Getting to Zero Update

In this issue:

Commitments to disarmament and arms control

Iraq ratifies CTBT

On August 19, the Iraqi government ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT has now been signed by 179 countries since its inception at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in 1996, but cannot take effect until ratified by the 44 nations which possessed nuclear technology at the time of the conference. Thirty-five have to date, but the key hold-outs – the United States, China, India, Iran, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea – leave its future uncertain. The CTBT Organization will hold a meeting of Foreign Ministers on September 24 in New York to discuss promoting the Treaty’s entry into force.

IAEA’s ElBaradei will not seek fourth term

Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1997, will not seek another term as Director General of the organization. Favorites to replace him include Yukiya Amano, Japan’s IAEA Ambassador, Abdul Minty, South Africa’s long-serving IAEA Ambassador, Rogelio Pfirter, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Ollie Heinonen, head of the Agency’s global non-proliferation inspectorate.

ElBaradei brought the IAEA out of obscurity to become the foremost international proliferation watchdog group, and he and the organization were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for efforts to stop nuclear proliferation. He openly questioned US evidence of nuclear materials in Iraq before the American-led invasion, and his suspicions have since been largely confirmed. However, critics have questioned the IAEA’s increasingly public role, and Israel has strongly criticized ElBaradei’s reluctance to “isolate” Iran diplomatically, or endorse military strikes against Iranian nuclear installations.

Country reports

United States

Tom D’Agostino on “reducing the global nuclear threat”

Thomas P D’Agostino, the Administrator of the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), addressed issues including his support for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), and the impact of animosity between the United States and Russia on disarmament and non-proliferation programs, during a public meeting on September 17 (more details on BASIC’s blog). He stressed that the United States needed to disarm “in a way that doesn’t create imbalance,” and implied that getting to zero would be impossible, saying the nuclear deterrent was “indispensible.”

USAF officers disciplined for security breach

In late August, two officers of the missile control corps were removed from duty at Minot AFB for removing obsolete technology used in detecting equipment tampering. The Air Force claimed there is no risk of accidental launch as a result of this security breach. Three other members of a ballistic missile crew at Minot have been “decertified from missile operations” for falling asleep while in possession of launch code devices.

Presidential campaigns

The presidential race entered its last two months in turbulent fashion, with Democratic Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain fighting for the title of ‘reform candidate’. Although the two have traded accusations with one another on a number of defense issues, in particular the future of US troop deployments in Iraq, there appears to be a consensus in favor of drawing down and moving toward elimination of the US nuclear arsenal. The first scheduled debate on foreign policy issues between Obama and McCain will be held this Friday, September 26 at the University of Mississippi.

US-India deal controversy

After more than three years in the making, the divisive ‘US-India civilian nuclear agreement’ cleared its final major hurdle, as India was given an exemption from international restrictions on the sale and export of nuclear technology by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG, a 45-nation body of countries possessing nuclear technology, exists to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export and sale of nuclear technology. Reports indicate that the Indian government has already begun its efforts to purchase uranium and nuclear technology from a number of sources including companies in the United States, Russia and France. The deal has been loudly criticized, in particular by former US President Jimmy Carter, who cautioned that it would “put the world at risk.”

The deal had previously survived three separate votes in the US Congress, via the Hyde Act in 2006, and the Indian Parliament and IAEA Board of Governors earlier this year. Proponents have relied upon two key arguments:

1.   Nuclear power is essential to meeting the energy needs of India’s large and expanding population with (claimed) fewer environmental impacts and reduced reliance upon dwindling fossil fuels.

2.   India shares the international community’s “commonly held values” of democracy and freedom, and claims an “impeccable track record” of nuclear non-proliferation. The US sees strengthened relations with India as crucial to building an effective non-proliferation regime, pointing to Indian opposition to Iran at the IAEA as evidence. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, claimed that the deal will “bring India closer as an important partner in the non-proliferation regime,” since India would come under IAEA safeguards and inspections.

Opponents worry that imported uranium will free up domestic uranium supplies for use in the weapons program. They also highlight the risks of the nuclear option when compared to renewable energy alternatives. But the strongest criticism has been reserved for the agreement’s failure to stipulate the consequences should India perform a nuclear weapon test after receiving imported nuclear materials and technology, with fears of significant repercussions for the non-proliferation regime as a whole. Many have warned that the “exceptional” nature of India’s deal will not prevent other nuclear powers such as Israel and Pakistan, or aspiring nuclear-weapon states, from seeking similar waivers.

Furthermore, the IAEA, NSG and the United States have been accused of undermining their own authority when dealing with “rogue” states like Iran and North Korea, from whom they have denied access to nuclear technology. In particular, the intense pressure exerted by the Bush Administration on NSG holdouts, including Australia, Japan and Austria, has led to skepticism about the NSG’s independence from undue American influence. The United States and other countries have also been accused of allowing economic motives to take priority over national security.

BASIC’s in-depth analysis of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement and its consequences for the nonproliferation regime can be found here: in favor; in opposition.


Australia responds to India deal

Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith reiterated his promise not to sell uranium from Australia’s massive reserves to India: “Our policy has also been, and remains, not to supply other items to non-[NPT] signatories for use in nuclear programs.” Australia was among several nations to express concerns at the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) but allow the measure to pass through, and has endured criticism as a result. Smith clarified that Australia would nevertheless “consider, on a case by case basis, applications for the export of dual-use items.” He emphasized the importance of strengthening trade relations between the two nations, and thanked India for supporting the Australian-led International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, remarking that, “Australia’s relationship with India goes far beyond the export of minerals.”

United Kingdom & Italy

United Kingdom to assist Italy with nuclear energy

On September 10, Italy and the United Kingdom committed to a new nuclear energy partnership. Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has suggested that such a deal might lead to a single nuclear policy throughout Europe. Italy, after a 1987 referendum (in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster) is the only G-8 member nation not to have developed nuclear power. Berlusconi indicated that Italy would begin construction of new nuclear power plants in the next five years as an alternative to costly energy imports.


Zardari elected president

On September 6, Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was elected president of Pakistan. In an address that marked the official end of Musharraf’s 9-year reign, Zardari paid homage to his wife and promised that during his time in office, the Pakistani “parliament is sovereign; this president shall be subservient to the parliament.” It is unknown how Zardari’s takeover will affect Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. Fallout from the U.S.-India nuclear deal remains unclear although some fear that the deal may goad Pakistan into renewing the nuclear arms race between the two neighboring nations. Whether Zardari will push for an equivalent deal between China and Pakistan, remains to be seen.

On a related note, former US Secretary of the Air Force and former nuclear lab scientist Thomas Reed, recounts in a Physics Today article how China supplied Pakistan with nuclear weapons blueprints and materials during the 1980s, and eventually tested a Pakistani nuclear bomb at Lop Nor. Some of the claims have drawn suspicion from leading experts, who challenged Reed’s knowledge of the described events, calling the claims “unlikely” and doubting that the Chinese assisted Pakistan in testing.


Georgia conflict

The war of words between the Russian and US governments in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Georgia continues to jeopardize the future of multilateral non-proliferation efforts involving the two countries. After what President Bush slammed as a “dramatic and brutal escalation,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev defied European and American expectations by recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two break-away regions of Georgia. Medvedev declared that Russia was “not afraid of another Cold War.”

Rhetoric aside, American authorities have indicated that relations with Russia are no longer “business as usual,” and that Secretary of Defense Condoleezza Rice may end cooperative measures under the US-Russia Strategic Framework. Congressional sources described the proposed US-Russia civil nuclear agreement as “dead.” With renewal of the START treaty scheduled for 2009, the SORT treaty expiring in 2012, and Russia threatening to abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, continued diplomatic failures could have severe consequences for non-proliferation efforts.

Venezuela combat exercises

In mid-September, several Russian TU-160 Blackjack bombers, which are capable of deploying nuclear weapons, staged “training flights” in Venezuela. Russia was also planning to send warships to Venezuela’s coast for naval exercises. The countries have committed to increased defense cooperation and will discuss energy issues during Chavez’s upcoming visit to Russia. Russia has recently been increasing the profile of its relations with countries that have been antagonistic to US policies, including Cuba, Iran and Venezuela, in a display of frustration with US diplomacy over the Georgian crisis and European missile defense.

North Korea

Kim Jung Il’s health becomes concern for future of negotiations

Rumors about the health of 66-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jung Il began after he failed to appear at a large military parade marking the nation’s 60th anniversary on September 9 in Pyongyang. The following day, after North Korean officials had dismissed the speculation as “worthless,” South Korean authorities confirmed that Il was “recovering” from a stroke, but was not thought to be in “serious condition.” The incident has highlighted a potential succession crisis in the country. With the US presidential elections around the corner, new leadership in both the United States and North Korea could spell a change in relations.

News of Il’s condition comes at a tenuous time for the “six-party” talks (North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States). The disagreement between the United States and North Korea is focused on the process of “verifying” information that Pyongyang provided, detailing the dismantling of its nuclear facilities. The North Koreans claim to have fulfilled their obligations and have demanded that they be removed from the American list of “state sponsors of terror,” which would relax trade and financial aid restrictions currently in place, before proceeding further. The North Koreans announced that they would “halt nuclear disablement” and could resume their weapons program shortly. On September 22, the IAEA reported that it had received requests from North Korea to remove the seals and surveillance cameras that are intended to help the IAEA monitor North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reprocessing facility. That same day, US representative to negotiations over the nuclear program, Christopher Hill, reacted to the development, saying that he was not concerned about North Korea “immediately” resuming reprocessing. He explained that it could take months to restart reprocessing, and that it could take a year to reactivate the entire nuclear complex.


IAEA questions Iran’s missile developments

On September 15, the IAEA released an updated report on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Iran has continued its enrichment activities over the summer, but the IAEA has not detected any diversion of nuclear material. The report criticized Iran for failing to clear up accusations that it had tried to weaponize its nuclear program prior to 2003, and indicated that Iran may have used unspecified “foreign expertise” in its efforts.

The IAEA evidence suggested that Iran may have been researching methods to incorporate a nuclear weapon into the cone of its Shahab-3 missile system. The IAEA has requested materials to clarify this possibility, but the Iranian government has refused, claiming that missile information is a national security matter and not germane to questions about its nuclear program.

Representatives of the P5+1 are planning to meet on September 25 to discuss another possible round of sanctions on Iran in the aftermath of the IAEA report. A statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that further sanctions would not impact Iran’s decisions, asserting that “The era of (uranium enrichment) suspension has endedナ Iran’s position on the nuclear issue has not changed.”

In Israel Tzipi Livni was elected as the new leader of the ruling Kadima Party, and the process of forming a new government has begun. It remains to be seen whether a new Israeli leadership will adopt a different approach to Iran’s nuclear program.

Missile defense

US-Czech Deal

While in London for NATO’s informal meeting of Defense Ministers on September 19, US and Czech officials signed a Status of Forces Agreement, which finalized a series of administration-level agreements for the Czech Republic to host an X-band radar as part of a US missile defense system in Europe. Russia has indicated that it views any such radar installation as contrary to its security interests. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek called the radar “purely defensive” and commented “it cannot be … used against the state like the Russian Federation with the arsenal of thousands of such missiles.”

The Bush Administration is also developing plans to base 10 missile interceptors in Poland. According to Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, US Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama told him that he would support a missile defense deal for Europe only if the system were clearly not aimed at Russia. Agreements between the United States and the Czech Republic and Poland still await ratification by the countries’ legislatures, where there is considerable opposition.

Further reading

Series overview: The future of US missile defense
National Public Radio, September 22, 2008

Brown goes nuclear
David Lowry, Guardian, September 20, 2008

Plan to stop buying strategic missile motors is a mistake
Loren Thompson, Issue Brief, Lexington Institute, September 18, 2008

Ask McCain and Obama about missile defense
Philip Coyle, Center for Defense Information, September 18, 2008

Testing the test-ban treaty: an inspection exercise in Kazakhstan
Rebecca Johnson, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 15, 2008

The US-India nuclear deal: Six reasons why America can wait (PDF)
Frankie Sturm, Backgrounder, Truman National Security Project, September 15, 2008

Bush overstates threat posed by a nuclear Iran
Ward Wilson, Chicago Tribune, September 14, 2008

Correcting the record: Arms experts respond to Secretary Rice’s claims about Bush administration nuclear control accomplishments
Arms Control Association, September 10, 2008

Seize chance to free world of nuclear weapons
Susan Gordon and Martin Fleck, Des Moines Register, September 8, 2008

What about the nukes?
Portland Oregonian, September 1, 2008

Deterring state sponsorship of nuclear terrorism
Michael A Levi, Council on Foreign Relations, September 2008

Sea-based missile defense: Expanding the options (PDF)
A joint study by the Center for American Progress and the Lexington Institute, August 28, 2008

The nuclear deterrent that fails to deter
Daniel Flitton, The Age, August 26, 2008

In nuclear net’s undoing, a web of shadowy deals
William J Broad and David A Sanger, New York Times, August 24, 2008

Take steps toward a nuclear-free future
San Francisco Chronicle, August 24, 2008

Abolishing nuclear weapons
George Perkovich and James M Acton, Adelphi Paper: Volume 48, Issue 396, Institute for International and Strategic Studies

BASIC and Getting to Zero (GTZ)

BASIC has submitted a 10-page brief (PDF) of recommendations for the US Strategic Posture Review Commission (SPRC), September 10, 2008

The dilemma between deterrence and disarmament: Moving beyond the perception of China as a nuclear threat (PDF), Stephen Herzog, BASIC Paper, No 57, August 2008

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard