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The New START Treaty between the US and Russia: The last surviving pillar of nuclear arms control

22-03-2021

The US and Russia both have formidable arsenals of potentially destructive nuclear weapons. Although a nuclear-free world remains a distant dream, the two countries have taken steps to limit the risk of nuclear conflict, through a series of arms control agreements limiting the number of strategic weapons that each can have. In force since 2011, the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) is the latest of these agreements. Under New START, Russia and the US are limited to an equal number ...

The US and Russia both have formidable arsenals of potentially destructive nuclear weapons. Although a nuclear-free world remains a distant dream, the two countries have taken steps to limit the risk of nuclear conflict, through a series of arms control agreements limiting the number of strategic weapons that each can have. In force since 2011, the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) is the latest of these agreements. Under New START, Russia and the US are limited to an equal number of deployed strategic warheads and weapons carrying them, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles. To ensure compliance, there are strict counting rules and transparency requirements, giving each side a reliable picture of the other's strategic nuclear forces. The 2019 collapse of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty left New START as the only major surviving US-Russia arms control agreement. In early 2021, with New START due to expire in February and the two sides deadlocked over the conditions for extending it, it looked as if the last remaining restrictions on the world's two main nuclear powers were about to lapse. Following a last-minute reprieve by newly elected US President, Joe Biden, the two parties agreed to extend New START until 2026, thereby giving each other welcome breathing space to negotiate a replacement treaty. There are still many unanswered questions about the kind of weapons that a future treaty could include.

US-North Korea summit [What Think Tanks are thinking]

06-07-2018

US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a historic summit in Singapore on 12 June 2018. They reached a short agreement that emphasised the North's commitment to 'work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula', but provided no details on when Pyongyang would give up nuclear weapons or how that might be verified. Following the summit, the United States announced it had agreed with South Korea to suspend all planning on joint military exercises. This note offers ...

US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a historic summit in Singapore on 12 June 2018. They reached a short agreement that emphasised the North's commitment to 'work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula', but provided no details on when Pyongyang would give up nuclear weapons or how that might be verified. Following the summit, the United States announced it had agreed with South Korea to suspend all planning on joint military exercises. This note offers links to reports and commentaries from some major international think-tanks and research institutes on the summit. More reports on North Korea and related issues can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think Tanks are thinking’, published just before the summit.

North Korea’s nuclear summitry [What Think Tanks are thinking]

04-06-2018

The US President, Donald Trump, and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, are preparing for a high-stakes summit on the latter country’s nuclear programme, following Trump’s decision on 1 June to revive the meeting after having cancelled it the previous week. At the summit, due to take place on 12 June in Singapore, Trump is expected to press for denuclearisation of North Korea in exchange for easing economic sanctions and, possibly some aid. The main sticking point lies on the meaning the two countries ...

The US President, Donald Trump, and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, are preparing for a high-stakes summit on the latter country’s nuclear programme, following Trump’s decision on 1 June to revive the meeting after having cancelled it the previous week. At the summit, due to take place on 12 June in Singapore, Trump is expected to press for denuclearisation of North Korea in exchange for easing economic sanctions and, possibly some aid. The main sticking point lies on the meaning the two countries attribute to the word 'denuclearisation'. Pyongyang, after years of isolation, is engaged in an unprecedented series of high-level meetings with South Korea, China and Russia. This note offers links to reports and commentaries from some major international think-tanks and research institutes on the North Korean nuclear programme. More reports on the topic can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think Tanks are thinking’, published in September 2017. Credit photo: © jpldesigns / Fotolia

Future of the Iran nuclear deal: How much can US pressure isolate Iran?

25-05-2018

In July 2015, Iran and the E3/EU+3 – France, Germany, the UK and the EU plus China, Russia and the USA – signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark agreement to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for the termination of restrictive measures against Iran. Following certification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had complied with its nuclear dismantlement commitments, implementation of the JCPOA commenced on 16 January ...

In July 2015, Iran and the E3/EU+3 – France, Germany, the UK and the EU plus China, Russia and the USA – signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark agreement to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for the termination of restrictive measures against Iran. Following certification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had complied with its nuclear dismantlement commitments, implementation of the JCPOA commenced on 16 January 2016. On that day, known as Implementation Day, all nuclear-related UN, US and EU sanctions on Iran were lifted. President Trump, who took office in January 2017, has consistently called the JCPOA 'a terrible deal'. In January 2018, he announced that the US would cease implementing the JCPOA in May 2018 unless Congress and US allies successfully addressed what he called the agreement's 'disastrous flaws'. During the short period given by President Trump, the US worked with EU allies on a 'supplemental agreement', to address the perceived weaknesses of the JCPOA. However, sufficient common ground could not be reached and on 8 May, President Trump announced that the US was leaving the nuclear deal with Iran and would (re)-impose sanctions. These block American firms from doing business in Iran, and bar foreign firms that do business with Iran from accessing the entire US banking and financial system. In addition, companies that violate the sanctions risk huge fines. The E3/EU have repeatedly stressed their support for the continued full and effective implementation of the JCPOA by all sides, pointing to the fact that it imposes very tough nuclear inspections and that the IAEA has confirmed 10 times that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the agreement. Russia and China have likewise expressed their unwavering support for the agreement. Iran has given the EU 60 days to ensure the continued implementation of the JCPOA, in particular its trade and economic aspects. The US has threatened to impose sanctions on European companies that continue to do business in Iran, but also signalled willingness to continue working on a 'supplemental agreement'.

North Korea: No summit for the moment

24-05-2018

Following fears in 2017 of an escalation of the North Korean crisis, an unexpected detente has come in early 2018. North Korean athletes took part in the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and Pyongyang undertook a charm offensive followed by a successful historic inter-Korean summit in late April, which may prompt long-awaited peace talks. A summit between US President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong un had been scheduled for 12 June in Singapore, but Trump called it off on 24 May. The main ...

Following fears in 2017 of an escalation of the North Korean crisis, an unexpected detente has come in early 2018. North Korean athletes took part in the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and Pyongyang undertook a charm offensive followed by a successful historic inter-Korean summit in late April, which may prompt long-awaited peace talks. A summit between US President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong un had been scheduled for 12 June in Singapore, but Trump called it off on 24 May. The main issue is the extent to which Pyongyang's leadership is ready to agree on denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula.

United States' nuclear weapons policy: New priorities, new challenges

08-12-2017

The United States is the world's second largest nuclear power, coming close behind Russia. Together the two states account for 93 % of the world's nuclear weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has followed a policy of reducing its nuclear arsenal, while maintaining a nuclear triad. Under President Obama, it embarked on an intense nuclear modernisation programme, while making commitments towards nuclear non-proliferation and – as a long-term goal – nuclear disarmament. President Donald Trump ...

The United States is the world's second largest nuclear power, coming close behind Russia. Together the two states account for 93 % of the world's nuclear weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has followed a policy of reducing its nuclear arsenal, while maintaining a nuclear triad. Under President Obama, it embarked on an intense nuclear modernisation programme, while making commitments towards nuclear non-proliferation and – as a long-term goal – nuclear disarmament. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 with the promise to discontinue the previous administration's policy priorities. This is reflected in the current realignment of the US nuclear weapons policy. The new administration aims to expand US nuclear capabilities, is sceptical of international arms-control agreements, and has a more determinant stance on non-proliferation. President Trump has criticised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and consequently decertified the multilateral Iran nuclear deal in October 2017. The President has also characterised the bilateral New START Treaty, limiting the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons between the US and Russia, as 'a one-sided deal'. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), a landmark nuclear arms control treaty between the US and the former USSR, seems to be in limbo, and nuclear proliferation efforts in North Korea have sparked a war of words between Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un. The ongoing Nuclear Posture Review, together with the coming passage of the annual defence policy bill in Congress, the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, have the potential to provoke shifts in US nuclear policy.

The EU, Middle East and North Africa [What Think Tanks are thinking]

06-10-2017

Developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) pose a growing challenge for the European Union. Many countries in the region face war, political turmoil and popular anger, due to the impact of poverty in generating instability, migration and, in some cases, terrorism. The EU wants to contribute to stability in MENA through instruments such as the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean, but there are calls for the EU to play an even more active role in the region ...

Developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) pose a growing challenge for the European Union. Many countries in the region face war, political turmoil and popular anger, due to the impact of poverty in generating instability, migration and, in some cases, terrorism. The EU wants to contribute to stability in MENA through instruments such as the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean, but there are calls for the EU to play an even more active role in the region. This note offers links to recent commentaries and reports by major international think tanks on EU-MENA relations and the general problems found within the region and some specific countries.

Understanding nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles

28-09-2017

Nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles need to be understood if the risks and challenges they entail are to be grasped. This understanding starts with two processes discovered in the last century – nuclear fission and nuclear fusion – that have the ability to release a significant quantity of energy from a very limited amount of matter. On the one hand, these reactions can be used to produce energy. Controlled nuclear fission is the process on which nuclear power plants are based. Nuclear fusion, ...

Nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles need to be understood if the risks and challenges they entail are to be grasped. This understanding starts with two processes discovered in the last century – nuclear fission and nuclear fusion – that have the ability to release a significant quantity of energy from a very limited amount of matter. On the one hand, these reactions can be used to produce energy. Controlled nuclear fission is the process on which nuclear power plants are based. Nuclear fusion, meanwhile, requires the ability to control a reaction that occurs at temperatures of millions of degrees. The control of nuclear fusion for energy production is the objective of the ITER project. On the other hand, uncontrolled nuclear fission and fusion reactions can be used to design nuclear weapons whose destructive power is far greater than traditional weapons. The first atomic bombs were produced and used during World War Two and based on nuclear fission. Since then, the design of nuclear weapons has been modified to include nuclear fusion reactions, leading to a sharp increase in the yield of nuclear bombs. The development of nuclear weapons requires mastery of technologies for the production of nuclear fuels (enriched uranium and plutonium), making access to these weapons limited. Advances in the production and design of nuclear weapons have made them smaller and suitable for mounting in the warheads of ballistic missiles. These missiles, whose functioning is similar to space rockets, can deliver their charge at a very long range (up to 15 000 km for intercontinental ballistic missiles).

North Korea [What Think Tanks are thinking]

22-09-2017

North Korea has stepped up its nuclear plans with the underground detonation of a hydrogen bomb and tests of its first suspected Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), moves perceived as a major threat to global security. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on 19 September, US President Donald Trump threatened to 'totally destroy' North Korea if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies against that country. The isolated communist regime of Kim Jong-un has continued ...

North Korea has stepped up its nuclear plans with the underground detonation of a hydrogen bomb and tests of its first suspected Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), moves perceived as a major threat to global security. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on 19 September, US President Donald Trump threatened to 'totally destroy' North Korea if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies against that country. The isolated communist regime of Kim Jong-un has continued its nuclear programme, despite repeated rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and diplomatic efforts to diffuse the conflict.

North Korea: Possible scenarios

12-09-2017

On 3 September 2017, North Korea conducted a sixth nuclear test, its most powerful yet, claiming to have successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that would fit in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The North Korean crisis, which has a long history, has now the potential to develop into a large-scale conflict affecting a large variety of actors across the globe. Pyongyang has become a global threat combining increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and missiles programmes that ...

On 3 September 2017, North Korea conducted a sixth nuclear test, its most powerful yet, claiming to have successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that would fit in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The North Korean crisis, which has a long history, has now the potential to develop into a large-scale conflict affecting a large variety of actors across the globe. Pyongyang has become a global threat combining increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and missiles programmes that could strike the USA and even Europe. This has been made possible by the international community's lack of a common strategy and Chinese support for the North Korean regime. All the while, this 'hermit kingdom', which a 2014 United Nations (UN) report accused of crimes against humanity, has continued to feed its traditional anti-American rhetoric and has succeeded in taking its devastating human rights record off the international agenda. As the international community tries to resolve the current crisis, analysts have identified a number of possible scenarios: reinforcing international sanctions to push Pyongyang to the table to negotiate an agreement to renounce its nuclear programme in exchange for economic support and a guarantee of not being attacked; performing a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear sites, undergoing the risk of retaliation against Seoul; and assenting to North Korea's demand to be recognised as a de facto nuclear power and to conclude the peace treaty that was never signed at the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War ─ which ultimately is Kim's real goal and the reason for this escalation.

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