New Fuel Deal with Iran: Getting Back to Basics

by Ivanka Barzashka

After a year-long stalemate, Iran and the P5+1 seem to have agreed on a day for holding political talks – December 2. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed last week that the meeting “will not include discussions on fuel swap” – the deal with France, Russia and United States, also known as the Vienna Group, to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).

In principle, both Washington and Tehran agree that the fuel deal is still on the table, but the Iranians have been critical of the delay in setting a date for talks, which they interpret could be a lack of “willingness to enter peaceful nuclear cooperation.”

A successful fuel deal is a necessary condition for further engagement. However, circumstances have changed since October 2009, when the Vienna Group first made the fuel offer. Now, the State Department maintains that “any engagement [should be] in the context of that changed reality.” (Most of the Vienna Group’s outstanding concerns were listed in a confidential document to the IAEA, published by Reuters on June 9.)

However, the alleged terms of Washington’s new proposal seem to be muddled and will not have the claimed threat-reduction benefits (for a detailed discussion, see this Oct 29 post.) A technically-grounded analysis of what the fuel deal today can, cannot and ought to achieve is available in “New fuel deal with Iran: Debunking common myths,” published on Nov 2 in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Some highlights of these two assessments are provided below. Continue reading

START in a Lame Duck

The Senate should vote on the New START during the “lame duck” session.

The New START arms control treaty, negotiated between the United States and Russia and signed by the presidents of both countries last April, is awaiting ratification by the United States Senate.   Objections to the treaty rest primarily upon misunderstandings or misrepresentation.  In addition, though, some opponents of the treaty are arguing that, whether one supports or opposes the treaty, it is improper for the Senate to vote on the treaty during the post-election or “lame duck” session of Congress.  But there is neither a constitutional nor a commonsense reason to delay a vote.

Some of us who hope to dramatically and rapidly reduce the salience of nuclear weapons were disappointed that the treaty was rather modest, but it clearly moves in the right direction.  This treaty is not a radical departure from past treaties, it is not even a post-Cold War treaty;  it is an extrapolation of the Cold War SALT and START treaties stretching back to the days of the Soviet Union.  Given the current strategic security environment, neither Richard Nixon, nor Ronald Reagan, nor George H. W. Bush would blink an eye at this treaty. Continue reading

Chinese Nuclear Forces 2010

By Hans M. Kristensen

It’s interesting scary what you can find on the Internet: On Thursday, a Canadian calling himself SinoSoldier posted a report on the Pakistani web site Pakistan Defense claiming that China had test launched a JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from a submarine in the Atlantic (!). Different versions allegedly have ranges from 12,000 km to 20,000 km and carry 5-7 warheads as opposed to 10 on the JL-2 SLBM. The source was said to be a report in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

Click image to download

I haven’t been able to find the original story, but the report in Pakistan Defense is completely wrong: China does not have a JL-3 missile; it does not have a Type 096 submarine; it has never operated a submarine in the Atlantic; its two types of SLBMs (JL-1 and JL-2) have ranges of 1,770 km and 7,200 km, respectively; and they are only equipped with one warhead each.

The flaws in the report unfortunately did not prevent it from being picked up by Undersea Enterprise News Daily, an email newsletter distributed by the U.S. Atlantic submarine fleet headquarters.

Instead, check out our latest Nuclear Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces, just published for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Sage Publications: Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2010 (pdf version)

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Mystery Missile: this question can be answered.

Like many techie sorts interested in military matters, I was caught up in the great California missile plume mystery.  I first heard about it when a reported called with questions and she sent a link to a video.  A traffic helicopter, an often underappreciated source of strategic intelligence, working for a local news station, KCAL, filmed what appeared to be a trail from a rocket launched off the coast of Los Angeles.  And the pictures do look like a rocket trail.  If someone showed me the still photographs and told me they were of a rocket launch, I wouldn’t think to question it.  But based on the photo, I would guess it is at least an anti-aircraft missile, like the Standard, and that is a 3000 pound missile, so this is not some amateur hobbyists flying a model rocket.  The Navy swore it wasn’t one of theirs.  The Air Force, too, denied any rocket launch and, anyway, Vandenberg, which does launch rockets, is in another direction.  No foreign government with the technical capability to, say, get a freighter close and launch a rocket from the back as some sort of demonstration would be crazy enough to do such a thing and the only country crazy enough to do it, North Korea, doesn’t have the technical capability to get away with it.  If it were some sort of secret test, then why test it off the coast of a multi-million inhabitant city and not, say, off the coast of Antarctica?  (And Vandenberg launches secret payloads all the time.  The fact of the launches obviously can’t be kept secret but the payloads are, so why go to the trouble?) Continue reading