Moving Beyond INF Treaty Compliance Issues

A tactical Tomahawk cruise missile launch from a Mk-41 VLS. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Leah Stiles/Released.)

A tactical Tomahawk cruise missile launch from a Mk-41 VLS. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Leah Stiles/Released.)

By Greg Thielmann

Russia’s compliance record with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has emerged as another serious problem in an already strained U.S.-Russian security relationship, and one seemingly bound for an endless, and ultimately, futile discussion. But this need not be the case. If the subject is approached with objectivity and creativity, negotiations could open up a new pathway to reinvigorating the treaty and enhancing international stability.

U.S. Charges Violation

After months of unconfirmed press reports and cryptic public comments by members of Congress, the Obama administration in late July finally provided its official finding that Russia was “in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

The U.S. State Department provided few public details on the exact nature of the noncompliant activity it was alleging, presumably because of concerns that the sources and methods used to acquire the information would be compromised. Beyond the basic accusation that Russia flight-tested a cruise missile at a range in excess of 500 km from a launcher associated with ground-launched cruise missiles, Western experts have identified two possibilities for the offending system: the Iskander-K (R-500) GLCM or a variant of the Novator 3M14E Club (SS-N-27) land-attack, sea-launched cruise missile.

The Russia action at issue could conceivably have been a technical violation, such as the use of a ground-launched cruise missile launcher for a sea-launched cruise missile flight-test, or a flight-test range overage, infringing on the 500 km range limit for treaty-permitted systems. The military significance of such actions would be less weighty than a blatant step toward development of a system similar to the U.S. BGM-109G and Soviet SSC-X-4 GLCMs (with ranges of 2,500 km), which were destroyed during treaty implementation. It is thus difficult to determine the military impact from the public record.

Russia Counters With its Own Compliance Concerns

Whatever the nature of the Russian actions prompting the U.S. charge, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s August 1 response included three “serious concerns” of its own about the “liberties” taken by the United States in applying the terms of the treaty:

  • U.S. use in missile defense tests of target missiles, “which have similar characteristics to intermediate-range missiles;”
  • U.S. use of armed drones, which are “covered by the definition of ground-launched cruise missiles in the Treaty;” and
  • U.S. intention to deploy in Poland and Romania Mk-41 launch systems, which “can be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles.”

U.S. use of intermediate-range target missiles in ballistic missile defense testing is probably the least serious of Moscow’s stated concerns. These target missiles have never been “flight-tested or deployed for weapons delivery,” part of the definition of missiles banned under the INF Treaty. Indeed, in successful missile defense tests, they never reach the final phase of a weapons-delivery-vehicle trajectory.

The second charge is somewhat more difficult to dismiss, particularly as the range-payload and utilization of armed drones (“unmanned combat aerial vehicles”) is increasing rapidly. Even though such drones do not seem to be optimized for nuclear-delivery missions, evolving drone technology could soon reach the point where the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) range-payload criterion for nuclear-weapons delivery capability is met. For example, the currently operational MQ-9 Reaper can deliver up to 680 kg of ordnance to a distance of 1,852 km; the follow-on Avenger is planned to have significantly greater payload and range.

Drones are consistent with the INF Treaty’s basic definition “cruise missile:” “an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path.” However, it is not “launched” from a ground-launched cruise missile launcher as defined by the treaty, but “takes off” and returns like a manned aircraft. Such aircraft are not limited by the INF treaty. It is thus a stretch to equate the two categories, an equation that cannot be justified by the letter of the treaty.

The third issue raised by Moscow—the U.S. intention to deploy Mk-41 launchers for SM-3 missile defense interceptors in Romania and Poland, which Moscow labels “quite notorious”—may not be as spurious as it appears at first glance.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, September 3

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.

Ashton, Zarif Meet  

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), met on Monday in Brussels to discuss the resumption of nuclear talks.

After the meeting, Zarif said he was “optimistic” that negotiators could reach an agreement by the November 24 deadline. No date is set, however, for the resumption of talks at the political director level, although a ministerial level meeting between Iran and the P5+1 is possible on the outskirts of the UN General Assembly, which begins in September.

The U.S. negotiating team also met with the Iranian team earlier this month on August. 7 in Geneva.

Since the July 19 announcement extending negotiations through November 24, meetings have been light, with negotiators consulting in their capitals and taking some well-deserved time off after the marathon three-week negotiating session in July. Hopefully this means negotiators will return to the table well rested and ready to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Update: The September diplomatic flurry is picking up. Today, the U.S. nuclear negotiating team is in Geneva for talks with its Iranian counterparts. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom will meet with Iran’s team on Sept. 11, and there will be a full meeting of the P5+1 and Iran in New York on Sept. 18. The Foreign Ministers are expected to meet after the Sept. 18 talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

–KELSEY DAVENPORT, nonproliferation analyst 


Mr. Amano Goes to Tehran

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano flew to Tehran on Aug. 17 to continue discussions on the agency’s investigation into the unresolved concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities. He met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister and lead nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif, and head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi.

Amano’s visit took place a week before the Aug. 25 deadline for Iran to submit information on five areas of concern to the agency. Earlier reports suggested the IAEA was concerned that Iran may not meet the Aug. 25 deadline. These reports turned out to be true, as Salehi told press on Aug. 25 that Iran submitted information on several of the actions, but was still completing several others.

These five actions are part of a Framework for Cooperation that Iran and the IAEA reached last November, in which they agreed on a process to resolve all of the agency’s outstanding concerns. Thirteen areas have already been addressed under the framework.

Two of the activities Iran committed to provide information on by Aug. 25 relate to activities that the agency’s alleges are related to nuclear weapons development, the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs). Other actions relate to the clarity and completeness of Iran’s declaration to the IAEA about its nuclear program.

Tehran was to provide the IAEA with information addressing allegations that Iran conducted experiments with certain kinds of high explosives that could be relevant to nuclear weapons. Iran also said it would provide information on studies “in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modeling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials,” another area with direct connections to nuclear weapons development. IAEA officials followed up with Iranian experts on Aug. 30 in Tehran, but according to Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, only three of the five actions have been completed.

During his visit, Amano also followed up on information Iran submitted to the IAEA last May on one of the other PMD issues, exploding bridge wire detonators. In May, Iran provided the IAEA with information saying the detonators had civilian purposes. Salehi said Iran answered all of the agency’s questions and pushed Amano to declare that the detonator issue is resolved. Amano, however, said that the IAEA must evaluate all of the issues together before making any determinations about civilian versus weapons use.

Amano said he also discussed new measures for Iran to take “in the near future” and that he was glad to hear Iran’s commitment to seeing the process through.

For a complete list of the actions under the IAEA-Iran framework, see “Implementation of the Iran-IAEA Framework for Cooperation.”

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Myths and Realities: The Role the Additional Protocol Can Play in Iran

By Jonah Aboni

IAEA inspectors visit an Iranian nuclear facility. Photo credit: jcpa

IAEA inspectors visit an Iranian nuclear facility. Photo credit: jcpa

The negotiations by the United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) to prevent a nuclear –armed Iran have advanced progressively toward a comprehensive deal. Hopefully an agreement will be reached by November 24 to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

As diplomatic efforts begin to crescendo, positive gains so far have still not convinced critics who are opposed to diplomatic negotiations with Iran that a deal is in the best interest of the United States. Until the November 24 deadline, the Arms Control Association will publish a weekly post debunking some of the most commonly held “myths” about Iran’s nuclear program and what a comprehensive agreement will seek to achieve.

Myth: A comprehensive deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons using a covert program.  

Some critics of an Iranian nuclear deal remain adamant that Iran could pursue covert nuclear activities under a comprehensive nuclear agreement. They argue that such covert operations could enable Iran to proceed with a nuclear weapons program despite a comprehensive agreement.

But in reality, a good deal will put in place measures that make it more difficult for Iran to pursue covert facilities and more likely that any covert activities will be quickly detected.

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Huge Advance in Chemical Weapons Arms Control

The MV Cape Ray at Portsmouth, Virginia.

The MV Cape Ray at Portsmouth, Virginia.

By Greg Thielmann

It was exactly one year ago that Syrian government forces unleashed poison gas attacks on an opposition-held suburb of Damascus, killing hundreds of innocent civilians. At the time, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad controlled the world’s second largest operational arsenal of chemical weapons, even though he did not acknowledge it. Shortly after the attacks, however, his government admitted holding some 1,300 metric tons of mustard agent and nerve gas precursor chemicals, chemical weapons manufacturing sites, and delivery systems.

Today, Syria is a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which outlaws all development, possession, and use of poison gas; all of Syria’s declared arsenal has been removed from the country; and 86 percent of it has already been neutralized or incinerated. The prevention of further use of the most deadly chemical weapons on a large scale by the Syrian regime constitutes a stunning and underappreciated achievement.

A Taboo Is Strengthened

Poison gas was introduced by Germany onto the World War I battlefield almost a century ago. The tens of thousands of deaths on both sides resulting from its extensive use and the long-term suffering of surviving victims led to a widely supported international ban on chemical weapons use in the form of the “1925 Protocol.” The taboo on chemical weapons has been sufficiently strong to prevent its use in most of the wars conducted since.

However, some three decades back, the world witnessed the sustained, large-scale use of banned chemical weapons in Iraq’s 8-year war against Iran. The regime of Saddam Hussein, which had started the war by invading Iran, employed a variety of poison gases in attacks on Iranian soldiers and civilians alike, killing tens of thousands. Saddam also ordered the use of nerve gas against his own citizens – most notoriously in the March 1988 attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja. To their shame, the United States and some other Western powers were not only silent in the face of these atrocities; they assisted the military of the Iraqi perpetrators.

By the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, several other countries were still assessed to have active inventories of chemical weapons. The biggest holders by far were the Soviet Union and the United States. North Korea, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Libya, and Yugoslavia were also suspected of maintaining operational chemical weapons. In accordance with the cease-fire terms imposed on Iraq following the expulsion of Saddam’s troops from Kuwait by an international coalition in 1991, Iraq began the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal.

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The Next Two Weeks Ahead, August 17-30: IAEA Amano Visits Iran; GGE on FMCT Meets; International Day Against Nuclear Tests

The following are some of the key arms control dates and developments to watch over the next two weeks. WeekAheadSOLO

For more news and analysis on these and other weapons-related security issues, consider subscribing to ACA’s monthly journal Arms Control Today, which is available in print/digital and digital-only editions.

– written and compiled by Tim Farnsworth

August 11-22: Group of Governmental Experts Meet on Fissile Material Treaty

A group of governmental experts (GGE) established by UN resolution A/RES/67/53, his holding the last two week-long session to make recommendations on possible aspects that could contribute to, but not negotiate, a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The group is charged with presenting a consensus report to the UN General Assembly 70th Session.

For more information and analysis about the FMCT, check out these Arms Control Association resources:

August 17: IAEA Director General Amano Meets with Iranian Leaders

Ahead of the the August 25 deadline for Iran to submit to the International Atomic Energy Agency information related to five areas of concern over its nuclear program, the agency’s director general, Yukiya Amano will head to Tehran to meet with key Iranian leaders and senior officials.

Two of the five areas of concern that Iran needs to report to the IAEA deals with the issue of past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. For more information regarding the implementation of the Iran-IAEA Framework for cooperation and issues surrounding Iran’s past nuclear program, see:

August 29: International Day Against Nuclear Tests

On the 65th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear test at the Semipalatinsk Test Site, now part of Kazakhstan, the world will come together to call for entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared August 29 the International Day Against Nuclear Tests by adopting resolution 64/35.  The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan in order to build awareness of the ongoing efforts to educate policy makers and the public and advocate for the banning of nuclear tests in order to build a safer world. 2010 marks the first year for commemoration of the day and activities to build awareness now takes place around the world every year.

To commemorate this year’s International Day against Nuclear Tests, the UN General Assembly in New York will hold a special meeting on 10 September.

On the afternoon of September 15, the Embassy of Kazakhstan to the United States, Global Greens USA, and the Arms Control Association will host a mini-conference titled, “Nuclear Weapons Testing: History, Progress, Challenges, in Washington, D.C.

More details on both events will be posted as they become available.

For more information on the CTBT and efforts to ban nuclear tests, visit the Project for the CTBT site.

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The Time is Now For Countries to Discuss Autonomous Weapons Systems

The SGR-A1, developed for the North/South Korea border, can in theory fire a gun without human intervention, raising concerns about autonomous robots. (Copyright: Getty Images)

The SGR-A1, developed for the North/South Korea border, can in theory fire a gun without human intervention, raising concerns about autonomous robots. (Copyright: Getty Images)

By Brianna Starosciak

A new wave of “autonomous” weapons technology is on the horizon and many countries are discussing ways in which that new technology may be used in future military conflicts—and whether new rules to manage the risks posed those weapons are in order.

While lethal autonomous weapons systems are not deployed on the battlefield yet, their semi-autonomous precursors, such as drones, have been around for years. It is only a matter of time before their autonomous descendants join them on the battlefield.

There is no definition of lethal autonomous weapons systems under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which has been a key mechanism used to address new weapons types. A May 13-16 informal meeting of CCW states parties determined that since lethal autonomous weapons systems are in their nascent stage and could evolve in many different ways, it is too early establish a definition for these weapons.

However, there are some key characteristics of lethal autonomous weapons systems that differentiate them from other types of weapons, the most important of which is that these robotic systems would be able to select a target and attack without any human intervention. In contrast, the unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. drones) that are widely used today still require human intelligence to identify and engage targets.

Proponents of lethal autonomous weapons systems argue that they provide a number of useful characteristics, including: continuous operation for long periods of time in hostile environments, they are impervious to potential chemical and biological attack, they can communicate swiftly, and could record any potentially unethical or nefarious behavior in their zone of operation. Most importantly, proponents argue, the deployment of lethal autonomous weapons systems could keep more soldiers out of the line of fire.

On the other hand, a growing number of critics, such as Human Rights Watch and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, highlight significant issues of concern surrounding the development and potential use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Some of these issues include their vulnerability to hacking, the potential for lowering the threshold of conflict, difficulty identifying friend and foe, the need to develop a code of ethics to guide their use in warfare, and the need to enforce rules governing state use of such weapons systems. Much farther into the future, critics note, there could be issues of robot self-awareness. At that point, lethal autonomous weapons systems could draw conclusions about their own status in society and the moral judgments of fellow soldiers or other human beings.

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Sixty-Nine Years After Hiroshima, Time for Renewed Action for Nuclear Disarmament and Human Survival

HIROSHIMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 05:  A-Bomb Dome is seen near Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on August 5, 2010 in Hiroshima, Japan, on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. The world's first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the United States during World War II, killing an estimated 70,000 people instantly with many thousands more dying over the following years from the effects of radiation. Three days later another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.  (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

A-Bomb Dome is seen near Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on August 5, 2010 in Hiroshima, Japan,. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

By Daryl G. Kimball

Since the devastating U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 69 years ago this week, the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons have motivated ordinary citizens to push their leaders to pursue arms control and disarmament measures to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons use.

For decades, it has been well understood that the direct effects of a large-scale nuclear conflict could result in several hundred million human fatalities, while the indirect effects would be far greater, leading to the loss of billions of lives.

An April 1979 U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency report found that an exchange of U.S. and Soviet nuclear forces involving a total of approximately 18,000 strategic warheads would kill 25-100 million people in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Under the scenario examined, the population centers would not be targeted but would be within the range of effects of the weapons targeted against military and industrial targets. As a result, the 200 largest cities in each country would be destroyed and 80 percent of all cities with 25,000 people or more would be attacked by at least one nuclear weapon.

Since the end of the Cold War–and with strong public pressure for the conclusion of effective U.S.-Russian nuclear risk reduction and disarmament measures–the threat of a U.S.-Russian conflict has decreased, but the risk of a nuclear war remains.

In 2001, the United States and Russia formally adopted a policy of cooperation against common threats. On Nov. 13, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared, “[t]he United States and Russia have overcome the legacy of the Cold War. Neither country regards the other as an enemy or threat.” 

Unfortunately, the United States and Russia are not exactly friends and their nuclear arsenals and strategy are still sized and oriented to engage in a protracted nuclear exchange that would devastate the other, many times over.

Clearly, current U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals far exceed what is necessary to deter a nuclear attack from being launched in the first place. Today, the U.S. and Russian strategic and tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles (not including warheads awaiting dismantlement) each exceed 5,000 nuclear bombs, any one of which could devastate Washington or Moscow.

As of March 1, 2014, the United States deployed 1,585 strategic nuclear warheads on 778 strategic bombers, land-based missiles, and submarine-based missiles, while Russia deployed 1,512 strategic warheads on 498 strategic delivery vehicles. Under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), by the year 2018, each country is allowed to deploy no more than 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons on 700 missiles and bombers.

While further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions are clearly in order, President Putin rebuffed President Obama’s June 2013 proposal to slash U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear stockpiles by another one-third below New START ceilings—to nearly 1,000 deployed strategic warheads.

On Dec. 25, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s security and disarmament department said, “[n]ow is the most inauspicious moment in the past 10-15 years to talk about further reductions.”

Actually, the United States and Russia need effective nuclear risk reduction measures now, more than ever.

While U.S. and Russian nuclear forces remain primed for prompt launch, renewed tensions between the two nuclear superpowers over Russia’s ongoing meddling in Ukraine raises the specter of a military conflict that could escalate into a catastrophic nuclear confrontation. Just one U.S. nuclear-armed submarine—loaded with 24 missiles, each armed with four 455-kiloton warheads—could kill millions.

A 2001 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) details the effects of a “precision” nuclear attack on nuclear forces in Russia. NRDC’s nuclear war simulation demonstrates that 8 to 12 million people would die in a U.S. attack on Russia’s nuclear forces, and more would die if other targets were included, such as military and political leadership and war-supporting infrastructure.

A 2001 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council details the effects of a "precision" nuclear attack on nuclear forces in Russia. This map shows how radioactive fallout would spread across the Russian landmass, creating lethal conditions over an area exceeding 300,000 square miles—larger in size than France and the United Kingdom. NRDC's nuclear war simulation demonstrates that between 8 and 12 million people would die in a U.S. attack on Russia’s nuclear forces; more would die if other targets, including military and leadership; war-supporting infrastructure were also included in the nuclear strike. (Source: “The U.S. War Plan: A Time for Change,” June 2001.)

This map shows how radioactive fallout would spread across the Russian landmass, creating lethal conditions over an area exceeding 300,000 square miles—larger in size than France and the United Kingdom. NRDC’s nuclear war simulation demonstrates that between 8 and 12 million people would die in a U.S. attack on Russia’s nuclear forces; more would die if other targets, including military and leadership; war-supporting infrastructure were also included in the nuclear strike. (Source: “The U.S. War Plan: A Time for Change,” June 2001.)

In other regions of the world, the number of nuclear weapons has slowly increased and the threat of nuclear annihilation has grown.

China has an estimated 240-300 nuclear weapons, no more than 50 of which are on intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. France has fewer than 300 operational nuclear warheads. The United Kingdom has fewer than 160 deployed strategic warheads and a total stockpile of up to 225 nuclear warheads. India is estimated to have about 100 nuclear warheads and Pakistan is estimated to have as many as 90 nuclear warheads. Israel, which has not officially acknowledged its nuclear arsenal, is believed to have between 75 to 200 nuclear warheads. North Korea’s arsenal is limited in size (it has enough fissile material for about 10 bombs) and range.

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