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One Step at a Time With Iran

longroad

As hoped, the P5+1 and Iran settled on a “first step” agreement to resolve concerns about Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons and its interest in doing so. We cannot predict how far this process will go or what the next step to establish a comprehensive, enduring agreement that puts the nuclear issue squarely in the past will include. But we can predict that we will never know how good a final agreement can be unless all sides work in good faith to support the process and abstain from taking actions that could potentially undermine it.

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Better Understanding North Korea: Q&A with Seven East Asian Experts, Part 2

North Korea flag nuclearEditor’s Note: This is the second of two postings of a Q&A conducted primarily by the Federation of American Scientists regarding the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. Developed and edited by Charles P. BlairMark Jansson, and Devin H. Ellis, the authors’ responses have not been edited; all views expressed by these subject-matter experts are their own. Please note that additional terms are used to refer to North Korea and South Korea, i.e., the DPRK and ROK respectively.

Researchers from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) asked seven individuals who are experts in East Asia about the the recent escalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Is North Korea’s recent success with its nuclear test and satellite launch evidence that it is maturing? Is there trepidation in Japan over the perceived threat of North Korea attacking Japan with a nuclear weapon? Has North Korea mastered re-entry vehicle (RV) technology?  Is there any plausible way to de-nuclearize North Korea?

This is the second part of the Q&A, featuring Dr. Yousaf Butt, Dr. Jacques Hymans and Ms. Masako Toki. Read the first part here. Continue Reading →

Better Understanding North Korea: Q&A with Seven East Asian Experts, Part 1

North Korea flag nuclearEditor’s Note: This is the first of two postings of a Q&A conducted primarily by the Federation of American Scientists regarding the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. Developed and edited by Charles P. Blair, Mark Jansson, and Devin H. Ellis, the authors’ responses have not been edited; all views expressed by these subject-matter experts are their own. Please note that additional terms are used to refer to North Korea and South Korea, i.e., the DPRK and ROK respectively.

Researchers from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) asked seven individuals who are experts in East Asia about the the recent escalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Is North Korea serious about their threats and are we on the brink of war? What influence does China exert over DPRK, and what influence is China wiling to exert over the DPRK? How does the increase in tension affect South Korean President Park Guen-he’s political agenda?

This is the first part of the Q&A featuring Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter, Dr. Balbina Hwang, Ms. Duyeon Kim and Dr. Leon Sigal. Read part two here.

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Q&A Session on Recent Developments in U.S. and NATO Missile Defense with Dr. Yousaf Butt and Dr. George Lewis

Dr. Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is professor and scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The views expressed are his own.

Dr. George N. Lewis is a senior research associate at the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell University.

missiledefense4Researchers from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) asked two physicists who are experts in missile defense issues, Dr. Yousaf Butt and Dr. George Lewis, to weigh in on last week’s announcements on missile defense by the Obama administration.

Before exploring their reactions and insights, it is useful to identify salient elements of U.S. missile defense and place the issue in context. There are two main strategic missile defense systems fielded by the United States: one is based on large high-speed interceptors called Ground-Based Interceptors or “GBI’s” located in Alaska and California and the other is the mostly ship-based NATO/European system. The latter, European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to missile defense is designed to deal with the threat posed by possible future Iranian intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles to U.S. assets, personnel, and allies in Europe – and eventually attempt to protect the U.S. homeland.

The EPAA uses ground-based and mobile ship-borne radars; the interceptors themselves are mounted on Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh Burke class destroyers. Two land-based interceptor sites in Poland and Romania are also envisioned – the so-called “Aegis-ashore” sites. The United States and NATO have stated that the EPAA is not directed at Russia and poses no threat to its nuclear deterrent forces, but as outlined in a 2011 study by Dr. Theodore Postol and Dr. Yousaf Butt, this is not completely accurate because the system is ship-based, and thus mobile it could be reconfigured to have a theoretical capability to engage Russian warheads.

Indeed, General James Cartwright has explicitly mentioned this possible reconfiguration – or global surge capability – as an attribute of the planned system: “Part of what’s in the budget is to get us a sufficient number of ships to allow us to have a global deployment of this capability on a constant basis, with a surge capacity to any one theater at a time.”

In the 2011 study, the authors focused on what would be the main concern of cautious Russian military planners —the capability of the missile defense interceptors to simply reach, or “engage,” Russian strategic warheads—rather than whether any particular engagement results in an actual interception, or “kill.” Interceptors with a kinematic capability to simply reach Russian ICBM warheads would be sufficient to raise concerns in Russian national security circles – regardless of the possibility that Russian decoys and other countermeasures might defeat the system in actual engagements. In short, even a missile defense system that could be rendered ineffective could still elicit serious concern from cautious Russian planners. The last two phases of the EPAA – when the higher burnout velocity “Block II” SM-3 interceptors come on-line in 2018 – could raise legitimate concerns for Russian military analysts.

A Russian news report sums up the Russian concerns: “[Russian foreign minister] Lavrov said Russia’s agreement to discuss cooperation on missile defense in the NATO Russia Council does not mean that Moscow agrees to the NATO projects which are being developed without Russia’s participation. The minister said the fulfillment of the third and fourth phases of the U.S. ‘adaptive approach’ will enter a strategic level threatening the efficiency of Russia’s nuclear containment forces.” [emphasis added]

With this background in mind, FAS’ Senior Fellow on State and Non-State Threat, Charles P. Blair (CB), asked Dr. Yousaf Butt (YB) and Dr. George Lewis (GL) for their input on recent developments on missile defense with eight questions.


Q: (CB) Last Friday, Secretary of Defense Hagel announced that the U.S. will cancel the last Phase – Phase 4 – of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to missile defense which was to happen around 2021. This was the phase with the faster SM-3 “Block IIB” interceptors. Will this cancellation hurt the United State’s ability to protect itself and Europe? Continue Reading →

Event: Conference on Using Satellite Imagery to Monitor Nuclear Forces and Proliferators

This satellite imagery analysis from my conference briefing illustrates upgrade of Chinese mobile nuclear missile launch garrison at Qingyang (30°41’52.64″N, 117°53’36.25″E). Such analysis is becoming more important as the U.S. government is curtailing what it releases about Chinese (and Russian) nuclear forces. Click on image for large image version.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Earlier today we convened an exciting conference on use of commercials satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to monitor nuclear forces and proliferators around the world. I was fortunate to have two brilliant users of this technology with me on the panel:

  • Tamara Patton, a Graduate Research Assistant at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who described her pioneering work to use freeware to creating 3D images of uranium enrichment facilities and plutonium production reactors in Pakistan and North Korea. Her briefing is available here.
  • Matthew McKinzie, a Senior Scientists with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nuclear Program and Lands and Wildlife Program, who has spearheaded non-governmental use of GIS technology since commercial satellite imagery first became widely available. His presentation is available here.
  • My presentation focused on using satellite imagery and Freedom of Information Act requests to monitor Chinese and Russian nuclear force developments, an effort that is becoming more important as the United States is decreasing its release of information about those countries. My briefing slides are here.

In all of the work profiled by these presentations, the analysts relied on the unique Google Earth and the generous contribution of high-resolution satellite imagery by DigitalGlobe and GeoEye.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Letter Urges Super Committee to Reduce Nuclear Weapons Spending

FAS joined 48 organizations in signing a letter to United States Representatives asking them to cosign Representative Markey’s letter to members of the Super Committee. Markey’s letter urges Super Committee members to increase U.S. security by reducing spending on outdated and unaffordable nuclear weapons programs.

Additionally, this support letter offers specific suggestions to Congress on how to scale back new nuclear weapons programs and help close the budget deficit. Continue Reading →

2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul: Achieving Sustainable Nuclear Security Culture

By Igor Khripunov

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear security culture is “the assembly of characteristics, attitudes and behavior of individuals, organizations and institutions which serves as a means to support and enhance nuclear security.”[1]  The concept of security culture emerged much later than nuclear safety culture, which was triggered by human errors that led to the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents. Much as these incidents confirmed the importance of nuclear safety, security culture has gained acceptance as a way to keep terrorist groups from acquiring radioactive materials and prevent acts of sabotage against nuclear power infrastructures. Safety and security culture share the goal of protecting human lives and the environment by assuring that nuclear power plants operate at acceptable risk levels.

The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, DC, emphasized the importance of culture as a critical contributing factor to nuclear security:

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New START Delay: Gambling With National and International Security

A few Senators are preventing US inspectors from verifying the status of Russian nuclear weapons.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The ability of a few Senators to delay ratification of the New START treaty is gambling with national and international security.

At home the delay is depriving the U.S. intelligence community important information about the status and operations of Russian strategic nuclear forces. And abroad the delay is creating doubts about the U.S. resolve to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons, doubts that could undermine efforts to limit proliferation.

New START may not be the most groundbreaking treaty ever, but it is a vital first step in moving U.S.-Russian relations forward and paving the way for additional nuclear reductions and nonproliferation efforts. Essentially all current and former officials and experts recommend verification of New START, and after more than 20 hearings and nearly 1,000 detailed questions answered it is time for the Senate to ratify the treaty. Continue Reading →

New Fuel Deal with Iran: Getting Back to Basics

by Ivanka Barzashka

After a year-long stalemate, Iran and the P5+1 seem to have agreed on a day for holding political talks – December 2. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed last week that the meeting “will not include discussions on fuel swap” – the deal with France, Russia and United States, also known as the Vienna Group, to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).

In principle, both Washington and Tehran agree that the fuel deal is still on the table, but the Iranians have been critical of the delay in setting a date for talks, which they interpret could be a lack of “willingness to enter peaceful nuclear cooperation.”

A successful fuel deal is a necessary condition for further engagement. However, circumstances have changed since October 2009, when the Vienna Group first made the fuel offer. Now, the State Department maintains that “any engagement [should be] in the context of that changed reality.” (Most of the Vienna Group’s outstanding concerns were listed in a confidential document to the IAEA, published by Reuters on June 9.)

However, the alleged terms of Washington’s new proposal seem to be muddled and will not have the claimed threat-reduction benefits (for a detailed discussion, see this Oct 29 post.) A technically-grounded analysis of what the fuel deal today can, cannot and ought to achieve is available in “New fuel deal with Iran: Debunking common myths,” published on Nov 2 in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Some highlights of these two assessments are provided below. Continue Reading →

Iran’s New Dual Track: A Challenge to Negotiations?

by Ivanka Barzashka and Thomas M. Rickers

Coaxed by Turkey and Brazil, Iran seems to be actively pursuing fuel talks. France, Russia and the U.S. (also known as the Vienna Group) claim that they, too, are interested in a deal, even as the U.S. and EU passed their own tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic as part of a dual-track approach. Now Tehran may even be willing to address what was once the major hindrance to a deal: its 20 percent enrichment. Yesterday, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s atomic energy head, said his country “will not need to enrich to 20 percent if [their] needs are met.”  And yet on July 18, the Majlis passed a law requiring the government to continue 20 percent enrichment and manufacture own fuel, which is an apparent contradiction to negotiations for foreign fuel supply. Clearly, Iran is sending mixed messages. But does this mean there is an internal disagreement about nuclear policy? Or is Iran not serious about a fuel deal? Continue Reading →