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Getting to Zero Update

In this issue

 

United States

New generation of nuclear weapons

On March 2 the US Energy Department announced a contract to develop the nation's first new hydrogen bomb in two decades, involving collaboration between three national weapons laboratories. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California appears to have taken the lead position in the project. See the official press release here. See New York Times article here. See this Washington Post article on opposition to the plan.

The US Defense Department announced February 22 that it was canceling a massive conventional test explosion in Nevada that some feared was designed to emulate a small-yield, "bunker buster" nuclear weapon.

On February 21 the Los Angeles Times reported on eroding safety conditions at Pantex, the US Energy Department's main nuclear weapons factory, in Amarillo, Texas. See this from the Project on Government Oversight for the connection to the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.

Experts assembled by American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest scientific organization declined in a report February 18 to endorse a Bush administration plan for redesigning all US nuclear weapons, citing a lack of reliable cost estimates and of proven methods for verifying whether the new hydrogen bombs will work without test explosions. The new weapons are expected to be easier to make and harder for terrorists to detonate, but the cost benefits "are less certain and would only be established in the long term," a panel of nuclear weapons experts said.

On February 14 Foreign Policy in Focus published this analysis of Complex 2030 - the Bush administration plan to design new nuclear weapons and rebuild the US nuclear weapons complex.

 

Budget requests

On February 23 the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation published Department of Energy Budget Request for FY 2008 - Nuclear Non-Proliferation Highlights. On February 26 the Partnership for Global Security released its Analysis of the US Department of Energys Fiscal Year 2008 International Nonproliferation Budget Request.

 

Prompt Global Strike

The Washington Post reported March 10 that the head of US Strategic Command told Congress that precision conventional weapons have replaced the need for nuclear ones in almost all areas, except when a quick intercontinental strike is required against unexpected or fast-moving threats.

 

Further reading

Nuclear Weapons: Annual Assessment of the Safety, Performance, and Reliability of the Nation's Stockpile, US Government Accountability Office, February 2, 2007.

 

United Kingdom

New generation of nuclear weapons

On March 14 the House of Commons approved the government's plans to begin the process of replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. The vote left the Government needing support from the Conservatives and having to deal with a large backbench rebellion after being embarrassed by resignations. For an analysis of what was decided see this BASIC Note and this article in the Sunday Herald

On March 8 the House of Commons Defence Committee published its report on the Government's White Paper, The Future of the UK's Strategic Nuclear Deterrent. Vol. II, Oral and Written Evidence, is here.

 

Further reading

BASIC Green Paper on Trident replacement

BASIC Briefing on the timing of the decision

BASIC briefing on non-proliferation implications

BASIC Briefing on opportunity costs

BASIC Research Report, Oceans of Work, arguing for resources to be diverted away from nuclear submarine manufacture to a 'national needs' program of civil R&D and manufacture, including major investment in off-shore renewable energy.

Additional background documents, parliamentary statements, comment and media articles can be found on BASIC's website at: http://www.basicint.org/nuclear/beyondtrident/index.htm

 

Iran

Neocon's push the military option

Vanity Fair's March issue reports on how "The same neocon ideologues behind the Iraq war have been using the same tactics - alliances with shady exiles, dubious intelligence on WMD - to push for the bombing of Iran."

 

Iran's 2003 offer of talks

The Washington Post reported February 14 that the Swiss ambassador to Iran informed US officials in 2003 that an Iranian proposal for comprehensive talks with the United States had been reviewed and approved by Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; then-President Mohammad Khatami; and then-Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, according to a copy of the cover letter to the Iranian document. See also this Total Wonkerr article, this from IPS News and this interview on Democracy Now.

 

IAEA Inspections

The Los Angeles Times reported February 25 that according to various IAEA officials most US intelligence shared with the UN nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran.

In this February 19 interview with the Financial Times newspaper IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei made clear his doubts both about calls for more sanctions and the international community's emphasis on suspending enrichment. He says that it is far more important to dissuade Iran from pursuing enrichment on an industrial scale.

On February 10 Iran said the IAEA has installed surveillance cameras at a nuclear facility in Natanz. Iran's Nuclear Agency announced that the IAEA can now fully supervise activities at the plant.

On February 9 the IAEA froze nearly two dozen of its technical assistance programs to Iran, a move to comply with UN Security Council sanctions approved in December. On the same day, in an interview with Spiegel Online Mohammed El Bareaei said, "If we continue on the same course, we could see a spiral of escalation. There is an urgent need for creative diplomacy and leadership." See also this Arms Control Wonk article.

 

Sanctions

This episode of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer focused on the UN Security Council February 21 passed deadline for Iran to stop its nuclear activities and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that Iran had instead continued operating its programs. For context see this WIRED blog entry. See also this Asia Times article.

On February 12 European negotiators, yielding to pressure from the United States, agreed to widen a ban on financial transactions with Iran and the export of materials and technology that Iran could use to develop nuclear weapons. For details see this February 13 New York Times op-ed. The New York Times also reported the same day that Western political and economic pressure on Iran over its nuclear program has chilled foreign investment to the extent that it is now squeezing the country's long-fragile energy industry. Some analysts say that if this acute imbalance between stagnant production and rising demand at home continues unchecked, Iran will have no oil left over to export within a decade.

The Associated Press reported February 8 that Europeans are accusing Americans of strong-arming them into cracking down on Iran in the latest transatlantic conflict, a dispute that is straining efforts to maintain a joint front on Tehran over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment. US officials, in turn, complain that Europe is not pulling its weight because individual nations are placing business interests above the common goal of keeping Iran from heading down a path that could lead to nuclear weapons.

 

Ali Larinjani speech

Ali Larijani, the Iranian Nuclear Negotiator, delivered these prepared remarks February 11 at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy.

 

Israeli pressure on Iran

The Los Angeles Times reports on how Israeli officials have begun an unusually open campaign to muster international political and economic pressures against Iran. The officials warn that time is growing short and hint that they will resort to force if those pressures fail to prevent Iran's development of an atomic weapon.

Avner Cohen, an Israeli researcher at the University of Maryland, in this Haaretz article, see certain historical similarity between Iran's nuclear situation today and Israel's nuclear situation in the early 1960s: countries in the midst of an ambitious national nuclear initiative designed to create a nuclear option, but which do not yet have a clear idea of what its nature will be in the future.

 

Further reading

Contain and Engage: A New Strategy for Resolving the Nuclear Crisis with Iran.

Frida Berrigan, Nuclear Hypocrisy and Iran, March 1, 2007.

Yossi Mekelberg, Israel and Iran: From War of Words to Words of War?, Royal Institute of International Affairs, March 2007.

 

North Korea

Denuclearization plan agreed

On February 13 the six party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program reached an agreement under which Pyongyang will receive energy aid in return for taking the first steps towards dismantling its nuclear facilities. North Korea agreed to shut down and seal its main nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, north of the capital Pyongyang, within 60 days and allow international inspectors to verify the process. For the initial steps, it will get energy, food and other aid worth 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, according to the agreement. Pyongyang also agreed to provide a complete list of its nuclear programs and disable all existing nuclear facilities. In return, it will get aid in corresponding steps worth 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

For details see North Korea - Denuclearization Action Plan. The News Hour with Jim Lehrer had an excellent segment on the news. US negotiator Chris Hill discussed the deal on the program on February 15. See also this OpenDemocracy analysis, this Time magazine piece, and this Economist article.

A comparison of the 1994 Agreed Framework and the new agreement with North Korea can be found here.

This analysis by YaleGlobal Online points out that North Korea had long "been ready for a freeze, leading to step-by-step de-nuclearization, but only as part of a process leading to security and normalization." The Washington Post reported that the deal was reached largely because President Bush was willing to give US negotiators new flexibility to reach an agreement. A New York Times editorial asked:

The obvious question to ask is: What took so long? And even more important: Will President Bush learn from this belated success? Will he finally allow his diplomats to try negotiation and even compromise with other bad and undeniably dangerous governments?

Mr. Bush could probably have gotten this deal years ago, except that he decided he didn't have to talk to anyone he didn't like. So long as the White House refused to talk, North Korea churned out plutonium. And once American negotiators were finally allowed to mix their sanctions with sanity and seriously negotiate, they struck a deal.

This February 15 Washington Post article reports on predictable opposition to the agreement by US conservatives. Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F Kennedy School of Government, talked with National Interest Online about the agreement.

 

Return of IAEA inspectors

The IAEA plans to send its nuclear inspectors back to North Korea following the agreement, said Director General Mohamed ElBaradei during a visit to Luxembourg - a fact confirmed in this IAEA announcement.

 

US intelligence on North Korea's nuclear program reassessed

US confidence that North Korea was working toward a production-scale uranium enrichment program has slipped, a senior US intelligence official said February 27. When the United States confronted Pyongyang in 2002 with evidence it believed showed North Korea was pursuing a large-scale enrichment facility, US officials had "high confidence" in the assessment, according to Joseph DeTrani, North Korea mission manager for the national intelligence director. "We still see elements of that program," he said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but described the US belief now in the "mid-confidence level." See also this New York Times article and commentaries by Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation, here and here.

For a comparable example of distortion of reporting on US intelligence on Iran see this Huffington Post blog entry.

 

Further reading

How Not to Deal with North Korea, New York Review of Books, March 1, 2007.

David Albright and Paul Brannan, The North Korean Plutonium Stock, Institute for Science and International Security, February 2007.

David Albright, North Koreas Alleged Large-Scale Enrichment Plant: Yet Another Questionable Extrapolation Based on Aluminum Tubes, Institute for Science and International Security, February 23, 2007.

Enhancing US Engagement with North Korea, The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007.

 

Nuclear terrorism

This Chicago Tribune article reports on a vast supply of radioactive materials-enough to make hundreds of so-called 'dirty bombs'-lying virtually unprotected in former Soviet military bases and ruined factories.

The March 12 issue of The New Yorker ran this piece on whether the United States can be made safe from nuclear terrorism.

The February 25 New York Times Magazine ran this article on the efforts of former US Sen. Sam Nunn in helping to found and run the Nuclear Threat Initiative, whose mission is responding to the threat of ''loose nukes,'' or the possibility that nuclear weapons and materials might be smuggled out of the former Soviet Union and find their way into malevolent hands.

 

Further reading

Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: The Moscow-Washington Alliance, East West Institute February 7, 2007

The CBRN System: Assessing the threat of terrorist use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons in the UK, Chatham House, February 2007

25 STEPS TO PREVENT NUCLEAR TERROR: A GUIDE FOR POLICYMAKERS, The Henry L. Stimson Center, January 2007.

Deterring a Nuclear 9/11, The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007.

 

Other publications

Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements, Congressional Research Service, January 29, 2007.

Special Issue - Nuclear Weapons Proliferation: 2016, Nonproliferation Review, November 2006, Vol. 13, No. 3.

An Alleged "Nuclear Device" in Western Kazakhstan Is a Non-nuclear Installation.

Weapons Threats and International Security: Rebuilding an Unraveled Consensus, Century Foundation conference, Feb. 26, 2007.

Wade Boese, "Slow Start in 2007 for US-Indian Nuclear Deal," Arms Control Today, March 2007.

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