• 10. North Korea: The U.S. Top Security Threat

    Developments on the Korean peninsula show that the Trump administration’s policy toward North Korea has been a failure, and that the risk North Korea poses to the United States, and to U.S. allies in the region, has only increased. The administration has portrayed its North Korea policy as its signature initiative, but now bills North Korea as the U.S. top security threat.

  • Understanding Iran’s Nuclear Escalation Strategy

    Iran is back in the nuclear game. Eric Brewer and Ariane Tabatabi write that the United States and the remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal must prepare for what may be a significantly more challenging year ahead with additional Iranian nuclear escalatory measures. “By withdrawing from the agreement and already firing its most potent rounds (i.e., oil and banking sanctions), the United States is limited in its ability to deter further Iranian nuclear advances. Iran, on the other hand, still has more chips it can play,” they write.

  • Today, Everyone’s a Nuclear Spy

    There was a time when tracking nuclear threats was the domain of secret agents, specialists at high-powered government intelligence agencies, and think-tank experts. Not anymore. Amy Zegart writes that today, the world of new nuclear sleuths looks like the Star Wars bar scene. What has empowered these nuclear detectives and made their work possible is the fact that in the last 15-20 years, commercial satellites have become common – and their capabilities, although not at the level of spy satellites, are not too far behind. Open-source amateur nuclear sleuthing comes with risks, but Zegart says that despite these risks, the democratization of nuclear-threat intelligence is likely to be a boon to the cause of nonproliferation.

  • Dealing with the Soviet Nuclear Legacy

    On 29 August 1949, the Soviet Union conducted their first nuclear test. Over a 40-year period, they conducted 456 nuclear explosions at Semipalatinsk, in eastern Kazakhstan — 116 aboveground and 340 underground. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of the scientists and military personnel abandoned the site and fled the country, leaving behind large quantities of nuclear materials, completely unsecured. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has been quietly helping Kazakhstan deal with the Soviet nuclear legacy.

  • Iran’s Nuclear Weapons “Breakout” Time Getting Shorter: Experts

    The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, and the administration’s “maximum pressure” policy, are failing to yield the desired results, as Iran, pursuing a methodical “creep-out” strategy, is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. In 2015, Iran’s “breakout” time, that is, the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon, was three months. The 2015 agreement, by imposing serve technical restrictions and intrusive monitoring, increased Iran’s breakout time to about twelve months. Experts now say that since the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, Iran’s breakout time has been reduced to 6-10 months. “The breakout time will decrease further as Iran increases its stock of enriched uranium and installs more centrifuges,” the experts say.

  • West Has No Response to Iran’s Increasing Dominance of the Middle East

    A new, detailed study says that over the past forty years Iran has built a network of nonstate alliances which has allowed it to turn the balance of “effective” power in the region “in its favor.” In a report released today (7 November), the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says the United States and its regional allies retain superiority in conventional forces over Iran, but that Iran has been able to counter both the U.S. military superiority and the ever-more-severe economic sanctions imposed on Iran by building “networks of influence” with proxies which allow Tehran to have a major influence over the affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.

  • Iran Begins Uranium Enrichment at Fordow, Says U.S. to Blame

    Iran says it has begun enriching uranium at its Fordow underground nuclear facility, further defying terms of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran has gradually reduced some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord in May 2018. Meanwhile, Washington has reimposed and expanded punishing sanctions as part of a stated campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran.

  • Getting the Nukes Out of Turkey: A How-To Guide

    Almost as soon as Turkish troops began their invasion of Syria, old debates resurfaced about whether or not the United States should withdraw the roughly 50 B61 nuclear gravity bombs at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey also began resurfacing. Unlike in years prior, however, this time such a move may actually be in the offing. Pulling the nuclear weapons out of Turkey may seem like a bold step, but the United States has been reducing the number of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and consolidating the remaining ones at ever fewer bases since the end of the Cold War.

  • U.S. Nuclear Weapons at Incirlik Air Base, in effect, “Erdogan’s hostages”: U.S. Official

    Trump announced his hasty decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria in a series of Tweets on Sunday, following a phone call with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – despite months of warnings from the Pentagon, the NSC, the U.S. intelligence community, and the Department of State. As a result, no plans were made to deal with the fifty or so tactical nuclear weapons kept under U.S. control at the Incirlik Air Base in south-central Turkey, which the United States shares with Turkey. One official told the New York Times that the nuclear bombs at the base were now effectively Erdogan’s hostages.

  • India-Pakistan Nuclear War Could Kill Millions, Lead to Global Starvation

    A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could, over the span of less than a week, kill 50-125 million people—more than the death toll during all six years of World War II, according to new research. The researchers calculated that an India-Pakistan war could inject as much as 80 billion pounds of thick, black smoke into Earth’s atmosphere. That smoke would block sunlight from reaching the ground, driving temperatures around the world down by an average of between 3.5-9 degrees Fahrenheit for several years. Worldwide food shortages would likely come soon after. Today, India and Pakistan each have about 150 nuclear warheads at their disposal, and that number is expected to climb to more than 200 by 2025.

  • How to Dismantle a Nuclear Bomb: Team Successfully Tests New Method for Verification of Weapons Reduction

    How do weapons inspectors verify that a nuclear bomb has been dismantled? An unsettling answer is: They don’t, for the most part. When countries sign arms reduction pacts, they do not typically grant inspectors complete access to their nuclear technologies, for fear of giving away military secrets. Now MIT researchers have successfully tested a new high-tech method that could help inspectors verify the destruction of nuclear weapons. The method uses neutron beams to establish certain facts about the warheads in question — and, crucially, uses an isotopic filter that physically encrypts the information in the measured data.

  • North Korea Using Companies Registered in Britain to Bypass Nuclear Sanctions

    North Korean efforts to evade international sanctions have been aided by companies registered in Britain, according to an investigation by the London-based Royal United Services Institute. The report explains how Britain-registered companies are being used to operate cargo ships smuggling coal out of North Korea, which is the country’s biggest export. Income from the trade provides crucial funds for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, according to the United Nations Security Council.

  • New Estimates of Iran’s Breakout Capabilities at Declared Sites Using a New, Simple-to-Use Breakout Calculator

    A new report from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) presents and applies a breakout calculator to several theoretical cases in which Iran increases its stocks of low enriched uranium (LEU) above the limits allowed in the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “During the next many months, breakout times at Natanz and Fordow appear long enough to make an Iranian decision to break out risky,” and, therefore, unlikely, the Institute says. “However, even in the case in which Iran takes no action other than to increase its stocks of up to 3.67 and 4. 5 percent enriched uranium, breakout times could shrink precipitously during the next two years. The potential for relatively rapid decreases in breakout times argues for relatively quick action against Iran’s noncompliance with the JCPOA limits.”

  • IAEA: Iran Expands Enrichment in New Breach of Nuclear Deal

    Iran has started using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium, the UN’s nuclear watchdog says, in a further breach of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Advanced centrifuges “were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium,” the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in the report to member states cited by Western news agencies on September 26.

  • Blast from the Past

    Shortly before sunrise on 22 September 1979, a U.S. surveillance satellite known as Vela 6911 recorded an unusual double flash as it orbited the earth above the South Atlantic. At Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where it was still nighttime on 21 September, the staff in charge of monitoring the satellite’s transmissions saw the unmistakable pattern produced by a nuclear explosion—something U.S. satellites had detected on dozens of previous occasions in the wake of nuclear tests. The possibility that Israel or South Africa, which had deep clandestine defense ties at the time, had tested a nuclear weapon threatened to tarnish what President Jimmy Carter regarded as his administration foreign policy achievements ahead of the 1980 election. And the fact that South Africa’s own nuclear weapons program, which the Carter administration was seeking to stop, was not yet sufficiently advanced to test such a weapon left just one prime suspect: Israel. Leading figures within the administration were therefore keen to bury the story and put forward alternative explanations. On the 40th anniversary of the Vela event, Foreign Policy has assembled a team of experts to revisit the 22 September 1979 mysterious event.