"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Nuclear Nonproliferation

Interview With Brazilian Ambassador and NPT Review Conference President Sérgio de Queiroz Duarte



The nearly 190 states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will gather next May for four weeks to take stock of the landmark accord that lies at the heart of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. The diplomat charged with leading this important meeting is Brazilian Ambassador Sérgio de Queiroz Duarte, who spoke Nov. 4 with Arms Control Today Editor Miles A. Pomper and Arms Control Association Research Director Wade Boese about the challenges facing the treaty and his responsibilities as president of next year's NPT Review Conference.

ACT: What are your objectives as president of the forthcoming nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May, and what would be an ideal outcome of the Review Conference?

Duarte: The president has no objectives besides ensuring that the discussions take place in the best possible mood and the results, as much as possible, are consensual and reflect the will of the parties. The parties may have objectives, but I do not, besides having the conference agree on something that will be useful, forward looking, and advance the aims of the treaty. This is the only objective that I can have as president.

ACT: Are you speaking of getting a consensus document as was done at the last Review Conference?

Duarte: There have been six [Review] Conferences. Three of them had final documents, but three of them did not. Some parties are saying, "Well, if we don't achieve a final document this time, it will not be something that did not happen before. It may not be such a disaster."

I do not look so much at the form as the result. The results should be recorded. There should be a trace of what the results are, even if we do not have agreement. We may have a hybrid document, something more succinct than the previous final documents. We may even have some decisions or recommendations. It's pretty much up in the air what the results and the format of those results could be. I have been asking parties what they think the format should be. I will continue to ask that question and hope that whatever answers I get will guide me.

ACT: It sounds like you are getting answers all over the place about whether there will be a final document.

Duarte: It's still early, but I am putting that question to the parties. I am receiving answers and will continue to receive answers until the end of the conference.

ACT: Whom have you consulted?

Duarte: I started at the end of August. I have visited the capitals of the five nuclear countries.1 I have also gone to Geneva, Vienna, and New York. I held many bilateral consultations with many of the parties. I will continue to do that next year. I will travel again, not only to the five, but also to the capitals of other players in the Nonaligned Movement2 and other parts of the world. By the time of the conference, I hope to have consulted with the majority of the parties individually or in groups. It's very hard to consult individually with some 180 parties.3

ACT: Are you making progress toward having an agenda prior to the start of the conference?

Duarte: So far, I do not know. What I am telling parties is that it would be very, very difficult to start the conference without an agenda. The responses that I am getting are usually agreeing with that view. I hope that the parties realize the agenda is only a tool, a commencement, an instrument. You are not going to solve substantive differences in the agenda. I hope the parties help me between now and the start of the conference in putting together an agenda.

ACT: Are there some countries suggesting that an agenda is not that important to have before the conference begins?

Duarte: No. Everyone realizes the importance of the agenda. That is why it gets a little tinted with the substance.

ACT: What are the consequences if the conference begins without an agenda?

Duarte: The mood will be bad. The sentiment that things are not starting on the right note will be present. It will also be more difficult for me to organize a program of work without an agenda. The procedural steps that should be as smooth as possible at the start will probably be difficult to take. So, I hope that, by the time we meet, we have an agenda.

ACT: Is there some deadline for the agenda? Presumably you would have to circulate a draft agenda before other governments sign off on it.

Duarte: A draft agenda exists already. It was presented at the third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom).4 The provisional agenda is the 2000 [Review Conference] agenda brought up to date. This is the document that exists. The only problem [at the latest PrepCom] was with point 16, which is basically how to review the treaty. Some parties wanted to take into account what happened in 1995; others wanted both 1995 and 2000; and others wanted events between 2000 and now. This could not be agreed upon at the last day of the PrepCom. So, this is the material that we have to work on.

ACT: As you know, the NPT is comprised of three main elements: preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries, providing countries the "right" to peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and a commitment by all countries to work toward disarmament. Are all of these elements equal in importance? Should one be given more weight than others? And how interdependent are they?

Duarte: They are very much interdependent. The treaty was conceived in a way in which these elements were meant to be interdependent. Many of the parties start from the view that they are interdependent. Some parties place more emphasis on some of these elements rather than on others and therein lies part of the disagreements that we have. To have a successful conference, the result will have to be balanced between these elements. It is obvious that they are different in nature. The way in which you implement those obligations, the pace at which you fulfill obligations in the three elements is different. We have to be careful to understand these differences in what we wish the parties to do. But I do not think that we can be selective or give exclusive weight to one of the elements to the detriment of the others.

ACT: Some commentators and states-parties are arguing that the NPT and the nuclear nonproliferation regime are under greater duress today than in many years past. What would you judge is the most significant challenge or threat facing the NPT today, and do you agree that this is a time of greater duress than in times past?

Duarte: I have been involved with these matters for a large part of my professional life. I attended a number of Review Conferences even before Brazil became a member [to the treaty].5 I was at the 18-nation Disarmament Committee when the treaty was presented.6 So, I have seen this treaty off and on in my professional life several times. There have been other moments of duress and difficulty for the treaty.

Perhaps the emergence of the possibility of nuclear terrorism has added an element of more strain to the situation. It is not something that the treaty is specifically addressed to, but it has bearing on the things that the treaty is supposed to control. In that sense, there is more drama involved in the present situation.

You have instances of noncompliance or at least accusations of noncompliance.7 You have one party [North Korea] that withdrew from the treaty, which is something that never happened before. You have a sentiment that the nuclear-weapon powers have been less than forthcoming in the fulfillment of their own commitments.8 I am not saying that this did not happen, but that there is this sentiment on the part of several parties. Then again, on the part of the main powers, there is the sentiment that their efforts have not been correctly understood. So, all of these things add to the difficulties and emotions involved in the treaty. It's very hard to weigh this situation against similar situations in the past. It's complicated enough this time.

ACT: You mentioned accusations of noncompliance. Is it likely that the Review Conference might debate new or innovative enforcement measures or mechanisms to encourage treaty compliance or deter or punish treaty withdrawals?

Duarte: I am sure there will be suggestions or proposals to that effect. You asked me before what are the main difficulties. Perhaps the main difficulty that we will face is how to balance a perceived need for greater controls or more effective instruments of safeguards and controls with treaty provisions that ensure the right to peaceful applications of nuclear technology. How to promote the use of nuclear technology and at the same time how to constrain that use-it's a difficult conundrum that we must address and somehow solve.

ACT: If the Review Conference does not solve that problem, what is the timeline within which it must be solved? Is there a date by which things spiral too far out of control?

Duarte: I trust that most of the parties to the NPT are responsible and serious in their commitments and in the way they develop their programs. But if we do not have action on certain parts of the treaty, then we probably will not have action on other parts. Eventually, the situation may be one in which the treaty ceases to be seen as effective in all its aspects by different groups of parties. So, there is this danger of the unraveling of the whole system. But I do not think anyone could put a time frame on that.

ACT: Do you think the treaty is still effective today?

Duarte: I think it is. You have over 36 years of the treaty's existence. Three countries have not acceded.9 So, instead of the original five [nuclear-weapon states] that the treaty recognizes, you have three additional de facto [nuclear-weapon states], but no more than three. You also have one country that has withdrawn and another that is suspected of breaches, and then you have some 180 countries that have fulfilled and abided by their obligations. Statistically, at least, the treaty has been fairly successful and deserves more credit.

ACT: How would you respond to those who argue that there has been a spate or plague of noncompliance recently, involving not only North Korea and Iran but also Libya and Iraq?

Duarte: Well, both the Libyan and the Iraqi situations have been resolved by different means rather than by the treaty, so I do not think those situations have to be seen in the light of the treaty.

ACT: Brazil is a member of the New Agenda Coalition,10 which contends there has not been meaningful action by the nuclear-weapon states toward fulfilling their disarmament obligations under Article VI. How can the nuclear-weapon states live up to these commitments, and how important is it that they are perceived as doing so?

Duarte: It is very important that they are perceived to be living up to their commitments. I think it's a question of confidence, a question of transparency and of improving the climate of mistrust that exists [between the nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear-weapon states]. If the measures the nuclear-weapon parties took for nuclear disarmament were perhaps better understood by the remainder of the countries and were accompanied by very clear gestures of a continued commitment to arrive at that end-a reaffirmation which could be done at the Review Conference-it would help a lot to allay some of the mistrust that exists. It is something that each of the nuclear-weapon states-parties must do on its own. I do not have any reason to doubt the seriousness of any of the parties, nuclear or non-nuclear. If they are seriously committed to some steps, they should continue to be committed and fulfill their obligations, but they must do it in a way that will convince the rest of the parties that they are really complying. It is a difficult thing to do.

ACT: How can the nuclear-weapon states do that in a convincing way to the other states-parties?

Duarte: By being as transparent as possible. Transparency is difficult because it involves many responsibilities that a state has regarding its own security, but a little more transparency would go a long way to increase confidence.

ACT: Are you talking in terms of reports or perhaps maybe opening up their stockpiles to inspections?

Duarte: That would be difficult to ask of them. We have to understand that it's not easy to ask that because it involves security. Lately, they have shown and tried to report more. In the past two years or so, they started reporting and telling the steps they have taken. They should continue to do so and present as many details of not only what they did, but what they intend to do in the future regarding disarmament. It would be very helpful if they did that.

ACT: Should there be a regular reporting requirement as part of the review process?

Duarte: That would be useful. It's not easy to agree on the elements of that reporting, but it would be useful.

ACT: Several countries spoke out strongly at the last PrepCom that any exploration of new nuclear weapons by the nuclear-weapon states violates the spirit of the NPT and is at odds with the 13 steps on disarmament.11 The treaty contains no prohibition against the research or development of new nuclear weapons by the nuclear-weapon states, and in fact they built thousands of additional nuclear weapons following the NPT's conclusion in 1968. Why should the nuclear-weapon states refrain now from any research or development into new nuclear weapons when most of their arsenals are steadily decreasing?

Duarte: Research is one thing, but production is another. The fact that there is research adds to a climate of less-than-complete confidence among the parties. It would be useful if the nuclear-weapon states refrained from doing anything that would be perceived as continued reliance on nuclear weapons. Then again, [research] is not prohibited by the treaty, so we cannot say they are violating the treaty. One can argue that it may be against the spirit of the treaty, but it's very hard to pinpoint a specific violation.

ACT: At the last PrepCom, the United States contended that the 13 steps were essentially past commitments that were no longer relevant. Yet, most NPT states-parties appear to believe otherwise. Can these two positions be reconciled?

Duarte: I hope they can. What the United States said exactly was that it no longer supported some of the 13 steps. We know from their actions, for instance, that they no longer support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). I do not know what else they no longer support. Words are very important in this business. You can not support something and still not be in violation of something.

The CTBT continues to exist as such. It has not entered into force, but parties to the treaty continue to do their best to see to it that [the CTBT] will enter into force as soon as possible. Regardless of the fact that the United States-there are others, of course-does not seem willing to ratify it at this time, this should not be seen with too much despondency. It took a long time for the CTBT to exist. We should continue working on [bringing it into force]. It's not something that we should look at as if no chance exists for further progress. We must keep the treaty alive, waiting for the exact moment.

ACT: It is one thing to not signal support for ratification of the CTBT, but it's another for a possible resumption of nuclear testing, which is something that has been talked about. What impact would a nuclear test have on the nonproliferation regime?

Duarte: If any of the nuclear-weapon countries, which have all been observing a voluntary testing moratorium, resumes testing, it would be a very hard blow to the whole system of nonproliferation, as much as if any non-nuclear-weapon country would be shown to be developing nuclear weapons. Although the nuclear-weapon countries are not bound by any obligation not to test, the blow would be the same.

ACT: One of the other 13 steps was negotiation of a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).12 There was discussion this past summer about resuming such negotiations after a long delay in the Conference on Disarmament. How big of a boost might the convening of those negotiations give the Review Conference?

Duarte: It would give a boost. At the UN First Committee today, a resolution was put forward asking for the establishment of a negotiating mandate for such a treaty with certain characteristics, including verification and irreversibility. But one important nuclear-weapon power [the United States] voted against it. There were 174 votes in favor and two abstentions (see page XX).

ACT: What is the sense among the other NPT states-parties about an FMCT without a verification regime because that is clearly what the United States is espousing?

Duarte: During the 1970s and 1980s, verification was very much a tool that was said to be indispensable to any arms control or disarmament treaty. But suddenly, it seems that it is no longer feasible. The discussion of [verification] has been put on a tactical vein.

I do not know anything about fissile material. I am not a physicist. I do not know whether [a treaty without a verification regime] is feasible. But if you have a treaty of importance on arms control and disarmament that contains no verification provisions, many would perhaps see it as a very weak instrument. Some contend that it would be useful to have even if you do not have verification provisions. The Biological Weapons Convention, for instance, has no verification provisions.13 It has existed for decades without verification provisions.

ACT: How might the NPT state-parties better involve India, Israel, and Pakistan in adhering to global nuclear nonproliferation standards established by the NPT and other agreements?

Duarte: There is deep division in the NPT membership on that. There are those who would wish to have some sort of association of those countries to the NPT that would recognize them somehow as having nuclear [weapons]. You cannot bring them into the treaty unless you amend it. To amend the treaty would raise many other difficulties. I do not think any of the parties is prepared to open the treaty to amendment for the purpose of bringing in those three countries because then you open it to other amendments and the treaty could then be in very grave danger. I do not know of any proposal by governments aimed at bringing those countries into the treaty. If there would be any such proposal at the Review Conference, then the conference will have to examine it. Some countries say that the three should adhere to the treaty as non-nuclear-weapon countries. They, of course, reject that. So, we are at an impasse on that question.

ACT: Does their continued existence outside the treaty have a negative pull on the treaty, or is that something that is more accepted by the states-parties today?

Duarte: Facts are facts. But the fact that nuclear-weapon countries exist-be they parties or nonparties to the treaty-is in itself a matter of concern for the rest of the world.

ACT: Terrorism and the exposure of the A. Q. Khan network14 reveal the great dangers posed to the nonproliferation treaty by nonstate actors. Is the NPT structured sufficiently to guard against this threat? Does the treaty need to be amended or altered in some way to better address the problem of nonstate actors?

Duarte: The treaty addresses states. It does not address any other entities. You do not have to amend the treaty because of the threat that nuclear weapons might get into the wrong hands. There are some structures for that. There is the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for the purveyance of materials.15 There are some arrangements of a smaller membership to prevent the easier circulation of materials. There are also several things that are in the making because it's a new situation. The international community takes some time to put together its instruments in the face of such a grave possibility. But the treaty is not the main instrument to deal with that question. By improving the system of safeguards, you can reduce the possibility that fissile material may find its way outside the control of the individual states-parties to the treaty. But there must be complementary mechanisms to deal with that. The treaty cannot be seen as the main instrument in the fight against nuclear terrorism. It is certainly something that helps. Other instruments that are multilateral, nondiscriminatory, and agreeable to the whole international community must be found rather than ad hoc solutions.

ACT: Speaking to the issue of export controls, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has spoken of the need to formalize the export control regime because now there are only political or voluntary commitments by a small group of states. Is there some way that the NPT might put in place a more formalized structure of export controls?

Duarte: You have the NSG for that, and it is a formal structure. You could formalize it further. But again, I do not think that the NPT should be the main instrument to deal with [export controls].

ACT: You mentioned earlier that the toughest challenge you will face is the question of reconciling peaceful uses of nuclear technology with ensuring that nuclear materials are not diverted for weapons purposes. There are a growing number of proposals that are meant to limit national possession of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, and ElBaradei has convened an experts group on the subject. Is there any emerging consensus around a specific proposal for restricting these types of nuclear technologies or capabilities?

Duarte: I am not familiar enough with the experts group dealings to know whether there is an emerging consensus.

ACT: But more broadly, as you look forward to the Review Conference, is this issue dependent on what happens in the experts group or is there any discussion beyond that?

Duarte: I simply do not know. There is a concern from several countries that this issue is urgent and should be examined and that effective solutions and measures be taken. The outcome of the current discussion must be nondiscriminatory, and it must be agreeable to all international membership. The difficulty again is how to conciliate that. How do you restrict because you feel a clear threat and at the same time how do you uphold what many see as their legitimate right to a certain technology to improve their condition in terms of development?

ACT: Would requiring that certain technologies be under multilateral control be perhaps one nondiscriminatory approach to dealing with this problem?

Duarte: The question there is whether that control will really be nondiscriminatory. It [depends on] the modalities in which you exercise that control. It is interesting that only when developing countries start to master certain technologies that such technologies suddenly seem to be very dangerous and very necessary to be curbed. There are certainly many other countries in the world that possess this technology, and it did not seem to be such a danger.

ACT: It is widely expected that discussions about the Middle East will dominate a significant amount of time at the Review Conference. How do you expect the states-parties to address this issue, and what might be some possible substantive measures that can be agreed to regarding this topic, such as the possibility for a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone?

Duarte: It has always been an important part of Review Conference deliberations. The next one will be no exception. It has always been a tough question, and it will not be different this time. The nuclear-weapon-free-zone issue will not be solved at the Review Conference. If all the parties involved have an attitude of avoiding too much confrontation and hostility in the deliberations, we may have a chance to preserve what has been achieved and hopefully to progress a little bit. But it is a difficult question, and we have to understand the difficulties that lie in the past. I am not overanxious about achieving final results at the Review Conference because whatever happens is a consequence of other things that the conference cannot control or change.

ACT: Is it possible for the Review Conference to even adequately deal with the Middle East since Israel is obviously not part of those deliberations? How do you account for that?

Duarte: Israel can always come in and become a party to the NPT. It is not barred from coming in. It would be very useful if Israel came in.

ACT: What is North Korea's NPT status, and how might states-parties address this unique situation at the Review Conference?

Duarte: Well, they have addressed [North Korea's] status at previous PrepComs by using a procedural device meant to give a chance to the consultations that are taking place outside of the NPT.16 It was agreed that the best course would be to let the six parties17 continue to talk without taking a stance on the substance of the matter in the NPT. There have been a couple of things that have happened recently that have stalled the six-party talks. The hope is that they will resume soon. If the six parties continue to hold their consultations, it's possible that the Review Conference will once again resort to the same procedural device in order to give the six-party talks a better chance of succeeding. But we do not know what will happen between now and May, so it's only a hypothesis. Parties will have to think about what they want to do.

ACT: A book titled The Nuclear Tipping Point was recently published. The thesis is that, if an additional country were to get nuclear weapons, other countries might rush to get them. Do you think North Korea poses that threat? If it were to declare itself a nuclear-weapon state or show or demonstrate that it has such weapons, would that compel others to move out of the treaty?

Duarte: It certainly is one possibility that might happen. It is very hard to reason with hypotheses; what would others do if such-and-such a thing would happen? The whole effort has been to prevent that situation from arising. The countries in that region that would feel affected by North Korea becoming a real nuclear-weapon power have so far shown admirable restraint and responsibility. All we can say is that the rest of the international community expects that non-nuclear countries will not resort to becoming nuclear because of security considerations, prestige, or whatever, but also that other countries will react in a constructive way to prevent that from happening. But you can only have this with a sentiment of enhanced regional security and responsible country behavior. In the NPT, at least, the immense majority of countries have behaved responsibly, so we have every reason to believe that they will continue to do so.

ACT: Brazil is currently engaged in a public dispute with the IAEA about how much access it should provide IAEA inspectors to its nuclear facilities. Why is Brazil refusing to provide the requested access?

Duarte: First of all, Brazil is not engaged in a dispute. Brazil is negotiating with the IAEA on the application of safeguards18 to a facility that was declared several years ago when Brazil started to build it. It has always been an open and transparent question. The fact that newspapers make dramas about it does not make it dramatic in itself. We have every reason to believe that we will achieve a satisfactory solution. It's not a dispute. It's not a refusal, despite the terms that have been used several times by newspapers. I do not know which interests have fueled those press reports, but the negotiations are continuing in a normal way. If you have a new facility to which safeguards have to be applied, because Brazil abides by the treaties it has signed, you have to discuss with the IAEA the modalities of the safeguards. I am convinced that we will arrive at a solution that will satisfy both parties.

ACT: So, the suggestion that Brazil is trying to prevent inspectors from seeing certain aspects of the facility is not an accurate description?

Duarte: Again, I am not a physicist. The technicians in Brazil say that the technology of the centrifuge is a novel and proprietary technology. It is something they have developed, and they do not want it to be copied. The only thing that I see in the situation objectively is the need to preserve an industrial secret without refusing to have the facility inspected in a way that will completely satisfy the IAEA and the international community as to the objectives of the enrichment. It's a certain grade for Brazil's reactors and not for any other purpose. So, it's a question of protecting the industrial technology and at the same time giving satisfaction as to the complete, peaceful use of the facility.

ACT: There have been suggestions by some American analysts that it's not simply proprietary technology, but technology that may have been used by the Khan network. Is there any basis to those accusations?

Duarte: I do not know. I am not a physicist. I do not know anything about the technology. I only know that it turns and that by turning it transforms something into something else. The important thing is to know for sure that this something else is used for the proper objectives.

ACT: How might this issue complicate your efforts as president of the Review Conference?

Duarte: I do not think the issue complicates it. It's one instance in which you have that basic question: What are the limits of the right to develop and use this technology, and what are the limits of intrusion to ascertain that the right is being used in a way that is compatible with the treaty? It's a difficult thing to solve.

Again, it's interesting that only when a developing country comes up with a technology there is drama. When you have thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons and countries that say they rely on such weapons for their defense, it does not seem so dramatic. But when a developing country tries to make a system that will, in some way, improve its position in the market for fuel, then it becomes a danger for humanity.

ACT: Is there anything that we did not touch on that you would like to add about your forthcoming presidency?

Duarte: Not specifically. As president, I hope that all the parties to the treaty come to the conference with a spirit of compromise to deal with the real questions that are troubling the parties, especially the questions that have to do with improving the mechanisms to prevent proliferation and making progress toward nuclear disarmament, which are two of the basic objectives of the treaty. If the result of the conference is balanced between those two considerations, I think we could claim success.

ACT: Would it be a failure if a balanced product was not reached?

Duarte: I do not know if it would be a failure. It would be a pity and a missed opportunity.

Interviewed by Miles A. Pomper and Wade Boese

U.S. Punishes 14 for Iran Arms Trade

Wade Boese

The United States has sanctioned 14 entities from seven different countries for allegedly providing Iran with exports that could be used to develop unconventional weapons and the means to deliver them. The move came amid ongoing worldwide uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear intentions and ballistic missile advances.

On Sept. 29, the Department of State announced penalties on seven Chinese companies; two individuals from India; and one company each from Belarus, North Korea, Russia, Spain, and Ukraine for running afoul of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. That law authorizes the president to penalize any foreign entity that transfers items to Iran that could aid its pursuit of dangerous weapons. A State Department official told Arms Control Today Oct. 12 that the offending transactions occurred more than a year ago.

However, the official said some of the entities, namely those sanctioned multiple times by Washington, might still have an ongoing relationship with Iran. The North Korean and Belarusian companies and four of the Chinese companies had already been hit with sanctions under the same law in April.

All the recently sanctioned entities will be barred from U.S. government contracts and aid, as well as all U.S. arms and dual-use exports, for two years.

Although U.S. proliferation sanctions are largely symbolic because the entities rarely do business with the U.S. government, Bush administration officials argue sanctions are valuable because they help stigmatize companies and individuals, applying indirect pressure to foreign governments to rein them in.

The Bush administration has leveled sanctions for proliferation transactions 98 times over four years, exceeding 70 imposed by the Clinton administration in its eight years. More than half of the sanctions imposed by the Bush administration explicity concerned transactions with Iran.

Nonetheless, foreign governments and companies continue to pursue ties, including in the nuclear sector, with Tehran, which also appears to be forging ahead with its ballistic missile program.

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Oct. 5 that Iran now had a missile capable of traveling 2,000 kilometers, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). U.S. intelligence previously estimated the range of Iran’s most advanced, flight-proven missile, the Shahab-3, at roughly 1,300 kilometers.

Rafsanjani’s claim, repeated by other Iranian officials, followed August and September missile tests, about which Tehran admits providing deliberately vague information, including whether the August test was on the ground or in flight. (See ACT, September 2004.) The only information available about the September test are Iranian media reports that quote Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani as saying the test involved a “strategic missile.” Iran announced Oct. 20 that it had conducted another Shahab-3 test.

Purported photos of the August test showed a missile shaped differently than that in previous pictures of Iran’s Shahab-3. Rather than having a conical tip, the missile’s re-entry vehicle was shaped more like a baby-bottle’s top. This new configuration has spurred speculation by Uzi Rubin, a former top Israeli missile defense official, that Iran has received foreign help, possibly from Russia, in upgrading the Shahab-3 to have greater range and accuracy.

U.S. officials refused to discuss Iran’s latest missile tests or apparent new re-entry vehicle design, except to reiterate Washington’s long-standing concerns about Iran’s missile programs.

During a two-day visit to Russia, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker warned Oct. 6, “It is obvious to us that Iran’s intention is to deploy nuclear weapons on these missiles.” He added, “Fortunately for us, the United States is more than 2,000 kilometers from Iran, but obviously Iran intends to deploy longer-range missiles over time.”

Iranian officials, who assert Iran’s missiles are only for defensive purposes, have repeatedly denied working on a more powerful Shahab-4 ballistic missile. Instead, they claim Iran is pursuing space launch capabilities and in 2005 will attempt to lift a small satellite into space for the first time.

U.S., Russia Debate Tactical Nuclear Arms

Wade Boese

Washington and Moscow sparred over each other’s tactical nuclear weapons following an Oct. 5-6 visit to Russia by a senior Department of State official, who also rebuked Russia for not withdrawing its armed forces from two of its neighbors.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker indicated that the United States had questions about Russia’s fulfillment of October 1991 pledges regarding its tactical nuclear weapons, which are warheads designed for use on the battlefield rather than the more powerful kinds deployed on long-range missiles and bombers.

Specifically, then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev promised Moscow would dismantle its nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, mines, and artillery munitions. Gorbachev also pledged to store in central locations nuclear warheads removed from air defense missiles, surface ships, multipurpose submarines, and land-based naval aircraft. The Soviet president volunteered these steps in response to similar unilateral moves announced by President George H. W. Bush days earlier. Together, the commitments are known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs). (See ACT, October 1991.)

The Russian Defense and Foreign Ministries offered their assessments Oct. 7 on how well Gorbachev’s goals had been achieved. The Defense Ministry claimed that “[t]he Russian side has fulfilled these obligations by dismantling nuclear warheads from ground-based tactical missiles and removing tactical nuclear weapons from surface ships and submarines.” For its part, the Foreign Ministry stated, “Russia has practically carried out in full all of the [tactical nuclear-weapon] reduction initiatives that had been put forward.” It added, “All those weapons, unlike the situation with the United States, are located solely within our national territory.”

The 26-member NATO alliance stations nearly 500 U.S. nuclear gravity bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. NATO asserts its nuclear weapons holdings, which peaked at more than 7,000 warheads, are “an essential political and military link” for alliance members.

The State Department released a statement Oct. 20 to Arms Control Today regarding the two Russian ministries’ declarations. “We believe that Russia, for the most part, has been implementing its PNI pledges, but the U.S. will continue to keep this issue under review.”

Little reliable public information exists about Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons. At a minimum, the Kremlin is estimated to have at least 3,000 such weapons deployed.

The United States and Russia agreed in March 1997 to explore transparency measures for tactical nuclear weapons, but formal talks never got underway.

Although Washington has some uncertainty about Moscow living up to its tactical nuclear weapons pledges, no such doubts exist about the Kremlin’s failure to get its military out of Georgia and Moldova. Rademaker fumed that Russia’s lingering presence is a “source of considerable frustration.”

Moscow agreed in November 1999 to pull all of its troops from Moldova by the end of 2002 and to negotiate a Russian forces withdrawal schedule with Georgia in 2000. Neither has taken place, and Rademaker warned that, until they do, NATO members would not match Russia’s moves toward ratifying the 1999 adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which limits the amount of heavy weaponry permitted on a country’s territory.

Moscow wants this treaty, which is an updated version of an accord concluded almost a decade earlier, to enter into force because NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have no current arms limits because they are not bound by and cannot join the original treaty. The older treaty will remain in effect until all of its 30 states-parties ratify the 1999 overhaul. Only Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine have completed this action; Russia has done everything but taken the last step of depositing its instrument of ratification. (See ACT, September 2004.)

The Kremlin charges that the United States and NATO are improperly tying the adapted CFE Treaty to Russia’s Georgia and Moldova commitments, but Rademaker argued that Russia agreed to both “simultaneously” and they are inextricably linked. “I must say it’s inexplicable to me why we don’t see more progress,” he said.

Avoiding the Tipping Point

The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices. Edited by Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einhorn, and Mitchell B. Reiss, Brookings Institution Press, July 2004, 285 pp.

Thomas Graham Jr.

In 1958, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made clear the reason the United Kingdom acquired nuclear weapons. Referring to the British nuclear-weapon program, Macmillan said in a television interview that “the independent contribution [i.e., British nuclear weapons]...puts us where we ought to be, in the position of a great power.”

Likewise, in a November 1961 speech, French President Charles de Gaulle said that “a great state” that does not have nuclear weapons when others do “does not command its own destiny.” After the May 1998 Indian nuclear test, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced with pride, “We have a big bomb now, India is a nuclear-weapon state.” Although it is a historical accident, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are the five nuclear-weapon states sanctioned by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The belief held by many of the 182 NPT non-nuclear-weapon states that some nuclear-weapon states cling to nuclear weapons as their political claim to great-power status is not without foundation.

Indeed, in the early 1960s, there were predictions that there could be as many as 25-30 nuclear-weapon states within a couple of decades. President John F. Kennedy feared that nuclear weapons would sweep all over the world. If this had happened, there would be a large number of nuclear-weapon states in the world today: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said in September that “40 countries or more now have the know-how to produce nuclear weapons.” If they had all chosen to exploit this capability, it would be impossible to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorist organizations and rogue states.

Yet, there has been very little actual nuclear weapons proliferation since the entry into force of the NPT in 1970, far from what Kennedy feared. Beyond the five NPT nuclear-weapon states, Israel and India were already far along in their programs in 1970. The only additional states truly to acquire and maintain nuclear weapons since that time are Pakistan and probably North Korea.

Reversing years of nuclear abstention would be long and difficult. Nevertheless, if a perception that the NPT regime has collapsed beyond repair takes hold, other countries could decide that they must join the nuclear bandwagon.

Many books have been written on the nuclear policies of the states that never subscribed to the NPT—India, Pakistan, and Israel—as well as those countries that have threatened the NPT from within—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Yet, there has not been the same attention to the nuclear policies of states that have been stalwart in their observance of the provisions and principles of the NPT and who are central to the continued viability of the regime. This makes The Nuclear Tipping Point a most timely and valuable publication. This important volume edited by Kurt Campbell, Robert Einhorn, and Mitchell Reiss—all highly prominent and respected nonproliferation experts who also contribute to the book—examines in detail the cases of Egypt, Syria, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

These countries together have provided a cornerstone of the NPT regime: an assurance to the pact’s many non-nuclear-weapon states that their regional neighbors will not acquire nuclear weapons. When the NPT was negotiated in the late 1960s, some of the negotiating parties were worried that this implicit pledge would not hold and so supported limiting the NPT initially to 25 years rather than granting it permanent status. By 1995 the NPT’s success had been demonstrated to the point that states-parties agreed to extend the treaty indefinitely.

A crucial underpinning for these actions has been provided by the United States: the nuclear “umbrella” it used to shelter its allies in Europe (most importantly, Germany) and Asia (Japan and South Korea). During the Cold War, U.S. allies could enjoy the protection of nuclear deterrence without building nuclear arsenals and without creating a nuclear weapons infrastructure that would be politically difficult to dismantle. Giving up nuclear weapons, or any other means of strength and security, is not a natural action for states, but it is far easier to forswear them than to eliminate them once an arsenal is in place.

Even more important has been the international norm against nuclear-weapon proliferation established by the NPT. In 1960, after the first French nuclear-weapon test, there were banner newspaper headlines, “Vive La France.” Yet, by the time of the first Indian nuclear explosion in 1974, the test was done surreptitiously, India received worldwide condemnation and New Delhi hastened to explain that this had been a “peaceful” test. What had intervened was the NPT. It converted the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a state from an act of national pride in 1960 to an act contrary to international law in 1974.

The NPT is based on a central bargain: the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals. To use the words of a former Indian foreign minster, the NPT was not designed to establish “nuclear apartheid,” permanently authorizing great-power status and nuclear weapons to a small group of states and assigning the rest of the world to permanent second-class status. Maintaining both ends of this central bargain is vitally important to the long-term viability of the NPT.

In the view of many of the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states, however, the NPT nuclear-weapon states have not lived up to their disarmament commitments. Most importantly, the nuclear “have-nots” point to the failure by the nuclear “haves,” principally the United States, to put a permanent ban on nuclear-weapon testing in place—the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was finally opened for signature in 1996, but it is unlikely to come into force in the foreseeable future—and the political value of nuclear weapons remains as high as it was during the Cold War. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review of 2001 explicitly contemplated the use of nuclear weapons not only against Russia and China, but also against Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Libya—at the time, all NPT non-nuclear-weapon states. If the possession of a nuclear arsenal retains its high political value to NPT nuclear-weapon states, particularly the United States, the ability to persuade states not to acquire these weapons may diminish.

Add to that the withdrawal of North Korea from the NPT in 2003 and its likely acquisition of at least several nuclear weapons; the increasingly suspect Iranian nuclear program; and the disclosure of an illegal secret network of nuclear technology supply headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father” of the Pakistani program; and many are saying that the NPT is broken and must be fixed or, worse, is irrelevant. Heightening these concerns about the NPT is the threat of international terrorism and the possibility that terrorists may somehow come into possession of a nuclear weapon and actually use it against a large city somewhere. The NPT regime appears fragile, and many fear for its long-term viability.

The news from the states whose nuclear policies are analyzed in The Nuclear Tipping Point is essentially good as long as the NPT regime remains reasonably healthy. The book’s editors conclude that the NPT regime remains much stronger than some believe it is and that reversing years of nuclear abstention would be long and difficult. Germany, for example, is deeply committed to remaining a non-nuclear-weapon state, according to Jenifer Mackby and Walter Slocombe.

Nevertheless, if a perception that the NPT regime has collapsed beyond repair takes hold, other countries, such as Japan, could decide that they must join the nuclear bandwagon.

As Kurt Campbell and Tsuyoshi Sunohara point out in their essay, many experts already consider Japan a “virtual” nuclear-weapon state because of its technological capability and the large amount of plutonium it possesses. Some of Tokyo’s senior diplomats complain that they have been treated like a second-class nation in the international arena because Japan does not have nuclear weapons. Further, Japanese officials have grown increasingly concerned by what they view as a deterioration in the NPT regime, including the recent U.S. moves and, most disturbingly, the way North Korea has been able to pursue nuclear weapons from within the NPT and the nuclear threat Pyongyang poses.

In some ways, the most timely and foreboding essay is written about South Korea by Jonathan Pollack and Mitchell Reiss, now the Department of State’s policy planning director. A few weeks ago, news reports claimed that South Korea had conducted uranium-enrichment experiments as recently as a year ago, thereby indicating that its nuclear infrastructure is alive and well. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Polack and Reiss point out that China is increasingly the principal economic and political partner for South Korea and under no conceivable circumstance would South Korea ever countenance force by the United States against North Korea to eliminate its nuclear-weapon program. They posit the question in conclusion whether, after the ultimate disappearance of the regime in the North and an eventual successful reunification of the Korean peninsula, Korea would wish to remain a non-nuclear-weapon state or rather might the Korean people decide to retain the nuclear weapons they inherit from the North and emboldened by the end of a century of humiliation and division conclude that nuclear weapons are essential to security in a still dangerous world.

To prevent slippage in the nonproliferation regime, the editors offer a number of policy recommendations: stop Iran and North Korea (if this remains possible) from becoming nuclear-weapon states; alleviate security concerns by strengthening alliances; raise barriers to nuclear acquisition by discouraging independent fuel-cycle capabilities and securing fissile material in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere; strengthen verification and intelligence, in part by wider adherence to the IAEA Additional Protocol for verification; and follow a long-term strategy to devalue the role of nuclear weapons in the international system. As it is with many things, the NPT regime is affected by politics as much as security. The possession of a nuclear arsenal still significantly affects the status of a state. For the NPT regime to succeed long-term, this high political value of nuclear weapons must recede into the past. For this to happen, the United States must lead by example. No example would be stronger than U.S. ratification of the CTBT.

Strong U.S. leadership, the editors say, is needed to harness partners and institutions and to keep countries away from the nuclear tipping point where proliferation becomes inevitable and uncontrollable. They assert we are not near the tipping point now, nor are we necessarily destined to reach it, but they note that, once the tipping process becomes identifiable in the NPT regime, it may be very difficult to stop.

Thomas Graham Jr. is a former Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation, Disarmament. In this and other senior capacities he participated in every major arms control/nonproliferation negotiation in which the United States took part from 1970 to 1997. Ambassador Graham is the author of Disarmament Sketches (University of Washington Press, 2002), Cornerstones of Security with Damien LaVera (University of Washington Press, 2003), and Common Sense on Weapons of Mass Destruction (University of British Columbia Press, 2004).


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A Review of The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices edited by Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einhorn, and Mitchell B. Reiss

Brazil Permits Greater IAEA Inspection

Claire Applegarth

Brazil Oct. 19 granted International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors limited access to crucial uranium-enrichment technology, increasing the prospects for an end to a nearly six-month-old standoff over the South American giant’s nuclear program.

The dispute broke out in April when IAEA inspectors arrived at Brazil’s uranium-enrichment facility in Resende, near Rio de Janeiro (See ACT, May 2004) and were barred from viewing many of the plant’s centrifuge components. The inspectors were restricted to the vicinity of the plant and to monitoring the arrival and departure of uranium.

Agency inspectors who arrived at the Resende plant Oct. 19 found Brazilian officials to be more open. Brazil had announced a day earlier that inspectors would be permitted to view pipes and valves of the plant’s centrifuge while other components remained hidden behind panels. Brazilian National Nuclear Energy Commission head Odair Dias Goncalves said at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro Oct. 18 that Brazil was “very optimistic that they [the IAEA] would accept” this proposal as the IAEA was no longer requesting “total and unrestricted access.” He anticipated that inspectors would return to the country in the coming weeks to give the Resende plant final approval so that it may begin enriching uranium. The IAEA declined to comment on the inspections arrangement.

Brazil, which possesses the world’s sixth-largest natural uranium reserves, has justified such limited monitoring on the grounds that opening its facility to agency inspectors could lead to industrial espionage of what it claims is novel enrichment technology. IAEA inspectors want such access to ensure that Brazil, a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), is only enriching uranium to the low levels needed for civilian nuclear reactors rather than to the higher levels that can provide the explosive material for a nuclear weapon. According to IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming, visual access to the centrifuges is necessary for the IAEA to be “absolutely sure that no nuclear technology can be diverted” from the facility. Such requests also are consistent with IAEA inspection requirements elsewhere.

Informal discussions between the IAEA and Brazil had eased tensions in weeks prior to the arrival of inspectors, prompting diplomats and officials to anticipate that a written agreement would be signed formalizing the details of the inspections. No formal agreement was signed.

Brazil’s resistance to the inspections had prompted some international concerns because of its past nuclear history. It began developing a covert nuclear weapons program in 1975 but abandoned it under a new government and constitution in the late 1980s. Still, Secretary of State Colin Powell, during a visit to Brazil Oct. 4-6, expressed confidence in the peaceful nature of Brazil’s nuclear activities. Powell remarked to Brazil’s TV Globo Oct. 5 that “the United States understands that Brazil has no interest in a nuclear weapon, no desire and no plans, no programs, no intention of moving toward a nuclear weapon.” Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, at a joint press conference with Powell Oct. 5, also maintained that “Brazil has nothing to hide in terms of its uranium-enrichment process except for the technology that Brazil has acquired, and which Brazil naturally wishes to protect.”

The controversy comes as Brazil is taking on an increasingly high international profile. Brazilian diplomat Sergio Duarte has been chosen to chair the 2005 NPT Review Conference, an event that brings together all 189 states-parties to the NPT to review the last five years of the treaty’s operation and to make recommendations for its continued implementation. Brazil also is a leading member of the New Agenda Coalition, a grouping of eight non-nuclear nations launched in 1998 with the goal of pressuring the nuclear-weapon states to fulfill their NPT disarmament obligations.

Powell’s affirmation of U.S. trust in Brazil’s peaceful nuclear intentions comes amid U.S. anxiety over Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs. Department of State spokesperson Richard Boucher made it clear in an Oct. 7 press conference that Brazil’s quarrel with the IAEA over inspector access was in no way comparable to the circumstances surrounding Iran or North Korea and that “nobody should confuse them.” Powell also said he did not think the final Brazil-IAEA arrangement “would in any way give either North Korea or Iran any additional bargaining leverage power with the IAEA.”

Nevertheless, a recent IAEA request that Iran suspend its nuclear-enrichment activities spurred Brazil to come to the defense of states’ rights to pursue peaceful nuclear enrichment at the annual IAEA General Conference in late September. Brazilian Science and Technology Minister Eduardo Campos reportedly told the conference that “no initiative in this field should undermine the inalienable right of states to pursue…nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Brazil has further been criticized for its sluggishness in signing an additional protocol to the NPT. The protocol would strengthen Brazil’s safeguards agreements with the IAEA by increasing the number of nuclear activities that must be declared to the IAEA and expanding the IAEA’s ability to detect covert nuclear operations. Amorim insisted that Brazil “accepted the package deal” when it became party to the NPT in 1998 and remains committed to the “basic elements” of the nonproliferation regime. Amorim also reminded reporters that “there is a process of negotiation here,” hinting that completing negotiations on limited access for IAEA inspectors would pave the way for Brazil’s acceptance of the Additional Protocol.

Brazilian Ambassador to the United States Roberto Abdenur commented in Washington in May that an “adequate equilibrium” must be sought between inspection requirements and concern for industrial secrecy before Brazil commits itself to the Additional Protocol. (See ACT, June 2004.)

Campaign 2004 Special Section

U.S. Lifts Remaining Economic Sanctions Against Libya

Paul Kerr

President George W. Bush lifted most remaining U.S. sanctions on Libya Sept. 20, two days before Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter told Congress that verification of Libya’s disarmament tasks is “essentially complete.”

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Sept. 20 that Bush “[t]erminated the national emergency declared in 1986 under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and revoked related Executive Orders.” This action “rescinds the remaining economic sanctions under IEEPA and ends the need for Treasury Department licenses for trade with Libya,” McClellan added.

The United States also will permit direct air flights between the two countries as well as unfreeze Libyan assets in the United States. President Ronald Reagan imposed sanctions against Libya under the IEEPA in January 1986 after its involvement in terrorist attacks in Europe the previous month.

Bush also waived prohibitions on extending certain U.S. export assistance programs to Libya as well as on the ability of U.S. taxpayers to claim credits for taxes paid to Libya.

Libya is still subject to some sanctions because it remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. These sanctions include prohibitions on arms exports and Department of Defense contracts. The United States also is required to oppose loans from international financial institutions to such countries and impose export controls on dual-use items.

The decision to lift sanctions is Washington’s latest effort to improve relations with Tripoli as the latter has continued to make progress in implementing its disarmament commitments. Tripoli pledged in December 2003 to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons programs, as well as its longer-range missiles.

Washington formally resumed diplomatic ties with Tripoli in June and has established a liaison office there. This past April, the Bush administration terminated the application of the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, as well as modified sanctions imposed under the IEEPA. (See ACT, May 2004.)

McClellan stated that “concerns over weapons of mass destruction no longer pose a barrier to the normalization of U.S.-Libyan relations.” The United States still has concerns regarding Libya’s ties to terrorism and its human rights record.

DeSutter testified that the United States, working with the United Kingdom, has completed verifying “with reasonable certainty that Libya has eliminated, or has set in place the elimination of,” its weapons programs. The verification process included interviews with relevant Libyan personnel, along with visits to possible weapons-related facilities, she explained.

Some disarmament tasks remain, DeSutter said, adding that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Libya have established a Trilateral Steering and Cooperation Committee to “facilitate Libya’s further implementation of its commitments.” The committee will also handle “any additional [disarmament] issues that arise,” she stated.

Libya has already destroyed its chemical weapons-capable munitions but must still destroy its stockpiles of chemical agents. DeSutter added that Libya also is seeking approval from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to convert its former chemical weapons facility at Rabta into a pharmaceuticals plant.

In addition, Libya has agreed to destroy its medium-range Scud B missiles. Although Washington and London had previously agreed “in principle” to allow Libya to keep modified versions of the missiles, an administration official said Sept. 23 that the plan is now off the table. Libya has five years to destroy the missiles and find an appropriate substitute to meet its legitimate defense needs. The United States has already removed Libya’s longer-range Scud C missiles. (See ACT, May 2004.)

The United States also has already removed most components of Libya’s nuclear weapons program, but the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is continuing to investigate the program’s origins. After Libya’s December 2003 decision, the agency discovered that the government had secretly been pursuing nuclear weapons. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

In an Aug. 30 report to the agency’s Board of Governors, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated that information Tripoli has given to the agency about its past nuclear activities “appear[s] to be consistent with the information available to and verified by” the IAEA.

According to ElBaradei’s report, the IAEA continues to investigate several outstanding issues regarding the program, particularly nuclear material and other assistance provided to Libya by a clandestine procurement network run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. The report states that cooperation from other countries is “essential” for determining the role of the network in supplying Libya.

Entities in countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates were part of the network. Legal investigations also are underway in countries such as South Africa and Germany. An IAEA official told Arms Control Today in June that the agency has “uncorroborated information” that North Korea supplied Libya with nuclear material.


President George W. Bush lifted most remaining U.S. sanctions on Libya Sept. 20, two days before Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter told Congress that verification of Libya’s disarmament tasks is “essentially complete.” (Continue)

IAEA Probes Seoul's Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been investigating South Korea’s nuclear-related facilities after learning that its government secretly produced small quantities of nuclear material, apparently in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement. The experiments involved uranium and plutonium, both used as explosive materials in a nuclear weapon.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the agency’s Board of Governors Sept. 13 that South Korea had conducted “laboratory-scale experiments” in 2000 to enrich uranium “using the atomic vapour laser isotope separation method.” This technology separates lighter uranium-235, the necessary uranium isotope for fissile material, from heavier uranium-238.

ElBaradei said the laser-enrichment experiments utilized a “small amount” of natural uranium metal, which had been converted from a less-processed form of uranium. South Korea produced 150 kilograms of the material in the 1980s, ElBaradei said. Seoul also informed the IAEA that in 1982 it had separated a small amount of plutonium from 2.5 kilograms of irradiated depleted uranium.

Plutonium separation and uranium enrichment can each produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. But South Korean officials say neither the plutonium nor uranium activities have produced nearly enough material sufficient for making a weapon. ElBaradei stated that, according to South Korea, the laser experiments produced only 200 milligrams of enriched uranium.

Calling it “a matter of serious concern,” ElBaradei said Seoul did not report these activities to the IAEA when they were conducted, although South Korea’s safeguards agreement required it to do so.

The revelations came as South Korea submitted an expanded declaration of its nuclear activities, as required by its newly ratified additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. Safeguards agreements require states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to allow the IAEA to monitor their declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military use. The protocol, which South Korea ratified in February, requires NPT members to declare a significantly broader range of their nuclear-related activities than required by safeguards agreements alone. The protocol also provides the IAEA with expanded authority to investigate states-parties’ nuclear facilities, be they declared or undeclared.

South Korea acceded to the NPT in 1975. Seoul had a nuclear weapons program before then but discontinued it under U.S. pressure later that decade (see page 34). That program included attempts to obtain a reprocessing facility to separate plutonium from spent fuel. South Korea has had a substantial civilian nuclear power industry for decades, but obtains its fresh nuclear fuel from other countries and does not reprocess its spent fuel.

South Korean officials insist that the newly disclosed experiments are not related to weapons research. Not only does its status as an NPT member state forbid South Korea from developing nuclear weapons, but Seoul also signed a joint declaration with North Korea in 1991 stating that both countries will refrain from possessing nuclear reprocessing and uranium-enrichment facilities.

Next Steps, Remaining Questions

According to ElBaradei, the IAEA is continuing to investigate South Korea’s nuclear activities and will issue a report in November.

One of several remaining questions about Seoul’s nuclear program is the precise concentration of U-235 that the enriched uranium contained. ElBaradei told reporters Sept. 13 that “the average [uranium] enrichment” was 10 percent U-235, but added that “there could be some higher peak” of enrichment. Chang In-soon, president of the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute, told The Washington Post Sept. 8 that none of the enriched uranium contained much more than the average level of U-235.

In a Sept. 16 interview, however, a diplomatic source in Vienna close to the IAEA confirmed a Sept. 12 Washington Post report that South Korea had enriched uranium to 77 percent, a level theoretically sufficient for a nuclear weapon. Uranium enriched to 20 percent concentration or less of U-235 is used to fuel civilian nuclear weapons plants, not build nuclear weapons.

The extent of high-level government involvement in the experiments is also unclear at this stage. South Korean officials told the IAEA that scientists acting “without the knowledge or authorization of the…government” initiated and carried out the experiments for research purposes.

However, the Vienna source told Arms Control Today that that there are serious questions as to whether this claim is accurate, pointing out that the experiments were conducted in government facilities.

Additionally, Seoul’s cooperation with the IAEA appears to be an issue. The source confirmed a Sept. 12 Washington Post report that South Korea had refused more than one IAEA attempt to inspect facilities associated with its laser-enrichment program. A South Korean embassy official interviewed Sept. 23 said that Seoul was not obligated to allow such inspections because it had not yet ratified its additional protocol.

As for the plutonium experiments, the Vienna source said the IAEA took samples at a site in South Korea in 1997 and 2003 and found evidence of separated plutonium, adding that South Korean officials disregarded the IAEA’s concerns during discussions last December.

The South Korean official said Seoul began “consultations” with the agency after the samples were taken but had trouble providing the necessary information. The government had no records of the experiment and the relevant scientists had either died or left the country, the official said.

According to a Sept. 9 Chosun Ilbo article, South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology stated that the government reported the experiments to the IAEA in 1983, but the report contained an error which caused confusion.

The United States has downplayed the IAEA’s revelations and seems content to let the agency deal with the matter for the time being. Department of State spokesperson Richard Boucher told reporters Sept. 10 that the United States does not view South Korea’s experiments as “nuclear weapons activities,” adding that it is “premature” to speculate on whether South Korea’s activities will be referred to the UN Security Council until the IAEA completes its investigation.

The IAEA Board of Governors is required to report findings of a country’s noncompliance with its safeguards agreement to the Security Council, which then has the option of taking action against the offending government. The United States has been pushing for such a referral in the case of Iran, who has conducted extensive clandestine nuclear activities, including both laser- and gas centrifuge- based uranium-enrichment programs. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton told reporters Sept. 10 that the United States will not “apply a double standard” to South Korea.

As for South Korea’s neighbor to the north, the revelations about Seoul’s nuclear activities may have already impacted the ongoing six-party talks designed to resolve the crisis caused by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In a Sept. 16 statement, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson linked the issue to its participation in the next round of talks, saying Pyongyang “can never sit at the table to negotiate its nuclear weapon program unless truth about the secret nuclear experiments in South Korea is fully probed.”

The spokesperson did not explicitly say that Pyongyang will not participate in future talks, but talks slated for September did not take place.

Déjá Vu? Seoul's Past Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

The recent revelations about South Korea’s nuclear experiments recall a little-known chapter of three-decade-old history: Seoul began a nuclear weapons program in 1974, which it formally ended under U.S. pressure in late 1976.

There are indications that South Korean President Pak Chong-hui discussed developing nuclear weapons with other cabinet members as early as 1969, ultimately deciding five years later to go forward. According to a 1978 CIA assessment, Pak wanted to develop “nuclear weapons technology” but postponed deciding whether actually to build such weapons.

Because it had already begun an extensive civilian nuclear power program, South Korea sought to use such facilities to shield its effort to develop a plutonium-based nuclear weapon. The most worrisome elements of this effort at the time were Seoul’s attempts to obtain a spent-nuclear-fuel reprocessing facility from France, a heavy-water research reactor from Canada, and a fuel-fabrication facility from Belgium. Reprocessing spent nuclear reactor fuel allows a country to separate plutonium for nuclear weapons, and doing so is particularly easy with heavy-water reactors of the type South Korea wanted to purchase.

The CIA estimated that the reprocessing facility South Korea sought could have separated enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon per year. Moreover, after acquiring these plants, the CIA said, South Korea would have been better positioned to construct its own nuclear facilities and produce even more weapons.

South Korea also had a nuclear weapons design team, but it “employed no more than a few dozen scientists,” the CIA assessed. Various intelligence reports from the mid-1970s estimated South Korea would need 3-10 years to acquire a nuclear weapons production capability.

The status of the U.S.-South Korean security alliance appears to have played a major role in Seoul’s decisions regarding its nuclear weapons program. According to the CIA, Pak questioned the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea after events such as President Richard Nixon’s decision to reduce the number of U.S. troops in South Korea. These concerns motivated Pak to begin the weapons program, the CIA said.

According to the 1978 assessment, Pak believed that the United States would eventually tolerate a nuclear-armed South Korea. He arrived at this conclusion after observing Washington’s continued bilateral assistance to Israel even after it became known that the latter had nuclear weapons.

Pak decided to end the program after determining that it was a “major irritant” in U.S.-South Korean relations. However, South Korea showed signs after 1976 that it was keeping open its nuclear weapons options. These signs included the then-authoritarian regime’s tolerance of public discussions favoring nuclear weapons, as well as research and development of high explosives, which are used in implosion-type nuclear weapons.

The CIA identified Seoul’s confidence in the “reliability of the U.S. security commitment” to the country as “the most important factor” in restraining South Korea from resuming its nuclear weapons program. One of Seoul’s aims was likely to deter the United States from withdrawing its troops from South Korea, a measure President Jimmy Carter considered.

The CIA also noted in 1978 that South Korea’s purchases of laser systems suggested that the country had a “limited” laser isotope-separation program. Such a program can produce highly enriched uranium, another explosive material for nuclear weapons.

South Korea recently revealed that it enriched very small amounts of uranium with lasers in 2000. In its 1978 report, however, the CIA said it had “no evidence” that South Korea was conducting any uranium experiments.





Can Bush or Kerry Prevent Nuclear Terrorism?

Charles D. Ferguson

If there is any issue on which leaders from all sides of the political spectrum agree, it is the importance of preventing nuclear terrorism. As the independent commission that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks recently stated, “The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will occur if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

In their rhetoric and in their actions, both President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, have demonstrated the seriousness with which they treat the issue, calling the possibility of terrorists armed with nuclear weapons the “gravest danger”[1] and “greatest threat”[2] confronting the United States. Both have taken significant steps to curb the threat: Bush has rolled out a number of new programs since the September 11 attacks, and Kerry has offered a detailed and innovative policy blueprint of what he would like to do if elected.

Yet, the differences between the candidates’ perception of the problem and their proposed solutions are profound. Further, neither candidate has given sufficient emphasis to what should be the next president’s top priority: preventing terrorists from getting their hands on highly enriched uranium (HEU), the essential building block for producing the simplest nuclear weapons.

Defining Nuclear Terrorism
Terrorists have essentially four mechanisms by which they can exploit military and civilian nuclear assets around the world to serve their destructive ends:

• The seizure and detonation of an intact nuclear weapon.
• The theft or purchase of HEU or plutonium, leading to the fabrication and detonation of a crude nuclear weapon, or an improvised nuclear device (IND).
• Attacks against and sabotage of nuclear facilities, such as nuclear power plants, to try to cause the release of large amounts of radioactivity.
• The unauthorized acquisition of radioactive materials contributing to the construction and detonation of a radiological dispersion device, popularly known as a “dirty bomb,” or a radiation emission device.[3]

The greatest risk in terms of severity of consequences combined with the likelihood of an attack is that a well-funded and well-organized terrorist organization could seize enough HEU to build and detonate the simplest nuclear bomb, a gun-type weapon. Like a gun, this device shoots a piece of HEU down a gun barrel to combine with another piece of HEU. The two pieces form a supercritical mass needed to sustain an explosive chain reaction. For example, the Hiroshima bomb. used the gun assembly method, and it required no nuclear testing because of the design’s simplicity. Most physicists and nuclear weapons analysts agree that building such a device would pose few technological challenges to reasonably technically competent terrorists. The main barrier remains acquiring a sufficient amount of HEU.

Of course, HEU is not the only material that can fuel a nuclear bomb; plutonium can also be used. Plutonium cannot power a high-yield, gun-type weapon, however, because this method does not allow efficient use of this fissile material. Plutonium would have to employ the more technically challenging implosion-assembly method, which uses conventional explosives to squeeze plutonium into a supercritical mass. If the implosion, or squeezing, of the fissile material does not occur smoothly, the bomb would probably result in a dud or an explosion with a much lower yield thanexpected from a properly designed weapon. Moreover, unlike a gun-type device, an implosion bomb requires high-speed electronics and high-explosive lenses, complex technologies that terrorists would have substantial difficulty acquiring. Because of the relative ease of use of HEU and the large stockpiles of weapons-usable HEU throughout the world, the United States should adopt an HEU-first strategy emphasizing securing; consolidating; and, as much as possible, eliminating HEU.

The Candidates’ Stance
Kerry seems to have a stronger plan than Bush for dealing with this threat. In his policy announcements, the longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been quite explicit in targeting nuclear terrorism, while Bush has talked more generally of the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, a term that can also encompass biological and chemical weapons and missiles or other means of delivery.[4] Both leaders have proposed to secure nuclear materials, but the Bush campaign’s rhetoric has emphasized the terrorists as the threat, while Kerry has pointed to the materials themselves: “Remember, no material, no bomb, no nuclear terrorism.”[5] Kerry has pledged to appoint a badly needed presidential coordinator to counter nuclear terrorism and oversee efforts to secure nuclear materials.[6] He has also promised to ramp up spending on securing former Soviet nuclear weapons and materials so that such programs would be completed within four years rather than the administration’s current pace of more than a decade.[7]

The Bush administration, however, has already taken some steps to do what Kerry proposes. The Bush campaign also doubts Kerry’s ability to carry out his ambitious plans, no matter how much money he is willing to allot to it.

Richard Falkenrath, a former top Bush administration official working for the president’s re-election campaign, derided Kerry’s plan as “hollow promises and empty rhetoric.” He elaborated that “it’s simply a preposterous claim for anyone to be able to say that the American government could compel the Russian government to transfer its nuclear materials from one facility to another—no amount of bribery or coercion or arm-twisting could ensure that.…We’re making progress where progress is possible.”[8]

On Kerry’s pledge to work immediately with Russia “to develop a strategic plan to secure all these weapons and materials,” some like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) have said that Russian resistance will be one of many major obstacles.[9] Additional impediments include bureaucratic inertia, Russian fears of U.S. intelligence collection, Russian resentment of NATO nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, and U.S. concerns that “Russia will rise again as the nuclear enemy of the West” and that helping to secure their nuclear forces today will create “a nuclear threat tomorrow.”[10]

But the administration seems to be paying attention to Kerry’s proposal. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham vowed on July 17, 2004—one month after the publication of the Kerry plan—that his department will finish securing 600 metric tons of weapons-usable material in Russia by 2008, “two years ahead of the schedule we inherited.”[11]

Laudably, the Department of Energy has also stepped up efforts with Russia to secure Soviet-origin fresh and spent nuclear fuel containing HEU residing in more than 20 research facilities in 17 countries. On May 26, 2004, Abraham launched the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, a $450 million program that aims to repatriate all fresh HEU fuel to Russia by the end of 2005. The initiative also calls for returning to Russia all the spent fuel by 2010.

Just as Kerry’s plan might be faulted as too grandiose, however, these goals will remain overly ambitious unless the U.S. government learns from the difficulties encountered in past repatriation operations. Each operation was a complex undertaking, which usually required many months, sometimes years, of planning and generated much controversy among responsible agencies in the U.S. and other governments. Moreover, technical setbacks in developing low-enriched nuclear fuel not usable in weapons, and a paucity of economic and political incentives for HEU research reactors to convert to these fuels will continue to delay achievement of these goals unless the U.S. government places a higher priority on this endeavor.[12]

In addition, Kerry would like to expand the decade-old Cooperative Threat Reduction program “where necessary for countries to meet” an international standard for “the safe custody of nuclear weapons and materials.”[13] Such an expansion should urgently target Pakistan, a nation where a volatile mix of al Qaeda and Taliban operatives co-exists with a nascent nuclear command and control system. Consistent with the requirements of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the United States should share unclassified technology to help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons and materials. The Bush administration has reportedly provided some assistance along these lines,[14] but it should also develop contingency plans, if it has not already done so, involving the use of nuclear recovery teams or specialized military forces to recover Pakistani nuclear assets soon after diversion is detected.

The administration also deserves credit for forming the Group of Eight (G-8) Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, even if this 2002 initiative is still about $3 billion short of achieving its pledge goal of $20 billion and much of the pledged money has not yet been directed toward accomplishing projects. By the same token, though, Kerry is right to point to a fairly simple step the Bush administration has failed to take that might have aided efforts to halt nuclear terrorism. Bilateral U.S. and Russian presidential summits have come and gone without Bush making a high-priority push to President Vladimir Putin to accelerate securing potentially vulnerable nuclear weapons and materials.

Moreover, in negotiating the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) with Russia, also known as the Moscow Treaty, the Bush administration left a loophole that terrorists might be able to exploit. Although fewer strategic nuclear warheads will be deployed and therefore transported under the treaty, there is no requirement to dismantle any warheads. Each side is permitted to keep as many nondeployed warheads in storage as it wants, thereby potentially increasing the risk of terrorist acquisition of portable strategic warheads kept in reserve. Although the Bush administration appears reluctant to press for verifiable and irreversible nuclear arms reductions, the Kerry strategy proposes to “work with the Russians to accelerate the timetable of planned and agreed consolidation and reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.”[15]

Putting HEU First
Despite important strides, neither candidate can be said to have given sufficient emphasis to what should be their most important priority: securing HEU. The Bush administration has moved to protect fissile materials abroad, but it has not explicitly recognized the unique dangers of HEU. It still spends considerable political capital on ginning up a plutonium disposition program in which the United States and Russia have each pledged to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. That program remains mired in disputes over liability coverage and in finding enough donor support to pay for the Russian part of the program. Moreover, over the next four years, the United States intends to place 25 tons of plutonium retrieved from disarmed Russian weapons in the recently opened Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility. This facility was originally designed to accept HEU, however, and a better allocation of resources would be to place 200 tons of weapons-usable HEU into this high-security facility.

The Kerry strategy calls for substantially accelerating the down-blending of HEU to non-weapons-usable low-enriched form. One way to assuage concerns over Kerry’s apparently ambitious nuclear security schedule could be by ensuring that the elimination of HEU receives the first crack at any resources, so that any cuts would affect less urgent plutonium disposition.

Whether Bush is re-elected or Kerry becomes president, either man will have to quicken efforts to secure nuclear weapons and materials before terrorists seize them. Shrugging off bureaucratic inertia will require mobilizing a bipartisan coalition within Congress and sustaining a multinational partnership to accomplish the most urgent nuclear security tasks confronting the United States and the world community. Both men should build on the cooperative endeavor launched by Lugar and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) 13 years ago. As Nunn is fond of saying, “We are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe.” A primary way to gain a competitive and cooperative advantage in that race is to concentrate first on denying weapons-usable HEU to terrorists.


1. The National Security Strategy of the United States, White House, September 2002.

2. Kerry campaign “Fact Sheet: New Strategies to Defeat New Threats,” August 2004.

3. Charles D. Ferguson and William C. Potter, with Amy Sands, Leonard S. Spector, and Fred L. Wehling, The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (Monterey, CA: Institute of International Studies and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2004), p. 3.

4. A search, conducted on July 16, 2004, of the Bush campaign’s Web site for “nuclear terrorism” found no instances of this exact expression. More significantly, this site does not include any policy document that is solely focused on nuclear terrorism prevention. In contrast, a similar search of the Kerry campaign’s Web site found six policy documents containing this phrase.

5. Jodi Wilgren, “Kerry Promises Speedier Efforts to Secure Nuclear Arms,” The New York Times, June 2, 2004, p. A17.

6. For an earlier recommendation for such a coordinator, see Matthew Bunn and Anthony Wier, “Keeping Nukes Out of Terrorist Hands,” The Boston Globe, September 3, 2002.

7. Although the Kerry campaign has not published an official cost estimate of its proposal, Graham Allison, a campaign adviser, director of the Belfer Center at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and author of the recently published Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, has estimated that accelerating efforts to secure nuclear materials under Kerry’s plan could cost $5-6 billion annually. In contrast, the United States presently spends about $1 billion a year on efforts to safeguard or eliminate dangerous materials and weapons abroad.

8. Wilgren, The New York Times.

9. Senator Richard G. Lugar, “Eliminating the Obstacles to Nunn-Lugar,” Arms Control Today, March 2004, p. 3.

10. Harold P. Smith Jr., “Consolidating Threat Reduction,” Arms Control Today, November 2003, pp. 19-20.

11. Spencer Abraham, “How to Stop Nuclear Terror,” The Washington Post, July 17, 2004, p. A19.

12. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Needs to Take Action to Further Reduce the Use of Weapons-Usable Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors,” GAO-04-807, July 2004.

13. Kerry Fact Sheet.

14. NBC Nightly News, NBC, February 6, 2004; Carol Giacomo, “U.S. Helps Pakistan Safeguard Nuclear Material,” Reuters, February 6, 2004.

15. Kerry Fact Sheet.

While drafting this article, Charles D. Ferguson was a scientist-in-residence at the Monterey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He is presently the science and technology fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also co-authored The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2004), which among other threats examines the catastrophic danger of nuclear terrorism resulting from terrorists obtaining highly enriched uranium.


IAEA to Host Middle East Nuclear Forum

Matthew Cook

Hoping to advance long-stalled efforts to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will host a discussion in January with Israel and its other neighbors about how such zones have functioned in other regions.

“With the participation of Arab States, Israel, and other countries in the region, the forum will be an occasion to open talks on the necessary conditions for the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East,” IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei announced Aug. 15.

Israel’s attendance at the forum was the sole concession that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon granted to ElBaradei when the IAEA head visited Israel July 6-8. The concession fell short of ElBaradei’s goal of initiating “strategic peace talks” or more substantial moves toward a nuclear-weapon-free zone.

ElBaradei unsuccessfully urged Israel to pursue peace within the context of such a zone in the Middle East, arguing that nuclear weapons impair regional security and hinder the peace process. Sharon insisted that such negotiations should only come after a comprehensive Middle East peace. The United States has long supported efforts to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, although it has put much more emphasis on direct peace talks between Israel and its immediate neighbors.

Nor did ElBaradei convince Israel to alter its four-decade-old policy of “strategic ambiguity,” whereby Israeli officials neither admit nor deny the possession of nuclear weapons. “Our policy of ambiguity on nuclear arms has proved its worth, and it will continue,” Sharon declared.

Independent experts estimate the country has 100-200 nuclear warheads. Israel is one of three nonsignatories to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and is not required to open up its nuclear program to IAEA inspectors. Israel has, however, voluntarily agreed to submit one of its civilian nuclear facilities (at Soreq) to agency monitoring.

Earlier this year, ElBaradei argued in a Financial Times op-ed that Israel’s unwillingness “to discuss its purportedly sizeable nuclear arsenal” or sign the NPT has “served as an incentive for countries to arm themselves with equal or similar weapons capacity.” He asserted that the current situation is unsustainable and will ultimately lead to “catastrophe.”

Israel’s Arab neighbors have accused Western countries of a double standard for pressuring Iran to reign in a possible nuclear weapons program without exerting similar pressures on Israel.

For their part, Israeli officials continued to express concern over recent events surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. In 2003, Iran admitted to secret nuclear activities in contradiction to its nuclear safeguards obligations under the NPT and has been criticized in recent months for its slow-paced cooperation with the IAEA. Both countries have squared off recently, with Iran testing its Shahab-3 ballistic missile and Israel testing its Arrow-2 theater missile defense system.


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