Getting to Zero Update

BASIC recently wrapped up a series of events in Cairo, including a joint press workshop with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and an off-the-record seminar on the politics of regional nuclear proliferation.  BASIC staff met with senior officials and former officials to discuss the status of the 2012 conference on a WMD-Free Zone, as a piece in the complex jigsaw of regional politics currently unfolding.

In the Middle East, Iran continued to stand firm against mounting pressures, which now include Europe’s agreement to phase in an oil embargo by July 1. In the United States, the Pentagon was unveiling its plans for managing its budget under more austere conditions and a greater strategic emphasis on Asia. Analysts were still watching to see whether any new shifts in North Korea’s nuclear policy would come as a result of Kim Jong-Il’s death, although no short-term changes were anticipated.

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BASIC Trident Commission
The BASIC Trident Commission continued its deliberations over UK nuclear weapons policy and the issues around renewal. The Commission will soon be meeting with a number of experts and former officials, as well as a delegation of senior serving officials. We are also receiving written submissions supporting various sides of the debates, most of which are published on the Commission’s website. The current plan is to publish a number of supporting briefings over the next few months, and to publish a final report on the Commission’s findings and its process early in 2013.



New START and follow-on
Implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) carried on as anticipated, even though prospects for any new bi-lateral nuclear arms control agreements between Russia and the United States have been dimmed partly because of upcoming elections in both countries and Russian concerns over U.S. and NATO plans for ballistic missile defense in Europe. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance remarked that the two sides are now in a “homework period”.

Further Reading

Indonesia and Guatemala have ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Indonesia is one of the Annex II countries required to approve the treaty before it may enter into force, leaving eight holdouts: the United States, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, China, and North Korea. It is generally believed that most of these states are waiting for the United States to take a lead in ratifying.

Further Reading

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) started its first 2012 session from January 23-March 30, but prospects still looked bleak for moving forward on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), in part because of Pakistan’s concerns about nuclear asymmetry with rival India. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned in his recent message to the CD that it is “in danger of sinking” and that the General Assembly may need to “consider other options for moving the disarmament agenda forward”.

Further Reading

Future international meetings
Opportunities for progress on regional security and nuclear arms control issues will continue with a number of other international meetings on the horizon:

  • The Munich Security Conference in Germany: February 3-5
  • The EU Non-proliferation Consortium conference in Brussels: February 3-4
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, Austria: March 5
  • BASIC’s conference on non-proliferation policy in GCC states, in Qatar: March 21-22
  • Nuclear Security Summit II in Seoul, South Korea: March 26-27
  • First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (“NPT PrepCom”) in Vienna, Austria: April 30 – May 11
  • G8/NATO Summits in Chicago, United States: May 19-21

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United States

New defense strategic guidance increases emphasis on cost savings and Asia; Pentagon announces two-year delay in next generation submarines ahead of full budget roll out

President Barack Obama made a special appearance on January 5 at the Pentagon to lead off press conferences introducing the Defense Department’s new defense strategic guidance and a report that lays out “Priorities for 21st Century Defense” (“Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership”). The President, Secretary Leon Panetta, and other Defense officials timed their remarks to come several weeks ahead of the Administration’s budget roll out, which is expected to face more controversy than usual because it will require reductions in the rate of spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years. The new strategy emphasizes an ever-increasing focus on East Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East. The President highlighted the need to cut down on “old Cold War-era systems”. The report specifically refers to sustaining a strong U.S. nuclear posture, but also points out that “it is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy” (original emphasis, p. 5).

Secretary Panetta led a follow-on press conference on January 26 after the Defense Department released details for the FY2013 budget in a white paper. Although no new cuts in the nuclear arsenal were accompanying the budget, he announced that the Navy would be delaying by two years procurement of the replacement fleet for the Ohio-class nuclear weapons submarines. Panetta said the delay would allow for easier management of the program while the Navy continued to try to reduce the cost of the new submarines, often referred to as SSBN(X).

The white paper, titled: “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices,” said the delay would not undermine the ‘partnership” with the United Kingdom, but could “create challenges in maintaining at-sea-presence requirements in the 2030s.” As part of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act signed into law at the end of December, Congress is requiring that Strategic Command and the Navy report back by the end of June with options that would meet future security requirements while taking into account tighter budget constraints for the next generation of SSBNs.

The DOD white paper also noted that the Administration’s ongoing review of nuclear deterrence “will address the potential for maintaining our deterrent with a different nuclear force” (p. 8).

Unclassified details of latest threat assessment released
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper provided an unclassified statement on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s (IC) Worldwide Threat Assessment before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on January 31. The IC has concluded that “A mass attack by foreign terrorist groups involving a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapon in the United States is unlikely in the next year,” however, the community still worries about a limited attack using CBR in the United States or against interests overseas (p.2). (See the Iran and North Korea country reports below for additional highlights.)

Changes in key U.S. security posts
Ellen Tauscher is expected to make an official announcement in February that she will be stepping down from her position as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control. Although a formal confirmation for her replacement would probably not occur until after the election cycle, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller was expected to fill the position in the interim. According to The Cable, Tauscher will work part-time to continue her role as lead negotiator on missile defense cooperation with Russia and also on the bilateral commission on strategic stability with Russia. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy announced that she will be stepping down. The President has nominated Principal Deputy James (“Jim”) Miller to serve as her replacement.

Further Reading

United Kingdom

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has called for a vote on independence from the United Kingdom to happen by 2014. Confronted with the possibility, the Royal Navy has warned that finding a new home port for the SSBN fleet would be too difficult and costly for an immediate move, and therefore a negotiated solution with Scotland would need to be found in order to be able to keep the fleet based there for a number of years. However, the First Minister seemed to reject this prospect during a debate in Scottish Parliament, “It is inconceivable that an independent nation of 5.25 million people would tolerate the continued presence of weapons of mass destruction on its soil.”

UK defence equipment minister Peter Luff told Parliament that the country should expect to have spent £3.9 billion in support of the “successor” to the current Vanguard –class fleet before the final “main gate” decision in 2016 to place the contracts for the submarines. He said that the spending was necessary to keep open the option of Trident renewal for the next government.

Further Reading


According to Lt. General Sergei Karakayev, head of strategic missile forces, Russia plans to design and build a new, liquid-fueled ICBM that could break through a U.S. ballistic missile defense system. Russia also plans to stage 11 ICBM tests in 2012. Russian military and political leaders have more publicly emphasized their commitment to the country’s missile forces in the midst of growing U.S. and NATO ballistic missile defense cooperation. (See the Missile Defense section at the bottom of this update.)

Russia will begin deployment of its Borey-class submarines, starting with two this year and six more for a fleet total of eight by 2018. The submarines will be equipped with the new Bulava nuclear ballistic missile, which President Dmitry Medvedev announced was ready for service after the previously embattled program had completed two more successful test flights in December.

Citing Iran’s proximity to Russia, and regional insecurity, Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said that military intervention would be considered a threat against Russia. The remark made earlier in January came after weeks of rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility that Israel and the United States might push for a military strike.

Further Reading


The publicity surrounding a study conducted by a group of Georgetown University undergraduate students under the guidance of Professor Phillip A. Karber and covered by the Washington Post has stirred controversy over assessments of the size of China’s nuclear arsenal. The project focused on China’s tunnel system, so expansive that it could hold up to 3,000 nuclear weapons. Current estimates place the arsenal under 300 warheads. Nuclear analysts have roundly criticized the methodology and conclusions. The study has already prompted a congressional hearing.

Further Reading

North Korea

The death of Kim Jong-Il on December 17 delayed scheduled U.S.-North Korea bilateral talks in Beijing, and brought uncertainty to the future of the six-party nuclear talks. Some believe Kim Jong-Un could be more open to negotiations than his father, whilst others fear his lack of domestic credibility will prevent any early negotiations. He may even take military action to boost his credibility, as his father did by sinking the Cheonan and shelling Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. North Korea has already staged several short-range missile tests since Kim Jong-Il’s death.

In an interview with Japan’s NHK television network, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that it was “absolutely realistic” that the six-party talks could resume by this summer. The talks have been stalled since April 2009, shortly before North Korea’s second nuclear test. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell stated on February 1 that the United States is conditionally ready to resume talks with Pyongyang, conditions thought to include ceasing the enrichment of uranium.

U.S. lawmakers raised concerns based on intelligence that North Korea was developing a road-mobile ICBM that could strike the United States. Easily hidden and quickly prepared for launch, this could be significant. However, experts questioned whether the new development was credible, noting that North Korean air frames and rocket designs are simply too heavy and efficient to deliver a payload over a long distance. North Korea has also not yet successfully tested an ICBM.

The January 31 U.S. Intelligence Community’s (IC) threat assessment warns of future North Korean nuclear exports (p. 6).North Korea is the least secure country with nuclear materials, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s (NTI) Nuclear Materials Security Index.The others in the bottom five were: Pakistan, Iran, Vietnam and India. The overall score took into account quantities and sites, security and control measures, global norms, domestic commitments and capacity, and societal factors.

Further Reading


Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts led a special IAEA team to Iran in late January for meetings with officials to address questions around the possible military dimensions of the country’s nuclear program. The Agency’s Board of Governor’s report on Iran in November released more details on alleged activities related to the possible development of nuclear weapons. Iran has continued to deny the allegations. Both sides noted that more discussions would be needed but sounded generally positive in their remarks. They agreed to hold another round of meetings on February 21-22 in Iran. Earlier in January, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had begun enriching uranium at the Fordow nuclear facility as anticipated. The facility is under Agency surveillance.

Iranian leaders were also signaling a renewed openness to the resumption of talks with the EU3+3/P5 +1 group that includes China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany. On January 19, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi suggested talks take place in Turkey. Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and EU3+3 representative, indicated that her office was still waiting for a formal response to her letter sent previously to Tehran.

The EU has agreed on a phased oil embargo to be completed on July 1, and an embargo of Iran’s central bank. The measure follows the passage of new U.S. policies to block any foreign financial institution that conducts transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The U.S. penalties target foreign central banks involved with Iran in the sale or purchase of petroleum or petroleum products, and were expected to strain some allies that rely heavily on Iranian oil supplies.

Deputy Director of the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and head of its procurement department, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, died in Tehran on January 11. Two men riding a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to Roshan’s car, which killed him and his driver. The method mirrored past killings of Iranian scientists involved in the country’s nuclear program in recent years. Iran accused the United States and Israel of the attack. U.S. officials condemned the killing, but Israeli officials refused to confirm or deny sponsorship.

U.S. Director of National intelligence James Clapper testified on January 31, conveying the unclassified elements of the Intelligence Community’s (IC) latest Worldwide Threat Assessment. Acknowledging Iran’s expanding enrichment capabilities, the assessment concludes that:

“Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.” The assessment also warned about Iran’s ballistic missile capability, saying that Iran “is expanding the scale, reach and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces, many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload.” (p. 6)

The IC also judges that:

“Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran. Iranian leaders undoubtedly consider Iran’s security, prestige, and influence, as well as the international political and security environment, when making decisions about its nuclear program.” (p.6)

Further Reading

Missile Defense

During a press conference at the end of January to promote the release of NATO’s 2011 Annual Report, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he hoped the Alliance will be able to declare an interim capability for its emerging missile defense architecture in Europe by the time of the Chicago summit, May 21-22. He acknowledged a lack of progress in talks with Russia on missile defense cooperation, and warned that without a deal, Russia will probably not attend the summit. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that U.S./NATO plans could undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent, and warned that Russia would take measures to bolster its strategic forces. However, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher is optimistic that a stability agreement with Russia on missile defense can be reached.

The missile defense agreement between Romania and the United States entered into force on December 23. The arrangement includes the installation of ballistic missile defense interceptors at Deveselu Air Base by 2015 as part of the U.S./NATO “Phased Adaptive Approach” plan for missile defense in the region. Turkey announced in mid-January that part of its contribution to the architecture, an early warning radar based about 400 miles southeast of Ankara in the town of Malatya, is now operational. U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (Republican-Illinois) told the National Journal that the Pentagon’s five-year budget request will likely contain $200 million more for missile defense in Poland.

Israel and the United States cancelled their largest ever joint missile defense drill for “technical and logistical reasons.” It had already drawn attention to prospects for a military strike against Iran. The United States announced that it plans to sell to the United Arab Emirates Lockheed Martin Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems and related equipment for $3.5 billion.

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