Through the Diplomacy Works initiative, we’re working to provide timely information and analysis about diplomatic solutions to global challenges. Diplomacy Works was launched in 2017 with a focus on the Iran nuclear deal. We’re now excited to expand the effort to cover a broader range of issues including nuclear nonproliferation on the Korean peninsula and America’s relationships with our European allies. For more information, check out our issue pages and make sure you sign up for our Weekly Digests here.
IRan Nuclear Deal
In 2015, American diplomats – in conjunction with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China – negotiated a binding agreement with Iran to block its pathways to obtaining a nuclear weapon called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Before the agreement, Iran was only 2-3 months away from developing a nuclear weapon and many feared the only other alternative to stop Iran would be to launch a new war. But over months and years, a team led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman achieved a historic agreement that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful in exchange for nuclear-related sanction relief from the international community .
Building a nuclear bomb requires either uranium or plutonium, but thanks to the deal, all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb are blocked. It has reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98% and has kept the level of enrichment at or below 3.67% — significantly below the enrichment level needed to create the fissile material needed for a bomb. In report after report, the International Atomic Energy Agency — the UN-backed organization that conducts 24-hour monitoring of Iran’s nuclear sites — has confirmed that the country is complying with all aspects of the agreement.
But on May 8th, 2018, President Trump violated the agreement by withdrawing the United States from its commitments under the deal by reimplementing nuclear-related sanctions. By taking that action, Trump sparked new tensions with our European allies — who are in full support of the deal — and even threatened to sanction European companies that didn’t also break their commitments. While the deal remains in force despite the United States’ efforts to undermine it, the risk that Iran pursues a nuclear weapon – or that the US goes to war to stop it – have escalated dramatically.
To learn more about the Iran Deal, click here.
NOrth Korea’s Nuclear Program
The North Korean nuclear program poses a serious threat to the security of its neighbors South Korea and Japan, to the United States, and to the world. The North Korean regime currently possesses an estimated 10-20 nuclear warheads and enough fissile material for 30-60 weapons. After a series of missile launches by North Korea, President Trump’s escalating rhetoric led many to fear he would launch military attacks – a step experts warned could spark a catastrophic conflict that would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in South Korea in a matter of days.
In late Spring 2018, the Trump Administration launched new talks with the regime, led by then CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The talks led quickly to a summit that took place in June in Singapore between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, as well as subsequent steps to diffuse tensions between the two sides. At the same time, the administration’s campaign of “maximum pressure” – a regime of international sanctions applied by even North Korea’s closest ally, China – remains in place.
So far, there are few signs that North Korea has taken steps to halt or roll back its nuclear program. Many fear that, given the President’s temperament and the administration’s history of undermining diplomacy, that it will once again embrace unilateralism and a path toward military conflict.
To learn more about North Korea’s nuclear program, click here.
The United States has long been in a leader in promoting nuclear non-proliferation and pursuing arms control agreements. For decades, there has been bipartisan agreement that the U.S. should lead on this issue. Famously, Ronald Reagan said “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” He was the one who pursued bilateral negotiations to limit U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, helping end the Cold War. The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) were essential to reducing the risk of nuclear war. These agreements eliminated an entire class of nuclear delivery vehicles and lowered the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads, respectively. President Obama built on the START Treaty by signing the New START Treaty, which lowered the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads even more, and provided for extensive and intrusive inspections regimes to verify Russian compliance.
Unfortunately, these norms have been threatened under President Trump. The Trump administration has withdrawn from the INF Treaty, and is threatening to not renew the New START Treaty, which is set to expire in February 2021, but can be extended up to five years if both Presidents Trump and Putin agree to do so. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) also calls for new, “low-yield” nuclear weapons that are considered more usable. These departures from long-standing policy increase the chances of nuclear war, and underscore the need for engagement with Russia on nuclear arms control in order to preserve vital U.S. leadership on this critical national security issue.
To learn more about Nuclear Security, click here.