Nuclear Nonproliferation

C minus

June 2014

The Global Governance Report Card grades international performance in addressing today's most daunting challenges. It seeks to inspire innovative and effective responses from global and U.S. policymakers to address them.

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    Strengthening Normative and Legal Frameworks

    Little occurred in 2013 to either strengthen or weaken the international legal framework for nuclear nonproliferation. As in recent years, the prospects of strengthening the NPT remained dim. In April, deep rifts between states resurfaced at a major preparatory meeting for the 2015 NPT review conference when Egypt walked out, frustrated by deadlocked efforts to promote a weapons of mass destruction–free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East.

    Progress on the CTBT also remained stalled as no Annex 2 states—which must ratify the CTBT before it can enter into force—ratified the treaty in 2013. China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States still refused to ratify the treaty. India, North Korea, and Pakistan have not even signed the CTBT. Still, ratifications by Iraq, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, and Brunei were welcome additions. Another proposed legal instrument, the FMCT, remained similarly stalled. To be sure, thirty-seven UN members did attempt to restart dialogue on ending the production of fissile material by officially submitting their views on the potential treaty. However, further progress appeared unlikely as Pakistan remained determined to block the FMCT.

    Still, though the legal framework remained static, the normative argument for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament gained a boost in 2013. Norwegian foreign minister Espen Barth Eide hosted the Oslo Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in March and the UNGA held its first high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament in September. In parallel, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) worked with civil society to frame the danger to humanity in stark moral terms. Ultimately, however, clear divisions between nuclear and nonnuclear weapon states persisted, with the P5 collectively boycotting [PDF] the conference in Oslo and its follow-up meeting in Mexico.

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    Checking State Proliferators

    In 2013, international efforts to check nuclear weapons aspirants of major concern—Iran and North Korea—progressed in opposite directions. While Iran signed an interim agreement to freeze and roll back its weapons program, North Korea defied international pressures and continued to seek nuclear weapons.

    Efforts to curb Iran’s potential nuclear weapons aspirations improved dramatically in late 2013. By signing the Joint Plan of Action with the P5+1 in Geneva, Iran committed to temporarily freeze its nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Though the accord did not provide a lasting solution, it opened the door for potentially securing a comprehensive deal. Many states were cautiously optimistic, while others, including the government of Israel and some U.S. commentators, suspected Iran of merely trying to buy time and having no intention of foregoing its ambition to develop nuclear weapons.

    In contrast, North Korea followed its 2012 test launches with a third nuclear weapons test on February 12, 2013. In response, the UN Security Council—including China, traditionally an ally of North Korea—approved a new round of sanctions in March 2013. But North Korea continued to disregard international pressures, openly announcing plans to restart its nuclear reactor to produce plutonium, which satellite imagery confirmed in August. More troubling, supreme leader Kim Jong-un renounced any semblance of commitment to denuclearization in April 2013 when he unsuccessfully demanded that the United States recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Despite Chinese efforts to restart Six-Party Talks, the United States, South Korea, and Japan remained resolute in their refusal to negotiate with Pyongyang unless North Korea agrees to honor its past commitments to dismantle its program.

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    Interdicting Illicit Nuclear Transfers

    International efforts to interdict illicit nuclear transfers often remain classified or unpublished by governments and international organizations. Ad hoc cooperation over particular threats and unpublicized information sharing between states make up a great deal of these efforts. To date, international and bilateral cooperation has prevented terrorists and other nefarious actors from developing their own nuclear weapons or radiological weapons (dirty bombs).

    On a global level, international institutions continued to improve the capacity of states to detect and interdict illicit transfers, however they did so at a slow pace. UNSCR 1540 (2004) requires member states to establish domestic controls over nuclear-related material, thereby inhibiting illicit nuclear transfers. But nine years later, 22 of the 193 member states had yet to submit their first report indicating that they had taken measures to establish such controls. In 2013, only two states—Liberia and South Sudan—provided their first reports. More positively, as part of UNSCR 2118 (2013) concerning the removal of Syrian chemical weapons, the Security Council stipulated that member states should immediately inform it any violations of resolution 1540. In effect, this created a mandatory reporting element related to the resolution.

    Additionally, the Security Council passed Resolution 2094 in March, strengthening states’ authority to inspect suspicious cargo on North Korean shipments. Thanks to many of these interconnected efforts, successful interdictions continued to occur. Japan interdicted a ship from North Korea carrying centrifuge components in March, while Panama, with help from the United States, interdicted illicit arms and related materials between Cuba and North Korea in July.

    Meanwhile, a variety of international and national actors such as the IAEA, European Union, UN counterterrorism agencies, and the 1540 Committee, the United States, and Japan, among many others, worked to bolster interdiction of illicit nuclear transfers by sponsoring trainings and workshops on nuclear security.

    Overall, however, efforts to strengthen coordinated interdiction of illicit nuclear transfers remained poorly prioritized in 2013. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), in its tenth year of existence, continued to lack the necessary transparency for analysts to assess its effectiveness. Though PSI members convened in May for the first time in five years, the meeting provided little insight into the current state of coordinated interdiction. Members adopted four joint statements on future ways to strengthen the initiative, but failed to publicly announce concrete plans for implementation. Furthermore, many participants continue to lack the technical capacity to implement PSI commitments.

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    Securing Fissile Material

    Four years after President Obama highlighted the threat of nuclear terrorism in his 2009 Prague speech, international efforts to secure fissile material, led primarily by the United States, continued on pace. In 2013, all HEU was removed from Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Vietnam with assistance from Russia, the United States, and the IAEA. By the end of 2013, twelve countries in total had given up their stockpiles of HEU. With the completion of the twenty-year Megatons to Megawatts program, President Obama hinted at potential further collaboration on HEU disposition with Russia when he reauthorized U.S. purchases of Russian-downgraded HEU through June 2014.

    Yet, nearly two thousand metric tons [PDF] of weapons-usable nuclear material remained dispersed across hundreds of sites around the globe, many of them unsecured. Russia and the United States failed to conclude negotiations on a follow-up umbrella agreement to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, responsible for dismantling nuclear weapons and securing fissile material in former nuclear weapon states. In June, Russia allowed the program to expire, citing concerns that it gave the United States too large a role in Russia’s military affairs.

    In the United States, the Obama administration’s annual budget proposal to Congress made major cuts to nuclear nonproliferation efforts, including funding to secure fissile material. This included a cut of $76.5 million, or 15 percent, from the GTRI, the major program supporting U.S. efforts to convert, remove, and protect fissile material worldwide.

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    Oversight of Civil Nuclear Programs

    Many of the processes used to produce civilian nuclear power can be converted for use in military nuclear programs. Oversight of civil nuclear programs to ensure that they remain peaceful is an important aspect of nonproliferation and while efforts proceeded in 2013, progress was patchy. A handful of states signed Additional Protocols to their safeguards agreements with the IAEA, which grant the IAEA increased access to information and nuclear sites located in the territories of states party to the NPT. However, with the exception of Myanmar, no states with significant nuclear activities signed or ratified an Additional Protocol during the year. Myanmar’s signature of an Additional Protocol was a welcome first step in assuaging international concerns about military ambitions for its nuclear program. Still, several countries with significant nuclear activities—Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela—continued to prevent the IAEA from verifying the nature of their nuclear programs by refusing to sign Additional Protocol agreements.

    More concerning, China disregarded international safeguards put in place by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) when it contracted to sell two nuclear power reactors to Pakistan. According to NSG criteria, Pakistan may not receive such exports due to its lack of domestic safeguards. Previously, the United States has supplied India with nuclear technology outside the NSG, but it did so by formally requesting an exemption from the export-control regime. China did not request an exemption though the United States and other countries had previously warned that its actions would therefore violate NSG guidelines. As such, the deal threatened to weaken the NSG and, in effect, international oversight over civil nuclear programs.

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    Disarmament

    Article VI of the NPT commits state parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures” leading to eventual nuclear disarmament. As the United States and Russia remained the largest nuclear powers with over twenty times the number nuclear weapons as any other state, they continued to bear the brunt of responsibility to pursue disarmament at a global level by continuing to cut their overstocked arsenals. Unfortunately, U.S.-Russian efforts in 2013 moved at a glacial pace. In June, President Obama called for further reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, with a target of reducing deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third below New START levels. However, political will seemed to be lacking on both sides for new disarmament agreements and Russia exhibited more reluctance to negotiate on disarmament with or without a formal treaty. In 2013, both nuclear stockpiles and deployed weapons in the United States and Russia continued to decrease, but at a much slower pace than in 2012. Over the course of the year, the United States and Russia reduced their respective stockpiles by thirty and twenty warheads—compared to reductions of 80 and 350 in 2012.

    Furthermore, nuclear deterrence theories continued to play a central role in the foreign policies of all nuclear-armed states, thereby impeding the potential for future disarmament. The United States continued with expensive nuclear weapons modernization plans—including the B61-12 nuclear bomb life extension program—that appear to run counter to the spirit of Article VI. However, defense officials and the NNSA argued that the B61-12 program, which will extend the lifetime of roughly four hundred bombs [PDF] by twenty to thirty years, would actually allow the United States to reduce its stockpile further while still maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.

    For its part, Russia took similarly troubling steps to modernize its weapons systems. The former Soviet state announced plans to develop rail-based missile systems that could be deployed by 2020 and commissioned eight nuclear-armed submarines. It deployed new intercontinental ballistic missiles, citing concerns about U.S.-backed NATO defense systems in eastern Europe. Moreover, in the next three years, it planned to increase its annual spending on nuclear weapons by more than 50 percent.

    Disarmament commitments from nuclear weapon states France and China also proved disappointing. Both countries dismissed Russian demands that they join the next round of strategic arms negotiations and instead adopted rhetorical positions placing nuclear weapons at the forefront of their defensive strategies. In May, the French white paper on defense and national security asserted that nuclear weapons are the “ultimate guarantee of our sovereignty.” China released its own defense white paper in April that omitted any reference to its longstanding no-first-use (NFU) policy, raising questions about Beijing’s evolving nuclear policy. Though Chinese officials have since stressed that the omission was accidental and that they maintain a policy of NFU, the country continued to increase its nuclear arsenal.

    Perhaps most troubling, India, Pakistan, and possibly China continued to enlarge their nuclear weapons stockpiles, adding an estimated ten nuclear warheads apiece. India successfully tested both a submarine-launched and a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Beijing, and Pakistan successfully tested short-range tactical ballistic missiles.

    With stockpiles continuing to rise in China, India, and Pakistan, the long-promised conference on a NWFZ in the Middle East indefinitely stalled, and frosty U.S.-Russian relations cooling even further, the outlook for future disarmament looked dim in 2013. Globally, the net decrease in nuclear weapons in 2013 was estimated at twenty, compared to 440 in 2012.

Leader

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None

Gold Star

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P5+1

Most Improved

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Iran

Myanmar

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Pakistan

Russia

Truant

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Israel

India

Detention

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North Korea

Class Evaluation

Strong leadership on global nuclear nonproliferation was markedly absent in 2013. The IAEA and the United States remained invaluable actors in areas related to nonproliferation, such as strengthening international nuclear security and safety, but their leadership was uneven.

The IAEA signed a joint statement with Iran that facilitated access to Iranian nuclear facilities, thus providing more clarity on the nature of Tehran’s nuclear activities, but took a back seat to the P5+1 during negotiations on freezing the Iranian nuclear program. Meanwhile, despite spearheading negotiations with Iran, U.S. efforts to promote disarmament and nonproliferation abroad were undercut by continued plans to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities.

Though international coordination efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons remained lackluster overall, negotiations with Iran over its nuclear activities made progress in 2013. The P5+1 earned the gold star for diplomatic efforts that resulted in the six-month, interim Joint Plan of Action on November 24, 2013. Though the agreement did not provide a comprehensive solution to international concerns, Iran was awarded the status of most improved. To be sure, some experts and officials cautioned that the agreement might have been too weak, providing Iran with sanctions relief and more time to create weapons grade materials. Nevertheless, the prospects for resolving this major proliferation concern became significantly brighter.

Myanmar also earned the status of most improved for signing an Additional Protocol with the IAEA. Concerns about Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions emerged in 2010, after dissidents reported that the ruling junta had been enriching uranium for years and the government denied IAEA inspectors access to a suspected facility. By signing an Additional Protocol on September 17, 2013, Myanmar agreed to provide the IAEA with expanded access to information and sites related to the country’s nuclear activities, though the country will need to comply with IAEA requests before concerns are completely ameliorated.

Global support for the NPT rests in part on the willingness of NWS to commit to meaningful disarmament in accordance with Article VI obligations. Russia and Pakistan warranted designations as laggards in 2013 for their obstinate positions related to nuclear disarmament as well as their worrying modernization activities. Russia refused to start negotiations with the United States on cuts to its nuclear arsenal beyond levels stipulated in the New START agreement; President Vladimir Putin cited the need to maintain the balance of strategic deterrence as one of the many justifications for backing away from a follow-up agreement to New START and maintained his stance that Russia would “under no circumstances, surrender [its] deterrent capability.” In February, Russia conducted the largest exercise of its nuclear weapons transport capabilities near Europe in twenty years. For its part, Pakistan—a nonparty to the NPT—continued to produce fissile material, enlarge its nuclear stockpiles, and develop tactical missiles. Furthermore, it continued to block progress on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). Though it improved the security of its nuclear facilities in 2013, the threat of nuclear theft in Pakistan remained serious.

India and Israel, meanwhile, took no steps to join the NPT, thus maintaining their status as truants on the report card. Finally, North Korea tested another nuclear device in 2013 and made declaratory statements enshrining nuclear weapons in its national security strategy, meriting its place in detention.

Table of Contents

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Introduction

Global cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and security weakened overall in 2013 despite some isolated successes. Nuclear weapon states party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) continued to assert their right to defense strategies based on nuclear deterrence while nuclear weapon states outside of the NPT, such as India and Pakistan, increased the capacities of their military nuclear programs. Nonetheless, Iran and North Korea remained the only states of immediate nuclear proliferation concern.

Little progress was made to strengthen the legal and normative frameworks responsible for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. The second preparatory meeting for the 2015 NPT review conference reaffirmed the stalled nature of NPT reform. No states signed on to the NPT, while only countries with limited nuclear capacity signed or ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Globally, there was little progress by nuclear weapons states (NWS) to reduce their nuclear arsenals in accordance with their Article VI commitments under the NPT. Failure to live up to this obligation, which resonates strongly with nonnuclear weapons states (NNWS), threatened to undermine a bargain at the heart of the nuclear nonproliferation regime: that NNWS will forego acquisition of nuclear weapons in return for disarmament by NWS. During 2013, many nonnuclear weapon states made a push to gain global support for nuclear disarmament by framing it as a humanitarian concern.

Vertical proliferation and weapons modernization remained an issue of concern in India and Pakistan, and to a lesser degree in China. North Korea continued to develop its nuclear program, conducting its third underground nuclear test in seven years, reportedly reopening a plutonium reactor, and refusing to constrain its uranium enrichment program.

More positively, Iran showed signs of cooperating on nuclear issues by signing the Joint Plan of Action with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN—the United States, France, Russia, China, and United Kingdom—plus Germany) whereby it agreed to temporarily halt progress on and roll back certain elements of its nuclear program for six months. International efforts to address nonproliferation, disarmament, and related issues progressed slowly in a business-as-usual fashion. Though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United States bore the brunt of responsibility for such efforts, their actions did not amount to true leadership of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

U.S. leadership and performance was mixed in 2013. On the one hand, the United States engaged in bilateral negotiations with Iran for the first time in thirty years to bring about the Joint Plan of Action. It successfully completed the twenty-year Megatons to Megawatts program responsible for securing five hundred metric tons of Russian highly enriched uranium (HEU). The United States also continued to provide technical support on nuclear security and nuclear counterterrorism to states around the world through numerous initiatives at the Departments of Defense (DOD), Energy (DOE), and State (DOS). In 2013, the Obama administration submitted a budget that cut spending on global nonproliferation and arms control efforts while maintaining expensive nuclear weapons modernizations programs. Furthermore, the United States and Russia failed [PDF] to make headway on an arms-control agreement to supersede the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Granted, Russia played an obstructionist role in this regard. Despite this roadblock and rising diplomatic tensions, the United States and Russia continued to cut their nuclear stockpiles.

There are six areas for improvement. First, the P5+1 and Iran should work to conclude a comprehensive agreement that creates robust verification measures over Iran’s nuclear program. Such an agreement should contain strong verification stipulations and slowly roll back sanctions. Second, the United States and international actors should redouble efforts to reverse North Korean nuclearization. With bellicose leader Kim Jong-un proving unpredictable, North Korean nuclear ambitions are increasingly troubling. Third, the U.S. Senate should ratify the CTBT. Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the CTBT cannot go into effect until all Annex 2 states ratify the treaty. As a global leader on nuclear nonproliferation, the United States should ratify the treaty as soon as possible. Fourth, the United States and Russia should work on reductions beyond New START levels. A formal treaty may be too difficult to achieve, but both countries can use verification and monitoring measures in place under New START to negotiate informal bilateral reductions. Fifth, IAEA member states should bolster funding for organizational programming on nuclear security. The IAEA’s nuclear security agenda works to reduce the threat of nuclear theft and terrorism and relies on the voluntary contributions of member states. Lastly, NPT reform should remain a long-term goal and nuclear weapon states should continue to reduce the emphasis on nuclear weapons in their foreign policy strategies.

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Background

From states determined to develop a nuclear weapon to the threat of inadequately secured fissile material stockpiles falling into the hands of nonstate actors, nuclear proliferation poses one of the greatest challenges to international security. Because of such risks, there is a global consensus on the need to better secure, monitor, and reduce nuclear arms.

In 1970, the NPT entered into force guaranteeing state parties the right to civilian nuclear technology, prohibiting countries that did not possess nuclear weapons from pursuing weaponization, and requiring safeguard arrangements with the IAEA. It also committed nuclear weapon states that signed the NPT to negotiations in “good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race . . . and on . . . general and complete disarmament.” Despite this watershed treaty, proliferation continued, albeit less rapidly than widely expected at the time. A number of European powers with existing nuclear weapons programs, such as Sweden and Switzerland, voluntarily gave up their programs and ratified the NPT. South Africa assembled nuclear weapons during the 1980s, but became the first state to dismantle them voluntarily and signed the NPT as a nonnuclear weapons state in 1991. Brazil and Argentina also abandoned their nuclear programs and acceded to the NPT in the 1990s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the new states of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan dismantled thousands of nuclear weapons they had inherited from the Soviet Union and joined the NPT in the mid-1990s.

On the other hand, since 1967, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea developed nuclear weapons, joining the five nuclear powers acknowledged in the NPT (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China). During the 1980s, Iraq pursued a clandestine uranium enrichment program, while Libya took initial steps toward purchasing centrifuges—but later shut down the program. More recently, Iran was forced to reveal its long-term pursuit of uranium enrichment capabilities in 2002. Approximately sixteen other states have the weapons-usable nuclear material but have refrained from building or acquiring nuclear weapons. Finally, the possibility remains that a terrorist group might acquire sufficient fissile material to construct a nuclear device or steal a nuclear warhead. In light of these challenges, member states to the IAEA endeavor to prevent, check, and roll back proliferation. Despite some progress, the overall record is one of many successes but also missed opportunities from nuclear and nonnuclear weapon states alike.

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Class Evaluation

Strong leadership on global nuclear nonproliferation was markedly absent in 2013. The IAEA and the United States remained invaluable actors in areas related to nonproliferation, such as strengthening international nuclear security and safety, but their leadership was uneven. The IAEA signed a joint statement with Iran that facilitated access to Iranian nuclear facilities, thus providing more clarity on the nature of Tehran’s nuclear activities, but took a back seat to the P5+1 during negotiations on freezing the Iranian nuclear program. Meanwhile, despite spearheading negotiations with Iran, U.S. efforts to promote disarmament and nonproliferation abroad were undercut by continued plans to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities.

Though international coordination efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons remained lackluster overall, negotiations with Iran over its nuclear activities made progress in 2013. The P5+1 earned the gold star for diplomatic efforts that resulted in the six-month, interim Joint Plan of Action on November 24, 2013. Though the agreement did not provide a comprehensive solution to international concerns, Iran was awarded the status of most improved. To be sure, some experts and officials cautioned that the agreement might have been too weak, providing Iran with sanctions relief and more time to create weapons grade materials. Nevertheless, the prospects for resolving this major proliferation concern became significantly brighter.

Myanmar also earned the status of most improved for signing an Additional Protocol with the IAEA. Concerns about Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions emerged in 2010, after dissidents reported that the ruling junta had been enriching uranium for years and the government denied IAEA inspectors access to a suspected facility. By signing an Additional Protocol on September 17, 2013, Myanmar agreed to provide the IAEA with expanded access to information and sites related to the country’s nuclear activities, though the country will need to comply with IAEA requests before concerns are completely ameliorated.

Global support for the NPT rests in part on the willingness of NWS to commit to meaningful disarmament in accordance with Article VI obligations. Russia and Pakistan warranted designations as laggards in 2013 for their obstinate positions related to nuclear disarmament as well as their worrying modernization activities. Russia refused to start negotiations with the United States on cuts to its nuclear arsenal beyond levels stipulated in the New START agreement; President Vladimir Putin cited the need to maintain the balance of strategic deterrence as one of the many justifications for backing away from a follow-up agreement to New START and maintained his stance that Russia would “under no circumstances, surrender [its] deterrent capability.” In February, Russia conducted the largest exercise of its nuclear weapons transport capabilities near Europe in twenty years. For its part, Pakistan—a nonparty to the NPT—continued to produce fissile material, enlarge its nuclear stockpiles, and develop tactical missiles. Furthermore, it continued to block progress on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). Though it improved the security of its nuclear facilities in 2013, the threat of nuclear theft in Pakistan remained serious.

India and Israel, meanwhile, took no steps to join the NPT, thus maintaining their status as truants on the report card. Finally, North Korea tested another nuclear device in 2013 and made declaratory statements enshrining nuclear weapons in its national security strategy, meriting its place in detention.

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U.S. Performance & Leadership

B minus

In 2013, the United States maintained its unparalleled role in promoting international partnerships to counter nuclear terrorism and secure vulnerable nuclear materials. However, many of the priorities that President Barack Obama highlighted in 2009—reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles, ratifying the CTBT, and strengthening the NPT—remained stalled due to budgetary and strategic concerns, as well as internal political debates and weak diplomatic ties with Russia. More troubling, the United States continued to pursue expensive weapon modernization programs that seemed to run counter to the president’s long-term “commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Throughout the year, the United States continued to promote nuclear nonproliferation through multiple initiatives within the DOE, DOD, and DOS. For example, the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) collaborated with New Zealand and China to improve each country’s national capacity to monitor and interdict illicit trafficking of radiological materials through the Second Line of Defense program. In addition, the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) successfully removed all remaining HEU from the Czech Republic, Vietnam, and Hungary, thereby further reducing the risk of nuclear smuggling. For its part, the DOS’s Partnership for Nuclear Security, which promotes a self-sufficient nuclear security culture, and its Nuclear Smuggling Outreach Initiative, which partners with seventeen countries to “prevent, detect, and respond to incidents of nuclear terrorism,” also continued to improve nuclear security around the globe.

Furthermore, the United States continued to co-chair the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, a seven-year-old U.S.-Russia joint initiative that now consists of eighty-five nations. In a testament to its own improvements in the last decade, the United States reported in October 2013 that it had, for the first time, implemented all of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 (2004), dedicated to mitigating the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The completion of the twenty-year Megatons to Megawatts program between the United States and Russia also marked a major milestone. Through the program, the United States purchased low-enriched uranium that Russia downgraded from five hundred metric tons of HEU (enough for twenty thousand warheads), thereby verifying and assisting Russian disarmament efforts. On December 11, 2013, the United States received its last shipment under the agreement.

Additionally, the United States ramped up efforts to check Iranian proliferation. For the first time since 1979, the presidents of the United States and Iran engaged in official, direct communications to discuss Iranian compliance with IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions regarding its suspected enrichment activities. Working within the P5+1 framework, the United States played a crucial part in negotiating the Joint Plan of Action in Geneva. Though the agreement did not assuage major concerns regarding Iranian nuclear enrichment activities or ambitions, it laid the groundwork necessary for future negotiations.

Aside from U.S. engagement with Iran, the Obama administration struggled to build on its 2009-based agenda in 2013. In June, President Obama reaffirmed U.S. commitments to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament while speaking in Berlin, but he did not provide a concrete plan of future activities. Despite his call for reducing the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons by one-third if Russia were to make similar cuts, little progress was made on negotiating a follow-up agreement to the New START. To be sure, Russia—which proved unwilling to negotiate and had its own plans for nuclear weapons modernization—deserved the lion’s share of the blame for the lack of progress.

Moreover, the Obama administration failed to make headway on gaining the advice and consent of the Senate to ratify the CTBT, despite listing it as a top treaty priority for the president over the previous four years. In fact, just one week before the president’s Berlin speech, the House Armed Service Committee approved amendments to a bill barring the use of U.S. contributions to the CTBT organization for lobbying or advocacy activities related to that treaty within the United States.

Most importantly, the United States reaffirmed the significance of nuclear weapons in its foreign policy by backing expensive weapons modernization programs. Though the United States has not yet committed to total nuclear disarmament, some experts and countries see a contradiction between U.S. modernization activities and its responsibility under the NPT to pursue negotiations on eventual disarmament in good faith. Despite growing budgetary concerns in Washington, in 2013 Congress authorized more funding for the modernization of U.S. nuclear missile weaponry through the B61-12 nuclear bomb life extension program, while making cuts to U.S. nuclear security programs. Overall, the United States continues to allocate funds towards rebuilding its nuclear infrastructure and modernizing all three components of the nuclear triad (strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles) at the projected cost of $1 trillion [PDF] over the next thirty years.

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Strengthening Normative and Legal Frameworks

Average

Little occurred in 2013 to either strengthen or weaken the international legal framework for nuclear nonproliferation. As in recent years, the prospects of strengthening the NPT remained dim. In April, deep rifts between states resurfaced at a major preparatory meeting for the 2015 NPT review conference when Egypt walked out, frustrated by deadlocked efforts to promote a weapons of mass destruction–free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East.

Progress on the CTBT also remained stalled as no Annex 2 states—which must ratify the CTBT before it can enter into force—ratified the treaty in 2013. China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States still refused to ratify the treaty. India, North Korea, and Pakistan have not even signed the CTBT. Still, ratifications by Iraq, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, and Brunei were welcome additions. Another proposed legal instrument, the FMCT, remained similarly stalled. To be sure, thirty-seven UN members did attempt to restart dialogue on ending the production of fissile material by officially submitting their views on the potential treaty. However, further progress appeared unlikely as Pakistan remained determined to block the FMCT.

Still, though the legal framework remained static, the normative argument for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament gained a boost in 2013. Norwegian foreign minister Espen Barth Eide hosted the Oslo Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in March and the UNGA held its first high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament in September. In parallel, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) worked with civil society to frame the danger to humanity in stark moral terms. Ultimately, however, clear divisions between nuclear and nonnuclear weapon states persisted, with the P5 collectively boycotting [PDF] the conference in Oslo and its follow-up meeting in Mexico.

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Checking State Proliferators

Average

In 2013, international efforts to check nuclear weapons aspirants of major concern—Iran and North Korea—progressed in opposite directions. While Iran signed an interim agreement to freeze and roll back its weapons program, North Korea defied international pressures and continued to seek nuclear weapons.

Efforts to curb Iran’s potential nuclear weapons aspirations improved dramatically in late 2013. By signing the Joint Plan of Action with the P5+1 in Geneva, Iran committed to temporarily freeze its nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Though the accord did not provide a lasting solution, it opened the door for potentially securing a comprehensive deal. Many states were cautiously optimistic, while others, including the government of Israel and some U.S. commentators, suspected Iran of merely trying to buy time and having no intention of foregoing its ambition to develop nuclear weapons.

In contrast, North Korea followed its 2012 test launches with a third nuclear weapons test on February 12, 2013. In response, the UN Security Council—including China, traditionally an ally of North Korea—approved a new round of sanctions in March 2013. But North Korea continued to disregard international pressures, openly announcing plans to restart its nuclear reactor to produce plutonium, which satellite imagery confirmed in August. More troubling, supreme leader Kim Jong-un renounced any semblance of commitment to denuclearization in April 2013 when he unsuccessfully demanded that the United States recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Despite Chinese efforts to restart Six-Party Talks, the United States, South Korea, and Japan remained resolute in their refusal to negotiate with Pyongyang unless North Korea agrees to honor its past commitments to dismantle its program.

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Interdicting Illicit Nuclear Transfers

Average

International efforts to interdict illicit nuclear transfers often remain classified or unpublished by governments and international organizations. Ad hoc cooperation over particular threats and unpublicized information sharing between states make up a great deal of these efforts. To date, international and bilateral cooperation has prevented terrorists and other nefarious actors from developing their own nuclear weapons or radiological weapons (dirty bombs).

On a global level, international institutions continued to improve the capacity of states to detect and interdict illicit transfers, however they did so at a slow pace. UNSCR 1540 (2004) requires member states to establish domestic controls over nuclear-related material, thereby inhibiting illicit nuclear transfers. But nine years later, 22 of the 193 member states had yet to submit their first report indicating that they had taken measures to establish such controls. In 2013, only two states—Liberia and South Sudan—provided their first reports. More positively, as part of UNSCR 2118 (2013) concerning the removal of Syrian chemical weapons, the Security Council stipulated that member states should immediately inform it any violations of resolution 1540. In effect, this created a mandatory reporting element related to the resolution.

Additionally, the Security Council passed Resolution 2094 in March, strengthening states’ authority to inspect suspicious cargo on North Korean shipments. Thanks to many of these interconnected efforts, successful interdictions continued to occur. Japan interdicted a ship from North Korea carrying centrifuge components in March, while Panama, with help from the United States, interdicted illicit arms and related materials between Cuba and North Korea in July.

Meanwhile, a variety of international and national actors such as the IAEA, European Union, UN counterterrorism agencies, and the 1540 Committee, the United States, and Japan, among many others, worked to bolster interdiction of illicit nuclear transfers by sponsoring trainings and workshops on nuclear security.

Overall, however, efforts to strengthen coordinated interdiction of illicit nuclear transfers remained poorly prioritized in 2013. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), in its tenth year of existence, continued to lack the necessary transparency for analysts to assess its effectiveness. Though PSI members convened in May for the first time in five years, the meeting provided little insight into the current state of coordinated interdiction. Members adopted four joint statements on future ways to strengthen the initiative, but failed to publicly announce concrete plans for implementation. Furthermore, many participants continue to lack the technical capacity to implement PSI commitments.

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Securing Fissile Material

Average

Four years after President Obama highlighted the threat of nuclear terrorism in his 2009 Prague speech, international efforts to secure fissile material, led primarily by the United States, continued on pace. In 2013, all HEU was removed from Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Vietnam with assistance from Russia, the United States, and the IAEA. By the end of 2013, twelve countries in total had given up their stockpiles of HEU. With the completion of the twenty-year Megatons to Megawatts program, President Obama hinted at potential further collaboration on HEU disposition with Russia when he reauthorized U.S. purchases of Russian-downgraded HEU through June 2014.

Yet, nearly two thousand metric tons [PDF] of weapons-usable nuclear material remained dispersed across hundreds of sites around the globe, many of them unsecured. Russia and the United States failed to conclude negotiations on a follow-up umbrella agreement to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, responsible for dismantling nuclear weapons and securing fissile material in former nuclear weapon states. In June, Russia allowed the program to expire, citing concerns that it gave the United States too large a role in Russia’s military affairs.

In the United States, the Obama administration’s annual budget proposal to Congress made major cuts to nuclear nonproliferation efforts, including funding to secure fissile material. This included a cut of $76.5 million, or 15 percent, from the GTRI, the major program supporting U.S. efforts to convert, remove, and protect fissile material worldwide.

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Oversight of Civil Nuclear Programs

Average

Many of the processes used to produce civilian nuclear power can be converted for use in military nuclear programs. Oversight of civil nuclear programs to ensure that they remain peaceful is an important aspect of nonproliferation and while efforts proceeded in 2013, progress was patchy. A handful of states signed Additional Protocols to their safeguards agreements with the IAEA, which grant the IAEA increased access to information and nuclear sites located in the territories of states party to the NPT. However, with the exception of Myanmar, no states with significant nuclear activities signed or ratified an Additional Protocol during the year. Myanmar’s signature of an Additional Protocol was a welcome first step in assuaging international concerns about military ambitions for its nuclear program. Still, several countries with significant nuclear activities—Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela—continued to prevent the IAEA from verifying the nature of their nuclear programs by refusing to sign Additional Protocol agreements.

More concerning, China disregarded international safeguards put in place by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) when it contracted to sell two nuclear power reactors to Pakistan. According to NSG criteria, Pakistan may not receive such exports due to its lack of domestic safeguards. Previously, the United States has supplied India with nuclear technology outside the NSG, but it did so by formally requesting an exemption from the export-control regime. China did not request an exemption though the United States and other countries had previously warned that its actions would therefore violate NSG guidelines. As such, the deal threatened to weaken the NSG and, in effect, international oversight over civil nuclear programs.

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Disarmament

Poor

Article VI of the NPT commits state parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures” leading to eventual nuclear disarmament. As the United States and Russia remained the largest nuclear powers with over twenty times the number nuclear weapons as any other state, they continued to bear the brunt of responsibility to pursue disarmament at a global level by continuing to cut their overstocked arsenals. Unfortunately, U.S.-Russian efforts in 2013 moved at a glacial pace. In June, President Obama called for further reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, with a target of reducing deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third below New START levels. However, political will seemed to be lacking on both sides for new disarmament agreements and Russia exhibited more reluctance to negotiate on disarmament with or without a formal treaty. In 2013, both nuclear stockpiles and deployed weapons in the United States and Russia continued to decrease, but at a much slower pace than in 2012. Over the course of the year, the United States and Russia reduced their respective stockpiles by thirty and twenty warheads—compared to reductions of 80 and 350 in 2012.

Furthermore, nuclear deterrence theories continued to play a central role in the foreign policies of all nuclear-armed states, thereby impeding the potential for future disarmament. The United States continued with expensive nuclear weapons modernization plans—including the B61-12 nuclear bomb life extension program—that appear to run counter to the spirit of Article VI. However, defense officials and the NNSA argued that the B61-12 program, which will extend the lifetime of roughly four hundred bombs [PDF] by twenty to thirty years, would actually allow the United States to reduce its stockpile further while still maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.

For its part, Russia took similarly troubling steps to modernize its weapons systems. The former Soviet state announced plans to develop rail-based missile systems that could be deployed by 2020 and commissioned eight nuclear-armed submarines. It deployed new intercontinental ballistic missiles, citing concerns about U.S.-backed NATO defense systems in eastern Europe. Moreover, in the next three years, it planned to increase its annual spending on nuclear weapons by more than 50 percent.

Disarmament commitments from nuclear weapon states France and China also proved disappointing. Both countries dismissed Russian demands that they join the next round of strategic arms negotiations and instead adopted rhetorical positions placing nuclear weapons at the forefront of their defensive strategies. In May, the French white paper on defense and national security asserted that nuclear weapons are the “ultimate guarantee of our sovereignty.” China released its own defense white paper in April that omitted any reference to its longstanding no-first-use (NFU) policy, raising questions about Beijing’s evolving nuclear policy. Though Chinese officials have since stressed that the omission was accidental and that they maintain a policy of NFU, the country continued to increase its nuclear arsenal.

Perhaps most troubling, India, Pakistan, and possibly China continued to enlarge their nuclear weapons stockpiles, adding an estimated ten nuclear warheads apiece. India successfully tested both a submarine-launched and a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Beijing, and Pakistan successfully tested short-range tactical ballistic missiles.

With stockpiles continuing to rise in China, India, and Pakistan, the long-promised conference on a NWFZ in the Middle East indefinitely stalled, and frosty U.S.-Russian relations cooling even further, the outlook for future disarmament looked dim in 2013. Globally, the net decrease in nuclear weapons in 2013 was estimated at twenty, compared to 440 in 2012.

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Areas for Improvement

The nuclear nonproliferation regime requires improvements in six major areas:

  • The P5+1 and Iran should work to conclude a comprehensive agreement that assuages international concerns about Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. The P5+1 should continue to work through diplomatic channels, but should insist on robust verification measures. Relief from sanctions should occur slowly and be pegged to verification benchmarks outlined within an agreement.

  • The United States and its international partners should redouble efforts to rein in North Korean nuclear ambitions. As the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, adopts a more assertive tone, the United States and Russia should actively work with China to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. At the same time, the United States must be wary of growing Chinese ambitions in the East and South China Seas. Long-term nuclear proliferation and disarmament concerns in the region will need to address dynamics between China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States in addition to North Korea.

  • The U.S. Senate should approve (or “consent to”) the CTBT. The treaty, signed in 1996, remains a top priority for the Obama administration, yet consistent opposition in Congress has prevented ratification. Opponents argue that the CTBT would limit the ability of the United States to maintain its existing nuclear deterrent, but most experts believe that it is possible to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile without further nuclear tests.

  • The United States and Russia should continue long-term nuclear disarmament projects and work on further reductions beyond New START to underscore their commitments to Article VI of NPT. Rather than negotiate a new formal treaty, which requires approval from the U.S. Senate and Russian parliament, both countries should work toward informal agreements. Such agreements to reduce each country’s respective arsenal can benefit [PDF] from monitoring and verification stipulations already within New START. Regardless of progress on bilateral disarmament, Russia and the United States should renew expiring collaboration on nuclear security programs.

  • IAEA member states should bolster the organization’s budget for programming on nuclear security. The IAEA’s Nuclear Security Plan 2014–2017 [PDF] focuses on cybersecurity, nuclear forensics, the creation of nuclear support centers, and education. The IAEA relies on voluntary contributions for 80 percent of its budget [PDF] (roughly 19 million euros, or $26 million) for such activities, driving agency leadership to spend a significant portion of its time fundraising, which diverts resources from core activities.

  • Multilateral efforts should be strengthened to prevent the vertical and horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons to state actors. Although amending or updating the NPT—for instance, to make it more difficult or unlawful to abandon the accord—would be a herculean challenge, it should remain a long-term aspiration. In the meantime, states should take intermediate steps to improve the atmosphere for negotiation. To address the deep rift between nuclear and nonnuclear weapon states regarding nonproliferation concerns and priorities, nuclear weapon states should make further efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons as deterrents in their defense strategies.

Credits

Produced by the Council on Foreign Relations and Threespot

  • Executive Producer: Stewart Patrick
  • Web Producer: Andrei Henry
  • Producer / Writer: Farah Faisal Thaler
  • Assistant Producer: Isabella Bennett
  • Research Associates: Ryan Kaminski, Alexandra Kerr, Andrew Reddie, Emma Welch
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