Getting to Zero Update

In this issue:

 

Arms control

On October 15 top US disarmament officials briefed a UN General Assembly panel on Washington's efforts to sharply reduce its nuclear stockpile in line with its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"By the time we are done in 2012, we will have reduced the US stockpile, the operationally deployed warheads by 80 percent and the total stockpile will be reduced to one quarter of what it was at the end of the Cold War," said Thomas D'Agostino, the administrator of the US National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy (DOE). He said the United States would be left with between 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed warheads plus additional warheads that will be kept in reserve but whose number is classified.

On October 28 Russia and the United States urged all countries to destroy medium range nuclear-capable missiles, in a joint declaration published by the Russian foreign ministry. Concerned that an increasing number of states, including Iran and North Korea, have the technology to make missiles that can travel 5,500 km (3,400 miles), they are calling for their 20-year-old bilateral Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty to become global in character.

On November 1 the UN General Assembly's disarmament committee approved a resolution calling for all nuclear weapons to be taken off high alert, despite objections from the United States, Britain and France.

 

Further reading

"The Legislator of Last Resort: Security Council's Emerging Role in WMD Proliferation Crises" Kanwar, Vik, March 28, 2007.

LOOKING BACK: The Additional Protocol
Trevor Findlay, Arms Control Today, November 2007.

White House Guidance Led to New Nuclear Strike Plans Against Proliferators, Document Shows
Strategic Security Blog, November 5, 2007.

 

Pakistan

International concern over Pakistan's state of emergency includes a focus on the status of the nuclear weapons. Reassurances from Pakistan have been thick and fast. Gen. Pervez Musharraf has justified the state of emergency by claiming that the nuclear arsenal is safe as long as forces hostile to modernity were kept out of government - his biggest fear therefore was unchecked democracy. His had not concluded that this was a good reason for disarmament (a strong motive for South African disarmament).

Musharraf's reassurance is taken with some skepticism elsewhere. The experience with A Q Khan shows that controls have not been as tight as necessary in the past, and US knowledge of the whereabouts of all the warheads is patchy, despite its $100m cooperation with the Pakistani government to secure the infrastructure.

 

India

The Indian Prime Minister appears hopeful now of achieving majority support for the nuclear deal, just when it had appeared doomed from opposition within the ruling coalition. Opposition from Left-based Parliamentary groups (particularly the Indian Communist Party) appears to be weakening, possibly because of domestic considerations - they are allowing government negotiations to start with the IAEA. Meanwhile, the agreement may yet receive a rocky ride within the US Congress because of India's insistence on continued economic ties with Tehran.

Mohammed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) talks about the Indo-US nuclear deal in this CNN-IBN interview.

 

Iran

The IAEA Secretary General issued his report to Board members on 15 November. This confirmed that Iran had been more cooperative in submitting sensitive documents and providing access to staff, that there was no evidence that any declared materials had been diverted, but also that there remained some outstanding questions the IAEA hoped to clarify over the coming weeks. It also confirmed that Iran had not ceased enrichment as demanded by the Security Council, and continued construction of the Arak IR-40 heavy-water reactor. Knowledge about current activities was degrading because Iran was not abiding by the voluntary Additional Protocol.

US media generally emphasized the latter failures, even suggesting the report raised new doubts (not true), and reporting that the US government was calling for new sanctions. Britain and other European governments reserved judgment - Javier Solana is to consult EU members on the push for new sanctions. Iranian and EU negotiators are due to meet on 21 November. The IAEA Board is to meet 22-23 November. It will be particularly difficult to persuade China to engage in a new round of sanctions, not only because the IAEA Report was ambiguous on Iran's cooperation, but also because diplomatic and economics ties are deepening (Iran is already China's largest supplier of oil).

Daniel Levy, previously an adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, wrote in the October 21 Haaretz that a deterrence and containment strategy for dealing with a nuclear Iran are preferable to the military option, even for Israel. Efraim Halevy, recent head of Mossad (until 2003), is reported in November 11 Washington Post that he believes the US and Israel are being too bellicose with Iran, that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel and that Israel needs to negotiate seriously with Iran. "They are deterrable", he said. Meanwhile, Israel and the US set up two joint working committees to try to establish a united response to Iran's nuclear programme - one to discuss the intelligence evidence and the other sanctions and other coercive tools.

Ellen Tausche, chairman of the House of Representatives subcommittee on strategic forces, questioned the quality of US intelligence on Iran, saying that British and French intelligence had greater reach and efficacy within Iran. A split in the US intelligence community over the level of threat posed by Iran has held up the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate for over a year.

On October 20 Iran announced the resignation of its chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, a move that signals deepening internal divisions on the eve of critical international talks about its nuclear program. See here, here, here and here for detail.

In October President Bush informed the American people that "if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter explores the implications of that statement here. The New York Times has a compilation of Presidential candidate statements on Iran.

Admiral William Fallon, head of US military operations in the Middle East, claimed that there were no plans to attack Iran, and implied that talk of an attack in the near future were irresponsible. Nevertheless, a former commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said mounting US rhetoric against the Iran over its nuclear programme should be taken seriously.

This October 25 segment on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer examines the latest set of economic sanctions against Iran targeted to impact the country's military and halt Tehran's disputed nuclear program. US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, offer perspectives on the US policy course on Iran. See also this October 29 segment with Commentary magazine editor Norman Podhoretz and Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria.

 

Further reading

Responding to a Nuclear Iran, Hemmer, Christopher, Parameters, Autumn 2007.

Can Sanctions Be Effective in Halting Iran's Nuclear Program?
Council on Foreign Relations, October 19, 2007.

Fact Sheet: Designation of Iranian Entities and Individuals for Proliferation Activities and Support for Terrorism
US Treasury Department, October 25, 2007.

Iran Sanctions and Regional Security
Testimony by Philip H. Gordon, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution, to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, October 23, 2007.

The Iran Counter-Proliferation Act: Potential Implications for Russian-Iranian Relations and US -Russian Nuclear Cooperation
October 26, 2007.

"The Ban on the Bomb - and Bombing: Iran, the US and the International Law of Self-Defense". Mary EllenO'Connell and Maria Alevras-Chen, Syracuse Law Review, Vol. 57, 2007.

The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know
Esquire

In the delicate geometry of Iran lies the big test of Brown's political agility
Tehran represents the prime minister's great diplomatic challenge. He would do well to study the lessons of Iraq . Jonathan Freedland writing in the Guardian

 

North Korea

US assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill said October 16 that that North Korea would have to hand over the 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of plutonium it created with its atomic weapons program to make further progress on an aid-for-disarmament deal.

North Korea is to grant access for US inspectors to equipment and documents to demonstrate that it never had a nuclear weapons programme involving Highly Enriched Uranium. It was accusations of this programme by the Clinton Administration that led to the North Koreans refiring their nuclear reactor, enabling them to go down the plutonium route. The evidence has up to now been inconclusive.

The October 23 New Scientist reported on a study that found that unusually high levels of a radioactive noble gas detected in northern Canada are final confirmation that North Korea detonated a nuclear device underground in October 2006, say UN researchers. The result demonstrates that a UN system to monitor nuclear explosions worldwide is up and running, and able to "sniff" such events from a great distance. Atmospheric levels of an isotope of the noble gas xenon suggest the test was relatively small and carried out underground.

 

Rest of Middle East

Despite announcements last year from several countries that they would start a new renaissance of nuclear power, progress has been slow or non-existent - the barriers are substantial. Iran has picked up on and seeks to develop proposals from the Gulf States for a joint enrichment facility in a neutral country.

Israel's air attack on Syria in September, directed against a site reportedly a partly constructed nuclear reactor, continues to be a mystery wrapped inside an enigma. Some of the relevant coverage is here, here, here, here, and here.

 

United Kingdom

The October 23 Scotsman reported that the Scottish Government took the first steps towards stopping a new nuclear weapons system being stationed in Scotland.

The Ministry of Defence wants the ᆪ20 billion replacement for Trident to be based on the Clyde. Ultimately, the decision is up to UK MPs because defence is a reserved issue.

However, the SNP-led government has pledged to use every power available to stop the nuclear warheads being based north of the Border

 

Further reading

The environmental impact of nuclear weapons: a talk to the Scottish Government's summit on Scotland's Future Without Nuclear Weapons, Glasgow, 22 October 2007.

United States

The October 18 Washington Post reported that the Air Force has decided to relieve at least five of its officers of command and is considering filing criminal charges in connection with the Aug. 29 "Bent Spear" incident in which nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly flown from North Dakota to Louisiana. See this October 19 Department of Defense press briefing for detail

The October 22 Global Security Newswire reported that vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright said he believes that virtually no US president would use a nuclear weapon in conflict, even if it were a bomb variant with very limited destructive power. In his first wide-ranging interview since assuming the JCS position he also said he thinks a new generation of conventionally armed, long-range weapons could substitute for nuclear arms in a sizable portion of the US military's global targeting plan.

The October 28 Houston Chronicle reports on the possibility that the Pantex Plant in Texas will be selected for a new "consolidated plutonium center" to process and build the "pits" - the plutonium cores- for new US nuclear warheads.

Speaking at the Stanford University Faculty Club October 24 former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said that he would have struggled to recommend the use of nuclear weapons against the Soviets, even when all other military options were exhausted.

See also the text of the prepared remarks of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the "Rekjavik II" conference hosted by the Hoover Institution. He was forced to cancel due to the wildfires in Southern California. Former Secretary of State George Shultz read the remarks in his place.

On October 29 the New York Times reported that more than a year after Congress told the Energy Department to harden the nation's nuclear bomb factories and laboratories against terrorist raids, at least 5 of the 11 sites are certain to miss their deadlines, some by many years.

 

Publications

SPECIAL REPORT: Nuclear Weapons in a New World
Scientific American, November 2007,

Third Quarterly Report to Congress on the Status of Significant Unresolved Issues with the Department of Energy's Design and Construction Projects
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

The Nonproliferation Review
November 2007, Vol. 14, No. 3:

  • Debating Disarmament: Interpreting Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Christopher A. Ford
  • US -India Nuclear Cooperation: Better Later Than Sooner, Leonard Weiss
  • The Nexus of Globalization and Next-Generation Proliferation: Tapping the Power of Market-Based Solutions, Kenneth N. Luongo and Isabelle Williams.

Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race
Richard Rhodes, Knopf, October 9, 2007. See also this October 29 Washington Post article.

WMD Insights
November 2007.

A Response to Congresswoman Tauscher's Article in Nonproliferation Review
Strategic Security Blog, October 29, 2007

Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program, National Academies Press, 2007. See also this Strategic Security Blog entry.

Global Fissile Material Report 2007: Second report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials: Developing the technical basis for policy initiatives to secure and irreversibly reduce stocks of nuclear weapons and fissile materials.

Nuclear Weapons in US National Security Policy: Past, Present, and Prospects
Amy F. Woolf, Congressional Research Service, October 29, 2007.

To Build or Not to Build: The Role of the Kansas City Plant in the Department of Energy's Plans to Modernize the Nuclear Weapons Complex
William D. Hartung, Arms and Security Initiative, New America Foundation, October 18, 2007.

Securing US Nuclear Material: DOE Has Made Little Progress Consolidating and Disposing of Special Nuclear Material
US Government Accountability Office, October 4, 2007.

What Are Nuclear Weapons For? Recommendations for Restructuring US Strategic Nuclear Forces
Sidney E. Drell and James E. Goodby, Arms Control Association, October 2007.

Managing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Policy Implications of Expanding Global Access to Nuclear Power
Congressional Research Service, November 1, 2007.

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