"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020

Europeans, U.S. Threaten Iran With IAEA Censure

April 2024
By Kelsey Davenport

European and U.S. officials threatened to pursue action against Iran at the next International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting if Tehran does not meet its legally binding safeguards obligations.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency holds its quarterly meeting at the agency headquarters in Vienna March 4. European and U.S. officials threatened to pursue action against Iran at the next board meeting if Tehran fails to meet its legally binding nuclear safeguards obligations. (Photo by Dean Calma / IAEA)The agency has been pressing Iran for years to account for the presence of nuclear materials at two sites that were never declared to the IAEA as part of Iran’s nuclear program. The agency assesses that one of the locations, Turquazabad, was used to store nuclear materials and equipment, and the other, Varamin, included a pilot plant for uranium milling and conversion.

In a Feb. 26 report, the IAEA said Iran did not provide the agency with “any information on the outstanding safeguards issues relevant to either of the two undeclared locations.” It added that the IAEA “will not be able to confirm the completeness and correctness” of Iran’s nuclear declaration until Tehran provides technically credible explanations for the presence of the uranium at the two locations and accounts for the current location of the nuclear materials.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, known as the E3, said in a March 7 statement to the IAEA board that action to “hold Iran accountable to its legal obligations is long overdue.” They made clear that they will pursue a resolution at the board’s quarterly meeting in June if there is no “decisive and substantive progress” on the safeguards investigation.

An official from one of the E3 countries told Arms Control Today in a March 12 email that several European countries favored pursuing a resolution censuring Iran for its failure to cooperate with the agency during the March board meeting, but the United States opposed the proposal.

The board last passed a resolution regarding the investigation in November 2022. That resolution said it is “essential and urgent” for Iran to clarify all outstanding safeguards issues. Following the passage of that resolution, Iran agreed in a March 2023 joint statement with the agency to “provide further information and access to address the outstanding safeguards issues.”

The E3 statement also said the board may need to consider “making a finding under Article 19 of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement,” which includes the option of reporting Iran to the UN Security Council if the agency cannot verify that all of Iran’s nuclear materials are being used for peaceful purposes.

The board reported Iran to the Security Council in 2006, a move that led to a series of council resolutions requiring Iran to halt certain nuclear activities and the imposition of sanctions when Tehran failed to implement those provisions.

Iran defended its cooperation with the IAEA in a March 5 note to the agency. The note said that Tehran has “done its utmost” to enable the IAEA to “effectively carry out verification activities.” It said that Iran has fulfilled all of its legal commitments, including under its safeguards agreement. The note repeated allegations that the IAEA assessment of the undeclared locations is “based on unreliable information and unauthentic documents.”

In a March 7 statement to the board, Laura Holgate, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, also condemned Iran’s failure to cooperate with the IAEA investigation, but suggested that the board ask the agency to prepare a “comprehensive summary report” on Iran’s nuclear program and the “degree to which the agency is in position to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful.”

She said that if Iran continues to “delay and deflect” the agency’s inquiries, the board must consider “further action for the sake of demonstrating that no state can indefinitely thwart implementation of its…safeguards obligations [under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] by obstructing” the IAEA.

If the board pursues a resolution censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with the agency, Tehran is likely to retaliate. The U.S. intelligence community, in its 2024 Worldwide Threat Assessment, released March 11, assessed that Iran “probably will consider installing more advanced centrifuges, further increasing its enriched uranium stockpile, or enriching uranium to 90 percent” uranium-235 in response to a censure, further sanctions, or an attack against the nuclear program.

The intelligence community also assessed that Iran “is not currently undertaking key nuclear weapons-development activities” but that the expansion of the country’s program “better position[s] it to produce a nuclear device, if it chooses to do so.”

According to the most recent IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s overall stockpile of enriched uranium grew over the last quarter. But Tehran down-blended 32 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent U-235 by mixing the material with low-enriched uranium. As a result, Iran’s stockpile of 60 percent U-235 material decreased slightly from 128 kilograms to 121 kilograms.

Although a slight decrease in the stockpile of 60 percent U-235 is positive because that material can be quickly enriched to weapons-grade levels, or 90 percent U-235, the down-blending has little impact on the immediate proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

If Iran made the decision to produce weapons-grade uranium, it could still enrich enough material for one bomb in about a week and enough for about six bombs in a month. After that, it would take Iran an estimated six months to one year to build a bomb. But those activities would take place at covert facilities, making the weaponization process more difficult to detect and disrupt.

Holgate told the IAEA board that the United States has “serious concerns” about the 60 percent U-235 stockpile. “Iran should down-blend all, not just some, of its 60 percent stockpile, and stop all production of uranium enriched to 60 percent entirely,” she said.

The action could come at the next International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting if Iran does not meet its legally binding safeguards obligations.

Sweden Joins NATO

April 2024

Two years after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Sweden officially joined NATO amid rising concerns that the war might spill into other European countries.

On March 7, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson handed over accession documents to the United States during a ceremony in Washington, culminating a process in which the allies unanimously approved the addition of the new member.

"Sweden is a safer country today than we were yesterday…. We have taken out an insurance in the Western defense alliance," he said.

The move is seen as a major blow to Russia, which long has opposed NATO expansion.

As a member, Sweden has pledged to adhere to NATO’s doctrine of common defense, by which allies agree to defend
any other NATO ally that comes under military attack by another country.

Now that it has joined NATO, Sweden is considering reinforcing Gotland, a strategic island in the Baltic Sea that is close to Russia and key to the defense of the Baltic states.

In an interview with the Financial Times on March 14, Kristersson confirmed that ways to protect Gotland are on the list of issues being discussed with the allies. He acknowledged that Sweden only has a “small” military presence on the island.

Sweden is the 32nd country to join NATO, following Finland, which formally became a member in April 2023. Both countries applied for membership in May 2022, abandoning their long-held neutrality, the hallmark of their Cold War foreign policy. Polls showed that public opinion on nonalignment shifted drastically after Russia invaded Ukraine.—CHRIS ROSTAMPOUR

Sweden Joins NATO

Iran Avoids IAEA Board Censure, For Now

Iran avoided a censure during the March meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors despite Tehran’s failure to cooperate with a yearslong agency investigation into past undeclared nuclear activities. The United States and the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) denounced Iran’s stonewalling during the quarterly board meeting and suggested that they will push for action at the June meeting if Iran does not cooperate with the agency. In a March 6 statement, the E3 said that “the need for the Board to hold Iran accountable to its legal obligations is...

IAEA Head Calls for Diplomacy with Iran as Nuclear Activities Advance

The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reiterated concerns about Iran’s advancing nuclear program and called for diplomacy with Tehran. During the Jan. 15-19 World Economic Forum in Davos, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Iran is “restricting cooperation in a very unprecedented way” and is punishing the agency for actions taken by the United States and European countries. He said it is “unacceptable” for the IAEA to be held “hostage” to Iran’s “political disputes with others.” Grossi emphasized that diplomacy is necessary...

JCPOA Off the Table as Nuclear Tensions Rise

The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert A top U.S. official said that restoring the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is not a viable option in the current environment, confirming the shift in the Biden administration’s strategy for addressing the risk posed by Iran’s advancing nuclear program. Kurt Campbell, President Joe Biden’s nominee for deputy secretary of state, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his Dec. 7 confirmation hearing that a return to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is “just not on the table.” Campbell, currently the National...

NATO Allies Suspend Participation in CFE Treaty

December 2023
By Mohammedreza Giveh and Daryl G. Kimball

The United States and its NATO allies will suspend participation in the landmark Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, following Russia’s decision earlier this year to withdraw from the pact.

Ground troops from Bulgaria, Italy, and the United States take part in a NATO military exercise in May. Since then, the alliance announced plans to suspend participation in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, effective Dec. 7, following Russia’s decision to withdraw from the pact.  (Photo by Borislav Troshev/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)The North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s principal political decision-making body, announced the decision Nov. 7, stating that the allies “will suspend the operation of their obligations to the treaty” effective Dec. 7.

“We concluded that we should not continue to be bound by a treaty to which Russia is not bound,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. “Suspension of CFE [Treaty] obligations will strengthen the [a]lliance’s deterrence and defense capacity by removing restrictions that impact planning, deployments, and exercises.”

In its announcement, the council said that, with this “decision fully supported by all NATO allies,” the alliance intends “to suspend the operation of the CFE Treaty for as long as necessary” as a consequence of Russia’s withdrawal.

The decision was described by U.S. officials as a “suspension of all legal obligations” under the treaty that allows individual states to comply with certain provisions, such as data exchanges, on a voluntary basis.

At some point, states that have suspended participation might resume full, legally binding participation. Since Nov. 7, several NATO states have issued national statements outlining the provisions that they will voluntarily continue to meet.

The treaty, often described as the cornerstone of European security, was signed in 1990 and put equal limits on the quantity of conventional weaponry deployed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries. It eliminated the Soviet Union’s quantitative advantage in conventional weapons in Europe and more than 72,000 pieces of NATO and Soviet military equipment.

Polish army soldiers undergoing high-intensity training session at the Nowa Deba training ground in Poland in May. The exercises include collaboration with forces from Romania, Slovenia and the United States. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, its withdrawal from the CFE Treaty, and now the decision by NATO states to suspend participation in the accord puts the conventional arms control system in Europe, which was painstakingly built over decades, into near total collapse.

The United States withdrew from the 1990 Open Skies Treaty in 2020 over a compliance dispute, and Russia followed suit in 2021. (See ACT, July/August 2021.) This leaves the Vienna Document, a confidence-building mechanism by which participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe agree to inspections and data exchanges to increase the transparency of their conventional forces, as the only remaining piece of the post-Cold War conventional arms control security architecture. U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Arms Control Today that the United States intends fully to participate in and comply with the terms of the Vienna Document.

The dispute between Russia and NATO over the CFE Treaty dates back nearly a quarter century. After the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and the expansion of NATO in the 1990s, efforts were made to revise the agreement to replace the bloc-to-bloc and zonal limits with a system of national and territorial ceilings reflecting the new geopolitical reality.

During the 1999 treaty summit in Istanbul, treaty members signed an agreement known as the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty to update the CFE Treaty structure. Russia also pledged to withdraw its forces from Moldova and Georgia and to show restraint in its deployment near the Baltics. (See ACT, November 1999.)

But the United States and its allies did not ratify the adapted treaty, citing the ongoing deployment of Russian forces in Moldova and Georgia. Russia disagreed and complained that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia were not subject to CFE Treaty limits. Moscow also wanted constraints eliminated on how many forces it could deploy on its southern and northern flanks. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)

In 2007, Moscow declared its “suspension” of the original treaty in reaction to the ongoing delay of the adapted treaty’s entry into force, thereby halting Russian implementation of treaty-related transparency commitments and conventional force ceilings.

In May 2023, Russia announced that it would withdraw formally from the pact in objection to NATO countries “fueling the Ukraine conflict” and embracing Finland and Sweden as new alliance members. (See ACT, June 2023.) The withdrawal will not have any impact on Russia’s military posture.

At a briefing on Nov. 8 for nongovernmental experts, U.S. officials reaffirmed public statements that the United States and its NATO allies remain committed to effective conventional arms control as a critical element of Euro-Atlantic security.

The officials also said that the allies will continue to pursue measures with responsible partners that aim to bolster stability and security in Europe by reducing risk, preventing misperceptions, avoiding conflicts, and building trust. They did not elaborate on specific measures that would be pursued.

The United States and its NATO allies announced their plans following Russia’s decision earlier this year to withdraw from the pact.

ACA Warns Against Calls for Buildup of the Already Massive U.S. Nuclear Arsenal in Race with Russia, China 



Preliminary Assessment of the Report of the
Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States

For Immediate Release: October 12, 2023

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

Following more than a decade of deteriorating relations and uncertainty on disarmament diplomacy, the three states with the larget nuclear arsenals—Russia, the United States, and China—are on the precipice of a unconstrained era of dangerous nuclear competition.

The last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), will expire in February 2026; the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty no longer exists; the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty is history; and Russia is moving to "de-ratify" the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. At the same time, China is expanding and diversifying its relatively smaller nuclear arsenal so it can maintain a retaliatory capacity that its leaders believe is sufficient to withstand potential U.S. nuclear or conventional strikes and U.S. missile defenses.

The experience of the Cold War teaches us that an unconstrained arms race has no winners, only losers. Leaders in Moscow, Beijing, and Washington need to seize the opportunity to engage in nuclear risk reduction talks, negotiate sensible and verifiable reductions of their arsenals, and refrain from building new destabilizing types of weapons, rather than proceed down a "lose-lose" path of nuclear competition.

Regrettably, the final report of the bipartisan Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, issued today, suggests that in response to Russia’s nuclear and military behavior and the anticipated growth of China's strategic nuclear arsenal, the United States must be prepared to add more capability and flexibility to the U.S. strategic deterrent to counter two "near-peer" nuclear adversaries. Moreover, as the risk of military conflict with Russia and China grows, the report also advises that the United States must be prepared to fight and “win” two simultaneous wars, by enhancing its missile defense capabilities, and if necessary, bolstering its nuclear weapons capabilities, including new theater-range capabilities.

If there is a military conflict between nuclear-armed states, deterrence will have failed and, in the ensuing conflict, there will be no “winners.” 

Once nuclear weapons are used in a war between the United States and Russia or between the United States and China, there is no guarantee a nuclear war could be “limited.” According to independent estimates, a large-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia would kill and injure more than 90 million people in the first few hours, and many more in the days and weeks afterward.

Some commissioners, in their individual capacities, have argued in separate papers (see Project Atom, pages 38-48) that “deterring China and Russia simultaneously [requires] an increased level of U.S. strategic warheads” and enhancing U.S. sub-strategic nuclear capabilities. We disagree.

As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin noted in remarks Dec. 9, 2022, at StratCom Headquarters: “Nuclear deterrence isn't just a numbers game. In fact, that sort of thinking can spur a dangerous arms race.”

In the current context, any decision to increase the number of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear weapons above New START levels could trigger a dangerous action-reaction cycle. It would not enhance deterrence in the face of China’s growing nuclear capabilities or Russia's existing capabilities. It would more likely encourage China to deploy more nuclear weapons on an even wider array of delivery systems over the coming decade and prompt Russia to match any increases in the U.S. strategic force.

Under New START, the United States (and Russia) can now deploy as many as 1550 strategic nuclear warheads on 700 missiles and bombers. Each has additional non-strategic nuclear weapons. China’s total nuclear force is estimated to include just over 400 nuclear warheads of all types.

Increasing the number of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear weapons or adding new types of nuclear war-fighting weapons to the the arsenal would not only be counterproductive, but prohibitively expensive. A July 2023 Congressional Budget Office report estimates that, if carried out, the current plans for nuclear forces delineated in the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) fiscal year 2023 budget requests would amount to a staggering $756 billion over the 2023–2032 period, or an average of over $75 billion a year.

Despite reckless behavior on the part of Russia and China in pursuing a more diverse array of nuclear weapons, the scale and diversity of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal still exceeds what is necessary to hold a sufficient number of adversary targets at risk so as to deter enemy nuclear attack.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in his address on June 2, 2023, reiterated that "the United States does not need to increase our nuclear forces to outnumber the combined total of our competitors to effectively deter them."

While the Commission’s final report does recognize the value and importance of continued U.S. efforts to engage Russia and China in the nuclear arms control enterprise, it underplays the importance of stronger U.S. leadership on arms control in preventing an unconstrained nuclear arms race. 

For more than 50 years, U.S. presidents of both parties have recognized the value of nuclear arms control to constrain adversary capabilities that can threaten the United States, its allies, and the world.

This is why the Biden administration's 2022 Nuclear Posture Review states that “Mutual, verifiable nuclear arms control offers the most effective, durable and responsible path to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy and prevent their use.” The President's National Security Advisor said June 2, 2023, that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia and with other nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without preconditions.”

Rather than take actions that might accelerate dangerous nuclear competition, the United States must exercise prudent nuclear restraint and energetically pursue effective arms control and disarmament diplomacy with Russia, China, and other nuclear-armed states inside and outside of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

As Sullivan emphasized June 2, with respect to Russia: "It is in neither of our countries’ interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces—and we’re prepared to stick to the central limits as long as Russia does. And rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences—the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework."

Sullivan noted that the type of limits the United States can agree to after the New START Treaty expires "will of course be impacted by the size and scale of China’s nuclear buildup" which is "why we’re also ready to engage China without preconditions—helping ensure that competition is managed, and that competition does not veer into conflict."

Considering that new bilateral nuclear arms control limits with Russia may be difficult to achieve so long as Russia's war on Ukraine rages on, the United States could seek an executive agreement or simply a reciprocal unilateral arrangement verified with national technical means of intelligence that commits Russia and the United States to respect New START’s central limits until a more permanent and comprehensive nuclear arms control arrangement is concluded.

At the same time, U.S. and other world leaders should urge China, France, and the United Kingdom to cap the size of their nuclear arsenals as long as Russia and the United States meet their fundamental nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, which involve participating in genuine negotiations to halt and reverse a potential nuclear arms race.


The Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States suggests that in response to Russia’s nuclear and military behavior and the anticipated growth of China’s strategic nuclear arsenal, the United States must be prepared to add more capability and flexibility to the U.S. strategic deterrent and enhance its missile defense capabilities.

New Momentum for Nuclear Talks?

The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert The United States and Iran took limited steps to de-escalate tensions over the past few weeks, but it is unclear if the progress will lead to a resumption of talks over Iran’s advancing nuclear program and steps to reduce nuclear risk. On Sept. 18, five Americans imprisoned in Iran returned to the United States. In exchange, five Iranians in U.S. custody were released, and South Korea completed the transfer of $6 billion of Iran’s frozen assets to Qatar. Iran can access those funds to pay for goods exempt from U.S. sanctions, such as food and medicine. The...

Transfer of Banned Cluster Munitions to Ukraine Is the Wrong Move



Cluster Munitions Are Prohibited by the Majority of the World's Nations and NATO Allies  

For Immediate Release: July 6, 2023

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 ext 107; Susan Aboeid, Human Rights Watch, (212) 290-4700

(Washington D.C.)—The head of the independent, nongovernmental Arms Control Association criticized the announcement expected from the Biden administration that President Biden will shift course and will invoke a waiver under U.S. arms export laws to allow stocks of U.S. cluster munitions to be transferred to the government of Ukraine.

Cluster munitions are designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions, each of which weighs less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions. The U.S. stockpile includes dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICMs), surface-to-surface warheads, and other types of older cluster munitions. Given that cluster munitions disperse hundreds or even thousands of tiny but deadly bomblets, their use produces significant quantities of unexploded submunitions that can maim, injure, or kill civilians and friendly forces during, and long after, a conflict.

The limited military value and the indiscriminate impacts of these weapons led the majority of the world’s countries to negotiate the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The treaty – which  123 nations have joined – prohibits states parties from developing, producing, acquiring, using, transferring, or stockpiling cluster munitions. While twenty-three NATO members are parties to the treaty, the United States, Ukraine, and Russia are not.

In response to the expected announcement, Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, said: “Some types of lethal U.S. and European military assistance to Ukraine, including cluster munitions, would be escalatory, counterproductive, and only further increase the dangers to civilians caught in combat zones and those who will, someday, return to their cities, towns, and farms.

Some U.S. officials claim that these weapons 'would be useful' against mass formations of troops and armor or broad targets, such as airfields, and that they would allow Ukraine to concentrate their use of unitary warheads against higher-value Russian targets.

The reality is more complicated. Cluster munitions will not differentiate a Ukrainian soldier from a Russian one. The effectiveness of cluster munitions is significantly oversold and the impact on noncombatants is widely acknowledged, but too often overlooked.

The limited military utility and the substantial humanitarian dangers of cluster munitions are among the key reasons why the Defense Department halted using them in Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003, and has chosen to invest in alternative munitions.

It is why, in 2008, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued an order to phase out by 2018 cluster munitions with an unexploded ordnance rate of greater than one percent, and it is why, in 2011, the Obama administration affirmed this policy. It is why Congress, in 2018, enacted a series of export restrictions on cluster munitions with a failure rate in excess of one percent.

The Pentagon has, unfortunately, dragged its feet and in 2017, the Trump administration announced the 2018 deadline for phasing out non-compliant cluster munitions would not be met. No new deadline for meeting that goal was set by the Trump administration or the Biden administration. 

The impetus to help supply Ukraine with the right kind of weaponry to defend its territory against Russian attacks and occupation is understandable. But cluster munitions are not the “winning weapon” in Ukraine’s fight for its future, and the success of its ongoing counteroffensive does not hinge on the delivery of any one particular type of weapon.

Currently, Washington is providing Ukraine with other munitions that are important for its military effort to repel Russia’s forces, including regular 155-millimeter unitary munitions and a new type of 155-mm millimeter artillery shell that can hit targets with greater precision.

Instead of transferring controversial cluster munitions and straining alliance solidarity, Washington and its allies should focus more energy on creative ways to provide Ukraine with the precision-guided munitions and the artillery shells it needs to repel Russian aggression.

It is also clear that cluster munitions produce significant quantities of unexploded submunitions that can maim, injure, or kill civilians and friendly forces during, and long after, a conflict. Human Rights Watch has issued numerous reports detailing civilian harm and suffering from U.S.-made cluster munitions used in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, and Yemen.

As President Biden noted on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, “The decisions we make over the next five years are going to determine and shape our lives for decades to come… a choice between chaos and stability.”

Rather than add to the chaos and side-step the rules of the global system, President Biden should make it clear that cluster munitions need not and should not be part of the conflict in Ukraine, or in any war."


Some types of lethal U.S. and European military assistance to Ukraine, including cluster munitions, would be escalatory, counterproductive, and only further increase the dangers to civilians caught in combat zones

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Allies Prepare for Crucial NATO Summit

July/August 2023
By Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández

NATO members will discuss the future of the alliance at a July 10-11 summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, during a tumultuous time in which Russia continues waging war on Ukraine and Ukraine pushes for commitments that it will be welcomed into NATO after the fighting ends.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvidas Anusauskas (L to R), German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda visit soldiers taking part in a Lithuanian-German military exercise in Lithuania, on June 26. Germany says it will station 4,000 troops in Lithuania, which asked NATO to strengthen its eastern flank. (Photo by Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images)Although NATO members have pledged to continue supporting Ukraine, they differ on its eventual accession to the alliance. “This is not a situation where the entire alliance has agreed language for how to describe Ukraine’s membership aspirations, and there’s one or two countries that stand outside of that group in opposition,” Julianne Smith, U.S. ambassador to NATO, said June 14 during a U.S. State Department briefing from Brussels.

“We are having and we have had a series of conversations where allies are looking at both an array of concrete deliverables and an array of options for describing their membership aspirations,” she said.

Compromises under consideration appear designed to suggest that Ukraine is moving closer to NATO membership, but fall short of a commitment by the 31 allies to come to Ukraine’s collective defense, as guaranteed under Article 5 of the NATO treaty.

At a June 16 press conference in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “We are now close to finalizing an agreement to establish the NATO-Ukraine Council, and that will be something different than the Commission, where we 31 allies meet Ukraine.”

The commission, established in 1997, has provided a forum for consultation on security issues of common concern, including Russia and its war on Ukraine. Stoltenberg said that, under the council format, “Ukraine will be equal to NATO allies” and have the same rights as they “consult and decide on issues of mutual concern.” But the allies would not be sworn to defend Ukraine if it is the victim of another armed attack.

Despite being the biggest military supporter of Ukraine, the United States has been reluctant to endorse Ukraine’s early accession to NATO. The Washington Post reported on June 15 that Washington is tentatively backing a plan that would remove barriers to Ukraine’s entry without setting a timeline for admission.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy implored NATO to put Ukraine on a clear path to membership, even threatening to skip the summit if the allies do not send a signal on the matter, according to Politico. “We understand that we will not be in NATO or in any powerful security alliance during this war. But tell me, how many [Ukrainian] lives is one sentence at the Vilnius summit worth?” Zelenskyy told the The Wall Street Journal on June 3.

Stoltenberg said, “At the Vilnius summit and in the preparations for the summit, we’re not discussing to issue a formal invitation.”

Members of NATO’s eastern flank—Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia—released a statement on June 6 calling for upgraded ties with Ukraine. "We expect that in Vilnius, we will upgrade our political relations with Ukraine to a new level and launch a new political track that will lead to Ukraine’s membership in NATO, once conditions allow," they said, according to Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed support for “something between Israel-style security guarantees and fully-fledged [NATO] membership,” according to Politico. Some NATO leaders say support for Ukraine’s membership bid will pressure Russia to negotiate an end to the war.

At the summit, the allies will discuss new regional defense plans. “I think we’ll look back at the rollout of these new regional plans as, really, a new chapter for the alliance in terms of how it thinks about not just planning but…its command and control, its force structure requirements, its resourcing,” Smith said.

A new “defense investment pledge” is also on the agenda. In 2014, the allies promised to strive for a 2 percent goal on national defense spending. “Now, there is…an immediate need, to increase defense spending.… I think more and more allies also agree to the fact that 2 percent should not be some kind of ceiling, but a minimum,” Stoltenberg said.

Because NATO is looking now at conventional deployments that would not necessarily be considered under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, members could be expected to comment on the status of that agreement’s future. The act is also an issue on which the allies do not have a unified view. (See ACT, May 2023; July/August 2022.) It states that NATO will not permanently deploy substantial conventional forces, which are typically assumed to mean more than one brigade, in new member states. The act also stipulates that NATO has no intention, reason, or plan to deploy nuclear weapons or nuclear storage sites in the territories of states that joined NATO after the Soviet Union disintegrated.

On June 26, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense announced that Germany was ready to deploy a permanent brigade of 4,000 troops to Lithuania. The move is contingent on the construction of the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the soldiers and military exercise facilities, according to the German newspaper Der Spiegel.

Plans by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to move nuclear weapons to Belarus on July 7-8, days before the NATO summit, have prompted discussion about an alliance response. (See ACT, June 2023.) On June 16, NATO noted that it had seen some preparations for the move. “We don’t see a reason right now to alter our strategic posture, but this is a live debate and an issue that again we take very seriously, and we will continue to monitor very closely here across the alliance,” Smith said.

Meeting on June 13 at the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden and Stoltenberg said they look forward to welcoming Sweden into the alliance. A year ago, NATO formally invited Finland and Sweden to join. (See ACT, July/August 2022.) Since then, Finland has completed its accession, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify Sweden’s membership bid.

“The message here coming both from the United States and many other allies is that we very much hope that Sweden will become the 32nd member of the alliance either before or by Vilnius. In our view, Sweden is ready,” Smith said.

On June 14, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put a hold on new U.S. arms sales to Hungary until it acts on Sweden’s bid.

Despite Stoltenberg’s intention to retire as secretary-general in September after serving since 2014, NATO allies agreed on July 4 to extend his mandate for one more year. The decision highlights the allies’ failure to achieve consensus on a potential successor. In response, Stoltenberg tweeted, “Honoured by #NATO Allies’ decision to extend my term as Secretary General until 1 October 2024.”


The meeting takes place amid Russia’s war on Ukraine and Ukraine’s push for NATO membership. 


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