Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk

 

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 made an appearance at the end of Glenn Kessler’s fact check on Mark Kirk’s bizarre claim that Nelson Mandela abandoned South Africa’s nuclear weapons program — something we’ve been scratching our heads over for a while.  While I am officially against handing out Pinocchios, maybe this is the kick in the pants Kirk needs to lose the lame slide.

The South African case is really interesting — not just for the precedent, but also for the role of satellite imagery.

The discovery of South Africa’s Kalahari nuclear test site is one of my favorite case studies. The story is that Cosmos 922, a Soviet photo-reconnaissance satellite, photographed the test site on 3-4 July 1977.  The Soviets didn’t like what they saw, then took a second look with Cosmos 932 and concluded South Africa was preparing a nuclear weapons test.
That’s one version. Dieter Gerhardt, a South African military officer later arrested for spying for the Soviets, told Ronen Bergman that he was the source of the intelligence.

Whatever put Moscow on to Pretoria’s tail, the Soviet Embassy delivered, on August 6, 1977 , a letter from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev indicating that South Africa was preparing for a nuclear test, something that would “have the most serious and far-reaching aftermaths for international peace and security.”  Carter wrote back, asking the Soviets for the geographic coordinates.

The United States looked at the site, concluded it was a nuclear test site, and confronted the South Africans with the coordinates and other details.  South Africa’s bomb program was blown.  The scrutiny didn’t stop the program, but the events of 1977 are a good illustration of detection, pressure and so on.  And, in principle, the events of 1977 are now replicable using open source tools.  That’s a big reason that I have always wanted to geolocate the site myself.

I finally got around to it, only to discover that David Albright Paul Brannan,  Zachary Laporte, Katherine Tajer, and Christina Walrond had already done it in 2011.  As it turns out, though, we  used completely different methods.  I used a pair of declassified US documents; Albright et al had used information from the IAEA. We got the same answer, which is nice.  I also learned a few things, some of which may make for an interesting blog post.  You tell me.

1.

Declassified Documents

Thanks to mandatory declassification –and the excellent work of the National Security Archive’s Bill Burr and Jeffrey Richelson — there are a bunch of declassified documents relating to Kalahari Test Site.  I used two in particular to geolocate it.

* Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Special Projects Division, South Africa: Motivations and Capabilities for Nuclear Proliferation, September, 1977.

* Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Special Projects Division, Geology and History of the Kalahari Drill Site, Proliferation Group Quarterly Report, January – March 1978  (June 1978)

The first document was prepared in rush following the Soviet allegations about the site.  It suffers for the haste in which it was prepared. The second report, which makes use of open source information ,is more limited in scope, but very interesting.  It also includes some satellite images.  These images, or at least their reproduction, is terrible (see the top of the post).  But it does contain some very important details spelled out in the text: the name and relatively location of two “nearby wells.” One is “Niete Min, 7.3 km N10°W from the drill site” and another is “Hop Hop, 13.3 km N25°W from the drill site.”

Both locations appear in the database of NGIA place names, which makes for short work.  The location, distance and heading of both sites agree reasonably well the sites identified by Albright et al as Shaft 2, which was the object of interest in the 1978 report.  Shaft 2 is located in the vicinity of  27°45’32″S, 21°27’43″E

The 1977 report describes other aspects of the site,  which allows us to piece together the whole place:

  • A so-called “head frame” over what was Shaft 1. (27°45’56″S,  21°28’6″E)  This is approximately 1 km from the drilling underway at what would become Shaft 2. The “head frame” was later replaced in the 1980s by a building referred to as a “shade” pictured right. The “shade” is now long gone.
  • A concrete pad that was considered as a possible “tower site”  for an atmospheric test. This is located 2.8 km SSE of the probable head-frame, as described in the 1977 document. ( 27°47’18″S,  21°28’52″E)
  • The support camp ( 27°50’25″S,  21°35’52″E) and the airfield (27°50’5″S 21°37’50″E). The description of the support area (72 m high antenna and about 720 m2 of housing) and the length of the airfield (1600 m) both match, of course.

The nomenclature in the reports can be a little confusing at times, but after a while it all makes sense. There are some errors in the 1977 report.  But fortunately, we have a post-apartheid site visit from the IAEA to clear things up.

2.

IAEA Map

Albright et al, on the other hand, had a map drawn by the IAEA, along with a video released by the South Africans. And before you think that made it easy on them, the map is terrible.  There is no compass to warn you that North is inexplicably off to one side, the placement of the roads is impressionistic at best and the author seems to have transposed the locations of the first and second shaft. Other than that, it is a model of verisimilitude!  One benefit of my having found the site through a different method is that it supports Albright et al‘s various suspicions about inaccuracies in the map.

The video wasn’t much help either.  Lots of blurry shots of flat, featureless terrain. Yay. There is still some value to the ground truth images, but it is pretty limited.

What the video is good for, though, is dealing with a special problem.  Shaft 2 apparently never received a head frame, shade or other identifying structure — possibly because of the post-1977 pressure.  The South Africans just buried it.  That meant, when it came time to disable it, the IAEA and South Africans had to find it again.  Albright et al note that there is an area with ground scarring that seems like the probable location of Shaft 2.  The video is useful in confirming that, yep, there aren’t any obvious signatures that can allow for better geolocation.  The spot Albright et al picked is also consistent with the location described in declassified documents, when there were drill rigs, equipment and other structures on site.

We also, thanks to the IAEA, have a location for the second shaft relative to the first — “780 meters from the first one and 80 meters from the road.”  That is also consistent with the earlier US claim the two sites were about 1 km apart.  Without more identifying information our location for Shaft 2 is an approximate one, but it is accurate even if it is approximate.

3.

Questions

The fun of doing an exercise like this is that you learn a lot about methods, as well the program itself.

The 1977 US intelligence estimate, prepared in the rush following the Soviet revelation, made a pretty embarrassing mistake.  The author (or authors) got the depth of the test shafts wrong — estimating the depth of the first shaft at 150 m based on the size of the head frame and the depth of the second shaft at a mere 77.5 meters based on the number of casing segments visible at the site.  This led to speculation that any South African nuclear test of respectable yield would crater due the shallow depth of the shafts.

This is one thing I’ve learned.  If you have a conclusion based on a single signature — like the number of casings — and that conclusion further requires that you assume a foreign nuclear program is staffed by utter morons, you may have misidentified the pertinent moron.

The 1977 estimate was totally wrong.  The actual depths of the shafts were 385 and 216 meters. The South Africans were not morons.  The IAEA actually measured them on site.

And lest you think I am beating up on the intelligence community, the author of the 1978 report did much better — and did it with open source data about the local geology!  The author(s) of the 1977 report missed something very important — the site was sand only down to about 75 meters, after which it was granite. Someone looked it up! (See: PJ Smit, “The Karoo system in the Kalahari of the northern Cape Province” Ann. Geol. Surv. S. Afr, 1972.  Only $33!)

In other words, the casings were just for the first 75 m or so of sand.  After that, the shaft kept going, drilled down into the granite.  The 1978 report looked at the number of drilling days and got a very wide estimate (190-345 m) of shaft depth.  Then, the 1978 report adds the  site had ordered six cutters for drilling granite — and returned one unused in December 1977. Each drill set can drill 22.9-30.5 meters. 75 + (5 x 30.5) = maximum shaft depth.

The author estimated the depth of the second shaft at between 169-227 m.  The measured depth was 216 m. That’s pretty damned good work, if you ask me.

There is a second mystery that I think we can clear up.  What is this thing?

A few people have noticed that it looks like the “shade” over Shaft 1, but doesn’t quite match.   I haven’t been able to track down the provenance of the image either, although Carey Sublette may know. (Update | See below.) Notice it has only two doors, not three.  And it is rectangular, not square.  It can’t be the shade the over Shaft 1. My initial I think it was a “shade” located on the concrete pad at  27°47’17″S,  21°28’52″E, about 2 km south of Shaft 1. There is an outline on that pad that matches the shape of the building.  When oriented properly, the roads and vegetation also match. I would say with moderate confidence that, like the other shade, it was probably built in the 1980s, then torn down and replaced with the structure now visible.

I am mildly shocked that the South Africans didn’t do a better job of camouflaging the site.  The author of the 1977 report was shocked, too. “One of the unusual aspects of the Kalahari site is that no attempt has been made to prevent the site’s discovery by airborne or satellite reconnaissance.”  It is one thing to read it; another thing to see it.  Some of the signatures visible in 1977 are no longer apparent, but others are.  Why did they do that?

The author of the 1977 report speculates that the South Africans did not care about international scrutiny, but their subsequent actions suggest otherwise.  The South Africans seemed surprised they got caught.  And, in the 1980s, the constructed the “shade” over Shaft 1 to hide future test preparations from prying spy satellites or red Commodore’s with cameras.

It is an enigma.  The South Africans apparently didn’t even bother to close the airspace over the site.  In October 1977, the US military attache cabled back that the airspace was open over the site, which tended to suggest it was not for nuclear testing.  The US intelligence community apparently took full advantage of this lapse.  In April 1979, the South Africans discovered that the US had outfitted an embassy aircraft with a secret camera to photograph sensitive sites while it ferried US diplomats around the country.  They expelled three U.S. military attaches from the country.  One U.S. official laughed off the expulsion as Pretoria ”catching a couple of attaches doing what they are paid to do.”  (See: “Spy in the Sky Flap,” Newsweek, April 23, 1979.)  But the South Africans weren’t smiling.

That’s a useful lesson.  In theory, countries can do all sorts of things to defeat analysts, whether of the open source sort or the more traditional kind.  But sometimes they don’t.  It might be too expensive or cumbersome.  Or maybe they just didn’t think about it.  Or maybe they did and decided that the obfuscation might be detected more easily than the wrongdoing.  Whatever the reason, the 1977 detection of the South African nuclear test site in the Kalahari is a really interesting case.

Update | On the provenance of the black-and-white image of a shade at the Kalahari Test Site.  Carey Sublette email to say that the image was probably from Burrows and Windrem, Critical Mass.  Sure enough, the image is there and credited to The Johannesburg Star. I have a hunch that the photograph was taken during a visit to the site, which appeared as Mark Stansfield, “Terrain of Destruction,” The Sunday Star, March 28, 1993, page 27.  The full text is available via FBIS, but no pictures sadly.  Life sucked before the internet!  Based on the story told by the reporter, it would seem that the site personnel took the reporter to the wrong building.

 
 

I was just in New York for a few days and heard some very interesting things about the coming trainwreck at the RevCon. But I wasn’t allowed to repeat any of them!

Lucky us, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova has written another “Notes from the RevCon” post.  (See her first note here.)

While she was careful to stick to things said in public, published online and reported in the papers, it’s kind of amazing to see it all in one place.

Notes from the RevCon: The Empires Strike Back

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova

I thought my next post would be about the Middle East, but then the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) set Subsidiary Body 1 and Main Committee I on fire, so I’m back to disarmament. (Elsewhere, Main Committee II has been chewing over whether the Additional Protocol is part of the verification standard under the NPT, and the United States’ and others’ proposals on response to withdrawal from the NPT are getting a no-go from the Non-Aligned Movement in Subsidiary Body 3.)

Weeks two and three of the RevCon are allocated to the work of the Main Committees (one each for every “pillar” of the NPT) and their Subsidiary Bodies (SBs). As in 2010, the RevCon established 3 SBs this year: SB 1 to deal with nuclear disarmament in a forward-looking manner, SB 2 on regional issues (that is, Middle East), and SB 3 for balance (“all other issues,” including Article X). On May 8, the chairs of the Main Committees and Subsidiary Bodies began submitting their draft reports, and the discussion of those texts started on Monday.

MC I and SB 1 were always the ones to watch, but the show so far has exceeded expectations. As discussed in my previous post, there’s a serious diversion of views on disarmament and the way forward, and bridging those gaps is not just a matter of a language fix, however carefully crafted. Given the developments with the humanitarian initiative since 2010, and the views expressed by the majority of NPT parties in the first two weeks, the humanitarian dimension was a significant part of the first SB 1 draft report.  No, the whole report was not about the humanitarian issues only, but concern about the humanitarian impact and the associated need to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons use were woven throughout the text. But most problematically for the NWS and allies, the draft report opened the door for states to consider options for a legal framework for nuclear disarmament – not quite the call for negotiating an instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons that many states wanted to see, but a bridge too far for the NWS and allies.

No one expected the NWS to particularly like the draft report, but boy, did they hate it. And how did they propose to improve the text? As befits great powers, some of the NWS reportedly went straight to the RevCon President, before the discussion of the report even started, requesting to axe SB 1 altogether (not that she has the authority to do it). Their idea was to forget this unfortunate incident with the draft forward-looking SB report ever being produced and proceed with negotiations only in Main Committee I, solely on the basis of draft text submitted by the MC I Chair. The beauty of the MC I report is that it was supposed to focus on the review of implementation of disarmament provisions of the NPT and past RevCon decisions, including the famous 2010 Action Plan, but the first draft contained only trace amounts of assessment of such implementation and a whole lot of noting and recalling of past pronouncements. (Yes, I monitored the Action Plan implementation for four years. No, I’m not bitter.) The MC I document still dared to reference the humanitarian initiative, in no less than four paragraphs, but at least there was nothing on legal frameworks.

Putting the content aside, the tone and intensity of the commentary delivered by the NWS in the past several days have been striking. The five appeared shocked that the SB1 draft contained the views and proposals they opposed, and so prominently at that. I mean, haven’t we told you there is no need for a legal framework for nuclear disarmament, and step-by-step is the only way forward? It’s one thing to ask for more arms reductions and transparency for decades, but to suggest that our weapons should be banned? And why do you people keep insisting on your concerns when you’ve been clearly told that we already know all there is to know about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons? From there, the solidarity script falls apart a bit, as some NWS – e.g. the United States – say that humanitarian concerns already underpin everything they do, while France, when they can bring themselves to pronounce the word “humanitarian,” says the humanitarian impact has nothing to do with anything.

France has been saying all kinds of interesting things, actually, such as, there is no risk of accidental use of nuclear weapons. None. Zero. Stop talking about it. Also, as far as France is concerned, there has been no new information, no new findings about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons “for decades.” (They are not alone in asserting this, but others are less public about it.) China, in the meantime, has concentrated its ire on Japan, fiercely rejecting the latter’s invitation of political leaders and experts to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Historical grudges and Japanese imperial army’s WWII atrocities were all part of the intensely awkward exchange that apparently made the front pages of the Japanese media.

SB 1 Chair Ambassador Benno Laggner survived the charge, with many a delegation expressing support for his work, and came back on May 12 with a revised draft, which was being discussed as I was writing this post on Wednesday. The draft is significantly weaker on the humanitarian dimension, and though it’s still not weak enough to make the NWS happy, at least they seem prepared to continue negotiations. It’s the humanitarian initiative folks’ turn to push back, and they are doing so, especially on the exclusion of a reference to the unacceptability of use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. The text that replaced it says it’s “in the interest of the very survival of humanity that the near seventy-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons be extended forever,” which many interpret as an implicit endorsement of indefinite possession of nuclear weapons. In any case, it sounds like a strange celebration of not committing a mass murder since the last time we did so.

So does it all spell a RevCon failure to agree on an outcome? Improbable as it may seem, the NWS might yet decide to cut their losses and accept strong endorsement of the humanitarian concerns, in exchange for dropping references to the need for a legal framework for nuclear disarmament (in the near future). That would be a much weaker outcome than many states desire, but might still be a significant enough reflection of the change in the thinking and the debate to make it worth accepting. It would be a crack in the dike, and states could then use it to keep up the pressure and the sense of urgency into the next NPT review cycle. There is still more than a week of the RevCon left to look for that compromise.

But if there is indeed no agreement, does it matter so much, given the treaty’s history of surviving failed conferences every other cycle? Failures might have even been useful sometimes: Mexico sank the 1990 RevCon over the comprehensive test ban, and in 1995, the promise of CTBT was one of the keys to securing the indefinite NPT extension. It may be comforting to think in those terms, but this time, the failure might mean that we have reached the point at which the differences are irreconcilable. Unlike in years past, this disagreement would not be about next steps and their relative priority as much as it would be about the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and policies envisioning their use. Would state parties be able to come back from that in five years and once again agree on common principles and the way forward? The NWS might be willing to wait it out. However, can they really imagine that in five years, 150+ states would be willing to return to status quo ante and re-accept the parameters of the debate centered on security perceptions and needs of the five? Perhaps they should give it some careful thought.

 

 
 

Intelligence sources have told Bill Gertz at the Washington Free Beacon and Anthony Capaccio and Sam Kim at Bloomberg that North Korea tested its KN-11 submarine launched ballistic missile from a submersible barge, not a Sinpo-class submarine, and that the missile flew only a short period.

Satellite images and open source information seems to support this account.  It is important to note that this does not mean the test was a fake.  This is a normal test to conduct in the early stages of an SLBM program — even if Rodong Sinmun and KCNA are exaggerating a bit.

In fact, it would be strange if the North Koreans did not conduct such a test before moving to a full flight test. The United States and Soviet Union, as well as other states like India, all conducted such tests.  Here are a picture and a schematic of a Soviet submersible barge known as PSD-4.

One of my colleagues, Dave Schmerler, noticed something very interesting.  Although all of the images released by Rodong Sinmun and KCNA were carefully cropped to give the impression that the launch was from a submarine, one of of the images in the larger set broadcast on television was not so carefully handled.  One can see the ship used to tow what I presume is a submersible barge.  I’ve stitched two images together so you can see what I mean. The presence of a surface ship so close to the ejection and launch basically rules out the possibility that the launch was from a submarine.

 

Dave also noticed — as have others including Joe Bermudez and H.I. Sutton at Defence Blog — that GoogleEarth has satellite images of Sinpo from December 2014 and March 2015 showing a submersible barge that looks a lot like PSD-4, the Soviet one mentioned above. The March image also includes a shot of a Sinpo-class submarine with what looks like two launch tubes and ship that looks very similar to the one apparently towing the barge above.  I am really looking forward to Joe’s article, which 38North is publishing today. (Update, 12:52 PST | I’ve added a link to Joe’s piece, which is as always very good.) Meanwhile, Melissa Hanham and Dave are busy measuring and modeling.

There is another important detail — the missile seems to have flown only a hundred meters or so.  Again, this does not mean the test was a fake. It is normal to conduct an ejection test, followed by only a partial burn of the missile’s fuel. This is an image of a US Polaris missile breaking up in flight a few seconds after ejection and launch.

While this test looks like a failure, it was not.  It was one of a series of tests where the Navy ejected the missile and then burned a small amount of fuel.  The test is well described in contemporary news accounts. Here are a pair of stories from the May 9 and  June 7, 1958  editions of the Chicago Tribrune.  These stories report on tests that are analogous to the test conducted by North Korea — ejection tests followed by a short burn of the missile.  One can see Navy officials claiming the missiles were intended to break up once the small amount of fuel was exhausted, with the reporter not quite believing them.  In hindsight, though,  it seems the Navy was being truthful — later reporting is brutally honest about the first six Polaris launches, all of which failed.

As I say, I think this is a real milestone in a real program.  But it does raise the question of how quickly North Korea might conduct a full-range flight test (or something close to it) and how quickly they might deployed such a capability.

The pace of US flight testing in the 1950s was quite intense — following the tests in May and June — and there are some other tests in here — the US attempted a flight test in September 1958.  While there were many failures, the Polaris was in service by 1961. The US Naval Institute has a nice timeline. India, too, conducted a similar test in 2008 — but India’s program proceeded at a much more leisurely pace. India’s Sagarika SLBM did not enter service in 2013. Where North Korea ends up, I don’t know.  I have a hunch, since Kim Jong Un is so closely connected with the program, that the pace of testing will be relatively brisk by North Korean standards — at least as long as Kim Jong Un stays in power. I don’t think a flight test by the end of the year is out of the question.

I do expect such a test eventually.  While Rodong Sinmun and KCNA certainly exaggerated this particular test, I don’t think it is quite right to suggest the entire program is fake.  North Korea has been developing this capability for some time and the recent test is yet another step in that direction. As Josh Pollack noted when looking at a picture of Kim Jong Un attending the test, “There’s no point in questioning if the N.Korean SLBM test was real. You can’t photoshop that shit-eating grin.”

 

 

 
 

Michael Krepon noticed that we’ve been silent on the issue of the ongoing NPT Review Conference and had an inspired idea — why not ask my colleague Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova to send us her thoughts from New York, where she is attending.

Gaukhar is great — she is the director of our  program on International Organizations and Nonproliferation. You can follow her tweets from the REVCON at @GaukharM using the hashtag #NPT2015.

Notes from the NPT Review Conference

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova

The Ninth NPT Review Conference kicked off in New York last week without much fanfare. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was there, speaking on the first day, as was Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, along with a number of other ministers, but there was little excitement or positive energy in the room. From their packed nosebleed section, NGOs could see plenty of empty seats behind delegation desks in the grand UN General Assembly Hall.

This lack of excitement is not surprising as, unlike in 2010, we arrive to the 2015 RevCon with the Prague Agenda having decidedly run out of steam, the US-Russian arms control dialogue deadlocked, and Russia’s adventures in Europe prompting many NATO allies to hug nuclear weapons tighter. The Humanitarian Initiative has broad-based support and strong momentum behind it, but it is also a source of tension, with the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) and some of their nuclear allies uneasy about its goals and next steps.

Before the conference started, the United States had already been messaging that it (and the NPT) can well survive without a consensus outcome document—either anticipating a resolute nyet to everything, or trying preemptively to undercut the leverage of non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) prepared to crash the RevCon over nuclear disarmament and particularly the humanitarian dimension. And for at least one other usually active participant—Iran, priorities this year are elsewhere: Zarif (or any other Iranian representative, for that matter) did not even deliver a national statement at the General Debate. After speaking on behalf of NAM on the opening day, he dedicated most of his time to meetings on the P5+1 talks, and this week, theIranian delegation is busy negotiating the text of the joint comprehensive plan of action at the EU Mission in New York.

“This is going to be a long RevCon”

In the three-act RevCon drama, General Debate is the time for opening monologues—stating beliefs and expectations and setting the stage for the negotiations to follow. As expected, last week’s speeches highlighted large gaps between states’ positions on nuclear disarmament—and not only between nuclear and non-nuclear-weapon states, but also among the latter. The Middle East WMD-free zone issue is another major source of contention, though the cast of dramatis personae there is much smaller.

The Middle East probably requires a separate post, but let’s just say that the Arab states are profoundly unhappy about the failure to convene a regional conference on the zone and believe the blame lies anywhere but with the Arab states. They are particularly unimpressed with the co-conveners’ (Russia, UK, and U.S.) performance and request now that the UN Secretary-General convene the regional conference within 180 days of the RevCon conclusion. The UN Secretariat wants this as much as a root canal, but they are at the mercy of state parties. The co-conveners, for their part, would like to have another go at implementing the 2010 decisions and convening the conference “as soon as possible” (but please no deadlines). As one of the people in the thick of all this commented to me, “This is going to be a long RevCon.”

Disarmament

NNWS dissatisfaction with the progress on nuclear disarmament isn’t new, but there are a couple of common threads in the debate this year. For example, concerns about the ongoing and planned modernization by the NWS of their arsenals featured quite prominently in the opening statements. Most non-nuclear-weapon states judge modernization as evidence of long-term commitment to retaining nuclear weapons rather than eliminating them, and as contrary to both NPT Article VI and Action 1 of the 2010 document. It does not help that most NWS insist they cannot stop loving the bomb any time soon, what with nuclear weapons guaranteeing their security, sovereignty, and freedom of action.  And in this dangerous, unpredictable world, beatings will continue until morale improves nuclear weapons will be retained until the global context and security situation change.  Furthermore, Russia and France recently discovered the part of NPT Article VI they like the most, and at least one of them suggests that the discussion should be focused on general and complete disarmament rather than nuclear.

The most remarkable and persistent common thread, however, is the humanitarian dimension: a new development in the NPT discourse since 2010. Speaker after speaker last week expressed concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and welcomed the three humanitarian impact conferences that took place in Norway, Mexico, and Austria in 2013 and2014. It is evident that the majority of NPT states want the humanitarian imperative to be reflected in the final document in stronger terms than it was in 2010, but specifics vary from state to state, and group to group. (Here’s what 15 states think, for example.)

Some NNWS see the humanitarian dimension as a call to action to prohibit nuclear weapons in the near term, while others caution about “shortcuts” and emphasize the need to engage the nuclear-weapon states. Reflective of divisions among the NNWS themselves, the RevCon heard two joint statements on the humanitarian impact—one on behalf of 159 states, and another on behalf of 26. The major difference between the two is that the former insists that nuclear weapons shouldn’t be used under any circumstances. The NWS are in such a bind they couldn’t even agree to use the word “humanitarian” in their joint statement (thanks, France) and downgraded the consequences from “catastrophic” to “severe.” Including a strong endorsement of the humanitarian imperative in the RevCon final document thus would likely require an epic battle, but the states leading the Humanitarian Initiative appear ready for a fight.

Closely linked to the humanitarian discourse is the question of where we go from here on nuclear disarmament, and whether that motion would be step-by-step or completed in anyone’s lifetime at all. Commonly described as “the only realistic way” by several state parties, the step-by-step approach is criticized more than ever at this RevCon. It is perceived by many as an excuse for inaction, exacerbated by the NWS description of the 2010 Action Plan as a “long-term roadmap,” from which NPT should not deviate. The counter-trend is the call for “closing the legal gap” with regard to the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Most prominent is the Austrian Pledge to pursue “efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks.” Well over 70 countries now support the pledge, including all of Latin America and the Caribbean. The New Agenda Coalition has requested that the RevCon seriously discuss legal approaches to measures to achieve nuclear disarmament, including a convention or a ban. It is hard to imagine that such discussion will get very far at this RevCon, given the outright NWS opposition, but a number of states have indicated implicitly or explicitly that the prohibition of nuclear weapons should be pursued with or without the NWS.

In the NPT games, non-nuclear-weapon states traditionally feel that the odds are ever in the favor of their nuclear-armed counterparts: after all, they hold the weapons, and since you cannot very well force them to disarm, for any idea or proposal to advance in the NPT context, the five need to be on board. Well, there was something of a mockingjay whistle ringing around the UN General Assembly Hall last week. Is there a revolt brewing? Will the fire catch on? I’ll keep you posted as it develops.

 

 
 

Since I’ve already inflicted my thoughts on the Iran deal over at Foreign Policy.com, I am happy that my friend Jofi Joseph has agreed to share his here at the blog.

Pleasant Surprises and Grudging Disappointments

Jofi Joseph

Jeffrey has kindly offered his blog as a venue for my thoughts on some of the specific technical elements of the P5+1 political framework with Iran announced last week.  For someone who worked on this issue in the U.S. government between 2011 and 2013, it is gratifying to see the efforts of many, many individuals in multiple governments finally bear fruit.

What follows is a checklist of pleasant surprises and grudging disappointments when it comes to this agreement’s nonproliferation bona fides.  Like many others, I was quite pleased at the depth and specificity of Iranian commitments when it came to real world constraints on their fuel cycle capabilities, but recognize the hardest negotiations are likely to take place over the next twelve weeks as broad text is translated into detailed annexes.

 

Pleasant Surprises:

 

Iran Only Permitted to Use IR-1s for Enrichment for Next Ten Years

 

At one time, the Administration was prepared to concede to Iran the flexibility to deploy various centrifuge models at its own discretion, so long as overall enrichment capability remained under an ironclad SWU ceiling.  In other words, if Iran was limited to an operational capacity of 7500 SWU per year, it would be the AEOI’s choice as to whether to deploy a larger number of the inefficient IR-1 centrifuges or introduce a smaller number of more advanced machines.  Although this formula would help ensure any prospective Iranian breakout timeline would not fall under one year, it contained a potentially fatal flaw – enabling Tehran to exploit production-scale enrichment to further develop and perfect more advanced centrifuges.

 

Under this agreement, however, Iran will only be permitted to enrich uranium with 5060 IR-1 machines at Natanz, which means the P-5+1 has frozen Iran’s enrichment program at existing levels for the next ten years.  Not only are the IR-1 centrifuges woefully out of date and prone to high failure rates, Iran has been using these machines for almost a full decade.  In other words, it has nothing further to learn from continued enrichment with this technology, and the next decade becomes a “lost decade” when it comes to the modernization of Iran’s enrichment program.

 

Broad Constraints on Iran’s R&D Capability

 

Some critics argue that, because Iran will be permitted to continue limited research and development on the IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 models over the next decade, it can use the next decade to master operation of these more advanced models and launch a more powerful enrichment program once constraints under the CJPOA begin coming off.  Yet this argument ignores the significant differences between limited, small-scale testing of individual centrifuges in a laboratory setting and production-scale operations employing large centrifuge cascades where actual enrichment can occur.  The halting progress of Iran’s enrichment program over the past fifteen years underlines the difficulty its scientists have faced when taking laboratory-scale technology into a real world setting.  Without the ability to test these advanced models with actual enrichment and utilizing production-scale cascades, Iran will only make incremental progress in developing more advanced centrifuge models.

 

Comprehensive Transparency and Verification Requirements

 

As Jeffrey has so usefully argued before, the real danger from Iran’s nuclear program is not a breakout involving one of its overt facilities, but rather Iran’s use of a civilian nuclear program to camaflouge covert facilities/activities where inspectors are not present.  The best means to ferret out a covert program is a broad-based set of inspections, verification requirements, and transparency measures that aims to detect the production of fissile material at every iterative step of the process – from the initial milling/mining of natural uranium to the final steps of weapons grade enrichment or reprocessing of spent fuel rods.

And that is exactly what the U.S. and P5+1 negotiators have managed to achieve.  Whether it involves continuous surveillance of uranium mines and mills or access to the production facilities where Iranian centrifuges – and key parts like bellows and rotors – are assembled and manufactured, the agreement covers all the bases remarkably well.  While “anytime, anywhere” access was never a realistic objective, the Iranian agreement to concede IAEA access to any suspicious sites where covert enrichment – and necessary precursor steps like uranium conversion, yellowcake production, and centrifuge manufacturing — may be occurring is an important one.  For the duration of this agreement, it will be extremely challenging for Iran to carry out a covert program on its own soil.

 

And The Not-So-Good Stuff:

 

The Curious Language Surrounding Iran’s AP “Implementation”

 

Longtime ACW readers are quite familiar with the tortured history of Iran and the Additional Protocol.  Iran originally signed the AP in 2003, but never got around to ratifying it.  Several years later, when the United Nations Security Council formally took up the Iran file, Tehran retaliated in part by suspending its implementation of the AP, where it has stood ever since.  Getting Iran back into compliance with the AP has always been a key objective, not least because this agreement is uniquely constructed to help ferret out potential covert activities to produce fissile material.

It is for that reason why the language in the U.S. fact sheet outlining Iran’s commitment here is so curious.  The fact sheet only declares that “Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA”.  It does not specify the duration of this commitment; will Iran only implement the AP for a period of ten, fifteen or twenty five years, or is this an indefinite commitment?   If the latter, then why doesn’t Iran agree to take the necessary steps to eventually ratify the AP?  The joint statement read out by the EU High Representative and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif is even more disconcerting, as it refers only to the “provisional application” by Iran of the Additional Protocol.

Resumed Iranian compliance with the AP has always been assumed to be one of the easy “gets” in any final agreement, not least because the AP is in no way specific to Iran; it is a universal agreement which the vast majority of other NPT signatories have signed and ratified.  Iranian insistence that it be treated like every other normal NPT state holds no water when it comes to AP ratification – because that is what normal NPT states have already done!

I don’t have any good guesses on Iranian motivations here.  There may have been a reluctance by the Iranian negotiating team to commit to future action involving ratification by the Majles when that may be out of their lane of authority.  Any final agreement should better flesh out the specifics of what Iran will do when it comes to AP implementation and lay out a clear rationale if that implementation will be time-limited.

 

Last and Perhaps Least – the PMD Dossier

 

And, finally, the long nettlesome issue of investigating and documenting Iran’s past efforts to develop a nuclear warhead capable of fitting onto a ballistic missile.  The U.S. intelligence community concluded in 2007 that Iran halted such efforts in 2003, although concerns have persisted to this day on whether some elements have continued at low levels.   Those critics who have insisted that any comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program include a full accounting of such efforts are likely to be disappointed by the language in the U.S. fact sheet:  “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns” regarding the PMD issue.  Negotiators may have reached agreement on a much more detailed set of understandings on what these measures entail, but I doubt it.  Iran has agreed to “measures” on PMD before, most recently in 2013 in the run-up to the agreement on an interim accord, yet then proceeded to largely ignore its implementation, even while continuing intensive talks with the P5+1 on a broader agreement.

 

All this points to an unavoidable reality:  like it or not, if an Iran deal is ultimately to succeed, the quest for a full accounting of Iran’s past activities may have to be sacrificed.  Put yourself into the shoes of a U.S. negotiator.  You recognize upfront that you will not get everything you want from Iran and you will have to accordingly prioritize.  Eventually, you may have to choose between insisting on tougher constraints on Iran’s future nuclear activities that serve the purpose of deterring both an overt and covert breakout vs. an exhaustive historical inquiry that assesses what exactly Iranian physicists may have been doing in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  For most folks, the decision there is relatively straightforward.

 

Some argue that it will be very difficult to identify future covert Iranian nuclear weapons efforts without a detailed understanding of what happened before.  I’m not so sure.  It is not clear if the individuals involved with the previous Amad Plan would be the ones tapped again for a future covert program or whether a clear understanding of their previous actions would help identify future efforts.

 

What is of some concern is where this leaves the IAEA and its Director General – Yukiya Amano.  DG Amano in some respects has served as the necessary skunk at the picnic on this issue – reminding everyone that the allegations surrounding PMD remains an outstanding piece of the puzzle.  If this deal is completed and then implemented in good faith by all sides, there may come a time when the PMD issue will have to be gently brushed aside.  Let’s hope that the good Director General doesn’t get caught in the stampede.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

I just wanted to write down a brief explanation about the documents that exist describing the Iran “deal”.  There seems to be some confusion about what they are and what they are not.  They are a deal in the sense that they tell us what the final agreement will look like.  But they are not a deal in the sense that many important details remain to be worked out.

The only official document is the Joint Statement by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, which was read out in English by Ms. Mogherini and in Farsi by Dr. Zarif. This is a “framework” agreement that serves as a kind of proof that the negotiators are close enough to begin negotiating what will be called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.  The framework agreement tells us broadly what the comprehensive agreement will look like, but turning the solutions and compromises outlined in the framework into the language of an proper agreement will be a challenge.

There are other texts, some of which we can see.  The United States released a fact sheet entitled Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program, and so did the Iranians.  (Payam Mohseni at the Belfer Center made a translation.)  Marie Harf mentioned both fact sheets during the April 3 press briefing. Gary Samore notes some of the interesting questions raised by the two fact sheets, which I would describe as being broadly consistent though with interesting differences of emphasis that point to challenges that remain.

For example, the US fact sheet notes that the IAEA “will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years.”  That’s great, but what does continuous mean?  The IAEA will have to develop a entirely new set of arrangements to provide continuous surveillance of rotors and bellows production and storage facilities, which is something it has never — to my knowledge — done before. The negotiators now will have to work this out.  The negotiators have given themselves three months — until the end of June — to do so.

Similarly, how will Iran reduce its stockpile of LEU to no more than 300 kilograms of material enriched to no more than 3.67 percent?  The Iranians seemed to have considered shipping the excess abroad, presumably to Russia, before changing their mind.  Will they instead dilute excess material?  Sell it on the open market?

These are just two of several interesting questions that must be addressed. The parties may already have resolved many of the discrepancies, just not in public.  There is the infamous whiteboard that recorded many solutions and compromises.  John Kerry, according to AFP, “had his own version committed to paper to consult on the go.”  I’d be shocked if it didn’t go beyond the Joint Statement.  The US fact sheet, for example, refers to Iran conducting “research and development on centrifuges will be carried out on a scope and schedule that has been mutually agreed.” Press reports suggest R&D was a sticking point at the end, so it must have come unstuck. (If I ever open a pub, I am calling it The Scope and Schedule.)

Overall, Joint Statement, as elaborated upon in the fact sheets, suggest that the parties have the framework of a strong agreement.  But these papers alone do not constitute an agreement, at least not yet.  An agreement is written down, with significantly more detail, and signed by the parties.  As the Obama Administration discovered during the ill-fated “Leap Day Deal” with North Korea, getting words on the paper is no small task.

Still, I am, for the first time in this process, hopeful about a successful outcome.  Neither of the two examples I cited are impossible for negotiators to solve. But solve them, they must.  And, in three months.  Give or take a few all nighters at the end.

 
 

I have a new column at ForeignPolicy.com about the 1987 Institute for Defense Analyses report,  IDA Memorandum, Report M-317 Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations.

The report is now widely available online, but copies have been floating around for years.  The picture atop the post is my copy. (You can tell the provenance of any copy by the upper right hand corner which notes “Copy 2 of 5 copies” and so on.)

In the column, I didn’t have space to point out how many times this document has already been mentioned in the press.  I do here.

The document is hardly secret.  I am pretty sure IDA announced it’s publication in the Technical Reports Awareness Circular so people could order it.  (Although I need to find the right volume.) No matter. Here you go:

And, since that is hard to read, here is the entry for six IDA reports covered by this volume of TRAC, including IDA MR-M-317 Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations.

One thing I wanted to point out is how often the report has been referenced publicly.  After all, I tracked down a copy because I had heard about it and seen it cited many times.  Here is a short list.

The first instance I can find is a 1989 article by Michael Gordon in the New York Times.  Gordon wrote:

A 1987 Pentagon-commissioned report, which was disclosed this week, asserts that there is close cooperation between the Israeli universities and Rafael, a military research and development institute, and SOREQ, a scientific center that does research in advanced physics, which the report asserts can be applied in the development of nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon-commissioned report was published by the Institute for Defense Analyses, a Government-financed research center. Information in the report was gathered by a group of American consultants who visited Israel. The material on Israel’s program of nuclear research, for example, was prepared by R. Norris Keeler, a head of physics at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1971 to 1975. Collaboration Seen as Worrisome

The report asserts that Israel is ”roughly where the U.S. was in the fission weapon field in about 1955 to 1960” and adds that SOREQ is developing computer codes that could be useful in ”in studying the implosion of nuclear devices.” The report also states that Rafael and Technion have collaborated ”on the development and simulation of ballistic missile re-entry vehicles.”

See: Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Sees Israeli Help in Pretoria’s Missile Work,” New York Times, October 27, 1989.

The second instance is W. Seth Carus’s Cruise Missile Proliferation in the 1990s.  Carus wasn’t interested in nuclear weapons, but noted the report contained “the first description of the Delilah” cruise missile.

The third instance is a book by William Burrows and Robert Windrem entitled, Critical Mass: The Dangerous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World (Simon and Schuster, 1994). I think they had a copy, although it isn’t exactly clear to me from the text.

That’s just for starters.  There are now plenty of copies floating around.  I am not certain, but I suspect there might be a copy in the Paul Leventhal files at UT-Austin. Someone should take a peek there, as well as with our friends at the National Security Archive.

But that’s what the comments are for!

 

 
 

I’ve got a new column coming out on the allegation that Iran has a covert enrichment site in the Tehran suburbs called “Lavizan-3.”  Along with Paul-Anton Krüger, I tracked down someone who actually visited the site recently. It is precisely what Iran says it is: a facility to make identification documents. NCRI is full of it.

Anyway, my friend Phil Baxter, a PhD student interested in open source work, put together a little rundown of the claims.  I found it really useful, not least because it confirmed a bunch of things I thought but was too lazy to write down.  So, here is Phil’s analysis.

The Lavizan-3 Site

Phillip Baxter

On Tuesday, the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran announced that Iran had been hiding yet another nuclear-related facility. This time, in the heart of Tehran. The facility, known as the Lavizan-3 for the neighborhood in which it resides, is officially operated by Matiran Company and is used to process passports and identity cards. Unofficially, it is claimed to conduct illicit uranium enrichment using advanced centrifuges deep underground.

The group attempts to validate their claims with satellite images and photos supposedly taken inside the tunnel. The photos shows a vault door, which they also say is lined with lead to prevent radiation leaks. Additionally, that area is home to a number of licit Atomic Energy of Iran facilities and military housing, which they use to bolster their claim.

Wikimapia as even already updated their site with a new label for the site based on the group’s assertations.

However, there are several curious inconsistencies with their claim when examining the satellite imagery.

First, there is no electrical substation on site or high-tension power lines running to the facility. If the site is imagine a large scale advanced gaseous centrifuge operation at that location, they’re going to need quite a bit of power (most advanced centrifuges run at between 400-1000 amps). If you look at the facility at Natanz, there is a massive switching station to handle the power load. Here, doesn’t even look like a light-industry substation nearby.

The second inconsistency is brought to you by snow. If we look back to imagery from the winter months with snow on the ground, there aren’t any distinguishable dry spots on the below image that would indicate air venting. With any underground facility, going to need air circulated, which would warm the ground, melting snow. If underground where NCRI claims, you would see large areas of no snow in the circled area of the image. Air could be circulated through the buildings, but even those don’t appear to be able to provide the volume necessary.

 

Next, how do they move material in and out?! If we are talking an experimental facility, that’s one thing. But an enrichment plant is going to need the capability to drive materials easily to the locations they are needed. Doesn’t appear to be any tunnels for entrance and egress of trucks.

This last piece of evidence is bolstered a bit by the fact that after review over a dozen images over the last 10 years, there was never once an image taken with a motorized vehicle on the grounds. It seems a bit odd that a delivery truck carrying UF6 gas canisters are never spotted.

Additionally, if the facility has been in operation since 2008, you imagine that some trace of construction of a massive underground facility would linger. Nope. Not there. The ground where the stated facility is located is untouched since 2004.

One final point is on the lead lined door of the supposed facility. Uranium-238 and 235 are both undergo alpha-decay. A couple of sheets of paper would be fine. Inclusion of this tenuous evidence serves only to cast doubt on the group’s claims.

Is it is possible that Iran is hiding advanced centrifuges at a secret facility for the purpose of getting to a breakout point? Sure. Is it at Lavizan-3? Evidence really isn’t there.

Phil Baxter is currently a PhD student in the International Affairs, Science, and Technology program in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. He completed his B.A. in Political Science and History at Grove City College and his M.P.P in Public Policy, with a focus in national security policy, from George Mason University. Prior to joining the Sam Nunn School, Phil worked in international security related positions in the Washington, DC area, including serving as a researcher at the National Defense University on a program focused on nuclear nonproliferation and as a Nonproliferation Fellow at the National Nuclear Security Administration. His current research focuses on international security issues, primarily with respect to nuclear weapons. In particular, Phil is interested in deterrence and strategic stability in the 21st century.

 

 
 

As fate would have it, I will be in DC for a talk about my new IISS Adelphi book, Paper Tigers: China’s Nuclear Posture. (IISS is being unbelievably civil about the fact that I am doing the talk at another institution.)

The talk is at 11:30 am-1:00 pm on Friday, February 27, 2015 , at the George Washington University (1957 E Street NW) . RSVP here.

I need to hurry back ASAP for family reasons, but will be around on Friday night.  Since the talk falls painfully close to my 40th birthday, I’ll be heading with some friends to the Big Hunt for a few beers after work (5-ish until late-ish) in a desperate effort to, however briefly, recapture my long lost youth.  If you’d like to see that trainwreck, I’d be delighted to let you buy me a beer and laugh at me as a fall down.