Understanding the Dragon Shield: Likelihood and Implications of Chinese Strategic Ballistic Missile Defense


While China has received growing attention for modernizing and expanding its strategic offensive nuclear forces over the last ten years, little attention has been paid to Chinese activities in testing and developing ballistic missile defenses (BMD). Motivated to understand the strategic implications of this testing and to learn Chinese views, Adjunct Senior Fellow and Professor, Bruce MacDonald and FAS President, Dr. Charles Ferguson, over the past twelve months, have studied these issues and have had extensive discussions with more than 50 security experts in China and the United States. Ever since the end of the Cold War, U.S. security policy has largely assumed that only the United States would possess credible strategic ballistic missile defense capabilities with non-nuclear interceptors. This tacit assumption has been valid for the last quarter century but may not remain valid for long. Since 2010, China has been openly testing missile interceptors purportedly for BMD purposes, but also useful for anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.

Moving Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems to Global Deployment


In the FAS Special Report entitled, Moving Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems to Global Deployment, Charles D. Ferguson, FAS President, identifies the major factors that will affect deployment of advanced reactors (often referred to as Generation IV reactors) in the coming years to decades and analyzes what industry and governments need to do to move forward toward the ultimate goal of widespread deployment of potentially hundreds of highly energy-efficient, much safer, more proliferation-resistant, and economically-competitive nuclear power systems. Moreover, the report looks at lessons learned from the history of development and deployment of Generation II and III reactors and seeks to learn explicitly about the reasons for the predominant use of light water reactors. It then seeks to apply these lessons to current efforts to develop advanced nuclear energy systems. In the process of that assessment, the report reviews the status of the global cooperative and national efforts to develop and eventually deploy advanced nuclear energy systems. The main intentions of the report are to provide a guide to policymakers in the form of findings that lay out potential pathways to forward deployment of one or more advanced nuclear power systems within the next ten to twenty years.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.

Six Achievable Steps for Implementing an Effective Verification Regime for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran



Now that an agreement has been reached between the P5+1 and Iran, a non-partisan task force convened by FAS has published Six Achievable Steps for Implementing an Effective Verification Regime for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran, a report that addresses anticipated implementation challenges and offers findings and recommendations for strengthening the implementation process both internationally and within the United States.

Over the last 20 months, Iran has been in negotiations with the P5+1 regarding its nuclear program, culminating in an agreement on July 14, 2015 that was memorialized in a 159-page text. The essence of the agreement is that Iran has offered the P5+1 constraints on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. As part of these negotiations, in paragraph iii of the Preamble and General Conditions, “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

The negotiation process and the resulting agreement posed a critical question for the United States’ political and scientific communities: What monitoring and verification measures and tools will the United States, its allies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) require for a comprehensive and effective nuclear agreement with Iran? Although it is resoundingly clear that this issue is a sensitive and controversial one and there is discrepancy on the “wisdom, scope, and content” of a possible agreement with Iran, there does appear to be a general consensus that effective implementation is as important as the agreement itself, and an agreement with Iran without effective verification and monitoring measures “would be counterintuitive and dangerous” and would have negative long-term effects for all associated parties.

To examine and scrutinize these issues, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) convened the Verification Capabilities Independent Task Force that released a report last September titled Verification Requirements for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran. This new report, Six Achievable Steps for Implementing an Effective Verification Regime for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran, further dissects the issue and discusses potential strategies for successful implementation of the verification regime associated with the recent agreement.

This phase of the Task Force’s study focuses on the anticipation of implementation challenges and offers findings and recommendations for strengthening the implementation process both internationally and within the United States. The report emphasizes six feasible steps for executing a strong verification regime for a nuclear agreement with Iran:

1.       Ensure that the Joint Commission Works Effectively Among the P5+1 and Iran to Facilitate Compliance and Communication

2.       Organize Executive Branch Mechanisms to Create Synergy and Sustain Focus on Implementation Over the Long-Term

3.       Support and Augment the IAEA in the Pursuit of its Key Monitoring Role

4.       Create a Joint Executive-Congressional Working Group (JECWG) to Facilitate Coordination Across the Legislative and Executive Branches of the USG

5.       Prepare a Strategy and Guidebook for Assessing and Addressing Ambiguities and Potential Noncompliance

6.       Exploit New Technologies and Open Source Tools for Monitoring a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

The report was released to the public on Thursday, August 6, 2015 and the Task Force hosted a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. later that day to present their findings and discuss possible implications of the agreement. Over 50 attendees from the political, scientific, and NGO circles gathered to express their thoughts and share their opinions on the issue at hand.

In other relevant news regarding scientists and the agreement with Iran, 29 of the nation’s top scientists — including Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms and former White House science advisers — wrote to President Obama on Saturday, August 8 to praise the Iran deal, calling it “innovative and stringent.” While many of those who signed the letter are prominent FAS members and affiliates, such as the lead writer Dr. Richard L. Garwin, who serves on the FAS Board of Directors, Dr. Frank von Hippel, who has served as chairman of the FAS Board, and Dr. Martin Hellman, who is an FAS adjunct senior fellow, FAS, as an organization, has not taken an organizational stance either for or against the deal. As indicated by the report released by FAS on August 6, the Task Force convened by FAS supports providing research, guidance, and recommendations for implementing an effective verification regime for a nuclear agreement with Iran. Scientists with nuclear expertise and scientifically credible analysis must continue to serve as essential components to a strong nonproliferation system that allows nations to use nuclear energy peacefully as long as safeguards commitments are upheld.

Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Assessing Benefits and Risks

The United States and other countries with nuclear navies have benefited from having nuclear-powered warships. But do the continued benefits depend on indefinite use of highly enriched uranium (HEU)—which can be made into nuclear weapons—as naval nuclear fuel? With budgetary constraints bearing down on the U.S. Department of Defense, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is finding it difficult to address many competing needs including upgrading aging training facilities, handling spent nuclear fuel, and designing the next generation submarines to replace the Virginia-class attack submarines.

FAS convened an independent, nonpartisan task force of experts from the national security, nuclear engineering, nonproliferation and nuclear security fields to examine effective ways to monitor and safeguard HEU and LEU in the naval sector, and consider alternatives to HEU for naval propulsion so as to improve nuclear security and nonproliferation.

The results of the year-long task force study are compiled in the report, Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Assessing Benefits and Risks. The task force concluded that the U.S. Navy has strong incentives to maintain the continuing use of highly enriched uranium and would be reluctant, or even opposed, to shift to use of low enriched uranium unless the naval nuclear enterprise is fully funded and the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program has adequate financial resources to try to develop a life-of-ship reactor fueled with LEU that would meet the Navy’s performance requirements. The task force endorses having the Obama administration and Congress allocate adequate funding for R&D on advanced LEU fuels no later than 2017 in time for development of the next generation nuclear attack submarine. “The United States should demonstrate leadership in working urgently to reduce the use in naval fuels of highly enriched uranium–that can power nuclear weapons–while addressing the national security needs of the nuclear navy to ensure that the navy can meet its performance requirements with lifetime reactors fueled with low enriched uranium,” said Dr. Charles D. Ferguson, Chair of the Independent Task Force and President of FAS.

Four companion papers written by task force members are also available:

Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Assessing Benefits and Risks can be read and downloaded here (PDF).

The task force members thank the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for its generous support of this project.

Verification Requirements for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Negotiations are currently underway with Iran regarding their nuclear program; as a result, one of the main questions for U.S. government policymakers is what monitoring and verification measures and tools will be required by the United States, its allies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful.

To answer this question, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) convened a non-partisan, independent task force to examine the technical and policy requirements to adequately verify a comprehensive or other sustained nuclear agreement with Iran. Through various methods, the task force interviewed or met with over 70 experts from various technical and policy disciplines and compiled the results in the new report, “Verification Requirements for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran.” Authored by task force leaders Christopher Bidwell, Orde Kittrie, John Lauder and Harvey Rishikof, the report outlines nine recommendations for U.S. policymakers relating to a successful monitoring and verification agreement with Iran.  They are as follows:


Six Elements of an Effective Agreement

1. The agreement should require Iran to provide, prior to the next phase of sanctions relief, a comprehensive declaration that is correct and complete concerning all aspects of its nuclear program both current and past.

2. The agreement should provide the IAEA, for the duration of the agreement, access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA, as currently required by UN Security Council Resolution 1929.

3. The agreement should provide that any material acts of non-cooperation with inspectors are a violation of the agreement.

4. The agreement should provide for the establishment of a consultative commission, which should be designed and operate in ways to maximize its effectiveness in addressing disputes and, if possible, building a culture of compliance within Iran.

5. The agreement should provide that all Iranian acquisition of sensitive items for its post-agreement licit nuclear program, and all acquisition of sensitive items that could be used in a post-agreement illicit nuclear program, must take place through a designated transparent channel.

6. The agreement should include provisions designed to preclude Iran from outsourcing key parts of its nuclear weapons program to a foreign country such as North Korea.


Three Proposed U.S. Government Actions to Facilitate Effective Implementation of an Agreement

1. The U.S. Government should enhance its relevant monitoring capabilities, invest resources in monitoring the Iran agreement, and structure its assessment and reporting of any Iranian noncompliance so as to maximize the chances that significant anomalies will come to the fore and not be overlooked or considered de minimis.

2. The U.S. Government and its allies should maintain the current sanctions regime architecture so that it can be ratcheted up incrementally in order to deter and respond commensurately to any Iranian non-compliance with the agreement.

3. The U.S. Government should establish a joint congressional/executive branch commission to monitor compliance with the agreement, similar to Congress having created the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the implementation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

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Report Examines MANPADS Threat and International Efforts to Address It

On November 28, 2002, terrorists fired two Soviet-designed SA-7 man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) at an Israeli plane destined for Tel Aviv as it departed from Moi International Airport in Mombasa, Kenya. The missiles missed their target but the incident was a wake-up call for governments around the world. Shortly after the attack, the United States created an inter-agency task force to counter the threat posed by MANPADS, with other countries following suit. These countries launched several initiatives aimed at securing and destroying surplus, obsolete and poorly secured stockpiles of missiles; strengthening controls on international transfers of MANPADS; and improving information sharing on the international trade in these weapons. But are these efforts enough?

In the report,“The MANPADS Threat and International Efforts To Address It”, Matt Schroeder, Director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project, assesses the terrorist threat from MANPADS, evaluates efforts by the international community to curb this threat, and proposes additional measures that governments can take to further reduce the illicit proliferation and use of MANPADS.

The Federation of American Scientists would like to thank the following individuals and institutions for their invaluable contributions to this report: James Bevan, Jeremy Binnie, Peter Courtney-Green, Gene Crofts, Alan Flint, Andy Gleeson, Jose Manuel Heredia Gonzalez, Paul Holtom, J. Christian Kessler, Stephanie Koorey, Jonah Leff, Cheryl Levy, Maxim Pyadushkin, Steve Priestley, Saferworld, Small Arms Survey and officials from the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean and the Wassenaar Arrangement , along with officials from numerous governments.  Without their talent and support, this study would not have been possible.

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New Report on Aftermath of Fukushima Nuclear Accident

The U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group, co-chaired by FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson, has released a new report recommending priorities for the Japanese government following the March 11, 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.


The U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group is composed of bi-national experts who have come together to examine the broader strategic implications of the Fukushima accident. The mission of the group is to understand, articulate and advocate for shared strategic interests between the United States and Japan which could be impacted through changes to Japan’s energy program. In the past twelve months, the group has conducted meetings with industry leaders and policymakers in Japan, the United States and the nuclear governance community in Vienna to examine the implications of Japan’s future energy policy. As a result of these meetings, the group released a report of its findings and recommendations, “Statement on Shared Strategic Priorities in the Aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident”.

The report discusses specific issues that must be addressed regardless of Japan’s energy policy decisions, including:  strategy for reducing Japan’s plutonium stockpile, new standards for radiation safety and environmental cleanup and treatment of spent nuclear fuel.

The report also examines broader concerns to Japan’s energy policy including:  climate change concerns, emerging nuclear safety regulations and global nuclear nonproliferation leadership (as Japan is a non-nuclear weapons state with advanced nuclear energy capabilities). The group offers strategic recommendations for Japanese and U.S. industries  and governments regarding the direction of Japan’s energy policy, and how both countries can work together for joint energy security.

Read the report here (PDF).

For more information on the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group, click here.

New Report Analyzing Iran’s Nuclear Program Costs and Risks

Iran’s quest for the development of nuclear program has been marked by enormous financial costs and risks. It is estimated that the program’s cost is well over $100 billion, with the construction of the Bushehr reactor costing over $11 billion, making it one of the most expensive reactors in the world.

The Federation of American Scientists and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have released a new report, “Iran’s Nuclear Odyssey: Costs and Risks” which analyzes the economic effects of Iran’s nuclear program, and policy implications of sanctions and other actions by the United States and other allies. Co-authored by Ali Vaez and Karim Sadjadpour, the report details the history of the program, beginning with its inception under the Shah in 1957, and how the Iranian government has continue to grow their nuclear capabilities under a shroud of secrecy. Coupled with Iran’s limited supply of uranium and insecure stockpiles of nuclear materials, along with Iran’s desire to invest in nuclear energy to revitalize their energy sector (which is struggling due to international sanctions), the authors examine how these huge costs have led to few benefits.

The report analyzes the policy implications of Iran’s nuclear program for the United States and its allies, concluding that economic sanctions nor military force cannot end this prideful program; it is imperative that a diplomatic solution is reached to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful. Finally, efforts need to be made to the Iranians from Washington which clearly state that America and its allies prefer a prosperous and peaceful Iran versus an isolated and weakened Iran. Public diplomacy and nuclear diplomacy must go hand in hand.

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Trimming Nuclear Excess

Despite enormous reductions of their nuclear arsenals since the Cold War, the United States and Russia retain more than 9,100 warheads in their military stockpiles. Another 7,000 retired – but still intact – warheads are awaiting dismantlement, for a total inventory of more than 16,000 nuclear warheads.

This is more than 15 times the size of the total nuclear arsenals of all the seven other nuclear weapon states in the world – combined.

The U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals are far beyond what is needed for deterrence, with each side’s bloated force level justified only by the other’s excessive force level.

The FAS report – Trimming Nuclear Excess: Options for Further Reductions of U.S. and Russian Nuclear Forces – describes the status and 10-year projection for U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.

The report concludes that the pace of reducing nuclear forces appears to be slowing compared with the past two decades. Both the United States and Russia appear to be more cautious about reducing further, placing more emphasis on “hedging” and reconstitution of reduced nuclear forces, and both are investing enormous sums of money in modernizing their nuclear forces over the next decade.

Even with the reductions expected over the next decade, the report concludes that the United States and Russia will continue to possess nuclear stockpiles that are many times greater than the rest of the world’s nuclear forces combined.

New initiatives are needed to regain the momentum of the nuclear arms reduction process. The New START Treaty from 2011 was an important but modest step but the two nuclear superpowers must begin negotiations on new treaties to significantly curtail their nuclear forces. Both have expressed an interest in reducing further, but little has happened.

New treaties may be preferable, but reaching agreement on the complex inter-connected issues ranging from nuclear weapons to missile defense and conventional forces may be unlikely to produce results in the short term (not least given the current political climate in the U.S. Congress). While the world waits, the excess nuclear forces levels and outdated planning principles continue to fuel justifications for retaining large force levels and new modernizations in both the United States and Russia.

To break the stalemate and reenergize the arms reductions process, in addition to pursuing treaty-based agreements, the report argues, unilateral steps can and should be taken in the short term to trim the most obvious fat from the nuclear arsenals. The report includes 32 specific recommendations for reducing unnecessary and counterproductive U.S. and Russian nuclear force levels unilaterally and bilaterally.

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Iran and the Global Economy

The escalating confrontation between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program has triggered much debate about what actions should be taken to ensure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. How might certain actions against Iran affect the global economy? FAS released the results of a study, “Sanctions, Military Strokes, and Other Potential Actions Against Iran”  which assesses the global economic impact on a variety of conflict scenarios, sanctions and other alternative actions against Iran. FAS conducted an expert elicitation with nine subject matter experts involving six hypothetical scenarios in regards to U.S. led actions against Iran, and anticipated three month cost to the global economy. These scenarios ranged from increasing sanctions (estimated cost of U.S. $64 billion) to full-scale invasion of Iran (estimated cost of U.S. $1.7 trillion).

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