Assessing Iran’s Missile Test

Questions remain on Iranian launch - Iran recently tested a ballistic missile that traveled about 600 miles before the re-entry vehicle exploded, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. “‘We’re aware that Iran fired that missile,’ White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday. ‘We’re looking into the exact nature of it.’”

--The missile test is not a violation of the nuclear agreement. But UN Security Council Resolution 2231 “calls upon” Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Determining whether the test violates the UNSC could prove divisive for the international community and particularly challenging for the new administration, NYT’s David Sanger reports. Full story here.

See also - Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said of the missile launch, “Such actions, if they took place, do not breach the resolution.” For these and other comments from nations party to the JCPOA, see “Iran: Missile tests not in violation of nuclear deal” by AlJazeera English.

France promises to protect Iran deal - “France vowed on Monday to defend Iran's nuclear deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to tear up, but said it was imperative Tehran abide strictly by the conditions of the accord,” writes John Irish for Reuters. “Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrived in the Iranian capital just as relations between Tehran and the new U.S. leadership were strained by new U.S. immigration orders.”

--After landing in Tehran, Jean-Marc Ayrault said, “I'm coming as the defender of the [Iran nuclear] accord, but to be vigilant and explain that they (the Iranians) must be irreproachable." Furthermore, John Irish writes, “French worries over the direction of U.S. policy under Trump go beyond the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal and on Monday Ayrault was scathing in his criticism of the U.S. leader's travel ban against citizens from seven mainly-Muslim countries.” Full story here.

Tweet - @AFP: #UPDATE US President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman want to "rigorously" enforce the Iran nuclear deal

Gorbachev supports nuclear ban - “Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has issued a dire warning: ‘The world is preparing for war.’ And with a phone call scheduled on Saturday between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gorbachev is urging the leaders to put a halt to a such a deadly path by spearheading a United Nations resolution that essentially bans nuclear war,” writes David Caplan for abc News.

--Gorbachev writes, “I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought... I think the initiative to adopt such a resolution should come from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — the presidents of two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world's nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility.” He continues, “the focus should once again be on preventing war, phasing out the arms race, and reducing weapons arsenals. The goal should be to agree, not just on nuclear weaponslevels and ceilings, but also on missile defense and strategic stability." Full story here.

The new nuclear risks - Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione went on BBC World Service’s Newshour Extra program to discuss the new nuclear risks that have arrived with the Trump Administration. Audio here.

Trump should pursue North Korea’s denuclearization - “U.S. President Donald Trump should never settle for a freeze on North Korea's nuclear programs as it amounts to accepting the communist nation as a nuclear power, a senior American expert on Korea said,” writes Chang Jae-soon for Yonhap News. “David Straub, a former State Department diplomat handling Korean Peninsula issues, also said in an op-ed piece carried by the newspaper The Hill that the Trump administration should ramp up pressure on Pyongyang to force it to genuine denuclearization talks.”

--“In October, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also said that denuclearizing North Korea ‘is probably a lost cause’ and the best possible solution to the North Korean nuclear issue may be ‘some sort of a cap’ on the regime's nuclear capabilities. But Straub argued that a freeze is no different from a cap, which means accepting the North as a nuclear state. That would ‘destroy U.S. credibility not only with its allies in Seoul and Tokyo but throughout the world,’ and undermine the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, he said.” Full story here.

DPRK acts out ahead of SecDef travels - “North Korea appears to be restarting a plutonium reactor just as US Secretary of Defense James Mattis prepares to visit neighboring South Korea and Japan,” writes Joshua Berlinger for CNN. “An analysis of new satellite imagery from 38 North, a North Korea tracking project associated with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, concludes that country is preparing to restart the reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility.”

--“The images show that most of a river near the reactor is frozen over, except for where water originating from a reactor outlet mixes with the river -- indicating that the reactor is likely operational. Mattis' visit to South Korea and Japan will be his first overseas trip as secretary of defense, making it a symbolic show of support for two of the US' most important allies in the region who have concerns about how President Donald Trump will approach relations in the Pacific.” Full story here.

Responding to North Korea - “‘North Korea's nuclear and missile threats are no longer [just] potential,’ Hwang Kyo-ahn, South Korea's acting president, said at a press briefing Monday in Seoul,” writes Michael Holtz for Christian Science Monitor. “North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, including two last year, but the country has never successfully launched an ICBM.”

--“How President Trump would respond to an ICBM test has observers and officials in East Asia on edge, given his bellicose rhetoric and willingness to challenge conventional wisdom... Trump’s policies aside, many experts agree that North Korea is closer than ever before to deploying a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile... With the threats mounting, [Stanford Professor Siegfried] Hecker and other prominent North Korea nuclear experts have called on the Trump administration to directly engage with Pyongyang... [Hecker added,] ‘The best way is to talk to the North Koreans to defuse a potential nuclear catastrophe. Eliminating the weapons will be a long-range endeavor.’” Full article here.

See also - For an in-depth look into whether the U.S. could actually prevent an ICBM test launch by North Korea, see Michael Elleman’s analysis for 38 North.

Tweet - @Livableworld: @guardian explains the rationale behind @SenMarkey & @tedlieu's bill introduced to restrict a #nuclear first strike

China ignores arms race - “While U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin preen and compare the size of their nuclear arsenals, China has been quite modest on the subject. This macho dance doesn’t interest Beijing. Why? Isn’t bigger always better?” asks Melissa Hanham for Foreign Policy. “For decades, when it comes to nuclear weapons, the answer from China has been a resounding no. The rest of the world would do well to consider their reasons why.”

--“The Chinese think about nuclear weapons in a fundamentally different way than their Western counterparts — one that could give China an edge in the contest to become the defining power of the 21st century... China’s primary goal has always been to prevent the use of nuclear weapons against them. Beijing figured out that you don’t need 30,000 nuclear warheads to achieve that end — you only need enough that the risk of losing a major city in retaliation holds your opponents back... Does this make them weak? No.” Full article here.

Tweet - @DarylGKimball: Thanks for your support Ms. @BarbraStreisand Unfortunate reality is that @POTUS can order launch of 900 nuclear weapons in <10min w/no AUMF.

Trump orders NPR - “The Trump administration has instructed the Pentagon to carry out a top-to-bottom review of the nation’s military, and draw up a list of plans to upgrade equipment, improve training, and address current and future threats with an increased budget,” writes W.J. Hennigan for Los Angeles Times. “The executive action, signed Friday during President Trump’s first visit to the Pentagon, follows through on a campaign pledge to build up the military.”

--“Under a section called ‘rebuilding the U.S. armed forces,’ Pentagon officials are called upon to examine U.S. nuclear forces to determine the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy. The so-called Nuclear Posture Review has taken place with each of the last three presidents. The military must also develop plant to strengthen missile defense against foreign threats. The U.S. has 30 interceptors in Alaska and California to counter missile attacks. The system has had a bad track record in testing, with the interceptors hitting their mark just about half the time.” Full article here.

Second strike study - “U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon’s Strategic Command are working on a new evaluation of whether the Russian and Chinese leadership could survive a nuclear strike and keep operating, even as President Donald Trump seeks to reshape relations with both nations,” writes Anthony Capaccio for Bloomberg. “The new study, ordered by Congress before Trump took office, drew bipartisan support from members who harbor deep concern about China’s increasing military boldness and distrust of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions.” Full story here.

Trump’s version of Reagan’s Star Wars - “On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan took to the airwaves to announce the first steps toward building an ambitious defense system that would protect America from nuclear annihilation,” writes Bryan Schatz for Mother Jones. “The fanciful, technologically implausible concept was immediately lampooned as ‘Star Wars.’” Decades later, the government spent over $239 billion on a program that proved unsuccessful.

--“Now it's Donald Trump's turn. Under the banner of ‘Making Our Military Strong Again,’ the president has pledged to ‘develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system to protect against missile-based attacks from states like Iran and North Korea.’ Stopping a nuke from Pyongyang may sound more realistic than shooting down hundreds of Russian missiles, but there's still a long way to go. The existing missile defense system, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, ‘is hugely expensive, ineffective, and offers no proven capability to protect the United States.’” Full story here.

Quick Hits:

--“Nuclear war is no longer the stuff of dystopian novellas – it's a very real and immediate threat,” by Rupert Cornwell for The Independent.

--“Finger on the button: should Trump's nuclear weapons access be restricted?” by Dr. Becky Alexis-Martin and Dr. Thom Davies for The Guardian.

--“Five anti-Trident protesters found guilty after blockading nuclear bomb factory,” by Jon Stone for The Independent.

--“No Peace and No War in South Asia?” by Michael Krepon for Arms Control Wonk.

--“How careful human rights diplomacy is finally putting real pressure on North Korea,” by Ben Willis for The Independent.

--“How far do you need to be from a nuclear bomb to survive?” by Rob Waugh for Yahoo News UK.

--“Trump’s Nuclear America,” by Tom Dupont for The Wesleyan Argus.

--“Why the World Needs to Watch the India-Pakistan Nuclear Standoff,” by Michael Krepon for The National Interest.

--“Reality: Humanity can't indefinitely avoid using nuclear weapons,” by Mustafa Kibaroglu for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

--“Thomas R. Pickering column: Whatever happened to the Iran nuclear deal?” by Thomas Pickering for Richmond Times-Dispatch.

--“Is Britain’s nuclear arsenal fit for purpose?” by Ewen MacAskill for The Guardian.


--Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, vote of nomination of Rick Perry to be Energy Secretary (estimate) during the week of January 30th. Committee meetings will be held at 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington D.C. Webcast online here.

--“The Future of Alliances and Extended Nuclear Deterrence,” a panel hosted by CSIS. February 1 from 3:30-6:00pm at Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington. Details here.

--“Debate: European Missile Defenses for NATO,” hosted by CSIS. February 16 from 4:30-7:30pm at Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington. Details here.


“The Destroyer of Worlds” - Dan Carlin takes his Hardcore History podcast for a tour of the nuclear weapons age and asks, “What happens if human beings can’t handle the power of their own weaponry?” For a dramatic tale of nuclear weapons and “humankind’s efforts to avoid self-destruction at the hands of its own creation,” listen to the audio here.

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