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Editor's Note

Miles A. Pomper  

When and why do states pursue nuclear weapons? It is a question that has long been debated among arms control and nonproliferation analysts. This month’s issue looks at one state that has crossed the nuclear Rubicon and another that some analysts fear may do so. It also touches on a Bush administration initiative to try and interdict relevant technology involved in nuclear and other forms of proliferation.

North Korea’s Oct. 9, 2006, nuclear test sounded alarm bells in Washington not only because of Pyongyang’s newly demonstrated capabilities. Commentators and policymakers fretted that other countries in the region, particularly Japan, might feel it necessary to develop nuclear weapons as well. But in this month’s cover story, Hajime Izumi and Katsuhisa Furukawa say that such concerns are overblown and perhaps intentionally manipulated by some Japanese officials. What Tokyo wants, they write, is a closer nuclear relationship with the United States.

Drawing on new sources, Avner Cohen looks at when and how Israel made its crucial decision to produce nuclear weapons, a fact widely known but not officially acknowledged by the Israeli government. He finds the key in the stressful days leading up to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. That crisis, he writes, pushed Israel, which already had developed the relevant technology, to make the fateful leap to assemble weapons.

Mark J. Valencia evaluates the success of the Bush administration’s much-touted Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). An initiative first unveiled four years ago, the PSI is designed to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials from entering or leaving “states of proliferation concern.” Valencia concludes that the PSI has improved the awareness of the danger and urgency of the problem and constrained some relevant illicit trade, but that several shortcomings have hampered its effectiveness.

Our news section this month contains two news analyses. One examines the state of U.S. missile defenses five years after the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The other is a first-hand report from Vienna on this year’s preparatory meeting for the 2010 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference.

In “Looking Back,” Rose Gottemoeller recounts the history of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and its current status. Her article comes after Russian leaders have publicly mulled withdrawing from the treaty to gain strategic flexibility and to retaliate for the planned construction of U.S. missile defenses in Europe. Gottemoeller concludes that such a withdrawal is unlikely and that the treaty’s precedent-setting negotiating principles and verification standards offer a valuable tool for future arms control efforts.

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