Getting to Zero Update

Officials from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (“P5”) held their third special forum since 2009 to discuss nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, this time in Washington, DC. Separately, representatives from Iran and the P5 plus Germany, have met at various levels without producing a breakthrough over Iran’s nuclear program amid rising tensions in the Middle East.

In the United States, costs around the nuclear arsenal and questions about the triad are coming up in critical places against a backdrop of continuing economic worries and elections this fall.

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Entente Nucléaire
Bruno Tertrais, June 25, 2012

This third briefing from the BASIC Trident Commission evaluates lessons from past cooperation attempts between London and Paris, and investigates the impact of present arrangements. Dr. Tertrais also looks at the prospects for future cooperation and what it could mean for possible future nuclear reductions.

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:


“P5 Conference” held in Washington, DC

Arms control representatives convened a third P5 Conference on June 27-29, in Washington, DC. Representatives from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States considered all three pillars of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-covering nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. They discussed how to move forward a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), how to discourage abuse of the NPT withdrawal provision, and how to quicken the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Progress was made on beginning a China-led working group to develop a shared glossary of key nuclear terms to increase mutual understanding. Representatives also used the meeting to continue sharing perspectives on “how to support a successful conference in 2012 on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” Additionally, the P5 agreed to hold a fourth conference in the context of the next NPT Preparatory Committee. Previous meetings were held in London in 2009 and Paris in 2011.

Further Reading

Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty

Four of the five NPT nuclear weapons states (P5) have said that they are not ready to formally support the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Bangkok. They intended to sign the protocol of accession alongside China on July 12. However, according to Kyodo News, the United Kingdom said “possible future threats” could require the passage of “sensitive materials” through the zone, and France and Russia also issued reservations about the treaty, citing “authority to protect themselves” from nuclear attack. The United States backed all of the submitted reservations. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is aiming for the four remaining official nuclear weapons states to drop their reservations by the organization’s next summit in November. The main treaty among the ASEAN countries entered into force in 1997.



The recent cost escalation of the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) was cited as a growing concern during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) cost estimate for the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) has doubled, now reaching a total of $8 billion. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Democrat-California) who was presiding over the hearing, disclosed that the Department of Defense’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office has produced an even higher estimate, at $10 billion. After adding the expense of a new guided tail kit, each bomb may cost upwards of $28 million each, according to an estimate by Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. The B61 serves both strategic and tactical aircraft. About 200 of the 400 estimated B61 bombs are based in Europe as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said on August 1 during a House Armed Services Committee hearing that sequestration would negatively affect the research and development work for the Ohio-class submarine replacement program (SSBN-X), with the potential for eventually slowing down the overall program.

The Obama administration has reportedly completed the Presidential Nuclear Guidance, a process which includes determining the future size of the United States’ launch-ready nuclear weapons forces. The Associated Press was reporting that the process may lead to a new number for the deployed nuclear arsenal between 1,000 and 1,100 weapons. Although the guidance has been anticipated for months, the administration might wait for an official announcement until after the November presidential election.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an unclassified report on changes in nuclear weapons targeting since 1991. The report concludes that:

“The fundamental objectives of U.S. nuclear deterrence policy have remained largely consistent since 1991, even as the threat environment and the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile have changed. The current process for developing nuclear targeting and employment guidance has remained consistent. However, the structure of the nuclear war plan, and the categories and number of targets in the plan, have changed.”

An 82-year-old nun and two other peace activists breached security at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oakridge, Tennessee on July 28. The protesters reportedly broke through three security fences and reached a storage warehouse for bomb-grade uranium. The breach has led to security reviews and the temporary shut-down of operations at the plant.

Further Reading

  • U.S. Strategic Command 2012 Deterrence Symposium
    Remarks of Rose Gottemoeller, Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, in Omaha, Nebraska, August 9, 2012


The new Borey-class ballistic missile submarines are beginning to enter service. Russia plans to have two operational boats by the end of 2012, and at least ten of these boats operating by 2020. The Russian navy will initially operate the two Borey-class submarines as part of the Northern fleet, and then move the boats to the Pacific. Each submarine may carry up to 16 new Bulava missiles with a range of about 8,000km/5,000 miles; with each missile capable of holding 6-10 warheads. Additionally, top military officials are predicting the planned long-range “PAK DA” strategic bomber may be ready by 2020, five years earlier than originally projected. During a meeting on national defense at the end of July, President Vladimir Putin said, “By 2020 the share of up-to-date arms in the strategic nuclear weapons [arsenal] should reach 75-85 percent, in the aerospace defense system – at least 70 percent.”

Further Reading


The Scottish National Party (SNP) is considering dropping its opposition to joining NATO, should Scotland eventually become independent, citing Denmark and Norway as possible role models for an independent Scotland that would be part of the Alliance without hosting nuclear weapons. The SNP strongly opposes nuclear weapons while Scotland currently bases UK Trident nuclear forces, which are also considered linked to NATO’s overall strategic deterrent forces. However, the SNP was facing challenges by SNP Scottish Members of Parliament who are opposed to changing the 30-year policy against NATO membership. The SNP plans to choose its formal position on NATO membership in October during its party conference, with a referendum on Scottish independence scheduled for 2014.

The Ministry of Defence has released data indicating that the United Kingdom’s nuclear-armed submarine fleet suffered 74 fires over the past 25 years, with one taking place on a docked vessel. The government contends that none of the blazes ever had an impact on nuclear safety or the ability to operate the submarines.

The Ministry of Defence signed a 15-year contract with ABL Alliance for support of the Trident strategic weapon system at the Clyde naval base in Scotland. The ABL Alliance consists of AWE, Babcock, and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems, and will provide support at Faslane and Coulport, the two primary sites at the Clyde base, where the submarines are kept and the warheads are stored, respectively.

Further Reading


No further progress was reported over the North Korea nuclear stand-off, although North Korean and U.S. officials met unofficially during the first half of July to discuss the possibility of reviving the February 29th food aid deal. The deal was cancelled in April after North Korea attempted to launch a satellite, which violated Pyongyang’s promise to halt work on its nuclear and missile programs as part of the arrangement.

Speculation rose again over a possible imminent third North Korean nuclear test, based on several indicators including satellite images and seismic data. Other developments pointed to Pyongyang’s intentions to move ahead with development of a nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang has reportedly been procuring materials from several sources, allegedly including China. Recent reports citing a North Korean Worker’s Party document indicated that before he died Kim Jong Il authorized the large scale production of nuclear weapons using uranium.

Further Reading


After a series of meetings between the P5+1 and Iran, hardly any progress has been made. Following an unsuccessful Moscow session there was a lower level “technical” meeting in Istanbul meant to clarify the parties’ respective technical views of Iranian nuclear issues. This led to scheduling another technical discussion in Turkey on July 24. Iran explained a desire to keep the discussions active, preferring to have a high-level meeting at least once every three months. This might be a sign that Iran is holding out for a change in negotiations following the November U.S. presidential election. Another meeting has been planned for the end of August.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Iran have been brandishing their capabilities in the Persian Gulf. The United States continues to add forces such as minesweepers to the region while Iran tests short and medium range missiles. Iranian leaders were claiming that some of these missiles can hit land command centers and naval vessels, but David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted how their ballistic missiles are not that accurate. Moreover, the Iranian parliament has been looking into the proposition of blocking any oil shipments through the Straits of Hormuz if Iranian oil is blocked.

The United States continues to work on furthering sanctions against Iran, making it harder for Iran to receive payment from any oil it can sell. Concurrently, the Obama administration imposed penalties on two more banks that allegedly act as surrogates for sanctioned Iranian entities and expanded restrictions on the purchase of Iranian petrochemical products such as methanol and xylene. The EU sanctions exemption for contracts expired on July 1, meaning that all bans were now to be in force against Iranian oil imports, and also against insurance applicable to the transport of Iranian oil. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other leaders have said publicly that the sanctions have been hurting the economy, but they have vowed to press ahead with the nuclear enrichment program. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) analyzed sanctions against Iran and concluded that whereas sanctions have not greatly affected uranium enrichment, they have curtailed the development of long-range missiles.

Satellite photos taken by the Institute for Science and International Security this past spring and summer show an apparent final clean-up of the Parchin military test site. Iran raised suspicions by its recent refusal to allow IAEA access to Parchin, and denies accusations that it has been attempting to hide evidence that would point to past work related to the development of a nuclear weapons program. Former experts, including a former IAEA official, have also questioned the relevancy of the IAEA’s recent focus on particular aspects of the site.

Israeli officials led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been making an apparent high-profile push aimed toward influencing U.S. policy, warning that sanctions will not stop Iran’s nuclear program and that world powers should declare the nuclear talks a failure. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the United States has new intelligence that increases urgency around Iran’s nuclear program, specifically suggesting that it would be more difficult than originally anticipated to determine whether Iran was moving toward building a nuclear weapon. Additional reports out of Israel were indicating that Israel has been considering a military strike against Iran before November. U.S. officials sought to clarify the speculation around the reports, saying that the United States does not have indications that Iran has taken a definite decision to build nuclear weapons nor saw any reason for a new or marked increase in the urgency of the situation around the nuclear program in particular.

Further Reading

  • The Rocky Road of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran
    Olli Heinonen, Arms Control Today, July/August 2012


India continued a series of nuclear-capable missile tests, including the land-based Agni 1 with a range of 700km/435 miles and the K-15, India’s first submarine-fired high-altitude missile with a range of 750km/466 miles. India also announced plans to work with Russia to test experimental hypersonic cruise missiles within five years. India’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant, eventually to be armed with nuclear weapons, was set for its first sea trials. However, completion of the vessel is reportedly months behind schedule.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ most recent assessment on India’s nuclear arsenal, released in July, India has enough weapons-grade plutonium for about 100-130 nuclear warheads. However, available information pertinent to nuclear-capable delivery vehicles leads to a lower estimate of about 80-100 nuclear warheads in India’s arsenal.

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report from the end of June indicates that Pakistan is elevating its nuclear posture, in particular by continuing with the production of plutonium for atomic warheads as well as increasing the deployment of delivery vehicles.

Western states are pressuring China to address concerns about its plans to help Pakistan expand a nuclear power plant. China has longstanding nuclear ties to Pakistan and is planning to provide two more reactors to the Chashma nuclear power complex.

Further Reading


The U.S. Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) Block 1B interceptor completed its second successful intercept under controlled conditions. The SM-3 Block 1B is set to be deployed to Romania in an Aegis Ashore system in 2015 as part of wider U.S. and NATO plans for ballistic missile defense in Europe. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski has said that he wants his country to pursue the development of its own missile defense system, within this wider missile defense architecture. The Polish system would defend against shorter-range threats, whereas the system under the U.S. plans for a European Phased Adaptive Approach is officially focused on defending against threats from the Middle East.

Further Reading

  • Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress
    Ronald O’Rourke, Congressional Research Service Report via the website of the Federation of American Scientists, July 2, 2012
  • Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for Congress
    Ronald O’Rourke, Congressional Research Service Report via the website of the Federation of American Scientists, June 29, 2012



Middle East

Nuclear Security and Cooperation

  • Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin, Congressional Research Service Report via the website of the Federation of American Scientists, June 19, 2012


Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Contributions from Richard Abott, Cormac Mc Garry, Chris Lindborg, Rachel Staley, BASIC

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