On June 11th, during its rapid conquest of large portions of the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq, ISIS captured the Al Muthanna chemical-weapons production facility (Iraq’s primary production plant under Saddam). However, the plant has largely disappeared from news coverage, following State Department reassurances of its inability to be used for production purposes due to heavy bombardment during the First Gulf War. What, in fact, was inside the plant? And what remains? This roundup is intended to give an overview of the Al Muthanna facility, and offer resources to help assess the risk it poses in ISIS hands.
Experts in the United States have taken note of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s (RMFA) claims regarding “the main problems” with implementation of the Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, together with its Memorandum of Understanding and two Protocols, collectively referred to as the INF Treaty, signed at Washington on December 8, 1987, and which entered into force on June 1, 1988.
Pakistan is ramping up fissile material production capabilities for military purposes while vetoing a fissile material cut-off treaty negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament. India is also increasing production capacity, but the FMCT’s problems extend well beyond these two states. Non-aligned members at the CD believe a cut-off treaty isn’t ambitious enough, and it’s hard to gin up much enthusiasm from Russia and China.
There is, however, some forward movement. Useful discussions have begun in March in a newly-convened Group of Governmental Experts chaired by Canada. India has a seat at this table. Pakistan, which voted against the establishment of the GGE, is not among its 25 members. Pakistan has now felt obliged to engage more substantively on these issues in parallel, informal discussions at the CD. For the first time ever, two diplomatic channels are wrestling with the challenges of dealing with fissile material production for weapons.
Pakistan has long held the view that existing stocks should be covered under a treaty – hence its use of the acronym FMT, as opposed to FMCT, to broaden the agreement’s scope. Pakistan’s veteran Ambassador to the CD, Zamir Akram, argues for an expanded scope “because of the asymmetry existing in our region – that has been compounded by the discriminatory civil nuclear cooperation agreements and NSG waivers.” The object of Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy is to constrain India’s nuclear capabilities without placing any constraints on its existing stocks. Failing this unlikely outcome, Rawalpindi has sought, so far successfully, to compete effectively with Indian nuclear weapon capabilities.
A quick PSA, courtesy of Jeffrey, regarding the CTBT Public Policy course sponsored by the CTBTO that runs from September 1st to September 9th. The info link is here, and I have included the majority of it below as well:
About the Course
The course will comprehensively cover the policy and legal aspects of the CTBT, including its entry-into-force and universalization, as well as the CTBT verification technologies and the civil and scientific applications of monitoring data. The course will feature interactive panel discussions and keynote lectures by renowned international experts, as well as presentations on technical and scientific aspects of the CTBT verification regime.
The course will also aim to raise awareness about the importance of the on-site inspection regime, especially in light of the upcoming Integrated Field Exercise 2014. Building on the first week of panel discussions and presentations, the final two days of the course will consist of an interactive exercise, a simulation of a future Executive Council consideration of an on-site inspection request. This exercise will challenge participants to put into practice the ideas and concepts discussed throughout the course.
The CTBT Public Policy Course: Verification through Diplomacy and Science may be taken completely online or in person in Vienna.
What should we make of the United States’ conclusion that Russia has violated the INF? What do we know about the violation? What is the substance of the State Department’s arms control compliance report finding? What do we know about the ground launched cruise missile alleged to have violated the Treaty? How does the GLCM differ from the RS-26? Does this have anything to do with Ukraine? And what should the United States do about the alleged violation?
Today, Aaron and Jeffrey talk Russian missiles, the INF, and Obama’s policy options.
Jeffrey and Aaron discussed a number of articles, videos, and images during the podcast:
Jeffrey Lewis, “The Problem with Russia’s Missiles,” Foreign Policy, 29 July 2014.
Podcast: The INF and the Dismemberment of Ukraine, April 20, 2014. (We recorded this from the bottom of a well)
Jeffrey Lewis, “An Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by any Other Name,” Foreign Policy, April 25, 2014.
Hans M. Kristensen, “Russia Declared In Violation Of INF Treaty: New Cruise Missile May Be Deploying.” Federation of American Scientists, July 30, 2014.
Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Says Russia Tested Cruise Missile, Violating Treaty,” The New York Times, July 28, 2014.
As always, you can subscribe to the (now better sounding) Arms Control Wonk Podcast on iTunes.
Yesterday the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a hearing on nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Speakers made several references to South Africa’s nuclear past and what it means for the six powers trying to negotiate a verification agreement with the Islamic Republic.
The IAEA and South Africa twenty years ago successfully resolved questions about South Africa’s former nuclear weapons activities. That record is resonating now among critics of the Iran/P5+1 process because Iran is currently challenging the IAEA’s authority to do the kind of verification the powers want to see included in a comprehensive agreement. But Iran won’t and can’t follow South Africa’s example without a fundamental rebooting of its relationship with the IAEA.
South Africa swung toward exceptional cooperation with the IAEA at a time when its strategic threat perception was changing and it was facing near-certain regime change. I suspect at least some of the critics who see South Africa as a model for Iran understand that and will draw their own conclusions. Neocons among them should be aware that the pressure which drove white supremacists to give up nuclear weapons was generated inside the country, not outside.
The most practical lesson I learned at Generation Prague was to never show up 25 minutes early to a State Department event, as doors typically open 25 minutes after they are scheduled to do so. My fellow compatriots and I endured 50 minutes of a coffee-less morning until finally, at 8:25, we were processed through security. Thankfully, the conference inside made the wait worth it.
The list of speakers included Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chief of the UN Joint Mission in Syria Sigrid Kaag, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs Andrew Weber, former Lieutenant General and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Director Frank Klotz, Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, and STRATCOM commander Admiral Cecil Haney.
Aside from a few technical difficulties (such as Lieutenant General Klotz’s microphone not functioning until midway through his speech), the conference went off without a hitch. It focused on innovation in national security, primarily via the application of technology and youth engagement using social media. Senator Murphy delivered a keynote address in which he emphasized the non-traditional nature of 21st century national security threats. He argued that nuclear weapons overall have become a liability, due to the rapidly diminishing value of nuclear deterrence. Cyber threats and small-scale crises neither require nor can be remedied by the blunt force a nuclear solution entails. Additionally, the traditional concepts of deterrence theory cannot be as readily applied due to the rise of non-state actors, and the increasingly blurred distinction between sovereign nations, proxy organizations, and terrorist groups (e.g. ISIS). Even when deterrence applies, such as with great powers like the Russian Federation, the cold war era approach to deterrence are no longer effective in areas like Eastern Europe, due to the shift away from traditional ground forces and greater reliance on quasi-covert operations. Nevertheless, stated Senator Murphy, the threat of United States use of military force must be seen as a credible.
What open source information is out there about the MH17 shootdown? Do the rebels have the Buk missile system that reportedly downed the aircraft? How has open source analysis helped analysts fact check the Kremlin’s claims about the shooting down of MH17? And what does all of this have to do with a billboard?
Today, Aaron and Jeffrey talk all things open source and the downing of MH17.
Jeffrey and Aaron discussed a number of articles, videos, and images during the podcast:
Fellow ACW readers, can you recall a time when the world seemed more inflamed and disordered? Governed spaces are shrinking. Wild men lay waste. The dogs of war have been unleashed and peaceful settlements seem more distant than ever. “World Wars” and “splendid little wars” are historical phenomena. The twenty-first century has given us a profusion of messy wars with indeterminate endings. The biggest of the lot, in Afghanistan and Iraq, are likely to produce unending sorrows, setting a template that has spread widely.
Another Israeli offensive in Gaza has resulted in more than 550 killed so far – reportedly 75 per cent of them noncombatants — along with 25 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians. Sunnis are slaughtering Shia, and vice versa, across the Fertile Crescent. Iraq is a cauldron, Syria a slaughterhouse. A new Caliphate led by Osama bin Laden’s faithful has expelled Christians from Mosul and is at the gates of Baghdad. Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea. His thuggish surrogates in eastern Ukraine have been trained in the black arts of operating air defense batteries that can shoot down passenger jets. Deranged leaders of Boko Haram in Nigeria have seized young girls from schools, holding them for ransom. Iran’s religious supremo has publicly declared a future requirement for centrifuges capable of producing 190,000 separative work units. Once-promising negotiations for an Iranian nuclear deal now look cloudy. If a deal can still be struck, many on Capitol Hill will gear up to foil it.
Not all the news in bad. There has not been a flash point in the East or South China Sea over Beijing’s quest for energy security. Pakistan’s armed forces are engaged in a campaign to reclaim national authority along the Afghan border. Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are in decent shape. Pakistan and India are getting along passably well.
But here’s the rub: The good news is perishable. The bad news will be with us for a long time.
A friend and I have an ongoing debate about the reasons for the plague of partisan rancor now afflicting Washington in general and arms control in particular. For my friend, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) was the Rubicon. Before Obamacare, he points out that important domestic legislation received bipartisan support. These numbers back up his argument:
Social Security Act of 1935
60 Democrats yes; 16 Republicans yes
1 Democrats no; 5 Republicans no
284 Democrats yes; 81 Republicans yes
15 Democrats no; 15 Republicans no
Civil Rights Act of 1964
46 Democrats yes; 27 Republicans yes
21 Democrats no; 6 Republicans no
152 Democrats yes; 138 Republicans yes
96 Democrats no; 34 Republicans no
Affordable Care Act
58 Democrats yes; 2 Independents yes; 0 Republicans yes
0 Democrats no; 39 Republicans no
219 Democrats yes; 0 Republicans yes
34 Democrats no; 178 Republicans no
After the White House and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill rammed through Obamacare, my friend believes that Republican Members of Congress resolved not to work with President Obama. In my view, the absence of bipartisanship predates the battles over health care, reflecting quarter-century-long trends within the Republican Party and deepening divisions within the country at large.