Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Southeast Asia Contributes to Nuclear Disarmament

On Monday, Foreign Ministers at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial in Manila issued a Joint Statement on the Commission for the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ). The Treaty was signed in 1995 by Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Joint Statement pledges the State Parties to work to ensure compliance, work toward accession of the nuclear weapon states, cooperate with international bodies and others, and develop a specific workplan.

This is a great step forward, and a great opportunity to offer some suggestions for steps the Commission might take to broaden and strengthen the contribution SEANWFZ makes to international peace and security:

  • An official acknowledgment of the changing political climate suggesting the possibility of progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons signaled by a January 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed by George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn and other recent developments.
  • An effort to seek agreement between the Commission and the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL); this might begin with regular meetings every five years, possibly timed six months ahead of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conferences to give the Zone implementing bodies an opportunity to prepare a report to each Review Conference on their joint work.
  • Explicit collaboration with the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) as a like-minded international organization; this might include support of entry-into-force of the CTBT.
  • Promoting outreach from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to the African Union in support of entry-into-force of the Treaty of Pelindaba (which would establish the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone). This might be as simple as a letter or as robust as a coordinate demarche campaign by all ASEAN States to all African Union states.
    A statement of support for extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and further verified reductions in the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals.
    An inquiry to the British Foreign Ministry regarding how SEANWFZ State Parties might contribute to the British effort to advance the cause of a world free of nuclear weapons announced by outgoing Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Margaret Beckett.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Missed Opportunities in Nuclear Material Security

Several recent reports underscore the need to account for and secure nuclear material as our best chance to reduce the risk of theft or diversion of fissile material, and the resulting risk of nuclear terrorism.

The Government Accounting Office’s recent discovery of lax security procedures for controlling access to nuclear materials in the United States draws attention to a broader problem worldwide, as Doug writes in a letter published in yesterday’s Washington Post:
“The GAO's startling undercover work reminds us that this is exactly what we do need: more effective lists and verification measures to ensure that all nuclear weapons and materials are accounted for. This means we need presidential leadership to tighten domestic regulation of nuclear materials, accelerate cooperative threat reduction and extend START.”

Taking the goal of a nuclear weapon free world seriously, as George P. Schultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn argued in a January Wall Street Journal op-ed, will require effort to carefully verify and protect nuclear materials everywhere.

However, efforts to secure vulnerable fissile materials remain unjustifiably slow and US priorities in this area have been questionable:

*As a Government Accounting Office report documented in March 2007, the Department of Energy has been misleading on the progress it has made in installing security upgrades at sites that have vulnerable fissile material.

*Based on a March 2007 GAO report which concluded that the radiation detection technology proposed by the Department of Homeland Security is much less effective than the administration had claimed and that the cost-benefit analysis does not support the costly procurement and installation of the new monitors, the Washington Post now reports that, the Department of Homeland Security may have misled Congress:
“Congress had allowed the five-year project to move ahead after Homeland Security assured appropriators that the $377,000 machines would detect highly enriched uranium 95 percent of the time… Auditors from the Government Accountability Office later found that the detection rates of machines tested by the department were as low as 17 percent and no higher than about 50 percent.”

The GAO noted (p.12) the concern of one national laboratory scientist about the possibility of false negatives that detectors could
“conceivably misidentify HEU as a benign nuclear or radiological material or not detect it at all, particularly if the HEU is placed side by side with a non-threatening material, such as kitty litter.”

*Even if this radiation detection technology worked 100% of the time, it would not provide 100% protection against nuclear smuggling as smugglers might circumvent major ports and border crossings where this technology would be installed, instead using smaller, less traveled border crossings. As an example, Lawrence Scott Sheets and William J. Broad, in a January report in the International Herald Tribune about the case of a Russian citizen, Oleg Khinsagov, arrested in the Republic of Georgia last year for smuggling and attempting to sell a sample of HEU, warn about the problem of poorly policed border crossings and noted that the smuggler had traveled from Russia to Tbilisi by a high mountain road.

*Another GAO report from January reveals that the Department of Energy has made only limited progress in securing many of the most vulnerable sources of radiological material (that could be used to make a dirty bomb). Despite this limited progress, the funding for international radiological threat reduction program at the Department of Energy has been drastically cut in the past years (cut from $24 million in the FY 2006 budget request to $6 million in the FY 2008 budget request).

These reports reflect a questionable approach of focusing resources and energy on technologies that are not yet ripe deployed at locations that are not truly choke-points against the threat of nuclear or radiological terrorism.

Given limited resources, the danger is that these efforts may distract resources and attention away from proven methods to control nuclear materials at the source where it is produced and used. Verified control at the source represents our best chance to prevent the theft or diversion of nuclear material and this approach should be the focus of our political and financial resources rather than single-minded pursuit of a porous and technically elusive last line of defense at the border.

Monday, July 23, 2007

European Union grant funds African nuclear security, misses NPT opportunity

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that the European Union (EU) has provided a nearly 7 million Euro grant “to upgrade physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities in the countries, secure vulnerable radioactive sources, and combat illicit trafficking in nuclear and radioactive materials, with much of this funding to go to African states.”

The EU is to be commended for providing this support, the IAEA for its important work to enhance nuclear security globally, and recipient nations for their willingness to collaborate productively with international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation or misuse of nuclear materials.

But all parties have missed an important opportunity to declare their renewed support for their obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
At least half a dozen recipient states have not ratified the Treaty of Pelindaba and a few have not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Envisioning and working toward a world free of nuclear weapons means that no opportunity should be missed to increase the normative pressure and web of international legal rules that promote nuclear disarmament. Failing to do so reinforces the naïve and artificial separation between nonproliferation and disarmament that threatens the achievement of both.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Securing Africa's moral authority toward a world free of nuclear weapons

African political commentator and poet Mukoma Wa Ngugi surfaces some interesting points in his July 16, 2007 piece on Znet, “Africa and Nuclear Weapons.”

Recalling the anxieties of the Cold War and emphasizing a nuclear dimension in contemporary international politics, Ngugi lauds the Treaty of Pelindaba which establishes the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone:

“Today the question is whether the continent will become the theater of a nuclear dance between two predator nations - a growing and hungry China and the ever expansionist United States. It is therefore a great relief that Africa has arguably the most advanced non-proliferation treaty: the African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (ANWFZ) also known as the Treaty of Pelindaba which came into effect in 1996. According to the African Union, 22 countries have thus far ratified it.”

22 ratifications is still short of the 28 needed to bring the Treaty into force, twelve years and five days after it was opened for signature in Cairo. The African Union (AU) website now lists 23 ratifications – Gabon apparently slipped their instrument of ratification last Thursday (probably after Ngugi’s piece had already been submitted). Why have the other 20 African states acknowledge by the AU not yet ratified Pelindaba? Ngugi argues that they should:
“The atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan, was ironically enriched with uranium from what was then the Belgium Congo, and today, most nuclear weapons have uranium from an independent African state making us complicit in future atrocities. But by the same token, Africa through the ANWFZ treaty shows it can be a moral leader.”
Africa’s leadership on this issue is important for material as well as moral reasons, as the famous “16 words” from President Bush’s January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address suggest:

“The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

In a globalizing world, effectively verified nonproliferation is an increasingly communal enterprise – lots of people in lots of places matter more and more, which increases the responsibility of people everywhere to think globally and act locally to prevent nuclear proliferation. Ngugi surfaces the importance of this moral obligation for Africa:

“Uranium producing countries such as Namibia have not ratified the ANWFZ. This means that some African countries even though not developing nuclear weapons are aiding other nations, mostly Western, produce them – something the ANWFZ treaty forbids.”
The African states listed by the AU as not yet having ratified the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone are: Angola*, Benin, Burundi*, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad*, Comoros*, Congo*, Djibouti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo*, Egypt*, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana*, Guinea-Bissau*, Liberia*, Malawi*, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia**, Sao Tome & Principe*, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia. The states with * after their names have also not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); Somalia has two because it hasn’t even signed the CTBT. According to the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, the CTBTO, six other African states have also not signed the CTBT: the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Mauritius, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

Perhaps it is time for the African Union, perhaps in partnership with the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin American and the Caribbean and other relevant regional organizations, to consider a concerted push for Africa-wide adherence to these crucial agreements to secure Africa’s moral authority to play a stronger leadership role toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mr. Bolton had his Chance

As International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors prepared to re-establish international verification of North Korea’s nuclear program last week, Leonor rebutted John Bolton's delicately titled opinion piece "Pyongyang Pussyfooting" in a letter to the editor published in The Wall Street Journal on July 12, 2007:

“Attempting to negotiate in good faith with a country that is hostile to the U.S., as distasteful as this may be to Mr. Bolton, is a process inherent to effective diplomacy; it was used successfully by the Reagan administration with the "Evil Empire" and helped usher an end to the Cold War, and it remains the most effective way to stop Kim Jong Il's nuclear weapons program. Failing to do so will result in significant cost to national security.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Prodigal State Party

Yoo Cheong-mo of Yonhap reports that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Mohammed El Baradei called for North Korea to return to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the Inchon International Airport in Seoul on Wednesday:
“Now is a very crucial time for the IAEA, Korea and the entire world. North Korea has just returned to a verification process. I wish it would lead to North Korea's return to the NPT and complete scrapping of its nuclear weapons program.”
This is an important step toward reigning in the North Korean breakout from the NPT. Some observers have contested the legal force of North Korea’s asserted departure from the NPT on January 10, 2003.

The argument that North Korea’s withdrawal is illegal because it was asserted to have immediate effect is weak. Complex negotiations following the DPRK’s original assertion of its intention to withdraw from the NPT around March 9-11, 1993 (Wit, Poneman, Gallucci, Going Critical, page 25-6) led to interesting disagreement as to whether a state party to the NPT could “suspend” its withdrawal after the three month waiting period specified in Article X of the NPT had run out or, in the alternative, its withdrawal clock was reset if it chose to remain in the Treaty after having announced its intent to withdraw. This disagreement cleverly widened room for diplomacy and sparked discussions about how procedural measures might raise the bar against further NPT defections, but it did not fundamentally change North Korea’s right to withdraw. It only mattered so long as everyone – including the North Koreans – agreed that North Korea remained a state party to the NPT.

Law is important, but legalistic debate cannot reclaim the four-and-a-half years that the North has spent outside the NPT any more than IAEA inspectors can travel back in time to verify compliance during that period. But an unambiguous North Korean return to the NPT would be good for three reasons. First, it would multilateralize North Korea’s commitment to verified nuclear disarmament – even if entered into cynically, this global commitment to all NPT members would demonstrate that even a state that seems to spoil for an adjective (like “rogue” or “outlaw”) must acknowledge the relationship between verified and legally binding nonproliferation and contemporary sovereignty. Second, it would emphasize the resilience of the Treaty. Today, North Korea stands outside the NPT as a model to other states that might choose nuclear weapons proliferation over the rule of law, although no other states have yet followed suit. The DPRK’s return to the NPT would signal that breakout is not sustainable. Third, returning North Korea to the NPT would move this nearly universal Treaty even closer to universality – emphasizing that the historical and strategic circumstances that have left only three other states outside the Treaty should not be immune to creative efforts to bring them into meaningful and effective levels of partnership with NPT states parties for nonproliferation.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Highlights of more plutonium-related news from LANL this week

Highlights of other plutonium news out of Los Alamos this week include:

Julie Ann Grimm of Santa Fe’s The New Mexican reports that a “project to divert Rio Grande surface water for use in the Santa Fe area is designed to handle possible contaminants that drain into the river from Los Alamos National Laboratory, planners said Thursday.”

Andy Lenderman of The New Mexican reports that on June 26, 2007 a LANL employee who works at the lab’s plutonium facility was stopped with 30.5 grams of cocaine in his car, while another 1.3 grams of cocaine and electric scales were seized from his home.

Plutonium Pit Party Points a Path to the Past

On Monday, July 2, Senator Pete Domenici, Representative Heather Wilson and others gathered at Los Alamos National Laboratories to “celebrate” the production of the first plutonium “pit” certified for use in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile since the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado in 1989. Noticeably absent were 1) a clear vision for the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, 2) a sustainable vision for the future of the national laboratories, and 3) the application of the best science and technical expertise to the real problems urgently facing the United States.

At the event, Senator Domenici reportedly said:
“The only thing that would keep [Los Alamos] from being the permanent pit manufacturing center would be if we don't get the physical facilities.”
But bricks and mortar are not the only consideration in scoping the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, as Sam Nunn and other national leaders have argued, an informed and careful national consideration of the future of U.S. nuclear weapon is urgently needed.

But in a nearby event sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility/New Mexico, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and the New Mexico Conference of Churches, concerned citizens questioned whether the celebration might be miscast:

Dr. Mike McCally of Physicians for Social Responsibility said:

“Nuclear weapons development is just not needed... DOE laboratories and Los Alamos in particular are not focused on the urgent needs of the 21st century. Laboratory programs focused on energy, environment, nuclear proliferation, global warming, would be a cause for celebration.”
Former Vice President of Sandia National Laboratories, Robert Peurifoy, who joined by telephone said:
“They don't need to be replaced at this time because they are not broken…I'm not in favor of jumping in and replacing something just to have work.”
Why is Los Alamos building new pits when we have no urgent need for replacements and lots of crucial scientific and technical work urgently needed to support the national interest in areas like port security, nonproliferation verification, energy efficiency, terrorism prevention, and environmental remediation?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Take a Sunday drive in your RRW

The Bush Administration appears to be using new talking points to convince Congress and the public that developing a new nuclear warhead is good policy. Both the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have been using a new analogy, likening the new thermonuclear warhead that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos are designing to… a restored 1965 Mustang!

From the Department of Defense, General James Cartwright, Commander of US Strategic Command (nominated to become Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) stated during his testimony at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on March 28, 2007:

“You also want to ensure that they [nuclear warheads] are the most secure that they can be. And we, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s as we put these weapons together, did not have the technologies that we have today for safety and security. We have learned a lot. And we use this example of the 1966 Mustang. Sure, I'd like to have it, but I'm not sure I want to give it to my teenager or grandson without disc brakes, seatbelts, airbags, et cetera. We have the technologies today readily available to make these safe and secure.”

So a new hydrogen bomb would be a fitting gift for his grandson?

From the National Nuclear Security Administration, Thomas D’Agostino, Acting Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, on June 15, 2007 at a briefing at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, as well as at a National Defense University breakfast briefing on May 9, 2007:

“Consider this challenge: Your 1965 Ford Mustang, which you maintain as a collector’s item, has been sitting in your garage for 40 years. You monitor it for such items as a clogged carburetor, corrosion in the engine block and battery discharge, and you replace parts when you deem it necessary. However, you don’t get to start the engine and take it for a test drive. The trick is to assure that if you do need it right away—to take your spouse to the hospital in an emergency—that it would work with certainty. That’s what we have to do in our nuclear weapons life extension program.”

While driving to the hospital at speed and in style sounds great, here is my question: If my spouse needs to go to the hospital, why not call an ambulance? Or use the family car built on a tested design that we know works, rather than a car that has never been tested or driven before?

And how is this like using a nuclear weapon to threaten hundreds of thousands of people with instant death? It isn’t.

New nuclear warheads are unnecessary (because, while the oldest nuclear weapons date to 1970 as referenced by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the 2006 JASON group report on plutonium pit aging concluded that the triggers for nuclear weapons have “credible lifetimes of at least 100 years,” resulting in the plutonium pits in the current warheads remaining viable for at least another 60 years). New nuclear warheads also undermine US non-proliferation efforts (because the modernization of the US arsenal brings into question the United States’ commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).

Aside from these arguments against developing new nuclear warheads, it remains uncertain whether a new warhead design would actually be more reliable compared to proven designs which have benefited from over 1000 tests.

In fact, prominent nuclear weapon scientist Dr. Richard Garwin, who contributed to the design the first thermonuclear weapons, in his testimony before the Energy & Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on March 29, 2007, stated that:

“The technical question as to whether the weapon can with confidence be placed into the stockpile after development but without nuclear explosion testing deserves more study” and “ Beyond the technical judgment of engineers and scientists, however, is the question whether at some future time after the weapon enters into service there may be political questioning by some president or presidential hopeful, or even by some future STRATCOM commander about the wisdom of having a growing stockpile of untested nuclear weapons. It seems likely that such high-level concerns would lead to a nuclear explosion test…”

There will be many more arguments made by supporters of new nuclear warheads, but I hope they put forth national security justifications that include more than weak analogies to antique muscle cars from the 1960s.

In the meantime, if we’re going spend millions of tax dollars on a design (Phase 2A) of a new nuclear warhead and on a cost study anyway, I’d like the RRW to have satellite radio and heated seats.