Critical Questions: Urgent Decisions for the Second Obama Administration

Critical Questions: Urgent Decisions for the Second Obama Administration

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With contributions from Chen Kane, Bryan L. Lee, Miles A. Pomper, Amy E. Smithson, Nikolai Sokov, Leonard S. Spector, Jessica C. Varnum, and Jon B. Wolfsthal

In this year’s U.S. presidential election campaign, issues of disarmament and nonproliferation received remarkably little attention. Only one topic, how to deal with Iran’s uranium enrichment program, generated much interest from the candidates. And on this issue, despite rhetorical differences in emphasis between Republican candidate Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama, the candidates’ approaches did not differ significantly.

Yet as President Obama prepares to re-take the oath of office in January, there are a number of other disarmament, nonproliferation and nuclear security issues that will require prompt presidential attention. Some of the issues—such as whether to hold, postpone, or call off a planned 2012 international conference on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction—are dictated by the diplomatic calendar. Others, such as the future of U.S. strategic forces, represent decisions deferred by the first Obama administration as the 2012 elections approached, but which demand resolution. A third group, including responses to the potential dual-use dangers represented by rapid technological changes in the life sciences, reflect technological realities that require political responses.

In this issue brief, CNS experts examine eight of the decisions that the new administration cannot avoid. In addition to those issues cited above, they include: how to shape the U.S. missile defense architecture; whether or not to attempt Senate approval of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and the future of U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs in Russia and the global Nuclear Security Summit process.

Finally, several key bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements are set to expire in the next four years (including with South Korea, China, and Taiwan), and a long list of nuclear newcomers are interested in concluding agreements with the United States (e.g., Jordan, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia). In a companion piece, Jessica C. Varnum examines a ninth key decision facing the Obama administration in its second term—whether stricter nonproliferation preconditions for concluding these new and renewal 123 nuclear cooperation agreements with the United States would enhance or undermine their value as instruments of U.S. nonproliferation policy.

Measures to Curb Iran’s Nuclear Program

By Leonard S. Spector

On October 25, less than two weeks before the U.S. presidential election, western intelligence officials concluded that Iran had completed the installation of uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Fordow plant.[1] The plant, kept secret by Iran until it was exposed by the United States in late 2009, produces uranium enriched to 19.75 percent, a level that lies between typical power reactor fuel and weapons-grade material (Iran says the material is designed for use in the production of medical isotopes at the Tehran Research Reactor). As required by Iran’s status as a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the facility is subject to ongoing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that its output is not used for nuclear arms.

However, the United States and Israel, among others, fear that Iran is using the plant to gradually amass a stockpile of sufficiently enriched uranium to enable Tehran to “dash” to a small nuclear arsenal by withdrawing from the NPT, rapidly enriching the 19.75% feedstock material to weapons-grade levels, and fabricating nuclear arms.

The developments at Fordow highlight how Iran has continued to advance toward a nuclear weapon capability notwithstanding demands from the UN Security Council (UNSC) that it suspend uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities, and despite powerful sanctions imposed by the UNSC and significantly expanded by the United States, EU member states, and many other countries. Indeed, Iran announced its recent advances even as it appeared these sanctions had contributed to an 80 percent reduction in the value of its currency, the rial; caused Iranian exports of crude oil to fall by more than half; led to a 60 percent cut in Iranian crude oil production; and blocked Iranian banks, including the central bank, from access to the international banking system.[2] Reportedly, the United States and other countries have also used covert operations, including cyber-attacks, to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program, but so far without lasting effect.[3]

In the run-up to the elections, President Obama declared that the United States will “prevent” Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons – and will resort to military force, if necessary. As such, deflecting Iran’s current nuclear trajectory will be a matter of the greatest urgency in the Obama administration’s second term.

Core questions will be:

  • whether and how to toughen existing sanctions;
  • whether to establish clear “red lines” that would trigger U.S. military action if crossed, and if so, what those red lines should be; and
  • how to make the threat of military action more credible in the eyes of Iran’s leaders.

At the same time the Obama administration must also weigh whether to pursue new diplomatic approaches, including direct bilateral talks to persuade Tehran to change course and, if so, what kind of diplomatic package it might propose. On October 20, The New York Times reported that both sides had agreed to hold a new round of talks after the U.S. elections.[4] The report was promptly denied in Tehran and Washington, but this option will surely be examined in both capitals.

Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone (MEWMDFZ)

By Chen Kane

One of the decisions confronting the new administration is how hard to push for a conference on "the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction."[5] The Action Plan adopted by consensus at the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) stipulates that such a conference should take place in 2012 with the participation of all the region’s states. The Action Plan also designates the United States (along with Russia, the United Kingdom, and the UN Secretary-General), as one of the conveners of the Middle East Conference.

The U.S. announced on 23 November that the conference will not take place in 2012.[6] Whether the Middle East conference takes place later, and how much the United States is perceived to be actively promoting it is likely to have a direct impact on efforts by the Obama administration to achieve consensus at the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Some Arab states have privately expressed their readiness to reconsider their adherence to the NPT if the conference does not take place. While threats to block consensus in the 2015 NPT RevCon may not be of serious concern, and the possibility of withdrawal from the NPT may not be credible, further erosion of the treaty’s credibility for states in the Middle East and beyond is a serious possibility.

So far, despite intense efforts, Finnish Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Security Policy Jaakko Laajava, the facilitator appointed to assist in preparations for the conference, has been unable to elicit consensus from the region’s countries on an agenda or a set of desired outcomes. If the Obama administration decides to actively support convening the conference (something it has so far avoided), the administration will have to work in at least four parallel paths.

First, in order to secure Israeli participation, the United States will have to reconcile the mandate of the Middle East conference, which is derived from the decisions of the 1995 and 2010 NPT Review Conferences, with assurances to Israel made by then U.S. National Security Advisor, General James L. Jones, and President Obama about the modalities of the conference.[7]

For Israel (a non-NPT member), it is also important to formally separate the NPT and regional processes. The credibility of such U.S. assurances will naturally be influenced by the relationship between President Obama and whoever wins the January 2013 Israeli elections. In contrast to Israel, the Arab states rely on the NPT process as a source of pressure for establishing the zone.

Second, the United States will have to work with President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to articulate a strategic vision and planning mechanism, given that Egypt has historically led the political charge for a zone, but has not made clear how a constructive regional security dialogue could be established through the conference.

Third, in order to agree on an agenda and outcome, the United States will have to jump-start shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Cairo, reaching out to officials at the highest levels to discuss how the gathering could benefit all parties. Without a direct dialogue between Egypt and Israel, and agreements in advance on the outcomes, any conference would be likely to fail.

Finally, while an Iranian official stated Iran intends to participate in the conference, he also mentioned it should take place as an NPT conference under the rules of procedures of the NPT.[8] The United States will have to identify a trusted envoy capable of ensuring that Iran’s positions are understood and represented.

This is a tall order for any administration, and it is not yet clear whether the administration is prepared to make convening a successful zone conference a priority. Furthermore, the changes that continue to reverberate throughout the Middle East in the wake of the Arab uprisings, the risks associated with Syria's ongoing civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and tensions over Iran’s nuclear program all provide further challenges to efforts to convene the conference.

Presidential Guidance to Implement the Nuclear Posture Review

By Jon B. Wolfsthal

Every president in the nuclear age has left his imprint on U.S. nuclear deterrence policy. Almost all modern presidents have done this by issuing specific guidance to the Department of Defense defining what U.S. nuclear weapons are for, in what circumstances they might be used, and in so doing determining the minimum number of weapons the U.S. must maintain.

Because the 1991 START Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia was set to expire less than a year after he was sworn in to his first term, President Obama delayed the normal guidance development process. Past presidents, including Reagan, Clinton and both George H.W. and George W. Bush, developed new guidance at the beginning of their terms in office, and then negotiated reduction agreements with Russia. However, President Obama deferred his own review and decided to negotiate the New START based on his predecessor’s guidance.[9]

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) provided the broad contours of Obama’s nuclear policy, but the administration also initiated an NPR Implementation Study that was slated to result in the production of new presidential nuclear guidance.[10] That process was to have been completed this past summer, but was apparently shelved pending the results of the 2012 election.

Thus, the new administration can be expected to update U.S. nuclear policy to reflect changes since the last revisions at the start of the George W. Bush Administration in 2001. Questions about which countries are potential targets for U.S. nuclear weapons, what target sets in those countries need to be held at risk in order to maintain deterrence and reassurance of allies, and how many weapons need to be maintained at any given time by the U.S. military will need to be addressed. In turn, these questions will affect how many active and deployed weapons the U.S. needs to maintain, how many reserve weapons ought to be available in the case of technical or geopolitical changes, and perhaps most pressingly, how the U.S. should approach the expensive and challenging issues of recapitalizing the nuclear weapons complex and the nuclear triad.

All elements of the American nuclear deterrent – its land- and submarine-based missiles and its nuclear-capable bombers – are slated to undergo modernization or replacement over the next 30 years at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.[11] Whether this is sustainable or necessary will depend, in large part, on the outcome of President Obama’s nuclear guidance review. These are “fifty year” decisions that will affect America’s deterrent and its position in the world for decades to come, and also the many policy and procurement decisions that will need to be made in the next four years.

Missile Defense

By Nikolai Sokov and Miles A. Pomper

Soon after President Obama took office four years ago, he announced new plans for the deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe.[12] The administration claimed these changes would better counter a growing Iranian missile threat while improving strategic relations with Russia. Four years later, the second Obama administration faces calls to alter course yet again, in part for the same reasons.

President George W. Bush concentrated on building U.S. territorial defenses against limited strikes from Iran and North Korea; these defense lines included two bases in the continental U.S. (in Alaska and California), as well as a base in Poland. The capability of the proposed system was to remain limited, but the administration refused to limit the proposed number of interceptors or the number and location of possible future bases. To facilitate uninhibited development of missile defense capabilities, the administration also abrogated the US-Soviet 1972 ABM Treaty.

In addition to being overly ambitious technologically, the Bush plan concentrated on defense of the United States against Iranian strategic missiles (which do not yet exist), while leaving U.S. allies in Europe unprotected against existing rapidly improving Iranian intermediate-range missiles. The Bush plan triggered strong opposition from Russia, who suspected that defense against Iranian missiles was a cover for developing the capability to intercept Russian strategic missiles, and thus undermining nuclear deterrence. The planned base in Poland attracted particularly close attention, because the Russian military believed that interceptors deployed there would be capable of intercepting strategic missiles launched from the European part of Russia during the most vulnerable, boost phase, of their flight.

The Obama administration redesigned the plan in two ways: moving key assets closer to Iran’s territory by deploying interceptors on ships in the eastern Mediterranean and on land in Romania; and deploying new radar in Turkey instead of in the Czech Republic. The so-called Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) favored simpler technologies concentrating on threats to U.S. allies and U.S. troops in Europe, such as intermediate-range missiles, that already existed or were quickly developing.[13] More ambitious plans for defense against potential Iranian long range-missiles and ICBMs were left for the future; these are supposed to involve deployment of more advanced interceptors on ships to the north of Russia, and perhaps also in the Baltic Sea.

The new approach helped reduce tensions between the United States and Russia over missile defense; however, after a couple of years the conflict reignited. Russian suspicions are now concentrated around the fourth phase of the PAA, which foresees SM Block-IIB interceptors that are theoretically capable of intercepting Russian ICBMs, especially if the interceptors are deployed in large numbers to the north of Russian territory. The administration appears prepared to provide political assurances that the system would not undermine Russian security, but Russia insists that any assurances be legally binding and include a set of specific technical and military criteria. A secondary disagreement concerns the capabilities of interceptors and radar: since the technical data remains classified, Russian military experts use their own estimates, which, according to American officials, overestimate actual U.S. capabilities. Exchange of technical data, which the Obama administration apparently considered at some point, encountered strong opposition from Congress.[14]

A recent congressionally-ordered report from the National Research Council challenged the administration’s planned use of SM Block IIB interceptors against hypothetical Iranian ICBMs directed at the United States.[15] Instead, it urged the development of a redesigned ground-based interceptor, to be deployed at an additional U.S. site in the northeastern part of the country, decoupling it from NATO defenses of European territory, and perhaps leading to the abandonment of the Polish site.

The second Obama administration will have to decide whether to alter the missile defense architecture in accordance with the report’s conclusions, and also, whether it can do so in a way that might mitigate Russia’s concerns. In doing so, the administration will have to contend with Republican lawmakers’ determination to oppose any limitations on missile defense deployments, and possibly also renewed Polish concerns about changing the system’s architecture again. If, on the other hand, the Obama administration retains the current plan, it will have to decide whether to risk congressional ire by sharing data about the system’s capabilities with Russia. On the positive side, there is still time to search for an ultimate resolution: Moscow has stated that it can wait until the end of the decade.[16]

CTR Umbrella Agreement Renewal

By Bryan L. Lee

In 1991, concern over the security of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union led the U.S. Congress to pass the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act. Sponsored by Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, the act laid the groundwork for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. To date the United States has provided over $8 billion to CTR programs, which among many other accomplishments, have helped Russia to deactivate or destroy 7,610 nuclear warheads, constituting 57% of its 1991 inventory.[17] The program also grew to include a range of cooperative security measures designed to ensure that the Russian government maintains control of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as related materials and know-how.

However, the CTR umbrella agreement that provides the legal basis for these programs is set to expire in June 2013, and Russia has indicated that it does not want to renew the program as it stands. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that the “American partners know that their proposal is not consistent with our ideas about what forms and on what basis further cooperation should be built. To this end, in part, a different, more modern legal framework is needed.”[18] The current legal agreement spells out liabilities of U.S. workers under Russian law, and it grants U.S. workers blanket immunity, even in cases of intentional damage or injury.[19] Russia has long insisted the agreement is too broad, and Russian politicians today point to it as yet another example of how the U.S. took advantage of Russian weakness in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Russia highlights other problems with the CTR program as well. Moscow resents the implication that it requires foreign aid to maintain the safety and security of its nuclear stockpile, especially in light of its geopolitical and economic resurgence under President Vladimir Putin. Russia also argues that it has made enormous strides in nuclear security since 1991, and additional CTR funding is unlikely to significantly improve on what has already been done. And last and most significantly, Russia’s military and security apparatus feels that the CTR program grants the United States too much access to Russia’s defense complex and the military secrets held there.[20] Russian defense officials already admit that they expect to slow or perhaps even stop warhead dismantlement and destruction if the program is cancelled. Despite Russian rhetoric, there is no plan in the defense budget to offset the $400 million in funding CTR would have provided.

Russia’s hard line has surprised Obama administration officials, who have quietly been pushing for continued cooperation “but at a lower level.”[21] The second Obama administration will have to decide how to define that level. One option could be to focus on chemical stockpile destruction and some targeted nuclear dismantlement, which could mitigate Russia’s concerns over military secrets, while ensuring the most urgent U.S. concerns are addressed. The Obama administration also has the option of building on liability provisions in some other previous agreements, such as the 2006 protocol to a 2000 Plutonium Disposition Agreement.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

By Miles A. Pomper

In his 2009 Prague speech, President Obama pledged to “immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT]. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”[22] Yet, Obama is concluding his first term without the Senate having taken any action on the treaty. Due to the December 2009 expiration of the START Treaty, the Administration made New START its arms control priority. When the Senate battle over that pact proved harder than expected, and Republicans picked up additional Senate seats in the 2010 midterm elections, the administration was forced to again postpone the issue. However, key administration officials have been engaging senators to persuade them of the treaty’s merits. In private meetings, Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller and other Obama administration officials have informed senators about current international capabilities to detect clandestine nuclear weapon tests and the U.S. ability to maintain its nuclear arsenal without nuclear testing, both of which have improved significantly since the Senate last considered—and rejected—the treaty in 1999.[23] The U.S. scientific community has concluded that some of the key technical objections previously raised by the heads of the U.S. national laboratories and other experts have since been overcome.

The new Obama administration may find it more difficult diplomatically to delay action on the CTBT. It has been nearly two decades since the Clinton Administration committed itself to the pursuit of a global test ban.[24] The next administration may be hard-pressed to achieve a successful outcome at the 2015 NPT Review Conference without having at least attempted Senate approval. Furthermore, many experts believe that U.S. ratification is required to prompt other states to join the CTBT, particularly those whose ratification is required for its entry into force, such as China, India, and Pakistan. To date, CTBT supporters have hesitated to call a vote absent a guarantee of success, fearing a second Senate rejection would do more harm than good.

The composition of the Senate will dictate the investment needed to pursue CTBT approval. The treaty’s most powerful opponent, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is retiring this year. Moreover, the addition of two Democratic-leaning Senators through the 2012 elections will likely increase pressure on the Obama administration to take action before midterm elections threaten to dilute the Democratic majority. Nonetheless, the Obama administration is still likely to face an uphill battle in the Senate. Politically, the departure of Republican foreign policy centrists such as Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia has left a Republican caucus far less supportive of multilateral treaties than Senate Republicans of the 1990s. Technical improvements during the past two decades in U.S. nuclear stockpile management capabilities and verification technologies that once might have persuaded Republicans to support the CTBT are less important to the new GOP senators, many of whom question the inherent value of such pacts. With a two-thirds majority required for approval in a closely divided Senate, persuading a number of Republicans will be essential to success.

Additionally, the Obama administration will have to do something it did not do in its first term – advance a compelling national security argument for ratifying the treaty. In the 1990s the national security argument for ratifying the treaty hinged on stopping states like India and Pakistan, which did not openly test nuclear weapons until 1998, from doing so. It is likely that supporters of the treaty will build their case on the ability of the CTBT to prevent states with nuclear weapons from pursuing more advanced types of nuclear arms, as well as the perception that the treaty will further enhance the global norm against nuclear testing that has emerged since the current moratorium on tests was adopted in 1992.

Nuclear Security Summit Process

By Miles A. Pomper

In his April 2009 speech in Prague, President Obama announced “a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years” in an effort to prevent nuclear terrorism.[25] In fact, much of what the administration did in this regard was not new. For example, the U.S. government has operated programs for decades to minimize the civil use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), since HEU can also be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons. In addition, the George W. Bush Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative stepped up spending and focus on these activities after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But the Obama administration did make one signature step forward: establishing a series of nuclear security summits that brought top-level political focus to efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism, a set of issues previously relegated to lower level officials and technical experts. Washington hosted the first nuclear security summit in 2010, which brought together leaders from 47 countries, the largest such gathering since the formation of the United Nations in 1945. An even larger number of countries sent representatives to a second summit hosted by South Korea in Seoul in 2012. And at that summit, governments agreed that the Netherlands would hold another summit in 2014.[26] So far, the summits have been seen as producing mixed results. While the communiqués and official documents from the summits have been cautious in tone, full of caveats and escape clauses, the summit process has been useful in leveraging commitments from individual countries and groups of countries to take concrete actions on nuclear security.

The next administration will need to determine how to approach two overriding issues. First, a growing number of governments have expressed concern that this somewhat technical issue does not merit high level summits every two years, and so it is not clear if the summit process will continue beyond 2014. Indeed, U.S officials have indicated that they would like member states to give the International Atomic Energy Agency a more central role in managing these concerns. Secondly, the administration will have to decide how ambitious an outcome it will push for at the Netherlands Summit. Some NGOs, and governments such as Australia, would like to see the summit commit to a stronger nuclear security regime. These steps, for example, might include instituting binding legal standards for nuclear security, or requirements for some outside review of a country’s nuclear security efforts (e.g., by the IAEA or other countries or organizations).

Biological Weapons Issues

By Amy E. Smithson

The next Obama administration will confront a perish-or-flourish governance dilemma in the life sciences. Although the life sciences promise new applications in health, energy, agriculture, the environment, and industry that will elevate the quality of life and drive economies, panels of distinguished scientists have cautioned that vanguard life sciences technologies, like RNA interference and nanobiotechnology, are susceptible to abuse. For example, malicious actors could combine sophisticated targeted-delivery technologies with bioregulators to manipulate the human immune, nervous, and endocrine systems. Synthetic biology has opened the door to the assembly of appalling contemporary pathogens as well as eradicated diseases like smallpox. No wonder geneticist and molecular biologist Matthew Meselson warned in 2000 that in the hands of those with malevolent intent, new life sciences knowledge and technologies present “unprecedented opportunities for violence, coercion, repression, or subjugation.”[27]

Complicating these circumstances, life science technologies, capacities, and know-how are diffusing worldwide, often with little or no governance. For instance, automated equipment that “de-skills” previously labor-intensive techniques and processes is enabling those with rudimentary science know-how to perform advanced life sciences work. In recent years, research efforts, such as the work with H5N1, have generated controversy and concern, leading to proposals to address select parts of the multifaceted life sciences revolution piecemeal. However, no coherent, global plan has emerged to address biological risks.

President Obama could take a number of policy approaches. Following the example of the Nuclear Security Summits held during his first term, he could convene a summit to manage biological risks.[28] Such a summit could place the international community on an agreed path to global standards in biosafety, oversight of genetic engineering research, and biosecurity with an emphasis on personnel reliability rather than guns, guards, and gates. Leaders could also agree to educational requirements to instill good laboratory practices in budding scientists, who are often taught little about the safe, responsible, and ethical practice of their craft.

The Obama administration will also have to decide whether to challenge the conventional wisdom of the last four decades that the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention is “inherently unverifiable,” an assertion that led the George W. Bush administration to abandon negotiations to strengthen the treaty by adding verification measures.[29] Successive administrations have ignored the lessons that could be learned from the United Nations Special Commission inspectors, which unmasked Iraq’s covert program to develop, produce, and weaponize biowarfare agents. The inspectorate reported these matters to the Security Council, forcing Iraq to admit culpability.[30] In the run-up to the 2016 treaty review conference the Obama administration will have to decide whether, taking into account the Iraq experience and the limitations of intelligence capabilities to track covert germ weapons activities, to reopen discussions aimed at crafting inspection measures that can reliably detect some biowarfare activities, but not necessarily others.

[1] David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “Iran Said to Nearly Finish Nuclear Enrichment Plant,” The New York Times, 25 October 2012,
[2] Kenneth Katzman, “Iran Sanctions,” Congressional Research Service Report RS20871, 15 October 2012,; “Iran’s Rial hits an All-Time-Low Against the US Dollar,” BBC News, 1 October 2012,
[3] David Sanger, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks against Iran,” The New York Times, 1 June 2012,; David Blair, “Iran Nuclear Scientist Dead: Mysterious Recent Deaths and Disappearances,” Telegraph, 11 January 2012.
[4] Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, “U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks,” The New York Times, 20 October 2012,
[5] “2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Final Document, Volume I,” NPT/CONF.2010/50 (Vol. I), New York, 2010,
[6] U.S Department of State, Conference on a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (MEWMDFZ), press statement, 23 November 2012,
[7] The White House, “Statement by the National Security Advisro, General James L. Jones, on the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference,” Office of the Press Secretary, 28 May 2010,; The White House, “Readout of the President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel,” Office of the Press Secretary, 6 July 2010,
[8] For similar statement, see “Report Submitted by the Islamic Republic of Iran Pursuant to Paragraph 9 of Section IV of the Conclusions and Recommendations for Follow-on Actions Adopted at the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” NPT/CONF.2015/PC.I/7, 26 April 2012,
[9] “U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller Outlines the U.S. Position on a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia,” Interfax, 26 May 2009,
[10] U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010,
[11] Tom Z. Collina, “U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs,” Arms Control Association, August 2012,
[12] “Remarks by the President on Strengthening Missile Defense in Europe,” 17 September 2009,
[13] The White House, “A ‘Phased, Adaptive Approach’ for Missile Defense in Europe, ” 17 September 2009,; U.S. Department of Defense, “DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Gen. Cartwright from the Pentagon,” 17 September 2009,; Department of Defense, Department of Defense, “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” February 2010,
[14] Jim Wolf, “Obama Mulls Giving Moscow Data on Missile Defense,” Reuters, 6 March 2012; Brig. Gen. John Adams (Ret.) and Janne Nolan, “Cooperative missile defense is already underway,” Congress Blog, 5 March 2012.
[15] “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives,” The National Academy Press, 2012,
[16] "Договориться с США по ПРО нужно до конца десятилетия – Рябков [We must come to an agreement with the U.S. on BMD by the end of the decade — Ryabkov]," Rianovosti (Moscow), 8 November 2012,
[17] “The Nunn Lugar Scorecard: Destroying Weapons & Materials of Mass Destruction through Cooperation,” Richard G. Lugar, October 2012,
[18] “Комментарий Департамента информации и печати МИД России по вопросу о сроке действия «Программы Нанна-Лугара» [Comment of Information and Press Department of MFA on the issue of duration of activities of the «Nunn-Lugar Program»],” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Official Site, 10 October 2012,
[19] “Liability Issues in Cooperative Nonproliferation Programs in Russia,” Stimson Center, 1 June 2007,
[20] Elena Chernenko and Ivan Safronov, “Беспрограммное обеспечение: Россия намерена впредь вести утилизацию ядерных арсеналов своими силами [Without Program Support: Russia from Now On Intends to Direct Disposal of its Nuclear Arsenal without Outside Help],”, 10 October 2012,
[21] “Hearing to Receive Testimony on Proliferation Prevention Programs at the Department of Energy and at the Department of Defense in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2013 and the Future Years Defense Program,” U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Committee on Armed Services, Washington, DC., 12 June 2012,
[22] Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks by President Barack Obama, Hradcany Square, Praque, Czech Republic,” The White House, 5 April 2009.
[23] National Research Council, The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Technical Issues for the United States, 2012.
[24] The White House, “Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Chronology During Clinton Administration,” 10 September 1996,
[25] Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks by President Barack Obama, Hradcany Square, Praque, Czech Republic,” The White House, 5 April 2009.
[26] “Seoul Communique,” 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, 26-27 March 2012, www.thenuclear
[27] Matthew Meselson, “Averting the Hostile Exploitation of Biotechnology,” The CBW Conventions Bulletin, no. 48, June 2000, p. 16.
[28] Amy E. Smithson, Germ Gambits: The Bioweapons Dilemma, Iraq and Beyond (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), pp. 247-252.
[29] U.S. Ambassador Donald Mahley, Statement by the United States to the Ad Hoc Group of Biological Weapons Convention States Parties, Geneva, July 25, 2001; Mike Allen and Steve Mufson, “U.S. Scuttles Germ War Conference; Move Stuns European Allies,” Washington Post, 8 December 2001, A1.
[30] Amy E. Smithson, Germ Gambits: The Bioweapons Dilemma, Iraq and Beyond (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), pp. 247-252.

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Though there is no agreed-upon legal definition of what disarmament entails within the context of international agreements, a general definition is the process of reducing the quantity and/or capabilities of military weapons and/or military forces.
Nonproliferation: Measures to prevent the spread of biological, chemical, and/or nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. See entry for Proliferation.
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium: Uranium with an increased concentration of the isotope U-235, relative to natural uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent U-235, whereas nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to very high levels (see the definitions for “highly enriched uranium” and “weapons-grade”). Nuclear power plant fuel typically uses uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, material that is not sufficiently enriched to be used for nuclear weapons.
Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons as well as Other Weapons of Mass Destruction
Middle East NWFZ: The concept of an NWFZ in the Middle East was first introduced by Iran and Egypt in 1974. In April 1990, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak proposed the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of all types of weapons of mass destruction. In the "Resolution on the Middle East" adopted at the 1995 NPT Review Conference, the concept of a Middle East Zone Free of WMD was endorsed by all NPT state parties. The resolution calls on all regional states to join the NPT, place their nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, and work towards the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, in light of the minimal progress made since 1995, Arab states pushed for tangible steps toward the WMD-free zone. The result was a resolution calling for a meeting on the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone in 2012, to be attended by all states of the region. The meeting was subsequently postponed due to the parties' failure to convene in 2012.
Dual-use item
An item that has both civilian and military applications. For example, many of the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of chemical weapons have legitimate civilian industrial uses, such as the production of pesticides or ink for ballpoint pens.
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
The CTBT: Opened for signature in 1996 at the UN General Assembly, the CTBT prohibits all nuclear testing if it enters into force. The treaty establishes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to ensure the implementation of its provisions and verify compliance through a global monitoring system upon entry into force. Pending the treaty’s entry into force, the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO is charged with establishing the International Monitoring System (IMS) and promoting treaty ratifications. CTBT entry into force is contingent on ratification by 44 Annex II states. For additional information, see the CTBT.
Cooperative Threat Reduction (Nunn-Lugar) Program
A U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) program established in 1992 by the U.S. Congress, through legislation sponsored primarily by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. It is the largest and most diverse U.S. program addressing former Soviet Union weapons of mass destruction threats. The program has focused primarily on: (1) destroying vehicles for delivering nuclear weapons (e.g., missiles and aircraft), their launchers (such as silos and submarines), and their related facilities; (2) securing former Soviet nuclear weapons and their components; and (3) destroying Russian chemical weapons. The term is often used generically to refer to all U.S. nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union—and sometimes beyond— including those implemented by the U.S. Departments of Energy, Commerce, and State. The program’s scope has expanded to include threat reduction efforts in geographical areas outside the Former Soviet Union.
Nuclear Security Summits
Nuclear Security Summits: A series of international summits that emerged out of U.S. President Barack Obama's call in April 2009 to "secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years." The summit process focuses on strengthening international cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism, thwarting nuclear materials trafficking, and enhancing nuclear materials security.
Section 123 Agreement
Section 123 Agreement: See Nuclear Cooperation (Section 123) Agreement.
Medical isotopes
See entry for Radioisotopes.
Non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS)
Non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS): Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), NNWS are states that had not detonated a nuclear device prior to 1 January 1967, and who agree in joining the NPT to refrain from pursuing nuclear weapons (that is, all state parties to the NPT other than the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China).
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
United Nations Security Council
United Nations Security Council: Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The Council consists of fifteen members, five of which—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are permanent members. The other ten members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. The five permanent members possess veto powers. For additional information, see the UNSC.
Punitive measures, for example economic in nature, implemented in response to a state's violation of its international obligations.
Non-party: A state or entity that is not a participant in an agreement, convention, or treaty.
The actions of a state or group of states to dissuade a potential adversary from initiating an attack or conflict through the credible threat of retaliation. To be effective, a deterrence strategy should demonstrate to an adversary that the costs of an attack would outweigh any potential gains. See entries for Extended deterrence and nuclear deterrence.
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I, II, & III)
Refers to negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation, held between 1982 and 1993 to limit and reduce the numbers of strategic offensive nuclear weapons in each country’s nuclear arsenal. The talks culminated in the 1991 START I Treaty, which entered into force in December 1994, and the 1993 START II Treaty. Although START II was ratified by the two countries, it never entered into force. In 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin discussed the possibility of a START III treaty to make further weapons reductions, but negotiations resulted in a stalemate. Following the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002, Russia declared START II void. START I expired on 5 December 2009, and was followed by the New START treaty. See entries for New START and the Trilateral Statement. For additional information, see the entries for START I, START II, and New START
Nuclear Posture Review
Under a mandate from the U.S. Congress, the Department of Defense regularly conducts a comprehensive Nuclear Posture Review to set forth the direction of U.S. nuclear weapons policies. To date, the United States has completed four Nuclear Posture Reviews (in 1994, 2001, 2010, and 2018).
Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty
The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on May 26, 1972, and entered into force on October 3, 1972, constrained strategic missile defenses to a total of 200 launchers and interceptors per country, which were divided between two widely separated deployment areas. These restrictions were intended to prevent the establishment of a nationwide defense, and the creation of a base for deploying such a defense. The treaty was modified in 1974, reducing the permitted deployment areas to one per country. The United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002. For additional information, see the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The part of a ballistic missile’s flight path that begins at launch, and may last from five minutes to 80 seconds depending on the sophistication of the missile. During the boost phase, the booster and sustainer engines operate, and the warheads have not yet been deployed.
Phased, Adaptive Approach (PAA)
An architecture for missile defense in Europe proposed by the U.S. Obama administration for countering the perceived growing ballistic missile threat from Iran.  The phased, adaptive approach, as envisioned, would use land-and-sea-based SM-3 interceptors and sophisticated sensors deployed in southern and northern Europe.  These systems could potentially provide Europe and the U.S. homeland with a mechanism for defense against the full range of Iranian ballistic missiles that can adapt appropriately as the threat evolves.  The approach would deploy this technology in phases as it continues to mature from 2011 to 2020.
Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): A ballistic missile with a range greater than 5,500 km. See entry for ballistic missile.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance that was formed in 1949 to help deter the Soviet Union from attacking Europe. The Alliance is based on the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed in Washington on 4 April 1949. The treaty originally created an alliance of 10 European and two North American independent states, but today NATO has 28 members who have committed to maintaining and developing their defense capabilities, to consulting on issues of mutual security concern, and to the principle of collective self-defense. NATO is also engaged in out-of-area security operations, most notably in Afghanistan, where Alliance forces operate alongside other non-NATO countries as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). For additional information, see NATO.
Prague Speech
Refers to the speech given by U.S. President Barack Obama in April 2009 at Hradcany Square, Prague, the Czech Republic. In the speech, Obama stated "America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." He noted that “the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.” The Prague speech served as the framework for the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and subsequent U.S. arms control efforts.
New START: A treaty between the United States and Russia on further limitations and reductions of strategic offensive weapons, signed on 8 April 2010, which entered into force on 5 February 2011. Under the New START provisions, the two sides have to reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads and the number of deployed strategic delivery vehicles within seven years of the treaty’s entry into force. The treaty’s verification measures are based on the earlier verification system created under START I. New START supersedes the Moscow Treaty, and its duration is 10 years, with an option of extension for up to five years. See entry for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and Treaty of Moscow. For additional information, see New START.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
Fissile material
Fissile material: A type of fissionable material capable of sustaining a chain reaction by undergoing fission upon the absorption of low-energy (or thermal) neutrons. Uranium-235, Plutonium-239, and Uranium-233 are the most prominently discussed fissile materials for peaceful and nuclear weapons purposes.
Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI)
The GTRI: A program established by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration in May 2004 to identify, secure, remove, and/or facilitate the removal of vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials around the world. The GTRI incorporated, among other programs, longstanding U.S. efforts under the RERTR program to convert domestic and foreign research reactors from highly enriched uranium fuel to low-enriched uranium fuel. See entry for RERTR 
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)
The BTWC: The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC) prohibits the development, production, or stockpiling of bacteriological and toxin weapons. Countries must destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery within nine months after the entry into force of the convention. The BTWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972, and entered into force on March 26, 1975. In 1994, the BTWC member states created the Ad Hoc Group to negotiate a legally binding BTWC Protocol that would help deter violations of the BTWC. The draft protocol outlines a monitoring regime that would require declarations of dual-use activities and facilities, routine visits to declared facilities, and short-notice challenge investigations. For additional information, see the BTWC.


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