Getting to Zero Update

NATO completed its Deterrence and Defense Posture Review with mixed results. Diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program picked up pace. A National Academies panel released its updated assessment on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty’s implications for U.S. security, with apparent positive conclusions for supporters.

In the lead up to the 2012 U.S. elections in November, however, the Obama Administration is unlikely to take a high-profile role on these and other nuclear weapons-related issues.

Latest from BASIC

Commitments to Arms Control and Disarmament

Country Reports

Missile Defense

Additional Resources








  • Shadow NATO Summit III
    Event in Washington, DC, May 14-15, 2012
    BASIC, in partnership with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Elliott School of International Affairs, NATO Watch, and Strategy International, organized a two-day conference covering issues facing NATO ahead of the summit held in Chicago a week later. On the second day, experts and officials addressed the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, and specifically the Alliance’s treatment of tactical nuclear weapons in light of increased pressures for disarmament.




basic nato shadow summit panel

 Panel discussion on tactical nuclear weapons,
Shadow NATO Summit III, in Washington, DC



  • Who Needs Nuclear Weapons and Why? (transcript, audio and summary)
    Event in Washington, DC, May 8, 2012
    In association with the Hudson Institute, BASIC organized a discussion between Dr. Christopher Ford of the Hudson Institute and Dr. Barry Blechman of the Henry L. Stimson Center. Specific topics included force size, modernization, and justifications for nuclear arsenals. The two experts shared agreements and disagreements on these points and others.



  • Nuclear Non-Proliferation in the Gulf
    Event in Doha, March 21-22, 2012
    BASIC held a conference on “Nuclear Non-Proliferation in the Gulf”, at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Doha. Among the speakers were Hans Blix, former head of the WMD Commission and former chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq; Brig-General Nasser Al-Ali, Chairman of the Qatar National Committee for Prohibition of Weapons; Amb. Thomas Pickering (U.S.-ret.), and HE Ambassador Abdulla Adbullatif Abdulla, Undersecretary, Bahrain Foreign Ministry.

Other Publications

External Publications from BASIC staff



In March, the BASIC Trident Commission released its second briefing report on defense and industrial issues of the UK Trident nuclear deterrent (see below). Further publications to be released in 2012 include reports on the UK-French nuclear relationship, budgetary aspects of Trident, and global proliferation concerns.

The Commission is still collecting evidence from interested parties, but is soon to start drafting its final report, due to be released in early 2013. For more information, visit the web pages of the BASIC Trident Commission:








NATO defense review acknowledges the value of reducing nuclear arsenals, but takes no major action

The Alliance released the results of its Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) in the middle of the Chicago Summit on May 20-21. The review had been going on for 18 months, and was to address the “appropriate mix” of conventional, nuclear, and missile defense forces (see the Missile Defense section of this update). The document did not alter the nuclear posture, despite mounting pressure to reduce tactical nuclear weapons based in NATO European countries and to fall more in line with UK and U.S. negative security assurances, although it did “acknowledge” assurances by these countries and France.

The review calls on Allies and Russia to develop and exchange confidence-building ideas and transparency measures in the NATO-Russia Council “with the goal of developing detailed proposals on and increasing mutual understanding” of each others’ non-strategic nuclear force postures in Europe. Allies also agreed that they would consider reducing requirements for “non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to the Alliance in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia, taking into account the greater Russian stockpiles of non-strategic nuclear weapons stationed in the Euro-Atlantic area.” NAC will task the appropriate committees to specify what “NATO would expect to see in the way of reciprocal Russian actions to allow for significant reductions” in the Alliance’s tactical nuclear arsenal. NATO was also to establish an arms control committee that will carry forward the work of the WMD Control and Disarmament Committee created for the review process.

The DDPR also committed allies to “task the appropriate committee to develop concepts for how to ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies concerned in their nuclear sharing arrangements, including in case NATO were to decide to reduce its reliance on non-strategic nuclear weapons based in Europe.”

NATO is holding its annual event on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation, in Budapest, on June 14-15. On the agenda is: the future of multilateral non-proliferation regimes and initiatives; current regional proliferation threats and challenges; terrorism and WMD proliferation; NATO’s contribution to international efforts in the area of WMD arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.


Further Reading

  • How does the posture review shape the NATO nuclear agenda? (video)
    Stephen Flanagan of CSIS on Vimeo, May 30, 2012


Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting highlights Middle East, relevance of humanitarian dimension

NPT Parties met April 30 to May 11, in Vienna for the first preparatory committee (PrepCom) of the 2015 Review Conference. The facilitator of the 2012 conference on a Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and All Other WMD in the Middle East, Finnish Undersecretary Jaakko Laajava, submitted an official report to the States Parties and delivered an update on the (painstaking) process. Although the 2012 Helsinki conference is not part of the NPT, its facilitation was called for in the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and there remain hopes that it will be held in December. Responses to the facilitator’s report from the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group reiterated that this conference belongs to the countries in the region and insisted that Israel join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. The UK delegation gave the statement on behalf of the conference’s co-sponsors (United Kingdom, United States, and Russia), noting the importance of all states in the region being represented at the conference.

The PrepCom received a proposal by 16 states seeking to address the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament. A majority of participating states urged an end to the modernization of nuclear weapons and called for “their irreversible, verifiable and transparent elimination” with full implementation of Article VI of the NPT to make substantive progress toward disarmament.

The United States announced during a statement on behalf of the Nuclear Weapons States that it will host the third P5 Conference in Washington, DC on June 27-29. Previous meetings were held in London (2009) and Paris (2011) to address confidence building measures on nuclear disarmament. The United Kingdom recently hosted an expert-level meeting on April 4 to share results from the UK-Norway Initiative on nuclear warhead dismantlement verification, and comment on the Initiative was also received from P5 experts.


Further Reading









Study shows significant progress made on test-detection, maintaining arsenal, under a Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty

The National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Science released its report on technical issues around the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), on March 30. The United States can continue to ensure the reliability, safety and security of its nuclear stockpile without nuclear-explosion testing for the foreseeable future, according to the scientific and security expert panelists, as long as sufficient investment is made in the personnel and infrastructure responsible for the nuclear enterprise.

The panel also concluded that both U.S. National Technical Means and the International Monitoring System have improved and could detect any meaningful nuclear explosion tests by other countries which might violate such a ban. The panelists noted that while the capabilities to detect explosions have improved, the capabilities to conceal nuclear weapons testing have remained relatively stagnant.

President Barack Obama requested the report in 2009, following his call for pursuing reconsideration and ratification of the treaty. The report overall seemed to bolster the cause of those who support U.S. ratification. However, with elections and the political environment, analysts do not see the treaty coming up for Senate consideration in the near-term.

The United States remains one of eight countries that must ratify the treaty for its entry into force. The others include China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. In total, 157 countries have already ratified the treaty. Niue signed the CTBT on April 9, becoming the 183rd country to do so.
Further Reading

  • The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Technical Issues for the United States
    Committee on Reviewing and Updating Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; Policy and Global Affairs; National Research Council, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2012


Second Nuclear Security Summit keeps spotlight on preventing nuclear terrorism

More than 50 Heads of State, excluding North Korea and Iran, convened in Seoul, South Korea on March 26-27 for the second Nuclear Security Summit. An extensive agenda guided participants in discussions on international cooperative measures to protect nuclear sites from terrorism. More than 100 sites worldwide contain weapons-usable nuclear materials and many sites lack adequate security.

Though recent developments around North Korea and Iran dominated initial conversations on the margins of the conference, the official summit focused on non-state nuclear risks, steering clear of state threats. Nuclear safety also gained more attention than during the first summit in Washington (2010), after the nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima last year. The summit was criticized for lacking implementation of accountability between states and for the diminishing prospects of achieving President Obama’s original Nuclear Security Summit goal of securing all nuclear material within four years. The summit concluded with voluntary pledges to secure sensitive materials and sites, and the next summit will be held in The Netherlands in 2014.


Further Reading






New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)



Fissile Material Cut-Off treaty/Conference on Disarmament








United States


The Presidential Nuclear Guidance Review was in its final stages at the beginning of June. Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, indicated during a presentation at the Council on Foreign Relations on May 30 that STRATCOM’s analysis was done, “but that the overall effort is still under review.” The entire process is to produce a new presidential “policy directive”, new war plans, a revised list of targets and other requirements for nuclear forces. The review will inform the next round of arms control negotiations and identify where cuts could be made in the U.S. nuclear arsenal in order to go to levels lower than those agreed under New START. Gen. Kehler thought the United States would be able to meet New START implementation requirements well before the deadline of February 2018. He added that assessing possible reductions beyond the treaty ceiling was still going on, but refused to provide details.

Gen. Kehler responded to a question about a Global Zero Commission’s proposal to delay the ability to fire deployed nuclear weapons by 72 hours, saying that he would not be comfortable with such a delay given the current threat environment. The Air Force general said that before allowing such a restriction on U.S. forces, he would want some way to verify that no one else could launch a surprise attack on the United States.

The Obama Administration requested nearly $7.6 billion for funding weapons activities in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) budget for FY2013, a five percent increase from $7.2 billion in FY2012 (p. 104), but $372 million below last year’s projected request. The cost of the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) has increased from about $4 billion to an estimated $6 billion. Included among these weapons are an estimated 180 bombs assigned to tactical nuclear forces in NATO Europe. The NNSA budget would delay by at least five years the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) for new warhead pits at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Designs and plans for the facility have repeatedly undergone cost increases, recently reaching up to estimates of $3.7-5.9 billion.

DoD’s budget cuts are threatening the Navy’s intended objective of producing 12 SSBN(X) nuclear-weapons submarines before the projected deadline, with a delay in the start of construction of the Trident-armed boats, from 2019 to 2021. Under the FY2013 budget, the SSBN fleet would drop to ten boats for much of the 2030s, and then return to twelve by 2042 (see the chart on page 10 of this Congressional Research Service report). The first SSBN(X) is expected to hit waters by 2031; and the total lifetime cost of the new submarine fleet is estimated at $347 billion.

The House Armed Services Committee version of the annual defense authorization bill aimed to condition implementation of New START on a higher budget for nuclear weapons production facilities. Strategic Armed Forces Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) placed an amendment to the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act to this effect. President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that would “impinge on the President’s ability to implement the New START Treaty and to set U.S. nuclear weapons policy.” Other areas of dispute in the House version of the bill, which has yet to be debated in the Senate, include $100 million in funding for an East Coast missile defense site.

Further Reading:

  • Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture
    Commissioners: Gen (ret.) James Cartwright, Amb. Richard Burt, Amb. Thomas Pickering, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Gen. (ret.) Jack Sheehan, and Bruce Blair (Study Director), May 2012
  • Navy Ohio Replacement (SSBN[X]) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress
    Ronald O’Rourke, Congressional Research Service report, via the website of the Federation of American Scientists, April 5, 2012


United Kingdom

The Scottish National Party called for a vote of secession by 2014, which could have serious implications for the United Kingdom’s Trident SSBN program that is based solely in Scotland. The SNP announced its intentions for Scotland to become a non-nuclear state and to remove the Trident docking and storage facilities at Coulport and Faslane. Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey has said in evidence to Parliament that relocating the bases would cost a ‘gargantuan’ amount of money, costs borne by tax-payers both sides of the border, and would take a very long time.

The SNP has cited Norway for maintaining an anti-nuclear posture in international fora, such as the NPT, while still signing up to NATO and its nuclear deterrent policy. Current SNP policy stands in strong opposition to hosting nuclear weapons in Scotland as well as NATO’s commitment to keep open the possibility of using nuclear weapons in a first strike option.

The potential development may factor into the United Kingdom’s ongoing debate on Trident replacement. The United Kingdom expects to finalize its decision (‘Main Gate’) regarding its successor nuclear submarines in 2016 (after the next general election in 2015).



Further Reading







Russia was reported to have tested successfully a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) named the “Avant-garde” on May 24, intended to counter NATO’s nascent missile defense system. The missile was launched from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia, with a dummy warhead, and landed at its intended target on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Pacific. Former President Dmitry Medvedev and now second-time President Vladimir Putin have repeatedly objected to NATO’s plans to develop missile defense in Europe, arguing that it could undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent (see the section below for developments on missile defense).

Russian air force commander Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin announced Russia’s plans to develop its next generation bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons, saying that the bomber would join the “new and upgraded air force by the 2030s.”
Further Reading


North Korea


Hopes for progress on the North Korean nuclear impasse have all but disintegrated in recent months, despite one promising diplomatic step at the end of February. The Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, said on June 4 that his recent communications with Pyongyang indicate no prospect for an Agency mission.

More suspicions about North Korea’s military and nuclear programs were raised when, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, the DPRK attempted to field an observation satellite supposedly intended to aid in crop production and monitor natural resources. The regime publicly acknowledged that the rocket failed shortly after take-off on April 13 – the third failed attempt by North Korea to launch a satellite, a signal that North Korea is proceeding much slower with its ballistic missile capabilities than previously expected. The Unha-3 rocket is believed to be a derivative of the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile.

Similarly, the launch cost North Korea the February 29th U.S.-bilateral deal, a proposed exchange of 240,000 tonnes of food for its monitored shutdown of atomic activities at Yongbyon and halts on missile and nuclear tests. The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) moved quickly to condemn the launch and threatened to enact further punitive measures if Pyongyang continues to violate its obligations. The DPRK denies that the launch violated the bilateral food agreement or UNSC resolution 1695, suspending all ballistic missile activity. In response to the U.S. withdrawal from the bilateral agreement, North Korea has retracted its invitation to the U.N. nuclear monitor to oversee and confirm the halt of atomic activities at Yongbyon.

North Korea showed signs of preparing a third nuclear detonation. South Korean officials revealed satellite photos suggesting new tunnelling in April at North Korea’s atomic test site, Punggye-ri. The UNSC threatened further punitive measures, and it is widely believed that China increased its pressure on the DPRK to abstain. North Korea has more recently issued a statement, saying that it had no short-term plans to conduct a nuclear test.

Commercial satellite imagery, taken on April 30, reveals that North Korea appears close to completing the reactor containment building of its experimental light-water reactor in Yongbyon which could become operational within one to two years, according to 38 North. Other satellite imagery shows construction on a new missile facility at Musudan-ri and a new Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

As part of the celebration honoring its founding father, the DPRK continued festivities with a large military parade, including an eight-axle road-mobile missile launch platform showing similarities to a Chinese mobile launch vehicle. Beijing would be in direct violation of UNSC resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009) if it had supplied such technology, though it could have been re-exported through a third party country.



Further Reading


India and Pakistan

India recently concluded a deal to purchase over 120 nuclear-capable French jet fighters as well as formally place into service a Russian nuclear submarine—on lease for 10-years—for training purposes. Not intended to carry nuclear missiles itself, the sub will be used to acclimate the Indian Navy for future domestically-produced submarines. Such expansion is likely to create tension among regional rivals, Pakistan and China.

India test-launched on April 19 its Agni-5 missile, which is a three-stage, solid-fuel rocket with a range of 3,100 miles/5,000 km, its longest-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Indian officials have reassured the international community that the test was not intended to threaten anyone imminently. However, strengthening its nuclear deterrent against China is believed to be India’s primary goal. The two countries have boundary disagreements and Indian leaders have noted Chinese projections of power toward the Indian Ocean.

Pakistan successfully tested its Hatf-VII nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of about 435 miles/700 km. The test-fire is seen as part of Pakistan’s efforts to bolster its nuclear deterrent against India. The firing is the country’s fifth nuclear-capable missile test since late April.

Pakistan and India renewed their bilateral agreements on Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons and also on Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles, for five more years, starting this past February.

Further Reading




A second round of talks between Iran and the E3+3 (P5+1) took place in Baghdad, May 23 without apparent substantive progress, but the parties concluded with an agreement to meet again, on June 18-19 in Moscow. The first round took place on April 14 in Istanbul, the first since early 2011.

Washington and allies had hoped to end Iran’s uranium enrichment entirely, but the E3+3 have for now narrowed their focus to halting production of uranium enriched to 20 percent fearing that it could enable Iran to produce weapons-grade material at a faster rate. Iran’s leaders have refused to halt uranium enrichment, citing what they see as their right under the NPT. More recently, the Supreme Leader said that going into the Moscow talks, the E3+3 should formally acknowledge Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program, although Iran has also seemed to signal that it would be willing to negotiate a compromise on the 20% enrichment. Despite the renewed momentum in negotiations, Washington has so far said that it has no intention of reducing current sanctions (the Administration would in any case have a hard time on the Hill reversing any of them); and the EU oil embargo is still scheduled to take full effect on July 1.

IAEA and Iranian officials met on June 8 in Vienna to continue discussing a “Structured Approach” document that they hoped would facilitate the IAEA’s investigation into the “possible military dimension” issues related to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran is requiring the finalization of this document before it will grant access to the Parchin military facility near Tehran. However the June 8 meeting ended inconclusively, and no new date for resuming the talks has been set. It seems likely that the Iranians are waiting for the Moscow talks to conclude before any agreement with the IAEA, in order to retain bargaining power.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has published photos that show Iran may be in the process of cleansing the Parchin military facility of evidence of past work relevant to a nuclear weapons program at this site. The satellite imagery shows that two buildings have been razed and “there are visible tracks made by heavy machinery used in the demolition process.” The two buildings appeared to be intact in early April. IAEA Director General Amano regretted actions which could undermine the purpose of any possible future verification visit by the Agency, noting that in addition to removing physical structures, Iran appeared to be removing soil from the site. Iran’s IAEA envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has dismissed the allegations as “baseless.” Even if inspectors were to have visited the site, determining conclusively evidence of nuclear-weapons-related work would be difficult given the possible multiple uses for explosives testing.
In recent IAEA Board of Governor’s reports, the Agency found that Iran expanded capabilities at both Fordow and Natanz for enrichment up to 5% U-235 and up to 20% U-235, including the installation of more advanced centrifuges. IAEA personnel found traces of uranium enriched to 27 percent at Fordow, likely as a result of the particular configuration. The report notes that the Agency will look into the matter. The higher-level could have been a processing error – given that centrifuges may over-enrich at the start of production before technicians can adjust the equipment.

Further Reading



Missile Defense

When Heads of State convened in Chicago on May 20-21 for the NATO Summit, the Alliance announced that it had achieved “interim ballistic missile capability”. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said that “NATO now has an operationally meaningful ballistic missile defense mission,” which is limited, but will expand over time. Spain, Turkey, Romania and Poland have agreed to host U.S. missile defense assets. Allies have committed to invest over $1 billion in funding for infrastructure to support missile defense. U.S. President Barack Obama directed the transfer of operational control of the AN/TPY-2 radar deployed in Turkey to NATO; and U.S. Aegis-capable ships will operate under NATO during crises.

Despite missile defense’s increasing profile and investment, the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) reflected French concerns in particular that the advancement of such forces not be seen as a reason to reduce the Alliance’s nuclear posture, with the review document stating: “[m]issile defence can complement the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence; it cannot substitute for them” (for more on the nuclear posture, see the section on NATO under Commitments to Disarmament and Arms Control).

Moscow has voiced repeated opposition to the NATO missile defense project in Europe, which the Alliance contends will be used to counter ballistic missile attacks emanating exclusively from the Middle East. Russian military leaders have expressed fears that interceptors will target Russian ICBMs and undermine their own nuclear deterrent in the later phases of the system’s deployment. In the weeks before the NATO Summit, Acting Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov warned of the potential use of short range missiles that could destroy NATO antimissile systems based in Europe. Serdyukov reiterated a statement made by Gen. Nikolai Makarov at the conclusion of the International Missile Defense Conference in Moscow earlier in May. Gen. Marakov warned that Russia could neutralize NATO launch sites before they become operational. Outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had also made similar remarks in March. The threats were not believed to be imminent, but reflected long-held and mounting frustration over U.S.-Russian strategic relations pertaining to missile defense. Russian leaders have requested that NATO make a legally-binding agreement stipulating that missile defense will not target Russia, but the United States has led allies in refusing this route as a way to resolve the stand-off, in part because of U.S. domestic political opposition.

During the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul on March 26, an open microphone caught what President Barack Obama and then-President Dmitry Medvedev thought was a private discussion on missile defense Obama told Medvedev that he needed “more space” from Russia on missile defense, because there would be little he could do given the current U.S. political environment ahead of the elections. Obama also told Medvedev to convey to returning President Vladimir Putin that he would have more flexibility on the issue after he is re-elected in November, a remark that swiftly drew criticism from political opponents back in the United States.

NATO and Russia participated in a joint theater missile defense computer-assisted exercise in Ottobrunn, Germany over March 26-30. The joint exercise sought to “develop, explore and assess various options for conducting missile defense in Europe”. NATO and Russian ministers met on April 19 for the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and discussed missile defense cooperation but without significant progress made before the summit.

The U.S. House of Representatives backed a plan to deploy a land-based missile defense system on the eastern coast of the United States by the end of 2015. The United States currently has Ground-Based Midcourse missile defense interceptors in Alaska and California. The proposal suggests that this third site will cost between $2-4 billion, with $100 million set aside for Fiscal Year 2013 to commence planning. Though Democrats criticized the amendment for wasteful spending, the system was included in the defense authorization bill and passed by a vote of 299-120. The Senate was thought to be less likely to offer support. When head of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. Robert Kehler spoke about the possible third site, he said the Pentagon would consider it within the context of a number of “hedge strategies” to complement U.S. forces, but he did not indicate any urgent need for the additional system.


Further Reading




-With contributions from Brendan McGovern, Chris Lindborg, Rachel Staley, Anne Penketh and Paul Ingram, BASIC






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