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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.

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It’s not easy to make nuclear weapons, build missiles to carry them long distances, and to produce highly enriched uranium or plutonium. It’s even harder to keep nuclear weapons safe so they do not detonate except under orders from a National Command Authority. If a single mushroom cloud appears at a time of crisis or warfare because of an accident, inadvertent or unauthorized use, escalation control will be extremely difficult and all of the presumed benefits of nuclear deterrence can be lost.

Nuclear safety and security techniques and practices are designed to prevent these eventualities. Gates and guards and personnel reliability programs help with nuclear security. All states with nuclear weapons employ these practices. Nuclear weapon design features and other safety techniques help provide insurance against accidental, inadvertent, or unauthorized detonations. Nuclear safety and security reinforce each other. Sometimes these categories merge. For example, authorization codes required to arm and use a nuclear weapon — permissive action links — can be considered as essential for both nuclear safety and security. Additional design features, including the use of insensitive high explosives, are required besides PALs to prevent unwanted mushroom clouds.

The United States has a “one-point safety” standard for all of its nuclear weapons. This standard means that the probability of achieving a nuclear yield greater than four pounds of TNT must not exceed one in a million for any event involving the initiation of the warhead’s high explosive at a single point on its periphery. The United States achieved this exacting safety standard after decades of effort, significant investment, and a learning curve derived from nuclear testing.

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One of the easiest and most useful methods for an open source analyst is to extract metadata from imagery.

Metadata is data that is often included with an image, such as the time it was taken, the type of camera that was used, and yes, if you are lucky — GPS coordinates. This data is useful for photographers, those who like to stalk cats, and people like us: geolocators and myth-busters. Read Full Story →


But what are nuclear scientists in Turkey actually doing?

Not for the first time, when Barack Obama declared April 2 that the greater Middle East has no real alternative to a nuclear accommodation with Iran, advocates of the “cascade of proliferation” theory warned us that Turkey’s future would be nuclear-armed.

In fact, kibitzers on both sides of the Iran divide routinely include Turkey in their quiver of arrows on the basis of a common assumption. Neocons claim that Turkey would “not be far behind” Saudi Arabia in a Middle East nuclear arms race if there’s an Iran deal. Some who instead favor diplomacy likewise fret that, without a deal, Saudi Arabia will get nuclear weapons first, and then will come Egypt and Turkey.  Not only in Israel, where the proliferation domino theory is mainstream, has the view become commonplace that Turkey is heading toward nuclear latency.

Away from the op-ed pages, during the 2015 Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference last month I had conversations in which serious people with government intelligence backgrounds asserted that Turkey’s military is all about keeping open or even exercising an option to make nuclear weapons. During a track-1.5 meeting in Moscow three months before, someone who has been in and out of the United States government also put Turkey on the short list of usual suspects.

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The Iran Deal: Critiques and Rebuttals

“Obama imagines that this deal will bring Iran in from the cold, tempering its territorial ambitions and ideological radicalism.” — Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, April 9, 2015

“If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires.” – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a Joint Session of Congress, March 2, 2015

Critics are trying to have it both ways: The Obama administration’s framework agreement is bad because it fanaticizes improved Iranian behavior. Or the agreement is bad because it won’t change Iranian behavior. Both critiques are wide of the mark. This agreement has a narrow but essential purpose: it seeks verifiable limits on Iran’s capabilities to make nuclear weapons. U.S. observers will probably be the last to recognize improved Iranian behavior, should it occur. Few U.S. analysts predicted that Iran’s leaders would accept limits this constraining three years ago, and Americans know far too little about Iran to make confident predictions about its behavior over the next decade and longer. Whether Iran’s external policies remain bad or change for the better, a verifiable deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities makes good sense.

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There’s a Map for That

Chemical Weapons Dumped at Sea Google Map

Many people ask where they can get satellite imagery. Working at a nonprofit, my preferences tend towards the free, but there are some great resources on the cheap too. Why check more than one map? Because: Volkel.

Here’s a list of my favorites: Read Full Story →


The Framework Nuclear Agreement with Iran

We have a deal! Or, at least, a “framework” agreement between Iran and the E3/EU+3. Whether the negotiators can hammer out the details by June 30, especially on the timing of sanctions relief, remains to be seen but the terms of the deal look pretty strong.

Aaron and Jeffrey run through what we know, what we think and what we wonder about the Iran nuclear deal. Then Max Fisher from Vox joins to talk about what its like to cover the Iran issue.


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Frameworks and Agreements

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.

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The Iran Deal

The framework agreement reached by the United States and its negotiating partners with Iran is a significant accomplishment, imposing substantial constraints on Tehran’s ability to make nuclear weapons. If it is finalized, only one other executive agreement dealing with nuclear weapons will have been more consequential — the first Strategic Arms Limitation accord negotiated by President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger with the Soviet Union in 1972.

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The Gift of Meaningful Work

On March 24th, the Carnegie Endowment gifted me with the Thérèse Delpech award. In thinking about what to say about this honor, I gravitated toward the twin themes of meaningful work and gift-giving, which is another, less taxing way to think about the hard slog of our daily pursuits. A video of my remarks can be found here. My prepared remarks follow.

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