Getting to Zero Update

In this issue


BASIC and Getting to Zero (GTZ)

The last month held out incredible potential for Getting to Zero. US President Barack Obama chaired a special UN Security Council session specifically devoted to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. In addition, the United States for the first time in 10 years sent a representative, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to the meeting on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). To top it off, the Nobel Committee said in its press release on awarding the Peace Prize to President Obama, “The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” See the section on Commitments to Arms Control and Disarmament below for more information on related developments.

For BASIC, it was no less a busy period. In conjunction with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation, BASIC hosted a delegation of British Parliamentarians to Washington, DC for the purpose of meeting with policymakers in the US Senate and Administration to discuss nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The group included: former Defence Secretary Rt. Hon. Des Browne, MP, (Labour); former UK Ambassador to the United Nations Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Crossbench); Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr David Lidington, MP (Conservative); Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Tony Lloyd, MP; and also Chloe Dalton, Advisor to Shadow Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon William Hague, MP (Conservative).

The Parliamentarians headlined a public event co-hosted with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC on September 9. Audio, video and a summary of the event are available on the Carnegie Endowment’s website.

BASIC also co-hosted a private roundtable discussion with the New America Foundation on September 16 in Washington, DC and met with embassy officials to discuss the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s Strategic Concept Review and the issue of extended deterrence within the US Nuclear Posture Review.

International journalist Anne Penketh started as BASIC’s new Program Director for Washington. She has a distinguished career in international media reporting on disarmament and non-proliferation issues, including most recently as Diplomatic Editor of The Independent. Ian Kearns also joins BASIC as Senior Analyst to deepen our impact in London. He is former Deputy Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and principal author and driver of their recent National Security Commission.


BASIC in the news


Commitments to disarmament and arms control

UN Security Council passes broad resolution on nuclear weapons

On September 23, President Barack Obama delivered his first address to the UN General Assembly, in which he promised to “complete a Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons.” The following day he chaired the UN Security Council, which unanimously approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution (1887) committing all nations to:

Resolv[e] to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in accordance with the goals of the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), in a way that promotes international stability, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all.”

The resolution highlights the current challenges to nuclear disarmament and “demands that the parties concerned comply fully with their obligations under the relevant Security Council resolutions,” but does not single out any country by name, nor does it specifically call for new sanctions. It also urges all member states:

  • to join and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including adopting an additional protocol and a comprehensive safeguards agreement or modified small quantities protocol;
  • to pass more stringent export controls on equipment and technology; and,
  • for the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a ban on the production of military fissile material.

It was the first time that the UN Security Council at the summit level had focused its entire session on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.


Foreign Ministers Promote Test Ban Treaty

One hundred and fifty foreign ministers met at the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) Article XIV Conference in New York and issued a declaration on September 24 calling for rapid activation of the 1996 treaty. The declaration claims that the treaty will facilitate nuclear disarmament and make the test-ban “permanent and legally binding.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (the first time in 10 years since the United States has sent a representative to the Conference) added that, when activated, the treaty will “permit the United States and others to challenge states engaged in suspicious testing activities – including the option of calling on-site inspections to be sure that no testing occurs on land, underground, underwater, or in space.” In order to enter into force, the treaty still requires ratification by nine yet to ratify: China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States.


New START Update

Russia and the United States were continuing talks on the follow-up agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which is now called the “New START” by the Obama Administration. The most recent meeting, held in early October in Geneva, focused on the wording and technical points of the treaty. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Moscow on October 13, discussing the New START and the Clinton-Lavrov Commission. Clinton confirmed in associated remarks that the two countries were still planning on completing the negotiations before the current treaty expires on December 5.

US Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller has revealed that a continuing issue has been the deployment of strategic ballistic missiles without nuclear warheads, in part because verifying the warheads could make the regime more onerous, as well as the dangers of a non-nuclear launch being mistaken for a nuclear attack. Alexander Vershbow, Assistant Defense Secretary for International Security Affairs, said during a Defense Writers Group breakfast on October 8 that Russian and US negotiators have yet to work out how they will extend verification measures beyond the current agreement.


P5 Conference in London

On September 3-4, the UK Government organized and hosted in London a private conference of the Permanent Five (P5) members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, the countries which are the “recognized” nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to discuss confidence-building measures. Senior policymakers and technical experts representing these countries focused on verification, transparency, and compliance measures intended to assist with preventing further nuclear weapons proliferation and reducing current nuclear arsenals.


CD prospects lose luster

Pakistan raised ire at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in August when, according to the Conference President Caroline Millar and other participants, Pakistani representatives focused on procedural issues and prevented the CD from moving onto substantive work. Hopes had been raised back in May when the Conference reached a breakthrough after a 12-year deadlock on its agenda, which includes among other issues developing a fissile material (cutoff) treaty and nuclear disarmament. The spokesperson for Pakistan’s Office of Foreign Affairs defended its Conference participation, saying that Pakistan has played a constructive role in the CD and denied that it has attempted to re-open the work program.


Further reading

  • The Long Road from Prague
    Rose Gottemoeller, US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation Speech delivered before the US Air Force sponsored conference at the Woolands Conference Center, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, August 14, 2009


Country reports

United States

Senators express concerns over possible changes in US nuclear posture

A bi-partisan group of Senators, including the chairs of the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, sent a letter to President Obama on July 23, requesting that the New START agreement be accompanied by a plan, including a ten-year budget, “to enhance the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile, to modernize the nuclear weapons complex (i.e. improve the safety of facilities, modernize the infrastructure, maintain the key capabilities and competencies of the nuclear weapons workforce–the designers and the technicians), and to maintain the delivery platforms.”

The Senate Republican Policy Committee issued a list of policy guidelines directed at the Obama Administration in its development of the START follow-on agreement, also advocating that “the President must submit a comprehensive plan to modernize the US nuclear weapons complex,” which the briefing said “is a prerequisite to any reductions.” (The Committee’s understanding of what “modernization” would require “at a minimum” is provided on page 14 of the document.) Among other recommendations, the Committee also said that weapons such as those that would be part of conventional global strike should not be limited by the New START. The guidelines have come under intense criticism.

Referring to the NPR and the START follow-on negotiations, another bi-partisan group of senators from Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming, “the ICBM Coalition,” wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, requesting that the entire US force of 450 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) not be included in any possible reductions to the US nuclear arsenal.


Further reading

  • US Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow: We didn’t
    expect any quid pro quo for our new approach for missile defense

    Interfax interview with Alexander Vershbow, September 30, 2009
  • Press Briefing by Gary Samore, National Security Council , Coordinator
    for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation; Ambassador Alex Wolff, Deputy
    Permanent Representative to the United Nations; and Mike McFaul,
    Senior Director for Russian Affairs, on Thursday’s UN Security Council
    Meeting and the President’s Meeting Today with President Medvedev of

    Press Briefing at the Waldorf Astoria, New York, New York, (Office of the
    Press Secretary, The White House), September 23, 2009


United Kingdom

Brown on possible reductions

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on September 23 that he will consider a decision that Britain build three rather than four Trident follow-on nuclear submarines to replace the current fleet, as part of the disarmament process. The announcement, made before the UN General Assembly, is intended to show that the government is backing up its recent initiatives on multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation. Senior officials at the Ministry of Defence have agreed on the proposal and Brown will refer the issue to the national security cabinet committee, with a view to receiving endorsement by December. Reports since suggest that the Prime Minister’s advisers are considering a number of other options in addition, including a cut in deployed warhead numbers of 25% from 160 to 120.


Voters voice opposition to full Trident replacement

A majority (63%) of British voters opposed replacing the Trident nuclear system with “an equally powerful missile system,” according to a new poll conducted on September 10 and 11 by “You Gov” for the Left Foot Forward blog. Of the 2,009 people polled, 23% responded that Britain should replace Trident with an equally powerful missile system. In addition, 40% of the respondents said that Britain should “retain a minimum nuclear system, but said it should be less powerful and cost less than replacing Trident,” while 23% advocated forfeiting all nuclear weapons.


Former UK Defence Secretary organizing elite Parliamentary group on nuclear weapon issues

During the visit to Washington organized by BASIC in September, the Rt. Hon. Des Browne, MP (Labour) announced his convening of a new cross-party group of 15 British Parliamentarians, formally called “the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament & Non-Proliferation.” According to the background sheet on Browne’s website, “This group provides an opportunity to reinforce the view that multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is a critical global issue, particularly in the context of 2010 NPT Review Conference. … All the members of this group believe in a world free from nuclear weapons but feel that this can only be achieved incrementally. The group is agreed that the time is now right to develop a UK/European initiative which builds on the recent US work” and will be formally launched at a meeting in London on October 29.


Further reading



Inspectors to visit Iran’s enrichment plant near Qom

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iran agreed to allow its officials to inspect its newly revealed enrichment facility near Qom on October 25. The Iranian government notified the IAEA of the facility apparently only after learning that the United States had been tracking the covert project for a while and was about to release the information publicly. Iran was criticized by the IAEA’s Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, for not notifying the Agency as soon as it had decided to build the plant, about three to four years ago. Iranian officials disagree with this interpretation of their obligations to the Agency. The facility is not complete but is designed to house approximately 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, which Iranian officials have said was also for peaceful purposes, a back-up plant in case of a military attack on other Iranian nuclear facilities.


Meetings in Geneva hint at possible progress

Meetings between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva on October 1 saw probably the most significant progress in multilateral negotiations with Iran in more than three years, and the first bilateral meeting between high-level American and Iranian officials in three decades. Iran negotiators, meeting with the six major powers in Geneva on October 1, tentatively agreed to the idea of exporting the majority of Iran’s enriched uranium for further enrichment in Russia to just under 20% U235 and fabrication in France and then having it returned for use as fuel to make medical isotopes in Tehran’s research reactor. Western experts believe that this would involve up to 1,200 kg of Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU)—three-quarters of Iran’s declared stock. The United States and Russia collaborated for the past month on this proposal and plan to confirm details in a meeting of experts from Iran, France, Russia and the United States at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna on October 19. Additional talks about Iran’s overall nuclear program were expected between the P5+1 and Iran by the end of October.

The US ambassador to the IAEA, Glyn Davies, announced on September 9 that Iran has enriched enough nuclear fuel for a “possible breakout capacity,” but added that no evidence exists to show that Tehran has resumed the warhead development program, judged by US intelligence to have ended in 2003.

Iran tests its longest range missiles

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards tested the country’s longest range missiles on September 27, less than a week before the Geneva meetings. Iran’s foreign military spokesperson, Hassan Qashqavi, insisted, however, that these missile tests were part of Iran’s annual military drill known as “Sacred Defence Week”—commemorating the Iraq-Iran war. Iran test-fired Shahab-3 and Sejil rockets, the longest rockets in Iran’s arsenal, which can each fly somewhere between 1,300 and 2,000 km (807 to 1,240 miles), putting them within range of Israel, US bases in the Persian Gulf, and parts of southeastern Europe.


Further reading


North Korea

North Korea conducted a battery of short-range missile tests on October 12, a move perceived to be aggressive posturing to gain the attention of countries involved in the Six Party Talks, which include North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States. The show of force came two days after China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao, held meetings in Beijing with the leaders of Japan and South Korea and about one week after North Korea’s President, Kim Jong-Il, said that his country would return to the Talks if they were preceded by bi-lateral discussions with the United States.

Washington recently indicated that it would be amenable to direct talks with North Korea if it would coax them back to the Six-Party Talks, but has yet to commit.


North Korea boasts of nuclear capabilities

Pyongyang has continued developing its nuclear program, despite international sanctions, according to a letter the government sent to the United Nations on September 3. North Korea claimed that its nuclear program was close to mastering the “dark art of uranium enrichment,” providing a second way to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The letter—North Korea’s first public admission that it has a secret uranium-enrichment program—states that North Korean scientists are “in the concluding stage” of uranium-enrichment tests. The letter also noted that North Korea is restarting its previously-disabled Yongbyon nuclear reactor to produce weapon-grade plutonium.

Further reading



President Dmitry Medvedev replaced Col. General Nikolai Solovtsov with Lt. General Andrei Shvaichenko as commander of Russia’s strategic missile forces in early August. Although speculation has surrounded the possibility that President Medvedev removed General Solovstov because of a string of Bulava missile-test failures, Russian sources pointed to the General reaching mandatory retirement age, as well as his discomfort with deeper nuclear reductions, which have been under review in Russian-US negotiations for the New START agreement.

Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev announced that Russia will be modifying its military doctrine with regard to “preventive” and nuclear strikes, a change that will be included in a revision of Russia’s doctrine that is due for submission to President Medvedev by the end of this year. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said that Russia will also test “new missile” Topol designs with multiple independently targeted warheads (MIRV) by the end of the year. Lt. General Shvaichenko echoed these plans more recently, saying that Russia will start to deploy the RS-24 missile with multiple warheads in December.


Further reading



An internal debate is brewing among nuclear scientists in India as to whether India needs additional tests to ensure the credibility of its nuclear weapons arsenal, and whether testing would be worth the resulting international condemnation and unraveling of last year’s nuclear energy agreement with the United States. K. Santhanam, who was heading India’s nuclear weapons program when the country conducted nuclear detonations in 1998, is among a small group of scientists who argue against India signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He also angered some Indian colleagues by saying tests of the hydrogen bomb were unsuccessful, a claim that other Indian scientists have disputed. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “a wrong impression has been given by some scientists which is needless” and has affirmed his support for continuing a moratorium on testing.


Further reading



More attacks place spotlight on Pakistan’s nuclear security

Pakistan’s military leaders continued to reject allegations that insurgents or terrorists are targeting the country’s nuclear facilities in order to obtain weapons and reiterated that the country’s nuclear infrastructure is secure, despite a recent spate of serious attacks that included a siege on the Army’s headquarters. During a joint press conference in London on October 11, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that they had confidence in the Pakistani government’s security over sensitive nuclear-related sites, but were concerned about the general threat posed to the government itself and the continuing extreme violence against Pakistani civilians.

Robert Norris and Hans Kristensen wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that Pakistan has recently built up its nuclear arsenal to an estimated total of 70-90 warheads.


Further reading



Japan’s new Prime Minister and Hiroshima’s mayor laud Obama’s call for nuclear disarmament

On September 23, Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, in his first bi-lateral meeting with President Obama, announced his strong support for the President’s nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda, and said, “As the only country that suffered nuclear attacks, we will work together with the United States toward a world without nuclear weapons.” Mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, declared his support for US President Barack Obama’s call to abolish nuclear weapons while speaking at a ceremony on August 6, marking the 64th anniversary of the first atomic bombing. Approximately 50,000 people, including foreign dignitaries and survivors of the bombing, gathered in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon echoed Mayor Akiba’s wishes for a world free of nuclear weapons and urged “humanity to support this sensible and achievable goal.”


Missile defense

Obama Administration changes missile defense plans for Europe

The White House announced on September 17 that it would replace former President George W. Bush’s planned long-range ground-based missile defense (GMD) system in Eastern Europe with a reconfigured system, citing intelligence reports that have indicated Iran is developing short and medium-range missiles that could threaten parts of Europe, while progress on an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile remains slow. The Obama Administration believes that this new plan, which will substitute a radar system in the Czech Republic and ten ground-based interceptors in Poland with a system involving smaller SM-3 missiles deployed aboard Aegis ships and in Southern Europe and Turkey, provides “proven capabilities and technologies to meet current threats” and more “flexibility to upgrade and adjust the architecture.” The Administration sees the deployment taking shape over four phases, starting in 2011 and reaching completion by 2020.

Many Republican Members of Congress publicly denounced the President’s decision to terminate the GMD system for basing in Poland and the Czech Republic, arguing that the cancellation appeases the Russian and Iranian governments while failing American allies.


Further reading

  • DOD Needs to More Fully Assess Requirements and Establish Operational Units before Fielding New Capabilities
    United States Government Accountability Office, September 2009
  • Ballistic Missile Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Planning and Information on Construction and Support Costs for Proposed European Sites
    United States Government Accountability Office, August 2009


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