representative Ed Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts) has called for cutting $20 billion a year from nuclear weapons-related programs for the next ten years, which he has highlighted in a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the “Super Committee”. Senator Tom Coburn (Republican-Oklahoma) has also called for reducing the nuclear weapons force structure, saying such cuts could save $79 billion. However, support for reductions in nuclear weapons spending is not unanimous. The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner (Republican-Ohio) and panel member Martin Heinrich (Democrat-New Mexico), called for Obama to request again this year a funding anomaly to protect nuclear weapons-related programs from pending government cuts.

The United States continued its strategic guidance review in order to plan for the military’s potential use of nuclear weapons. The review process with the military is set to conclude by the end of this year, and may identify where cuts could be made in order to go to levels lower than those agreed under New START, and could also help to inform where budget savings might be made. The entire process will go into next year, and will include the production of a new presidential “policy directive”, new war plans, a revised list of targets and other requirements for nuclear forces.

Shortly before ending his term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen was asked by BASIC Program Director Anne Penketh what his personal views were on possibly eliminating one leg of the nuclear triad. He responded:

“At some point in time, that triad becomes very, very expensive, you know, obviously, the smaller your nuclear arsenal is. And it’s – so at some point in time, in the future, certainly I think a decision will have to be made in terms of whether we keep the triad or drop it down to a dyad. I didn’t see us near that in this recent – over the last couple of years, with respect to the New START. But I spent enough time to know, at some point, that is going to be the case.”

The transcript from the session from September is available online at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Further Reading


  • Leading With Diplomacy to Strengthen Stability in Space
    Frank A. Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
    Remarks before the USSTRATCOM Cyber and Space Symposium in Omaha, Nebraska
    November 17, 2011




The Russian navy recently completed a test-launch of a Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from the White Sea. The launch was the third successful attempt in a row, after Russia had suffered a string of setbacks with the program. The Bulava’s warheads ultimately reached a testing range on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Pacific, following a journey of 3,500 miles (5,500 km). The Bulava has a maximum range of 5,600 miles (9,000 km) and can carry multiple independently-targeted nuclear warheads. The missile was launched from a new Borey-class nuclear submarine, which is designed to hold up to 16 missiles. Russia is planning for a total of eight Borey-class submarines, and will gradually phase out the Soviet-era Typhoon-class. Russian officials have emphasized that the Bulava is specially designed to evade and overcome any potential missile defense systems. Russia hopes to conduct one more test of the Bulava before the end of the year.


Further Reading




United Kingdom

In the wake of Liam Fox’s resignation in mid-October as Defence Secretary, speculation ensued over whether his replacement, previous Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, would be as adamant on going ahead with the full successor program for the Trident nuclear weapons submarine system. Dr. Fox was known for his threat to resign if the successor submarine plans were scrapped. Hammond had been absent during a key vote on Trident, and has a reputation for focusing on budget lines – also having served as the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury during the previous government. These factors have lead some to speculate that he will be more open to reconsidering Trident replacement with an eye toward cutting costs from a program now projected to reach about £25 billion. However, when asked about Trident in a radio interview, Hammond stated that he was “absolutely committed to the Trident program and always [has] been”.


Further Reading





In early November, Australia witnessed an intensifying debate over whether to approve uranium exports to India. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill pushed their ruling Labor Party to allow Australia to sell uranium to India. So far Australia has refused to join a number of other countries, including the United States, on forging nuclear-related agreements with India because India is not a signatory to the NPT, and some believe that providing uranium to the country will exacerbate a nuclear arms race in South Asia. Indian officials contend that Australia should not hold back uranium exports, especially given that Australia is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which had lifted the ban on civilian nuclear energy-related supplies for India in 2008.


Further Reading





Pakistani officials were reeling from a report in the December edition of The Atlantic (“The Ally from Hell”) which cites unnamed U.S. and Pakistani officials acknowledging that nuclear weapons are transported around the country in relatively unsecure vehicles, among other highly critical claims. The article, authored by Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder, also includes U.S. intelligence and military officials saying that U.S. forces train for scenarios in which they would seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal during a crisis. Pakistani officials have continued to deny that the country’s nuclear weapons are vulnerable to terrorist acquisition, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the report “pure fiction”, but has since announced that the country would task an additional 8,000 personnel with maintaining security around the arsenal.
Further Reading



On November 8, IAEA head Yukiya Amano released another safeguards report on Iran, which included more details on suspected Iranian nuclear weapons-related research and development efforts. The report points to information obtained by the IAEA and other members and confirmed by IAEA inspectors suggesting that Iran has worked in the past on designs and tests for an implosion nuclear device, computer modeling of a nuclear warhead, and designs for a miniaturized nuclear payload that would be fitted on a ballistic missile. It said that some weapons activities “may still be ongoing”.
The IAEA report also points to information on critical assistance from foreign sources, including Vyacheslav Danilenko, a former Russian nuclear scientist. IAEA information indicates Danilenko provided research papers and lectures for Iran’s Physics Research Center, a now defunct facility connected to the country’s nuclear program, as a contractor for a period of five years. Danilenko denies the allegations.

Iran has responded by calling the accusations baseless and maintains its claim that the IAEA’s information is based on forgeries. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also stated that Iran “will not budge an iota” from its path in the face of mounting international pressure. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Iran would address the allegations, and would be submitting to Amano a detailed written response on the report.

The United States and allies have been considering the imposition of more sanctions, pointing to both the alleged Iranian-linked assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States and as a response to the latest IAEA report’s conclusions. Debate within the United States has ensued over whether Iran’s Central Bank would be an appropriate target for further international penalties because of the potential for world oil prices to jump as a result. China and Russia were still against any new round of sanctions. However, both countries have joined the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany in producing a resolution for the IAEA on November 17 to show their unanimous agreement over their “deep and increasing concern” over Iran’s nuclear program. However this compromise resolution did not produce a renewed referral to the U.N. Security Council or issue a deadline.

Meanwhile, Amano has sent a letter to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization requesting that Iran grant a special visit from the IAEA to permit inspectors to further investigate aspects of the nuclear program related to allegations raised in the IAEA’s latest report.


Further Reading





North Korea

Direct talks between U.S. and North Korean officials in Geneva at the end of October were described as “useful” by special U.S. envoy Clifford Hart. It was only the second such instance of dialogue since the six-party talks collapsed in 2009 when North Korea backed out, following the imposition of U.N. sanctions in response to its second nuclear test.
U.S. officials indicated that the goal of the “exploratory” discussions was to lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula in an attempt to avoid any “miscalculations” by Pyongyang. Another U.S. goal has been to help restart engagement between South and North Korea. However, expectations are low for these talks to jump-start the six-party process, which included the United States, North Korea, Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan. While North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has stated that he wishes to see nuclear negotiations recommence without preconditions, but the United States and South Korea have insisted that Pyongyang halt nuclear operations and pledge not to attack the South before the six-party talks can resume.

On a week-long tour of Asia, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressed skepticism about the possibilities for success. He called on North Korea to halt its nuclear activities. “Denuclearization means they have to stop testing, they have to stop developing weapons, they have to stop enriching in violation of international rules and requirements, and they have to allow the IAEA to go in and inspect those facilities,” he said. President Barack Obama visited the region in mid-November, and during his address to the Australian Parliament warned Pyongyang that it would face repercussions if it failed to reverse its current nuclear efforts.


Further Reading




After years of refusing IAEA demands for further visits to the country to investigate the site of a suspected nascent nuclear reactor at Dair Alzour, Syria permitted IAEA officials to visit the country in mid-October, but then they were denied access to visit specifically-requested sites. Agency Director General Amano reported in his address to the Board of Governors meeting on November 17 that the Agency has since been unable to resolve the dispute with Syria. Damascus denies that its activities in Dair Alzour were for a military nuclear program. Israel bombed the suspect facility in 2007.


Further Reading




Missile Defense 

In mid-September, a number of NATO member states further solidified their plans to host different parts of the Alliance’s emerging missile defense architecture. Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an agreement to formalize Romania’s offer to host U.S. missile interceptors. The United States will establish a facility at the Deveselu Air Base near Caracal in southern Romania, where SM-3 ballistic missiles will be stationed beginning in 2015. A U.S. accord with Poland entered into force, allowing the United States to move ahead with stationing land-based SM-3 interceptor missiles in the “2018 timeframe”. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry announced its agreement to install an early warning radar system in the southeast region of the country, with the United States planning for deployment by the end of this year. During NATO’s defense ministers meeting in Brussels in early October, Spain announced that it would host four U.S. Aegis ships at Rota Naval Station on the country’s southwestern coast.


Russia remained unsatisfied with emerging U.S. and NATO plans to expand missile defense throughout Europe and the potential long-term impact on Russia’s deterrent capabilities. NATO continued to put forward offers to Moscow on sharing data and coordination. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency in October offered to host Russian observers during a missile defense test. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the offer “propagandistic”.


Moscow has pushed for other options, including jointly-running missile defense, and calling for legal assurances that the United States and NATO will not target Russia with the system. Such agreements are unlikely because the United States is unwilling to share sensitive technology with Russia or place limits on its missile defenses. During a NATO-Russia meeting in October 2011, Russia’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, stated that talks with the United States on missile defense are “still at a dead end”.

Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has warned that if the system becomes a threat to Russian security, a renewed arms race could ensue with Russia deploying new offensive weapons in response. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reemphasized this warning saying that Russia would pursue actions of a “technically military nature” in the event that NATO does not mitigate Russia’s concerns. During conversations between Presidents Medvedev and Obama in November, the two agreed to continue seeking a resolution to the impasse. Russian officials also noted that they may be seeking more discussions with the United Kingdom serving as a possible intermediary.


Further Reading





Additional News and Resources


  • Reducing Nuclear Risks in Europe: A Framework for Action
    Steve Andreasen and Isabelle Williams, eds., NTI report, November 17, 2011


Includes contributions from Suzzette Lopez Abbasciano, Brett DuBois, Chris Lindborg, BASIC



Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard