Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


Now that the negotiating endgame for a nuclear limitation agreement with Iran has been extended to July 7th, critics and kibitzers have had an extra seven days to push, prod and excoriate the Obama administration. It’s far easier to criticize an agreement-in-progress for not being good enough than to defend it – even when the outlines of the deal negotiated in early June were surprisingly good.

Critics and kibitzers fall into various camps. There are “friendlies,” “wary-ies,” and “hostiles.” The Washington Institute issued a public statement by an influential group of “friendlies” and “wary-ies” itemizing details where the Obama administration needed to be bucked up. One friendly, Bob Einhorn, subsequently amplified that none of these benchmarks were “poison pills.” But if they aren’t met, Bob could be wrong.

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After a four week absence, Aaron returns to the show to discuss the current state of the Middle East and related nonproliferation challenges/concerns. The wide ranging conversation touches on the prevailing stability-instability paradox, the Saudi Air War in Yemen, Scud hunting difficulties, the proliferation of ballistic missiles in the Gulf, and why the Saudis can probably build a Bomb – but won’t because most states don’t choose build nuclear weapons.

It also wades into the mess in Syria and sorts through the concerns about the Islamic State’s overrunning of Syrian nuclear sites, and whether or not Bashar al Assad stashed fuel rods in Hezbollahstan

Sorry, Fareed: Saudi Arabia Can Build a Bomb Any Damn Time It Wants To | Foreign Policy by Jeffrey

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CNS made some beautiful 3D models of Iran’s IR-1, IR-2M, and IR-4 centrifuges for the NTI website. These weren’t easy to make. Fortunately, we have some smart, innovative, hardworking students. Bo Kim’s just finished her first year as a Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies student at MIIS and is dividing her summer on campus between a CNS and a Cyber internship. Watch out future employers, she’s fluent in Korean too! Without further ado, Bo will explain how she took the measurements to make the IR-1.

Author: Bo Kim

Centrifuges, like the rest of us aspiring Instagram models, suffer from bad photo angles.

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Aspiring Wonks: Time once again to whet your appetite by dipping into a classic text waiting for you online or at the library – one that applies to the P-5+ 1 negotiations with Iran. These passages are from the first chapter of Nobel Laureate Thomas C. Schelling’s Arms and Influence (Yale University Press, 1966).

“Diplomacy is bargaining; it seeks outcomes that, though not ideal for either party, are better for both than some of the alternatives. In diplomacy each somewhat controls what the other wants, and can get more by compromise, exchange, or collaboration than by taking things in his own hands and ignoring the other’s wishes… Whether or not there is a basis for trust and goodwill, there must be some common interest, if only in the avoidance of mutual damage, and an awareness of the need to make the other party prefer an outcome acceptable to oneself.”

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In May, North Korea released pictures of the Kim Jong Un watching the launch of what appears to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Jeffrey sits down with Melissa Hanham and Dave Schmerler to discuss open source and the DPRK’s SLBM program.


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Five years ago (5/6/10), during the 2010 NPT Review Conference, you can find my blog post on “Egypt, the Spoiler?” After the 2015 RevCon, we can dispense with the question mark. What happened in New York was symptomatic of a broader malaise affecting arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament: acts of personal and national projection without due regard for consequences have become commonplace. Acting out trumps substance and imbalance is unbounded. Foundations of international security built with great care and considered effort in past decades are undermined. The commonweal yields to narrow agendas. The center continues to slip away.

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[Note: This post has been corrected.]

Very bad news often follows when adversaries give up on improved relations. We’re at this juncture now on the Subcontinent. High-ranking Indian and Pakistani officials are lobbing over-heated public recriminations about abetting terrorism in each other’s sensitive spaces. Pakistan has elevated the Kashmir issue – never a good sign for Pakistan or for India — and firing across the Kashmir divide has increased in recent years. Absent top-down initiatives to mend fences – initiatives that New Delhi appears unwilling to take and that Pakistan’s civilian government is handcuffed from taking – the stage will be set for another nuclear-tinged crisis in the region.

Increased firing across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir accompanied the advent of another Pakistani government led by Nawaz Sharif, who makes no secret of his desire to improve relations with India. Firing intensified after the election of a new Indian government led by Narendra Modi, who has made no secret about responding in more than tit-for-tat fashion to cease-fire violations.

Indian officials see bad omens in Pakistan’s release from polite confinement of Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi – the Lashkar e-Toiba’s operational commander who was deeply involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Intercepts of communications confirming Lakhvi’s role are publicly available, and copious evidence against Lakhvi provided by New Delhi was initially deemed inadmissible in Pakistani courts; his release was accompanied by statements blaming India for insufficient evidence to prosecute him.

Pakistani officials read bad omens in statements by senior Indian officials regarding a willingness to engage in “sub-conventional” warfare, if warranted by Rawalpindi’s actions. Before becoming National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval gave a talk in February 2014 in which he conveyed the message that, “You can do one Mumbai and you may lose Baluchistan.” Last month, Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, a neophyte in the art of public obfuscation, warned Pakistan against stepping up a proxy war in Kashmir: “There are certain things that I obviously cannot discuss here. But if there is any country, why only Pakistan, planning something against my country, we will definitely take some pro-active steps.” Parrikar used the the colloquial Hindi phrase for “removing a thorn using another thorn,” adding, “We have to neutralize terrorists through terrorists only. Why can’t we do it? We should do it. Why does my soldier have to do it?”

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Gaukhar is back with the third and final installment of her posts from the 2015 NPT REVCON.  If you are interested, we’ve also posted two podcasts in the NPT REVCON Follies, one with Gaukhar and another with Andrea Berger.

The RevCon of Our Discontent: The Post Mortem

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova

 Have you forgotten all about the RevCon and me? I’m sorry. I think my brain tried to block out the memory of four weeks in New York, but shame (and Jeffrey) got me back to writing. Because it’s been a while, you get a longer post and a supplementary timeline of the RevCon’s last week.

The NPT Review Conference’s last week was devoted to last-ditch and closed-door negotiations to formulate different parts of the draft final text. A group of about 20 states was negotiating on disarmament at the Algerian Mission, while chairs of Main Committees II and III were leading attempts at the UN to agree on nonproliferation, safeguards, nuclear security, export controls, response to withdrawal, and other issues. Neither the disarmament group nor any of the committees could reach consensus, so on Wednesday evening, the RevCon President took over to put together a compromise proposal, a non-negotiable “take it or leave it” draft final document. Its disarmament part came out earlier than others, on Thursday morning. The full version was delayed until 2 am on Friday morning, reportedly because of the continued efforts to agree on the text regarding steps towards the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone. (Here’s my more detailed timeline of the last week.)

Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle (East) with You

As you all know now, on May 22, the RevCon concluded without a consensus agreement on the final document. Although the RevCon was dominated by disarmament debates, it was ultimately the Middle East that brought it down, as the United States and the United Kingdom (oh, and yes, Canada) rejected the draft text’s provisions on the Middle East WMDZ conference. The move probably shouldn’t have surprised most delegations, so why did it? The Middle East always had a high potential to wreck this RevCon and was expected to be a contentious issue, but it was not at the center of the debates throughout the conference. After the initial unveiling of the sides’ respective positions, the conversation disappeared almost entirely behind the scenes, and the later in the RevCon it got, the harder it was for the outsiders to assess the situation.  So when the issue emerged from thick fog on the last day of the conference, many genuinely didn’t know what to expect.

Egypt showed up at the RevCon with a big gun, though mostly pointed at its own feet.  The “Arab paper” (and its twin “NAM Middle East paper”) contained a number of eyebrow-raising demands.  The paper requested the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) to convene the conference on a Middle East WMD-free zone within 180 dys of the RevCon closing, eliminated both the facilitator’s role and the preparatory multilateral consultations on the agenda and the outcome of the conference, and indeed prescribed what the outcome should be. Not only were those conditions unacceptable to the United States, even some of the Arab delegations were uncomfortable with the paper. A number of Non-Aligned states weren’t psyched, either, but chose not to pick that particular battle.

Russia, who seemed to have decided that the one thing they really cared about at the RevCon was the Middle East, played “the good NPT depositary” to the Arab states and kept trying to come up with compromise proposals. The Russian Middle East paper and subsequent Subsidiary Body 2 Chair’s draft text remained fairly close to the Egyptian position, but returned the preparatory consultations and introduced the possibility of a designated/special representative to lead the process (though after the treatment Ambassador Laajava got, who would want a job the description of which apparently includes getting kicked in the shins for all your trouble?). It’s not clear how happy Egypt was with either proposals, but I heard they were happy to keep pushing for their position.

The RevCon President’s final proposed text went the furthest in meeting the US condition that all states in the region, including Israel, agree to the agenda and outcome before the conference is convened. While it still had a deadline for the conference and the UNSG as the convener, it also stipulated that regional states should engage in consultations to agree on the conference agenda by consensus, and that any decisions emerging either from the preparatory process or from the conference should also be made by consensus. At the same time, the UNSG, the NPT depositaries, and other states were to ensure that the conference isn’t postponed, creating ambiguity about whether the conference would have to be convened by March 1, 2016 even without a consensus on the agenda.

My boss has been to many more NPT meetings and knows better, so he was skeptical that the United States would accept the Middle East text. However, the significant delay in the release of the draft final document created an impression that the Middle East consultations that ran late into the night on Thursday had resulted in some kind of an agreement. Since there were no plenary sessions on Friday morning, most states had limited opportunity to gauge the US and others’ opinions, and the US delegation wasn’t exactly walking around broadcasting its displeasure with the text. As I understand, Egypt also didn’t make it clear to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that there in fact had been no agreement on the Middle East. (Perhaps Egypt did genuinely expect the United States to accept the draft?) Instead, both Egypt and Iran, though touting an appropriately tough line on disarmament throughout the RevCon, at the end were prepared to sell a dead cow argue for the acceptance of the final document in spite of discontent with the disarmament part. A number of people were unpleasantly surprised in the end, while Russia—the Budapest Memorandum and INF treaty violator and nuclear weapons modernizer—got to ride out of it all on a white horse.

Where does it all leave us on the Middle East WMD-free zone? It might well be back to the drawing board now, to the 1995 Middle East Resolution, which, inexplicably, Egypt seems to prefer today over implementing the 2010-recommended steps.  Which is a shame, really, considering it was a hard battle to get the 2010 agreement, and, slow as the process may have been, the consultations led by the Finnish facilitator were starting to show progress. In their closing statement, the United States indicated they are still up for implementing the 2010 mandate, if everyone plays by the consensus rule. That would require a change in the current Egyptian position, and who knows when that might happen? Barring any significant changes in a variety of states’ behavior, it seems that the subject will remain a thorn in the NPT review process’ side.  If states allow it, future RevCon outcomes will continue to hang on the issue where the majority are but observers, unable to seriously influence the process and results.

Nuclear Disarmament: The Almost-Outcome

RevCon failures are not joyous occasions, but I have a feeling a number of the non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) weren’t particularly heartbroken to lose the disarmament part of the draft final document. Some delegations were probably relieved because the US move spared them the need to either block the document themselves or explain the acceptance of a disarmament text they found disappointing.

The text tabled on May 21 was not a product of agreement in the small group that negotiated at the Algerian Mission, but the RevCon President’s (with the help of other conference officers) attempt at a compromise language on the basis of those negotiations. Though not without progressive elements, the proposed text fell short of many NNWS’ expectations. The draft mentioned the humanitarian impact a good number of times, but didn’t give the initiative the strong endorsement the majority of the NNWS sought.  The joint statement on behalf of 159 states was only noted (rather than welcomed), along with the 26-nation statement, and the P5 statement. On the other hand, the text emphasized that concerns about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use “should continue to underpin” nuclear disarmament efforts and lend them urgency. Urgency, however, wasn’t very evident in the text on further measures, as in most instances the “urging” was directed at the Conference on Disarmament, so famously paralyzed.

The one important area where the document urged the NWS to act was in addressing the risks of accidental use of nuclear weapons. Otherwise, the NWS were mostly called upon or encouraged to implement measures they were asked to implement before (or at least consider implementing, such as reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons). The call for greater transparency got beefed up with a request for reports in 2017, 2019, and 2020, and recommendations on specific reporting categories. Luckily for China and Russia, though, reporting under specific categories was to be considered “without prejudice to national security,” and you know how threatening transparency is to China’s security in particular.

Finally, to answer the calls for effective (legal) measures for nuclear disarmament, the draft document recommended that the UN General Assembly establish an open-ended working group (OEWG). The suggested mandate for the group was to identify and elaborate effective measures to fully implement Article VI, which could include legal provisions but also “other arrangements.” The provision over which some of the NNWS stumbled, though, was the recommendation that the OEWG operate by consensus, promising another frustrating search for the lowest common denominator.

You Can’t Always Block What You Want

All in all, the disarmament text was easy enough for the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) to accept, and it placed on the unhappy NNWS the burden of rejecting the outcome and sinking the conference. I can’t know for sure that none of the NNWS delegations had a rejection text ready at the last plenary, but my impression is that no NNWS was in the position to block consensus, nor was there any collective action in the works.

Ironically, some of the states were likely willing to hold their fire to allow for the agreement on the Middle East. More broadly, however, the near-outcome reflects both the reluctance of individual states to bear the political cost of wrecking a RevCon and the limited ability to organize and block consensus jointly. Theoretically, as the largest NNWS group NAM has the greatest potential to block any outcome they don’t like, but in practice, it can rarely mobilize like that. Moreover, current NAM chair Iran, as I noted before, has been preoccupied with other matters, and leading a NAM revolt at the RevCon was the last thing they needed ahead of the last month of the P5+1 negotiations.

The states leading the Humanitarian Initiative, for their part, might have felt they had made a clear and loud enough point without blocking the final document. The humanitarian dimension is a central element of the disarmament debate now, not likely to simply dissipate if the NWS ignore it long enough. The issue of collective action, however, remains a serious question for the Humanitarian Initiative going forward, in the context of broader questions about its future.  On the RevCon’s last day, Austria announced that 107 states had endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge (formerly known as the Austrian Pledge), committing to pursue efforts to “stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate” nuclear weapons. It’s an impressive number, reflective of the pent-up frustration and hunger for new approaches among the NNWS, but what are the 107 actually prepared to do? Would they indeed take the risk of establishing a new process to ban nuclear weapons, as many in civil society argue they should, or prefer to stick to existing structures and keep trying to exert pressure there?

I noted in my second post that at this RevCon, NPT parties looked to be approaching the point of irreconcilable disagreement on the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and the humanitarian imperative of disarmament. For now, it seems both sides were willing to step away from that line, but the fact that, the Middle East aside, the final document was most likely going to be adopted doesn’t mean that they have overcome their differences in any substantive way. The first Preparatory Committee session of the next NPT review cycle is not until 2017, but states will have to face each other and those differences much sooner than that.

There might be room for more humanitarian impact conferences, especially if the NWS engage more substantively on such issues as the risk of use of nuclear weapons. But there is also a risk of turning the HINW conferences into another institution where everyone ritualistically repeats their well-known positions, and I’m sure states are wary of that. The OEWG remains an option for furthering the conversation on implementing Article VI, though I’d expect the Humanitarian Initiative states to push for a more ambitious mandate than what the draft final document recommends. The differences that were papered over in the RevCon’s draft final document, including the OEWG mandate and rules of procedure, will likely then come to the fore again at the UN First Committee in October.


I just got back from London, where Nick Gillard and I tried to stump the very smart participants of RUSI‘s UK PONI conference with a pub quiz. Despite a few technical glitches and a few fire alarms, it came down to the sudden death tie-breaker question. Many thanks to Andrea Berger and the whole RUSI team for indulging our madness with iPads and pub food for the teams!

See if you can do it too! Remember they only had wifi enabled iPads, and these questions were projected on a screen. The winning team enjoyed a 50£ tab at a local pub thanks to Nick! I can only give you ACW fame… Enjoy!

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The 2015 Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, known among wonks as the REVCON, collapsed in acrimony. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is – last week we talked with Andrea Berger about the debate in New York over disarmament and a long-planned conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction-free Zone in the Middle East. Joining Aaron and Jeffrey for Part 2 of NPT REVCON Follies is Jeffrey’s colleague at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova.

Gaukhar is the Director of International Organizations & Nonproliferation Program. She attended the REVCON for all four weeks and wrote two posts for the Arms Control Wonk blog (one and two) from the REVCON.

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