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The end of the US-Russian agreement on plutonium

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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On October 3 last the Russian Federation suspended the agreement reached in 2000 with the United States to downblend the bilateral surplus plutonium for nuclear weapons. The two powers had 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium each, at least according to the agreement signed in June 2000, at the time of the famous Reset between Russia and the United States.

The above stated agreement was reconfirmed in 2010, .but President Obama’s 2017 budget submission proposes a “dilution and disposal” approach as enabling the plutonium to be disposed of sooner, at lower cost and with lower technical risk than conversion to mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Incidentally, some technological considerations are appropriate in this regard.

Mixed-oxide fuel, which accounts for 5% of the nuclear fuel currently used, consists of plutonium recovered from nuclear reactors mixed with depleted uranium, which can also produce electricity.

Hence, for budgetary and strategic reasons, President Obama has proposed halting the construction of a facility in South Carolina to downblend the plutonium into MOX fuel for use in commercial reactors.

However, regardless of the plutonium downblending technology, the MOX use had been defined in the 2010 agreement between Russia and the United States.

Hence, in essence, as early as last April, Vladimir Putin has been accusing the United States of not keeping their word, as they have failed to destroy military plutonium by instead permitting a reprocessing method that allows plutonium to be extracted and used again in nuclear warheads.

The bill Putin submitted to the State Duma sets out pre-conditions for the 2000 agreement to be resumed, including the reduction of US military infrastructure and troops in the countries that joined NATO after September 1, 2000, namely Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Putin also requires the lifting of all US sanctions against Russia and “compensation for the damage they have caused to the country.”

Furthermore, in May 2015, President Obama drew a line under the completed “Megatons to Megawatts” program by terminating a state of national emergency that had been declared in 2000 to help to ensure payments to Russia under the 1993 agreement.

The agreement regarded the US downblending of surplus military highly-enriched uranium that could not be assigned otherwise.

President Obama told Congress that “the conversion of 500 tons of highly-enriched uranium extracted from Russian nuclear weapons was over”.

In fact, in 1993, the US and Russian governments signed an agreement to purchase, over a 20-year period, 500 tons of Russian “surplus” highly-enriched uranium from nuclear disarmament and military stockpiles.

The material was bought by the United States for use as fuel in civil nuclear reactors.

Under the deal, the United States had to transfer to Russia a similar quantity of natural uranium to that used to downblend the highly-enriched uranium.

The deal was signed and complied with by Russia until last year.

The agreements suspended by Putin also include the Research & Development one signed in 2003 and again related to the nuclear sector.

We must consider, however, the complex strategic logic behind these seemingly quick Russian decisions.

The main shock was Ukraine.

During the Russian operations in the country, Putin and his aides launched many nuclear signals to NATO.

In March 2015 Putin said that he “could put the nuclear system on alert during Crimea’s annexation”.

Hence Russia still wants to “escalate to terminate” a possible nuclear attack on the EU and NATO, while continuing to perfect the sub-nuclear weapons and focusing on an increasing role of the nuclear strategy in its military posture towards the West.

A case in point was the simulated nuclear attack on Sweden in August 2015.

What is missing, in fact, is the implementation of the New Start Treaty signed in 2015 by Obama and Medvedev, which reduces to 1,550 the nuclear warheads available to each of the two countries.

The Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and the strategic bombers have been both reduced to 700 units.

The United States, however, have 741 launchers with 1,481 nuclear warheads, while Russia has 521 launchers with 1,735 warheads.

From this viewpoint, apart from the other military nuclear technologies, the United States and Russia have an equivalent potential. The difference is that the Russian weapons seem to be better and more effective than the American ones, from the technological and operational viewpoints.

Nevertheless the United States have not honoured the deal with Russia, thus instilling the legitimate doubt that much of the plutonium and uranium assigned by Russia is used by the United States for military purposes.

Putin, however, is right in substance and has probably not studied the US arguments and reasons well.

Let us go back in time: in the 1990s, the United States reported to have a surplus of 61.5 metric tons of plutonium out of a total equal to 90 metric tons, all intended for military use.

Russia had a stock of 180 metric tons of plutonium, 128 of which already adapted for military use, while also reporting to have a surplus of 50 metric tons of fissile material.

Plutonium is always hard to be downblended: either it is used to produce MOX, which is suitable for civil nuclear power plants, or it is “immobilized”, which means it is mixed with highly radioactive material, so that these substances can cover and prevent the radiation of plutonium itself.

However, with a with to making the radioactive material safe, a long and complex industrial process is needed.

The United States had started to build their own ad hoc facility along the Savannah River banks in South Carolina but, for various organizational and technical reasons, the cost of the project agreed with Russia proved to be not affordable for the federal government.

There is speculation that today the completion of the project agreed by the United States with Russia would cost over 30 billion dollars.

Hence President Obama stopped the construction of the facility in the Savannah River site.

At that juncture, the above stated dilute and dispose approach was developed.

It consisted in mixing plutonium with inert material and burying it underground in New Mexico.

As already noted, this is the reason why President Obama halted the construction of the facility in the Savannah River site and started the dilute and dispose project.

In the agreements with Russia, however, the only way to manage excess plutonium is the production of MOX – the dilute and dispose approach is not contemplated at all.

In fact, as underlined by Russia, this technique leaves the plutonium isotopic composition intact.

Hence there is the not remote possibility that plutonium can be extracted from the ground and used again for military purposes.

Therefore, at technical and political levels, Putin is right and, as also US scientists maintain, nothing prevents the buried plutonium from being really reused for military purposes.

However, both for technical and scientific reasons and for a cost analysis, the United States cannot really afford to convert all military plutonium into MOX.

Hence what can be done?

The US plutonium can be transferred to IAEA, which could downblend it in “third party” facilities, also under the Russian Federation’s control, or deal with a European nuclear country to downblend the US plutonium, again under Russian control.

Nevertheless, we must once again note the growing US military and technological backwardness, which seems ever more suited to an Iraq or Syria-style war rather than to a fair confrontation on an equal footing.

If the EU begins to think wisely on these issues, time will come to envisage a small pan-European nuclear military unit, particularly capable of seriously controlling its own borders.

But we already know that this is an impossible dream.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Defense

Pakistan’s Nuclear Safety and Security

Sonia Naz

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Wyn Bowen and Matthew Cottee discuss in their research entitled “Nuclear Security Briefing Book” that nuclear terrorism involves the acquisition and detonation of an intact nuclear weapon from a state arsenal. The world has not experienced any act of nuclear terrorism but terrorists expressed their desires to gain nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has observed many incidents of lost, theft and unauthorized control of nuclear material. The increased use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has intensified the threat that terrorist can target these places for acquiring nuclear materials. They cannot build a nuclear weapon because production of a nuclear weapon would require a technological infrastructure. Thus, it is the most difficult task that is nearly impossible because the required infrastructure and technological skills are very high which even a strong terrorist group could not bear easily, but they can build a dirty bomb.

A dirty bomb is not like a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb spreads radiation over hundreds of square miles while nuclear bomb could cause destruction only over a few square miles. A dirty bomb would not kill any more people than an ordinary bomb but it would create psychological terror. There is no viable security system for the prevention of nuclear terrorism, but the only possible solution is that there should be a stringent nuclear security system which can halt terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials.

The UN Security Council and the IAEA introduced multilateral nuclear security initiatives. Pakistan actively contributed in all international nuclear security efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism. For example, United States President Barak Obama introduced the process of Nuclear Security Summit (NSS)in 2009 to mitigate the threat of nuclear terrorism. The objective of NSS was to secure the material throughout the world in four years.

Pakistan welcomed it and not only made commitments in NSS but also fulfilled it. Pakistan also established a Centre of Excellence (COEs) on nuclear security and hosted workshops on nuclear security. In addition to all this, Pakistan is a signatory of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 and affirms its strong support to the resolution. It has submitted regular reports to 1540 Committee which explain various measures taken by Pakistan on radiological security and control of sensitive materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) transfer. Pakistan is the first country which submitted a report to the UN establishing the fact that it is fulfilling its responsibilities. Pakistan ratified Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) in 2016. It is also the member of Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). It can be rightly inferred that Pakistan is not only contributing in all the international nuclear security instruments but has also taken multiple effective measures at the national level.

Pakistan created National Command Authority (NCA) to manage and safeguard nuclear assets and related infrastructures. The Strategic Plan Division (SPD) is playing a very important role in managing Pakistan’s nuclear assets by collaborating with all strategic organizations. Establishment of Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA)in 2001 is another development in this regard. The PNRA works under the IAEA advisory group on nuclear security and it is constantly improving and re-evaluating nuclear security architecture. National Institute of Safety and Security (NISAS) was established under PNRA in 2014. Pakistan has also adopted the Export Control Act to strengthen its nuclear export control system. It deals with the rules and regulations for nuclear export and licensing. The SPD has also formulated a standard functioning procedure to regulate the conduct of strategic organizations. Christopher Clary discusses in his research “Thinking about Pakistan’s Nuclear Security in Peacetime” that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals are equipped with Permissive Action Links (PALs) for its stringent security. According to Pakistan’s former nuclear scientist Samar Mubarakmand, every Pakistani nuclear arsenal is now fitted with a code-lock device which needs a proper code to enable the arsenal to explode.

Nonetheless the nuclear terrorism is a global concern and reality because terrorist organizations can target civilian nuclear facility in order to steal nuclear material. The best way to eradicate the root of nuclear terrorism is to have a stringent nuclear security system.

Western media and outsiders often propagate that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals can go into the wrong hands i.e. terrorists, but they do not highlight the efforts of Pakistan in nuclear security at the national and international level. The fact is that Pakistan has contributed more in international nuclear security efforts than India and it has stringent nuclear security system in place.

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India’s Probable Move toward Space Weaponization

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The term Space Weaponization tends to raise alarm as it implies deployment of weapons in the outer space or on heavenly bodies like Sun and Moon or sending weapon from earth to the outer space to destroy satellite capabilities of other states. Thus, space weaponization refers to the actions taken by a state to use outer space as an actual battlefield.

Space militarization on the other hand is a rather less offensive term which stands for utilization of space for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance missions through satellites to support forces on ground in the battle field. Space militarization is already in practice by many states. In South Asia, India is utilizing its upper hand in space technology for space militarization. However, recent concern in this regard is India’s attempts to weaponize space, which offers a bleak situation for regional peace and stability. Moreover, if India went further with this ambitiousness when Pakistan is also sending its own satellites in space, security situation will only deteriorate due to existing security dilemma between both regional counterparts.

Threats of space weaponization arise from the Indian side owing to its rapid developments in Ballistic Missile Defenses (BMDs) and Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). Both of these technologies, BMDs and ICBMs, hand in hand, could be used to destroy space based assets. In theory, after slight changes in algorithms, BMDs are capable of detecting, tracking and homing in on a satellite and ICBM could be used to target the satellites for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Many international scholars agree on the point that BMD systems have not yet acquired sophistication to give hundred percent results in destroying all the incoming ballistic missile, but they sure have the capability to work as anti-satellite systems. The reason behind the BMD being an effective anti-sat system is that it is easier to locate, track and target the satellites because they are not convoyed with decoys unlike missiles which create confusions for the locating and tracking systems.

India possesses both of the above-mentioned technologies and its Defense Research and Development Organization has shown the intention to build anti-satellite weaponry. In 2012, India’s then head of DRDO categorically said that India needs an arsenal in its system that could track the movement of enemy’s satellite before destroying it, thus what India is aiming at is the credible deterrence capability.

One thing that comes in lime light after analyzing the statement is that India is in fact aiming for weaponizing the space. With the recent launch of its indigenous satellites through its own launch vehicle not only for domestic use but also for commercial use, India is becoming confident enough in its capabilities of space program. This confidence is also making India more ambitious in space program. It is true that treaties regarding outer space only stop states from putting weapons of mass destruction in outer space. But, destruction of satellites will create debris in outer space that could cause destruction for other satellites in the outer space.

On top of it all the reality cannot be ignored that both Pakistan and India cannot turn every other arena into battlefield. Rivalry between both states has already turned glaciers and ocean into war zones, resultantly affecting the natural habitat of the region. By going for ballistic missile defences and intercontinental ballistic missiles India has not only developed missile technology but also has made significant contribution in anti-sat weaponry, which is alarming, as due to security dilemma, Pakistan will now be ever more compelled to develop capabilities for the security of its satellites. So far both states are confined till space militarization to enhance the capabilities of their forces, but if that force multiplier in space goes under threat, Pakistan will resort to capability to counter Indian aggression in space as well, which will be the classic action-reaction paradigm. Thus, it is pertinent that India as front runner in space technology develop policy of restrain to control the new arms race in the region which has potential to change the skies and space as we know them.

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Pakistan’s Nuclear Policy: Impact on Strategic Stability in South Asia

Sonia Naz

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Most significant incident happened when India tested its nuclear device on18 May, 1974.After India’s nuclear test, Pakistan obtained the nuclear technology, expertise and pursued a nuclear program to counter India which has more conventional force than Pakistan. Pakistan obtained nuclear program because of India, it has not done anything independently but followed India. Pakistan just wanted to secure its borders and deter Indian aggression. It was not and is not interested in any arms race in the region. It is not signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT). Pakistan has not signed NPT and CTBT because India has not signed it. Since acquiring the nuclear weapons, it has rejected to declare No First Use (NFU) in case of war to counter India’s conventional supremacy.

The basic purpose of its nuclear weapons is to deter any aggression against its territorial integrity. Riffat Hussain while discussing Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine argues that it cannot disobey the policy of NFU due to Indian superiority in conventional force and it makes India enable to fight conventional war with full impunity. Pakistan’s nuclear posture is based on minimum credible nuclear deterrence which means that its nuclear weapons have no other role except to counter the aggression from its adversary.  It is evident that Pakistan’s nuclear program is Indiacentric.. Owing to the Indian superiority in conventional forces Pakistan nuclear weapons balance the conventional force power percentage between the two states. In November 1999, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar stated that ‘more is unnecessary while little is enough’.

The National Command Authority (NCA), comprising the Employment Control Committee, Development Control Committee and Strategic Plans Division, is the center point of all decision-making regarding the nuclear issue.According to the security experts first use option involves many serious challenges because it needs robust military intelligence and very effective early warning system. However, Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is  concerned about nuclear security of weapons for which it has laid out stringent nuclear security system. Pakistan made a rational decision by conducting five nuclear tests in 1998 to restore the strategic stability in South Asia, otherwise it was not able to counter the threat of India’s superior conventional force.

The NCA of Pakistan (nuclear program policy making body) announced on September 9, 2015 the nation’s resolve to maintain a full spectrum deterrence capability in line with the dictates of ‘credible minimum deterrence’ to deter all forms of aggression, adhering to the policy of avoiding an arms race.”It was the response of Indian offensive Cold Start Doctrine which is about the movement of Indian military forces closer to Pakistan’s border with all vehicles. Pakistan wants to maintain strategic stability in the region and its seeks conflict resolution and peace, but India’s hawkish policies towards Pakistan force it to take more steps to secure its border. Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is very vigorously implementing rational countermeasures to respond to India’s aggression by transforming its nuclear doctrine. It has developed tactical nuclear weapons (short range nuclear missiles) that can be used in the battle field.

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in 2013 that Pakistan would continue to obey the policy of minimum credible nuclear deterrence to avoid the arms race in the region. However, it would not remain unaware of the changing security situation in the region and would maintain the capability of full spectrum nuclear deterrence to counter any aggression in the region. Dr. Zafar Jaspal argues in his research that Full credible deterrence does not imply it is a quantitative change in Pakistan’s minimum credible nuclear deterrence, but it is a qualitative response to emerging challenges posed in the region. This proves that Islamabad is not interested in the arms race in the region, but India’s constant military buildup forces Pakistan to convert its nuclear doctrine from minimum to full credible nuclear deterrence.

India’s offensive policies alarm the strategic stability of the region and international community considers that Pakistan’s transformation in nuclear policies would be risky for international security. They have recommended a few suggestions to Pakistan’s nuclear policy making body, but the NCA rejected those mainly because Pakistan is confronting dangerous threats from India and its offensive policies such as the cold start doctrine. Hence no suggestion conflicting with this purpose is acceptable to Pakistan. This is to be made clear at the all national, regional and international platforms that Pakistan is striving hard to maintain the strategic stability while India is only contributing toward instigating the regional arms race.

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