Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Nuclear Nonproliferation

A Democratic View: Toward a More Responsible Nuclear Nonproliferation Strategy

Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed

For nearly half a century, the United States has attempted to “delegitimize” the use of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. From John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson’s support for the Limited Test Ban Treaty and nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), to George H.W. Bush’s backing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, U.S. presidents from both parties have viewed arms control and risk reduction strategies as critical to the U.S. national interest.

As a presidential candidate in 2000, George W. Bush—claiming that he would continue that tradition—referred to nuclear weapons as “obsolete weapons of dead conflicts” and talked of making substantial reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. He offered some hope that nuclear weapons would be destroyed, delivery systems reduced, and programs designed to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons materials and technologies strengthened. He opposed ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but pledged to continue a decade-old U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing.

Bush criticized the Clinton administration for failing to make reductions in the U.S. nuclear force posture—even though such reductions had actually been blocked by a Republican Congress—stating: “America should rethink the requirements of nuclear deterrence in a new security environment. The premise of Cold War targeting should no longer dictate the size of our arsenal.....I will pursue the lowest possible number [of nuclear weapons] consistent with our national security. It should be possible to reduce the number of American nuclear weapons significantly further than what has already been agreed to under START II, without compromising our security in any way.”

Time has powerfully demonstrated, however, that these bold statements were no more than campaign rhetoric. Bush is carrying out—and appears to be carrying forward—a departure from the bipartisan tradition of arms control. Despite his campaign promises, Bush has done little to truly cut U.S. nuclear arsenals and has resisted bipartisan calls to accelerate efforts to safeguard Russia’s Cold War weapons. He has abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). He has pushed Congress to adopt measures and programs that will lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. Bush’s nuclear weapons policies are part of a broader national security strategy that is heavily oriented toward pre-emptive military action.

The Bush administration is pursuing this agenda at a time when the need to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons-related technologies is more important than ever. Countries such as North Korea and Iran have taken steps to develop their own nuclear weapons and India and Pakistan have already succeeded. Because of the Bush administration’s policies and rhetoric, the United States is now in the position of urging others to abandon nuclear programs while simultaneously increasing their allure and glamour.

In practical terms, North Korea and other tough proliferation cases defy quick military solutions. Military pre-emption is no substitute for a comprehensive and preventive arms control and nonproliferation strategy, which remains our first line of defense against the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Nonproliferation rules and standards of behavior establish the legal, political, and moral basis for organizing U.S. and international pressure to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials to states or terrorist groups. Proactive U.S. diplomacy, as well as limiting access to nuclear materials, nuclear testing, and nuclear weapons, help make such rules a practical reality. Because of new proliferation dangers, a more effective nonproliferation strategy requires strengthening and adapting—not abandoning—preventive diplomacy and arms control.

Expanding the Role of Nuclear Weapons

Even before Bush took office, Republican policies had stalled U.S. efforts to reduce Cold War strategic nuclear weapons stockpiles and blocked the momentum to secure a global, zero-yield nuclear test ban treaty. But the Bush administration has gone much further than blocking arms control initiatives—it seems intent on beginning a new nuclear arms race.

Shortly after he took office, Bush indicated he would not resubmit the CTBT to the Senate. This move discouraged other countries from signing onto the accord, widely viewed as the single most effective and verifiable agreement that can stem nuclear proliferation.

Then, in December 2001, the Bush administration completed its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The last review was conducted in 1994. Notwithstanding the statutory requirement to do so, the Department of Defense has yet to release an unclassified version of the NPR. Instead, the administration provided only a cursory unclassified press briefing on the NPR, making knowledgeable public discussion difficult. Yet, subsequent public comments and actions by the administration since 2001 suggest that major shifts in nuclear policy were included in the NPR.

The Bush administration has claimed it wants to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy. Yet, the NPR repeatedly suggests ways that nuclear weapons could be used for purposes other than deterring other countries from using similar weapons. The 2001 NPR blurs the distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons, making nuclear weapons just one more tool in our tool kit.

This dramatic change in U.S. nuclear policy is inconsistent with U.S. disarmament commitments under the NPT, a bulwark of arms control. Article VI of the NPT requires good faith efforts to pursue negotiations relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament. Past administrations have been vague as to how the United States would respond to a biological, chemical, or conventional weapons attack from a non-nuclear-weapon-state, not aligned with a nuclear power. No longer. The NPR makes clear that the United States would be prepared to retaliate with nuclear weapons, including the possibility of a first use in a pre-emptive attack. This reliance on nuclear weapons undermines decades of efforts to convince countries with biological or chemical weapons arsenals that they can live without nuclear weapons.

The NPR also provided the policy justification for the Bush administration’s budget requests—later approved by the Republican-led Congress—to fund the production of hundreds of new plutonium “pits” per year (a necessary component of a nuclear weapon), to support the design of new weapons, and to shorten the time necessary to plan and conduct a nuclear test. All of these initiatives strongly suggest that, at some point, the Bush administration might well resume nuclear weapons testing—and not as the last resort to maintain the existing stockpile, as contemplated under the CTBT—but to support the development of new low-yield nuclear weapons.

A U.S. program to develop new nuclear weapons could prompt other nations to do the same, either through the perceived need to match or deter any new technologies, or as a means to maintain their prestige in the “nuclear club.” A new arms race would be the result.

Bush has said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have moved beyond the Cold War. As evidence, he points to the Moscow Treaty—also known as the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT)—that he claims would limit the United States and Russia to between 1,700 and 2,200 nuclear weapons by 2012. If that were a true limit, it would represent a genuine achievement. But a closer look at the agreement reveals that the administration has tried to get away with a classic bait-and-switch.

SORT does nothing to control arms: it limits only deployed nuclear weapons, and places no new limits on the number of weapons either country can maintain in storage. It also does not actually require the elimination of any nuclear weapons or weapons delivery systems such as planes or missiles, and it is easily reversible and infinitely flexible. The treaty contains no definition of deployment, and it does not provide for additional verification mechanisms—complicating the ability to monitor compliance.

Under SORT, the limits on deployed nuclear weapons do not have to be achieved until December 31, 2012, and can be fully reversed on January 1, 2013. Rather than serving as a means of reducing residual Cold War tensions with Russia and safeguarding its crumbling nuclear arsenal, the treaty increases the burden of securing Russia’s nuclear weapons stockpile (both deployed and stored) and the possibility of proliferation through theft and illegal sale. It also creates opportunities for suspicion and distrust rather than building confidence with Russia.

Neither SORT nor the NPR does anything to shrink the massive U.S. nuclear arsenal, which has remained largely unchanged since the Cold War. Some changes have been made in force structure that, while useful if maintained, are nevertheless reversible. While four Trident ballistic missile submarines will be converted to non-nuclear use, there is no assurance that this will remain permanent, as the sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launch tubes will not be destroyed. The administration has said it will only deploy one warhead on the 350 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles that now carry multiple warheads. But it will be easy enough to redeploy the additional warheads since they will remain in storage.

Moreover, the Bush administration has made it clear that it will not pursue further negotiations or reductions of either delivery systems or tactical or strategic nuclear warheads with Russia under START or any other process. Apparently, the Moscow Treaty will stand as the beginning and end of the Bush administration’s “arms control” initiatives. For this administration, moving beyond the Cold War seems to mean looking at new nuclear weapons and walking away from arms control agreements.

Nuclear Pre-emption

Bush issued his National Security Strategy in September 2002 and came out with his National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction in December 2002. Both key national security documents portray pre-emption as a principal strategy for U.S. policy. The National Security Strategy states, “To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.” The Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction states that defense against WMD “requires capabilities to detect and destroy an adversary’s WMD assets before the weapons are used.” This pre-emption doctrine is aggressive even in the context of conventional weapons, as the doctrine abandons the requirement for an imminent threat—contravening international law. Espousing the use of nuclear weapons pre-emptively is of even greater concern. Neither of these documents, nor the NPR, makes a distinction between nuclear and nonnuclear strike. When read together, they appear to signify that the United States is explicitly holding out the possibility that a nuclear weapon would be used in a first strike, pre-emptive fashion against a non-nuclear or a nuclear state.

The administration has made several new proposals that support nuclear pre-emption. In 2003, the administration began a three-year effort to design a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) to use against hard and deeply buried targets. The RNEP would modify an existing large-yield nuclear device to penetrate a hard surface, such as rock, and then detonate. The proposal has encountered opposition from congressional Democrats, but—notwithstanding the fact that there is no military requirement for an RNEP—the administration is forging ahead. (The Republican Congress just provided a second year of funding for the program although the amount provided, $7.5 million, was half the amount requested.)

New, precision, lower-yield nuclear weapons are an integral part of the administration’s strategy of pre-emption. According to the Defense Department’s legislative proposal that accompanied its fiscal year 2004 budget request, these advanced nuclear weapons concepts are necessary to: “(1) train the next generation of nuclear weapons scientists and engineers; and (2) restore a nuclear weapons enterprise to respond rapidly and decisively to changes in the international security environment or unforeseen technical problems in the stockpile.” Repealing the ban on research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons was needed to facilitate development of these new nuclear options designed “to deter, or respond to, new or emerging threats.” Such weapons could provide “greater capabilities for precision, earth penetration (to hold at risk deeply buried and hardened bunkers), defeat of chemical and biological agents, and reduced collateral damage.”

The primary focus of the “advanced nuclear weapons concepts” proposals are nuclear weapons with yields of less than five kilotons, referred to as low-yield nuclear weapons. Five kilotons is about a third of the explosive power of the atomic bombs that devastated Japan in the Second World War. Despite opposition from congressional Democrats, Bush sought—and won—the repeal of the ban on research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons, in law since 1993, from the GOP-controlled Congress.

In 2003 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Ambassador Linton Brooks, acting director of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), did not suggest that the new nuclear weapons programs were needed to meet a new military requirement. Instead he argued that “we are seeking to free ourselves from intellectual prohibitions against exploring a full range of technical options.” Pressed further, Brooks provided a more telling explanation of the administration’s motives: “I have a bias in favor of something that is the minimum destruction … that means I have a bias in favor of things that might be usable.” (emphasis added.)

At the heart of the debate over low-yield nuclear weapons lies the belief, if not the fact, that the ability to limit collateral damage (damage to the surrounding area and people) makes a weapon more usable—and thus more likely to be used. The advent of precision-guided conventional munitions has already made attacks on urban areas possible. Would we have dropped imprecise “dumb bombs” on Saddam’s suspected hideouts in the crowded neighborhoods of Baghdad? In a similar fashion, developing low-yield nuclear weapons could tilt the scales to use, rather than restraint.

Administration supporters argue that the development of low-yield nuclear weapons will enhance the U.S. nuclear deterrent. They contend that our existing nuclear weapons are so devastating that our adversaries know we are “self-deterred” from using them. With new low-yield weapons, they argue, our adversaries will have renewed concern that we will employ nuclear weapons.

Yet, regardless of their size, nuclear weapons are likely to prove to be poor warfighting tools, and provide little help in the war on terror. Terrorists are unlikely to be deterred by them, given their willingness to die and the practical problem of targeting.

In a confrontation with states, on the other hand, the targeting problem is easier. But using any kind of nuclear weapon would have grave ramifications, creating waves of revolution against the United States. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, stated: “Much of the world is increasingly apprehensive about U.S. power and influence. Many are concerned about the expansion, consolidation, and dominance of American values, ideals, culture, and institutions. Reactions...to growing ‘Americanization’ can range from mild ‘chafing’ on the part of our friends and allies, to mixed fear and violent rejection on the part of our adversaries. We should consider that these perceptions mixed with angst over perceived ‘U.S. unilateralism’ will give rise to significant anti-American behavior.”

On purely military grounds, using nuclear weapons is an unattractive option. U.S. military dominance assumes the rapid destruction of enemy forces and swift seizure of key political objectives, but nuclear weapons would slow us down and increase our operation costs—both in the long and short terms.

Moreover, the “deterrent effect” may not work on rogue nations. Michael May, the former head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has suggested that the emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons “increases the motivation of ….[targeted states]….to improve and extend their own nuclear force, or to get one if they don’t have it.” The behavior of North Korea and Iran is evidence of the accuracy of that comment.

Of course, the use of nuclear weapons against a nuclear weapon state would almost certainly set off a retaliatory attack on the United States or its allies.

Broaden, Don’t Abandon Arms Control

Proponents of this new nuclear policy, with its “bias in favor of things that are usable,” argue that arms control and nonproliferation have failed, and therefore new nuclear weapons concepts and weapons are needed. They cite a litany of states that have acquired nuclear weapons since the adoption of the NPT in 1968: India, Israel, Pakistan, South Africa—and apparently North Korea.

Arms control and nonproliferation strategies have, however, succeeded in ensuring that fewer states acquired nuclear weapons, and established a global norm against the possession and use of nuclear weapons. Forty years ago, when the original nuclear powers—the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China—had a monopoly on nuclear weapons, it was routinely assumed that proliferation would be rapid and irreversible. Kennedy predicted in the early-1960s that an additional 25 countries might develop nuclear weapons within 10 years. This dire prediction did not come true because of arms control efforts. As Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage explained in a speech last year:

...instead of the 25 or so countries, that President Kennedy once predicted, only a handful of nations possess nuclear weapons. Of course, we suspect many more countries have chemical or biological weapons, but still short of the scores that have been predicted in the past. We’ve reached this state of affairs in no small part through the concerted effort of many nations. Agreements such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, organizations such as the IAEA and Nuclear Suppliers Group—these constitute a global security architecture that has served us satisfactorily and kept us sage.

Moreover, of the five states that have acquired nuclear weapons since 1968, three (Israel, India, and Pakistan) never signed the NPT. South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons program in 1990 and signed the NPT in 1991. That leaves the very special case of North Korea, which joined the NPT in 1985, and has been caught on at least two occasions violating its obligations before its announced repudiation of the NPT.

Critics of the nonproliferation regime frequently fail to acknowledge that Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, and now Libya ceased their suspected nuclear programs, in part, because of the international norms represented by the NPT. Similarly, with the demise of the Soviet Union, the newly independent states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine found themselves in possession of nuclear weapons. All of them voluntarily relinquished their weapons and signed the NPT. Their decisions, at the urging of the United States and others, reaffirmed the norm of nonproliferation. At the time, Ukraine and Kazakhstan were, respectively, the third and fourth largest nuclear powers in the world.

Indeed, as recently as May 2000, the United States reaffirmed this norm by joining the four other original nuclear powers in declaring its commitment to the “unequivocal undertaking” to eliminate nuclear arsenals. As recently as November 2003, Secretary of Energy Abraham in commenting at the UN on the value and importance of the NPT, stated: “Because the treaty is so important, it is critical that the international community be constantly vigilant and prepared to deal with threats to it. We must take every measure to ensure nothing is allowed to erode its power and weaken it, or to weaken the IAEA.” Abraham went on to note that the NPT is not the only tool and that additional nonproliferation tools are necessary.

To be sure, the NPT and the nonproliferation regime is under pressure. But the source of that pressure is not coming from proliferants such as North Korea and Iran alone. In remarks to the IAEA Board of Governors in March of 2003, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei noted that the pressure comes from many fronts:

The nuclear arms control regime is being challenged and is clearly under stress. The challenges include our current efforts to verify Iraq’s nuclear capabilities; DPRK’s blatant defiance of its NPT safeguards obligations; failure of countries to fulfill their legal obligations to conclude and bring into force safeguards agreements; slow progress on the conclusion and entry into force of additional protocols; and almost total stagnation on moving towards nuclear disarmament and towards universality. For the nuclear arms control regime to maintain its integrity, progress must occur on all these fronts.

Today, nonproliferation is being advocated by the United States as a “do as I say, not as I do” policy. Unfortunately, the United States is more often imitated than obeyed. At a time when it is trying to dissuade other countries from developing nuclear weapons and spending more than a billion dollars a year to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons material and technology, these actions send a terrible message. Instead of being a leader in the effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the United States is recklessly driving down the nuclear road—the same road it is asking other countries not to travel on.

An Action Agenda

Rather than tearing up the arms control achievements of the past, we should build on them. We should expand and improve arms control, not condemn it. The United States should pursue comprehensive and practical efforts to deal with the shortcomings and unfinished parts of the global nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons arms control regime in order to adapt to the new threats and technologies of the post-Cold War era.

These efforts should draw from existing programs and activities, reinforce and expand bilateral and global arms control measures, and be pursued in collaboration with U.S. allies and friends through the UN and other bilateral and multilateral fora. Key elements must involve, but should not be limited to, the following:

· Improve international weapons monitoring and inspection capabilities, which would aid efforts to detect and deter cheaters, encourage compliance, and galvanize support for U.S.-led collective action to deal with violators that pose a threat to international security. For instance, evidence of North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons work was discovered in 1992 after it joined the NPT and agreed to IAEA inspections. The dangerous extent of Iran’s nuclear program has recently been confirmed only through a new round of international inspections. Special IAEA inspections in Iraq following the first Gulf War effectively ended that nation’s illicit nuclear weapons program by 1998. The IAEA “Additional Protocol,” which would allow for more extensive inspections, is an important step in this direction. U.S. ratification of our version of the Additional Protocol would help bolster U.S. diplomatic efforts to encourage other states of concern to do so. The administration should also reconsider its opposition to the creation of an effective verification system for the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and prepare the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to be ready to undertake inspections in key states of concern.

· Expand and accelerate Nunn-Lugar threat reduction programs. After nearly a decade, this initiative has helped make the United States and the world safer by improving security and taking much of the Soviet-era nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons arsenal and infrastructure out of circulation. More still must be done. We can and should accelerate and expand, wherever possible, this vital effort to keep these weapons, materials, and technologies out of the hands of terrorists and criminals. Russia still needs assistance to eliminate its 40,000 metric ton stockpile of chemical weapons. Russia’s biological weapons research facilities and personnel must be transformed into a non-weapons-producing mode. Russia’s sprawling nuclear infrastructure remains vulnerable, with only half of the facilities fully equipped with modern security systems to prevent theft or diversion of weapons and materials. The administration and Congress must work together to increase our current annual investment of roughly $1 billion in these programs and remove unnecessary restrictions that threaten the continuation of contracts on important projects.

· Achieve a global halt to the production of weapons-usable fissile materials through the fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT). For years progress on multilateral negotiations to end the supply of new material for nuclear bombs has been stalled. Now, a shift in China’s position opens the way for progress. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has decided to reevaluate its support for such an agreement. Instead, it should take the initiative to move forward and conclude the FMCT.

· Pursue new restrictions on access to nuclear weapon applicable fuel-cyle technologies to make it more difficult for new states to obtain nuclear material for weapons. The NPT guarantee of access to “peaceful” nuclear technology and the broad diffusion of that technology has allowed states such as Iran to acquire uranium-enrichment or plutonium-production facilities useful for weapons. Through more robust international export-control arrangements, the most weapons relevant technologies can be controlled without denying access to basic and legitimate nuclear power technology. In addition, concepts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, which should respect national sovereignty and international law, will help detect the export and import of weapons, weapons materials, and weapons technologies.

· Engage in discussions with “states of proliferation concern” to look for ways to bring such states into the community of responsible nations. The Bush administration’s refusal to resume bilateral talks with North Korea in 2001 and its tough talk and hesitancy to engage in discussions after North Korea began reviving its plutonium production program have allowed a dangerous situation to fester. The administration has made some progress toward re-engaging the North Korean regime through six-party talks, but it lacks an effective or clear negotiating strategy.

· Finally, the United States and other nuclear weapon states must reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their own security policies. The United States, in particular, must lead by example. Toward this end, the United States should maintain its nuclear test moratorium and reconsider ratifying the CTBT; engage Russia in further talks to reduce and dismantle strategic nuclear weapons stockpile; and pursue talks that lead to the verifiable dismantlement of the thousands of tactical nuclear weapons remaining in Russia. Today’s threats require a strong and nimble conventional military capability and not the development of new or modified types of nuclear weapons designed for possible pre-emptive use.

The consequences of the detonation of a chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon are so devastating that we cannot rely only on deterrence or pre-emption. Effective arms control measures must be pursued to reduce the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons and the possibility that they will fall into the hands of terrorists. Abandoning serious efforts at arms control will weaken, not strengthen, our efforts to protect our nation and our allies from the scourge of nuclear weapons.

Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Levin is the committee’s ranking Democrat.

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U.S. Circulates Draft UN Resolution to Prevent Proliferation

The United States is circulating a draft UN Security Council resolution that calls on UN member states to take domestic legal steps to prevent proliferation, particularly the acquisition of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons by terrorists. The resolution implements a call made by President George W. Bush in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September. (See ACT, October 2003.)

Expressing grave concern that “non-state actors are seeking to acquire, traffic in, or use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons,” the draft resolution urges states to impose tighter export controls, stronger legislation, and better border security. It also calls for states to cut off support to any terrorist group involved with weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, it asks UN members to help implement efforts such as the Bush administration’s Proliferation Security Initiative, which seeks to interdict shipments of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

The resolution, however, does not include any measures to require enforcement of its provisions. U.S. officials say little progress has been made in advancing the resolution since it was first circulated in December.

Blix to Head New Nonproliferation Commission

Sweden’s foreign ministry announced Dec. 11 that Hans Blix, the recently retired head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) will chair a Stockholm-funded, independent commission on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The commission is to “present realistic proposals aimed at the greatest possible reduction of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, including both short-term and long-term approaches and both non-proliferation and disarmament aspects,” according to a Dec. 16 foreign ministry fact sheet. Sweden agreed to set up the commission after UN Undersecretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala proposed the idea in 2002.

Explaining the commission’s raison d’etre, Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said that “new initiatives are needed in the efforts for disarmament and non-proliferation.” The fact sheet pointed out that, despite the work of past nonproliferation commissions, new efforts are needed because “the international situation has changed considerably, not least through the increased risk of mass destruction terrorism.”

Although the commission must still decide on a specific work plan, Blix identified several possible subjects for inquiry during a Dec. 16 press conference. These include the risk of WMD terrorism and concerns over Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, as well as India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals.

The Dec. 16 fact sheet gave additional details about the commission: 15 international experts serving “in their personal capacity” will make up the “fully independent” commission, which is to present its final report to the UN secretary-general and all member states near the end of 2005.

Intelligence Agencies Clarify North Korea's Nuclear Capabilities

Paul Kerr

As U.S. diplomats move closer to restarting talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, intelligence analyses recently made public shed new light on Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities and political stability. In unclassified responses provided to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence earlier this year and made public by the Federation of American Scientists Oct. 31, intelligence officials say North Korea has attained a nuclear weapons capability without conducting a nuclear test. They also portray the Kim Jong Il regime as more stable than some Bush administration officials have indicated.

The CIA response, dated Aug. 18, said that “North Korea has produced one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons and has validated the designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests.” Noting “press reports” that North Korea has conducted tests with conventional high explosives, the report added that such tests allow the North Koreans to verify their weapons designs. “There is no information to suggest that North Korea has conducted a successful nuclear test to date,” the CIA stated.

The CIA also observed that “conducting a nuclear test would be one option” for North Korea “to further escalate tensions and heighten regional fears in a bid to press Washington to negotiate” on Pyongyang’s terms. The report, however, added that North Korea “appears to view ambiguity regarding its nuclear capabilities as providing a tactical advantage,” noting that a nuclear weapons test could produce “an international backlash and further isolation.”

On the question of a suspected North Korean nuclear arsenal, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) response, dated June 30, stated that “North Korea has produced one, possibly two nuclear weapons.” Although a 2001 National Intelligence Estimate says the intelligence community reached the same conclusion in the mid-1990s, the intelligence community’s assessment of this question has at times varied. For example, a January 2003 CIA report to Congress stated that “North Korea probably has produced enough plutonium for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons.”

North Korea has said it possesses nuclear weapons and has issued apparent threats to test them. (See ACT, November 2003.) Pyongyang’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ri Yong Ho, told Reuters Nov. 7 that his country possesses a workable nuclear device.

Two intelligence agencies also addressed the question of North Korea’s stability. The Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research stated in its April 30 response that it does not “perceive [North Korea’s] collapse as imminent.” Similarly, the DIA asserted that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s “hold on power appears secure” and that the regime showed no indications of collapse from a declining economy.

Such assessments stand in contrast to Bush administration officials who have expressed the belief that economic pressure will induce Pyongyang to comply with administration demands that it dismantle its nuclear programs. For example, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz argued in May that North Korea “is teetering on the edge of economic collapse” and that this weakness “is a major point of leverage” for the United States and its allies.






As U.S. diplomats move closer to restarting talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, intelligence analyses recently made public shed new light on...

North Korea and Iran: Test Cases for an Improved Nonproliferation Regime?

Joseph Cirincione and Jon B. Wolfsthal

If Iran and North Korea acquire nuclear arsenals, their weapons will present obvious and direct dangers to the United States, its troops, its allies, and regional and global stability. Yet, the current standoffs with Tehran and Pyongyang also represent an opportunity—a chance to fill in important gaps in the nonproliferation regime. Taking advantage of this opportunity will require near-term fixes to deal with Tehran and Pyongyang and longer-term solutions to prevent other states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) from following similar paths. But by doing so, the Bush administration can chart a course that will lead to enhanced security in the 21st century.

The most promising way to keep North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons is the effective, forceful, and determined use of the full range of nonproliferation tools, ranging from diplomacy to the threat of international sanctions and use of force. The norm of nonproliferation remains strong if not absolute, and the use of traditional nonproliferation approaches that have stood the test of time remain viable for addressing these current crises. Moreover, several of the motivations both states have to pursue nuclear weapons can be affected by concerted action by the United States and its allies. Although Washington may not hold all the cards, the means to affect the security of both states for better or for worse exist and can be applied to moderate their interest in going nuclear.

Still, the type of nuclear challenge posed by these two states has not been nor is likely to be fully prevented over the long term using only existing nonproliferation-regime mechanisms. This requires initiatives that go beyond the regime as currently defined. The two cases, aside from their immediate impact, shed new light on long-standing gaps within the regime.

Article IV: A Gap in the Regime?

Chief among these is that the NPT permits non-nuclear-weapon states to acquire technology that can create both the ingredients for nuclear weapons, namely highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and the lower-grade fuels needed for civilian nuclear reactors. As a condition, the NPT requires that any produced or processed uranium or plutonium, regardless of quality, be accounted for and placed under “safeguards,” that is, subject to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This system is supposed to serve as an alarm system but cannot and was never intended to physically prevent misuse of material.

Indeed, the NPT explicitly seeks to make such technology available to non-nuclear-weapon states. The preamble to the NPT affirms that “the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology…should be available for peaceful purposes to all Parties of the Treaty.” Article IV of the NPT describes this as an “inalienable right” to all nuclear fuel-cycle technologies including “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information.” Article IV was an essential provision in the “Grand Bargain” that convinced key non-nuclear-weapon states to accept the nuclear constraints of the NPT and has helped foster the near universal acceptance of the pact.

Yet, by allowing non-nuclear-weapon states to import nuclear technologies that can be used to build nuclear weapons, the NPT (and its predecessor, the “Atoms for Peace Program” [see page 26]), Article IV has also made it possible for states to use peaceful nuclear programs as a cover for weapons programs. North Korea’s and Iran’s misuse of these provisions, in particular, threatens to undercut the viability of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and the entire system of international nuclear commerce. Is this a permanent state of affairs? Can sovereign states possess or pursue facilities that by their nature inherently present a threat to the security interests of their neighbors? Under what conditions can such facilities be made benign or less threatening? As the United States and its allies move to reinforce the regime and adapt it to the new insecurities of this era, these are only a few of the fundamental questions that must be addressed.

Some States Are More Equal than Others

Clearly, all states are not equal when we examine the potential security risk they might pose in possessing such facilities. Nuclear-weapon states that operate commercial enrichment or reprocessing facilities represent the lowest category of concern, as long as they maintain facility and material security at high international standards. A country with a nuclear weapons infrastructure has little or no incentive to appropriate safeguarded materials.

On the other hand, non-nuclear-weapon states with uranium-enrichment or plutonium-production and extraction capabilities represent at least a potential concern. Yet, context matters. States with potential incentives to acquire nuclear weapons, due to their location, regional instability, or leadership, present a greater concern than states fully integrated into the international political, diplomatic, and economic systems. Iran and North Korea clearly fit into the highest category of concern, just as Japan, Belgium, and Germany are a lesser worry.

Still, even “safe” states present more concern than states without any means of nuclear material production. Japan’s pursuit of an independent nuclear energy supply in the 1970s, for example, began a long-running debate between advocates and opponents of plutonium reprocessing, focused on concerns that Japan was either secretly interested in building nuclear weapons or at least had the potential for doing so by creating a plutonium-based fuel economy. These fears lay dormant for many years but have been recently revived by concern that North Korea’s nuclear weapons drive could prompt a reciprocal move from Japan. East Asia also has the examples of previous attempts by Taiwan and South Korea to misuse research reactors for weapons purposes—efforts that the United States clamped down on bilaterally but that left the systemic gaps in the nonproliferation regime unaddressed.

Fixing the Problems in Article IV

Although the seeds of the conflict are built into the NPT itself, changes to that agreement are not the answer. Amending the NPT would be impractical and inadvisable, but other mechanisms can and should be developed to reduce national control over materials and facilities that can be used to advance nuclear weapons capabilities. At least two areas of promising efforts exist: internationalization of the fuel cycle and fuel supply, and management guarantees.

The basic proliferation problem is not the construction and operation of a nuclear power reactor. It is what goes in and what comes out of the reactors that pose the challenge. Countries that build facilities for enriching uranium to the point needed for reactor fuel can also use those same machines and techniques to continue enriching the uranium to the point where it can be used for nuclear weapons. The plutonium-bearing spent fuel can be chemically treated, or reprocessed, to separate plutonium from unwanted radioactive waste by-products. The resulting plutonium can be used in reactors or in nuclear weapons.

Obviously, the greatest barrier to the misuse of enrichment or reprocessing facilities is for them not to exist in the first place. On the other end of the spectrum, the greatest risk of misuse comes when these capabilities are built by states that have a track record of noncompliance with IAEA safeguards or have strong incentives to acquire nuclear weapons. There are, however, some interesting possibilities for a middle ground. Facilities can be operated and controlled in a way that makes misuse impractical or politically unattractive.

Alternative Fuel-Cycle Arrangements

One potentially useful model could be private enrichment or reprocessing facilities under multilateral or international control. For example, the enrichment company Urenco has capabilities owned jointly by Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Although the company’s enrichment facilities are able to produce weapons-grade uranium, actually doing so would require the acquiescence of three countries or the seizure of existing plants by national authorities in one of the three countries. Such highly observable events would not only draw attention but provoke such sharp national and international reactions that they significantly raise the cost to taking such action. Such multilateral control does not constitute a guarantee; nonetheless, the deterrent effect of such institutional barriers may be useful if applied to facilities in some other places. Japan’s facilities present a potentially attractive candidate for such measures.

More generally, in an October interview with Arms Control Today, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei suggested the “multilateralization of the fuel cycle.” A possible new protocol to the NPT, he said, could continue to guarantee access to nuclear technology for health, agriculture, medicine, and reactors but “would restrict the parts of the fuel cycle that create the most concern, and these are, in my view, the reprocessing and enrichment and also, possibly, a final repository where you have spent fuel with plutonium in it.”

Another approach is market based. Increased attention is now being paid to the idea of trying to create viable commercial and political alternatives to national fuel-cycle facilities for states willing to abandon domestic enrichment and reprocessing programs. One such option is guaranteed access to fresh-fuel and spent-fuel management at prices cheaper than any one nation could match. Such arrangements could go beyond simple commercial contracts and provide a broader international promise of access to supplies of fresh fuel for reactors and of management of irradiated materials.

Arrangements that pooled potential suppliers would carry greater weight and be more attractive to customers concerned about reliability of supply. Joint Russian, European, and U.S. commitments to provide fuel services would require prior development of a political and commercial consensus, but these too would need to be placed in a form that gave the client confidence in their durability. No guarantees are absolute, and the challenge is to develop a formula that gives both sides confidence that the underlying bargain—access to nuclear fuel services for abandonment of the domestic capability to produce weapons-usable materials—can be sustained.

In one model, the IAEA could act as an intermediate supplier, with material sold to it by enriching states as provided under the IAEA statute. A less complex (but by no means simple) arrangement would see the IAEA act as an auctioneer of fuel services to states, helping to ensure competitive pricing for recipient states. The IAEA could even glean much needed resources by taking a commission on sales. At present, such schemes only exist on paper. Many questions remain unanswered. It is not clear how states giving up the Article IV rights to fuel-cycle facilities would codify these commitments. Would a supplemental treaty be required or desirable? Could any of the states pull out for unrelated reasons? How would such agreements be verified? If potential violations are uncovered or alleged, could the guarantees be rescinded?

These are important long-term questions that require careful study and serious debate. In the more immediate future, however, the nuclear-weapon states, especially the United States, need to deal with North Korea’s and Iran’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons. In doing so, a balance must be maintained between immediate resolution of nonproliferation challenges and preservation and strengthening of the regime for the future. In dealing with Iran, for now there appears to be some room to maneuver, thanks to U.S. pressure and an agreement negotiated between European foreign ministers and their Iranian counterparts in October (See ACT, November 2003). In North Korea, with a repeated record of violating treaties and promises, the only solutions may rest in complete nuclear abstinence, at least until the nature of the regime, if not the regime itself, changes. Below is a broad outline of how these new concepts and arrangements could be applied to the twin crises.

Dealing with Iran and North Korea

Resolving Iran

The goal in Iran is to prevent that country’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. An Iranian nuclear program could soon be matched by similar programs in other Middle Eastern states, possibly including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya; and Israel would almost certainly accelerate the modernization of its nuclear deterrent. The misuse of the NPT and a new, even regional, nuclear arms race would cripple nuclear commerce globally and shatter the regime from within, forcing dozens of states to question the value and future of the agreement that has helped keep the number of nuclear-weapon states down to single digits.

Iran’s clear violations of its safeguards obligations also mean that in the future Tehran must not be permitted the means to produce weapons-usable uranium or plutonium. Otherwise, such assets would give Iran the ability at some point in the future to leave the NPT and deploy nuclear weapons. In order to obtain Iranian acquiescence to these restrictions, which go well beyond Tehran’s NPT commitments, the United States and its allies should be willing to offer Iran appropriate alternatives. In particular, offering Iran a commercially viable method of acquiring fresh fuel for its nuclear reactors and removing and disposing of the spent fuel would be a powerful lure. Russia’s plans to supply fresh fuel for Iran’s Bushehr reactor as long as Tehran guarantees that it will return any spent fuel is an appropriate example. In exchange, Iran should be required to verifiably and legally abandon its rights to develop and operate facilities to enrich uranium and produce and separate plutonium.

Developing such a plan would have several benefits. First, it would undercut the economic and energy security argument used by Iran to justify these destabilizing programs. A decision by Iran to pursue such a proposal, backed by effective verification, would begin building trust between Iran and the rest of the world, which in the end is the only way to head off long-term nuclear ambitions in Iran. Rejection of a viable plan along these lines would then lay bare Iran’s underlying ambitions to acquire advanced nuclear capabilities, allowing the international community to pursue alternatives means, which may include a mix of punitive and positive measures.

If Iran is going to remain a non-nuclear-weapon state or, at the very least, abandon the most critical facilities needed to acquire nuclear materials, it must make the decision to do so from within. There are signs that Iran is moving in this direction. Although trust remains justifiably low in Washington and European capitals, Iran’s initial steps to deepen cooperation with the IAEA and to disclose all past nuclear activities are promising.

Still, in order to enhance confidence that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, the United States, Europe, and Russia must press Tehran to abandon all uranium-enrichment activities, including operation and construction of pilot or commercial facilities; uranium conversion; and research, development, and construction of centrifuges and other enrichment methods. In addition, Iran must give up plans to build a proliferation-sensitive heavy-water reactor and other plutonium-production and extraction facilities. The initiative undertaken by the European foreign ministers is a promising step in this direction. In that accord, Iran pledged to sign agreements to make it easier for the agency to carry out wide-ranging inspections on its territory. Tehran also agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

Still, it is clear that the nuclear question is only one part of the long-standing problems between the United States and Iran. Historical issues aside, Tehran’s human rights record, its continued support for terrorist groups, and its opposition to the Middle East peace process make improvements in direct ties difficult. Moreover, the process of political reform in Iran and the special role that policies toward the United States play in Iranian politics complicates any broad efforts to improve the relationship. Oddly, it appears that the nuclear issue—among the most sensitive imaginable—holds out the prospects for near-term progress that could allow the two sides to build something broader in the near future.

Dealing with North Korea

In many ways, the situation in North Korea is more dangerous, immediate, and complex. However, the range of possible solutions is easier to define and determine. That North Korea is capable of building nuclear weapons is no longer in doubt, even though claims (by either the United States or North Korea) regarding its nuclear capabilities should be viewed with some skepticism. What remains in doubt and what must be addressed if any efforts to end Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions are to be successful is the desire and willingness of North Korea to negotiate a verifiable end to its nuclear weapons program. Despite more than 10 years of direct and indirect negotiations, threats, confrontations, and analysis, the United States still does not know with any certainty the answer to the question: Will North Korea eliminate all of its nuclear facilities and give up all of its nuclear materials under effective international inspection if the terms are right?

There is clear and compelling evidence to support speculation on both sides, but neither case is conclusive. Yes, North Korea cheated on its 1994 agreement with the United States to freeze its nuclear activities, but it is equally true that the United States had abandoned its efforts to normalize relations and improve ties with the North. The debate is not whether North Korea can be trusted; it clearly cannot. The questions that need to be answered are whether Pyongyang can be motivated truly to abandon its nuclear program and, if not, what outside states can do about it.

When North Korea’s nuclear program was still in its infancy, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and others could afford to wait to answer these questions. Now that the North’s program is coming of age, they cannot. In a worst-case scenario, North Korea could produce more than 100 nuclear weapons by the end of the decade. Such an arsenal not only threatens U.S. allies and troops in the region, but given North Korea’s economic strains, it is conceivable that it could be motivated to sell nuclear materials to other states or even terrorist groups if the price is right. Such a scenario is so grave that U.S. policymakers could soon face a truly appalling choice between accepting its realization or plunging into a full-fledged war on the Korean peninsula. By comparison, many negotiated settlements—no matter how distasteful—become attractive.

It is time for the United States to get serious about negotiations with the North. President George W. Bush’s October statement that he is willing to consider some form of security guarantees for North Korea was a positive step. There is enough collective experience in the United States after 10 years of efforts to know how the North negotiates and how to make progress. At a minimum, it takes time and a complex mixture of resolve and open respect for the negotiations themselves. Any mixed messages, public or otherwise, can quickly derail progress and undercut efforts at negotiations.

To test whether North Korea is prepared to eliminate its program under effective verification, the United States needs to:

· Establish a full-time and ongoing negotiating mechanism based on the six-party talks. They should be continuous, or close to it, and work to establish a fixed timeline for conclusion.
· Appoint higher-level representation for the talks, including a presidentially appointed envoy. This person must be fully committed to the negotiations and prepared and empowered to make serious progress.
· Ensure continued presidential engagement with the negotiating process and effectively impose a coordinated position in the administration (no loose statements or diatribes).
· Create a coordinated position among itself, Japan, and South Korea. The lack of a common position within the six-party talks is a major reason for its lack of progress.
· Continue to encourage Chinese engagement, with the awareness of the limits of Chinese influence over North Korea.

Lastly, the United States needs to determine what it is prepared to offer North Korea if that country is willing to terminate its nuclear program and eliminate, under effective verification, its nuclear capability. This can involve a broad mix of political, diplomatic, economic, and symbolic steps including establishment of diplomatic relations and the provision of considerable agricultural assistance. Moreover, as many have suggested, the United States should be prepared to offer more to North Korea than it did under the 1994 Agreed Framework as long as Pyongyang also agrees to do more. The nuclear issue is so pressing, however, that it should not become hostage to issues related to ballistic missiles, conventional force deployments, chemical and biological weapon programs, and human rights. The United States should work to resolve those issues but only once the nuclear question is answered.

To date, President Bush has moved from a wholesale rejection of negotiations with the North to the verge of a new set of real talks. To make progress, he must take the next step: test North Korea directly and conclusively. If a positive result materializes, the president must be willing to invest his personal prestige domestically and abroad to make and sell a deal with the North. If the result is negative, having tried the alternative, punitive options will remain viable, and broader support for confronting North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons may materialize.


In the 1960 presidential debates, Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) warned that, if the United States did not change its policy, there would soon be dozens of nuclear states instead of the four that then existed. Fortunately for America, Kennedy did change government policy and started the process that led to the negotiations for the NPT. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon finished the treaty and brought into being a system that, through the cooperative work of liberals and conservatives, large nations and small, has effectively proscribed, though not completely stopped, the spread of nuclear weapons ever since. It is under a greater strain than ever before, both internally and externally. Yet, 43 years later, we have eight known nuclear-weapon states, not 20. The criticisms, justified and not, should not be allowed to overshadow this seminal success. Even as we reach to build new nonproliferation frameworks, officials have to take great care not to burn the bridges on which we now stand.

Forceful diplomacy utilizing and expanding the treaty regime has put solutions to the Iranian and North Korean crises within reach. They have also pointed the way toward a broader nonproliferation regime that can help maintain global security well into the 21st century. Doing so will require political will and the courage to lead. It is still possible, as Kennedy said, to abolish the weapons of war before they abolish us.

Joseph Cirincione is director and Jon B. Wolfsthal is deputy director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They are authors of Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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Israel, India, and Pakistan: Engaging the Non-NPT States in the Nonproliferation Regime

Marvin Miller and Lawrence Scheinman

The problem at the top of the global nonproliferation agenda today, particularly as viewed by the Bush administration, is how to thwart the nuclear weapons ambitions of Iran and North Korea. However, to achieve this goal the administration needs to pay more attention to the three de facto nuclear-weapon states that are outside the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT): Israel, India, and Pakistan.

Short of becoming party to the treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states—a remote prospect at this time—these countries need to be more fully engaged in the nonproliferation regime. For example, it is not clear that Iran can be convinced or coerced into giving up its weapons ambitions unless Israel accepts constraints on its unacknowledged nuclear program. Additionally, the transfer of weapons-relevant nuclear items and expertise from the non-NPT states, particularly Pakistan, to North Korea, Iran, and other countries needs to be much more rigorously controlled. Finally, the non-universality of the NPT, and the U.S. view of the nuclear reality in Israel, India, and Pakistan as a situation to be “managed” rather than reversed, weakens the global nonproliferation norm and thus undermines the regime.

However, those charged with formulating nuclear policy in the Bush administration see little connection between the possession of nuclear weapons by the eight existing nuclear weapons states, including the three non-NPT states, and the real danger to international security and stability: the acquisition of nuclear weapons by rogue regimes and their possible transfer to terrorist organizations who could not be easily deterred from using them against the United States and its allies.

Although the United States has always opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons, in cases where this could not be prevented the basic determinant of our attitude toward the possession of these weapons by other countries is whether the regime is supportive of or antagonistic to U.S. interests. More precisely, U.S. officials have considered whether there are any conceivable circumstances where they would attack us with those weapons. Israel, India, and Pakistan have never posed such a threat. Thus, our opposition to their nuclear weapons development, although sometimes significant, was rarely sustained and has now evolved into tacit acceptance. Yet, reducing the size and salience of the existing nuclear arsenals, including those in the non-NPT states is crucial if the international community led by the United States is to stem further proliferation to both states and terrorist groups.

In the following, we trace the evolution of the U.S. policy toward the nuclear weapons programs in the three non-NPT states, the potential consequences for the proliferation challenges we now face, and what can be done to confront these challenges.

Getting the Bomb: A Brief History of the Three NPT Outliers


The United States initially opposed Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, but a secret understanding was reached in 1969 in which the United States agreed to accept the “nuclear facts on the ground” in Israel, while Israel pledged not to test or declare itself a nuclear-weapon state.[1] The reason for this change of attitude by the United States went beyond the perceived futility of continuing to pressure Israel on the nuclear issue in the face of significant domestic support for the Jewish state. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger viewed the United States and Israel as strategic allies with a common attitude toward nuclear weapons: essential for their own security but a grave danger if acquired by their enemies. To this end and at considerable cost, both states have developed sophisticated nuclear (and conventional) weapons capabilities while seeking to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by their enemies, by persuasion if possible, by violent means if necessary. Despite various “bumps on the road” which have drawn public attention to the nuclear reality in Israel over the intervening years (e.g., “the flash in the South Atlantic”[2] in 1979 and the Vanunu revelations [3] regarding Israel’s nuclear capabilities in 1986), the 1969 understanding still holds.

Indeed, although the first Bush and Clinton administrations tried to interest Israel in signing on to a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would place a cap on the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons, the United States did not push very hard. Israel for its part never had much enthusiasm for such a treaty, regarding it as a “slippery slope” toward nuclear disarmament.[4] As a result of this and other problems, proposals for a regional or a global FMCT went nowhere. Since taking office, the current administration has not raised disarmament issues with Israel, contenting itself with continuing the practice of previous administrations of periodically “tipping its hat” to the importance of the universality of the NPT as a long-term goal but deferring any efforts to pressure Israel on this issue until a broader, lasting peace in the Middle East is achieved.

For example, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf told a gathering of NPT signatories in April:

U.S. support for the goal of universal NPT adherence remains undiminished. We do not support and change in the NPT that would accord a different status to states currently outside the treaty. The 2000 NPT Review Conference recognized that universality would depend on successful efforts to enhance regional security in areas of tension such as the MiddleEast and South Asia. We continue to recognize the validity of the goal of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, and we are committed to helping the parties of the Middle East to achieve peace.[5]

Consonant with this view, also embraced by Israel, that peace in the Middle East is a precondition for eliminating nuclear weapons is the Bush administration’s focus on the Israeli/Palestinian “road map” rather than attempting simultaneously to promote some sort of “nuclear road map” for the region including Iran. Indeed, the United States is seeking to forge an international consensus on the need to pressure Iran to curtail its weapons-related nuclear activities, while Israel bolsters its ability to deal with the possible failure of such efforts by investing in missile defense and, reportedly, a second-strike nuclear deterrent.[6]

India and Pakistan

India acquired a nuclear-weapon capability under the cover of an ambitious nuclear power program that received considerable support from the major nuclear suppliers, particularly Canada and the United States, until India detonated a so-called peaceful nuclear explosive (PNE) in 1974. Pakistan’s acquisition and subsequent development of nuclear weapons have been driven by its perceived need to match India in this sphere as well as to compensate for its conventional military inferiority to India in the context of a possible war over Kashmir.

In the aftermath of the Indian PNE, the United States led an international effort to clamp down on further proliferation. One step was bringing the major nuclear suppliers together to agree on a code of conduct (the Nuclear Supplier Guidelines) for nuclear exports that mandated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on nuclear-related items and also urged restraint on the transfer of sensitive nuclear technologies. Domestically, the United States enacted the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978, conditioning U.S. nuclear cooperation on a country’s acceptance of full-scope safeguards. That law led to the termination of U.S. nuclear cooperation with India.

By contrast, U.S. policy toward Pakistan has been much less consistent. Pakistan’s acquisition of uranium-enrichment technology in 1979 resulted in a U.S. cutoff of economic and military assistance. Two years later, however, the United States suspended these sanctions as a result of Pakistan’s cooperation in supporting the effort to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Yet, sanctions were imposed again in 1990 after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and President George H. W. Bush could not (as required by the 1985 Pressler amendment) affirm that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device. The nuclear tests carried out in May 1998 by India and Pakistan resulted in the suspension of military and foreign economic assistance to both countries as well as prohibitions on U.S. bank-backed loans or credits and denial of Export-Import Bank support for exports. Eventually, domestic and foreign policy considerations, accelerated by the need for allies in the war on terrorism after September 11, 2001, led to an easing and ultimate lifting of all sanctions.

Technical and Political Differences

Although all three non-NPT states have acquired nuclear weapons, there are significant technical and political differences among them as well as differences in the way the United States has addressed their nuclear status. On the technical level, there is little reliable information about their nuclear arsenals in the public domain, but most knowledgeable observers give Israel a qualitative edge over India and Pakistan in the sophistication of their nuclear assets. There are strong differences of opinion about how India and Pakistan compare in this regard. As for the size of their arsenals, the consensus view is that Israel has more weapons than India, which has more than Pakistan, although again there are significant uncertainties in publicly available estimates.[7]

The impact of these technical differences on the political level is the perceived need of these states to conduct further testing and production of weapons. The principal political difference between India and Pakistan on the one hand and Israel on the other with regard to nuclear weapons policy is that since May 1998 both India and Pakistan are declared nuclear-weapon states, while Israel’s nuclear status—although aptly characterized by the Economist as the “world’s worst-kept” secret—remains officially unacknowledged by both Israel and the United States. Thus, although the current U.S. administration now appears to regard the nuclear weapons capabilities of India and Pakistan as well as Israel as a fait accompli—to be “managed” rather than opposed—this policy can only be acknowledged with regard to India and Pakistan. For example, Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated that he did not expect either India or Pakistan to give up their nuclear capabilities, acknowledging that the world sees little point in trying to reverse “that bit of proliferation,” but no mention was made of Israel.[8]

Delinking Iran and Israel

A significant sorepoint in the troubled relations between United States and the Muslim world is whether the United States in recent years has adopted a double standard that favors Israel. The focus of this debate has been on U.S. policy vis-à-vis a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The charge has also been made, however, that the United States had adopted a “nuclear double standard” in the Middle East, acquiescing in the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel while strongly opposing their possession by its neighbors, with Iran being the most prominent contemporary example. Although there is no legal equivalence between Israel possessing nuclear weapons and Iran attempting to obtain them since the latter is party to the NPT and the former is not, some would extend the lack of equivalence to the moral dimension, arguing that democratic Israel acquired nuclear weapons only to deter any attempt to annihilate the Jewish state, while Iran is presently ruled by autocratic ayatollahs who do not accept the legitimacy of “the Zionist entity” and thus cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons.

There is merit to this argument, but it is also true that the acquisition of nuclear weapons for reasons of status and security has been a goal of Iran for decades, dating back to the time of the shah.[9] Iran’s self-image as a regional superpower and the inheritor of a great cultural and intellectual tradition as well as the heart of the Shi`a branch of Islam would make it difficult to live without the bomb. These views are reinforced by Iranian concerns about the future nuclear ambitions of a Saddam Hussein-less Iraq and the fact that Iran’s Sunni-dominated neighbor and rival, Pakistan, already has nuclear weapons. Moreover, a more Western-oriented government in Tehran might view Israel’s nuclear capability as less menacing. Nevertheless, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons outside the NPT remains a thorn in the side of the dominant states of the Islamic world, particularly Iran and Egypt, and the weight of opinion across the Iranian political spectrum is opposed to its giving up its quest for nuclear weapons without some reciprocity on the part of Israel.

Iran has now agreed to accept an additional protocol to IAEA comprehensive safeguards and to suspend temporarily its enrichment of uranium to reassure the international community about the peaceful intent of its nuclear program. However, this surely reflects a pragmatic assessment of current global politics and its national security interests rather than a commitment to forgo the acquisition of nuclear weapons forever.[10] Pressure needs to be maintained on Iran to remain a non-nuclear-weapon state-party to the NPT, but its incentives to obtain nuclear weapons, including their possession by Israel, also need to be addressed. Thus, in the long term it will be difficult if not impossible for Israel to maintain its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East without courting potentially catastrophic consequences. Israel should now consider, and the United States should support, stronger engagement in the nuclear nonproliferation regime short of the total elimination of its weapons as a means of reducing the risk of their further proliferation and possible use. (The same is true for India and Pakistan with regard to further vertical proliferation and possible use.) The important point is that implementation of various means to this end should not be hostage to the coming of a “just, stable, and enduring peace” to the region.[11] On the contrary, there can be a positive synergy between arms control measures and progress in the political arena.

Arms Control Under Ambiguity

Can nonproliferation measures be implemented if Israel maintains a policy of ambiguity with regard to its nuclear arsenal? The case that such a policy is a significant impediment to arms control and nonproliferation was made some years ago by McGeorge Bundy, William Crowe Jr., and Sidney Drell. They observed that, although the pretense that Israel is not a nuclear-weapon state may make relations with the United States and other states less troublesome, it prevents the Israeli government from making a convincing argument that no state need fear a nuclear Israel unless it attempts the destruction of the Jewish state. Moreover, it is very difficult to discuss constraints on a weapons program that does not officially exist.[12]

The basic counterargument is that nuclear ambiguity has served both Israel and the cause of nonproliferation well by enhancing deterrence against any military threat to Israel’s existence, while not providing the added incentive for any of its Muslim neighbors to acquire the bomb that might result from an open declaration of its nuclear status. It has also given Israel leverage in obtaining advanced conventional weapons and other military assistance from U.S. administrations concerned that Israel might resort to nuclear weapons without them. In addition, no declared nuclear-weapon state has ever given up its weapons, the implication being that acquiring and relinquishing nuclear weapons are most easily accomplished under conditions of ambiguity.[13] Finally, the policy of ambiguity is integral to Israel’s 1969 secret agreement with the United States, and it is difficult to imagine any significant shift in this policy without some new nuclear understanding between Israel and the United States. This in turn might lead to a wider public debate on such fundamental issues as who is entitled to have nuclear weapons, an outcome unlikely to be welcomed by either the U.S. government or that of the other weapon states.

Still, Bundy, Crowe, and Drell raise important concerns. Although other democracies such as the United States also restrict public access to sensitive information about national security in general and nuclear weapons in particular, Israel is unique in suppressing any public debate about a number of questions such as: Under what circumstances would Israel use the bomb, and who are the nuclear decision-makers? What change in nuclear policy might be needed in the event that states such as Iran also acquire nuclear capability; and how adequate is physical security on and command and control of Israel’s weapons? These are important issues and not just for Israel.

For now, however, it is more important to focus on reducing political tensions in the Middle East and engage Israel more fully in the nonproliferation regime rather than in a divisive debate about the ambiguity surrounding its nuclear status. No state, even the United States, has unlimited political capital, and efforts should be focused where there is a chance that some progress might be made.

NPT Article IV

1. Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty.
2. All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also cooperate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.

North Korea and Pakistan

Another, more direct link between the three non-NPT powers and the so-called axis of evil is what the nonproliferation community views as a pattern
of nuclear weapons cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea and possibly also Iran. There have been disturbing reports in the nonproliferation community that Pakistan has transferred centrifuge enrichment technology and perhaps also weapons design information to Pyongyang and perhaps Tehran.[14] This is a serious matter that arguably is intrinsic to Pakistan’s non-NPT status. Although the NPT does not explicitly prohibit a non-nuclear-weapon state party from assisting another state in acquiring nuclear weapons, it is clear that to do so would fundamentally violate the normative foundation and rationale of the treaty.

However, not being a party to the NPT need not exacerbate the problem of limiting nuclear technology transfers that facilitate a recipient’s access to nuclear weapons. France demonstrated that, by participating in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) from its inception and endorsing a charter for responsible nuclear cooperation involving constraints on national behavior even while eschewing participation in the NPT (to which it adhered only in 1992), it is possible to maintain an independent posture on one’s own nuclear program while supporting international efforts to forestall nuclear proliferation. As a charter member of the NPT and a country with substantial leverage on Pakistan, the United States also bears substantial responsibility for bringing pressure on Pakistan not to assist non-nuclear-weapon states in acquiring nuclear weapons.

Engaging the Outliers

There are a variety of means for the non-NPT states to engage more fully in the nuclear nonproliferation regime while staying outside the treaty.[15] Besides implementing rigorous export control policies, all three non-NPT states could provide strong evidence for their claim to be responsible actors by supporting efforts to strengthen the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, to which they are already party. Efforts have been under way for some time to extend the convention’s provisions to cover physical protection of nuclear material for peaceful purposes in domestic use, storage, or transport and to prevent sabotage of such material and the facilities in which they may be located. Given the threat of terrorist access to weapons-useable nuclear materials and the presence of such materials in the three non-NPT states, this is a matter of urgency and common sense.

There are other measures outside the NPT per se relating to nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament in which the non-NPT parties could constructively engage. Of particular importance would be support for the FMCT, which was singled out in the Principles and Objectives decision document that was part of the 1995 agreement to extend the NPT indefinitely. It has remained on the NPT review agenda ever since.

The FMCT is the counterpart of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that constrains the development of and confidence in the performance of nuclear weapons beyond simple fission bombs. India and Pakistan have thus far refused to sign the CTBT but continue to observe unilateral nuclear testing moratoria. Israel, which has signed but not yet ratified the CTBT, is an active participant in all preparatory activities for the treaty’s international monitoring system and the development of procedures for on-site inspections. In September, Israel along with Iran (another CTBT signatory) reiterated its support for the early entry into force of the CTBT.

Unlike the NPT, both accords are universally applicable, nondiscriminatory agreements that represent a significant step in the effort to minimize further proliferation and create conditions in which existing nuclear weapons programs could be terminated or at least frozen.

The draft FMCT considered by the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in the mid-1990s applied only to future production and hence “grandfathered” the existing stocks of weapons-useable material in and out of weapons in NPT and non-NPT weapons states. Despite this, as previously noted, the treaty was opposed by Israel on the grounds that it constituted “a slippery slope” to the elimination of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, as well as by Pakistan because of its perception that its stockpile of fissile material is much smaller than that of India. Although the CTBT is moribund because of opposition by the Bush administration, the administration has previously expressed support for an FMCT that “advances U.S. security interests.”[16] However, the CD had not been able to take up the FMCT for years primarily because of a dispute between the United States and China on the latter’s position that there be concurrent negotiations on preventing an arms race in outer space. More recently, the United States announced that it is reviewing its position on the FMCT.[17] Resolving this disagreement and then moving forward toward the successful negotiation of a treaty will require continued support for the FMCT and stronger leadership by the United States, for example, in convincing the Israeli and Pakistani governments that such a treaty also advances their security interests.

Importance of NPT Universality

The importance of the universality of a treaty is that it consolidates the normative strength of the treaty and the regime that it anchors while the absence of universality weakens the strength of the norm. Universality also raises the costs of noncompliance by increasing the prospect of collective response to noncompliance and for enforcement of treaty and regime norms, rules, and principles.

In particular, accepting the non-NPT weapons status of Israel, India, and Pakistan weakens support for the treaty among its non-weapon state signatories in two ways: it strengthens the hand of those who argue that it is impractical to contain nuclear proliferation, and it erodes the value of the carrot provided by the NPT’s Article IV provisions that permits the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology to responsible states. The slippery slope of “nuclear realism” can be seen in the arguments of such experts as Middle Eastern security analyst Geoffrey Kemp when he argues that, when it comes to Iran:

[I]f the forces of moderation were to gain more power in Tehran and show that they are willing to be cooperative with the West and to resolve their outstanding differences with the US over terrorism and the Arab-Israeli peace process, then it might be easier to tolerate some form of legal nuclearization of Iran, particularly if other aspects of the relationship are going well.[18]

Although this might seem far-fetched at the moment, recall that the United States and the other major nuclear suppliers were quite supportive of the shah’s grandiose plans to build a vast nuclear enterprise in Iran in the 1970s. Of course, this enterprise was advertised as being strictly peaceful, but there is considerable overlap in the materials, technologies, and training required in peaceful and military applications of nuclear energy. As the Swedish physicist Hannes Alfven observed long ago, “[A]toms for peace and atoms for war are Siamese twins”—a position that the Bush administration now recognizes with regard to the “peaceful” nuclear assistance provided to Iran by Russia and other countries as well as the aid that the IAEA has doled out under the auspices of its Technical Cooperation Program.

The case for permitting peaceful nuclear technology to be transferred to New Delhi is usually made by India and its supporters in the United States who stress the importance of strengthening ties with the “world’s largest democracy” that is also an ally of the United States (and Israel) in the war against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. Moreover, they argue that, because the United States has accepted Indian nuclear weapons development as a reality, there is little point in continuing to penalize India by denying it the benefits of nuclear technology transfer, especially if it might offer to accept international safeguards on some of its indigenous nuclear facilities and perhaps other constraints on its nuclear activities as a quid pro quo.

The acceptance of safeguards on some or even all indigenous non-weapons-related facilities in the non-NPT states—like the acceptance of safeguards on similar facilities on a voluntary basis by the NPT weapons states—has politically important symbolic value. However, permitting the transfer of nuclear technology on this basis, even if coupled with their endorsement and implementation of rigorous export control arrangements such as the NSG guidelines, as some advocate, would blur the distinction between NPT parties and nonparties and thus undermine the treaty. In the case of the United States (and other major nuclear suppliers), such a trade-off would contradict national law and the NSG guidelines that require acceptance of full-scope safeguards as a condition for nuclear technology transfer. For this reason, such a trade-off is not prudent. Further discussion and debate should be encouraged, however, on the appropriateness of other quid pro quos for the willingness of the non-NPT states to engage more fully in the nonproliferation regime as suggested above.[19]

NPT Article VI

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

A New and Improved “Grand Bargain”

The major current proliferation problems are the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, and thus they deserve the concentrated attention they are receiving from the United States and other countries. However, the possession of nuclear weapons and the non-NPT status of Israel, India, and Pakistan is also a serious problem that is relevant to curtailing the North Korean and Iranian problems and to the long-term viability of the nonproliferation regime. Leadership by example is required from the United States in strengthening nonproliferation norms. Specifically, the United States should encourage the non-NPT states to participate more fully in the nonproliferation regime by (1) engaging constructively in FMCT negotiations; (2) implementing strengthened export controls and physical protection of nuclear materials and technologies; and (3) responding positively to the request by the IAEA Board of Governors to negotiate additional protocols to their item-specific safeguards agreements. For its part, the United States should also (1) reconsider its rejection of the CTBT; (2) complete ratification of its additional protocol agreement, which awaits Senate action; and (3) make a commitment to accept both state-of-the-art safeguards as well as some degree of multinational involvement in new centrifuge plants planned in the United States.[20]

Although the NPT has been a major bulwark against nuclear proliferation and has provided the legal and evidentiary basis for cases of noncompliance, the Iranian and North Korean situations have underlined several of its known deficiencies, in particular the ability of non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to misuse Article IV to acquire weapons-relevant materials and technology, foil verification attempts, and then withdraw from the treaty by invoking Article X. Potential remedies that have been proposed recently by

various individuals and groups[21] include requiring states not only to accept the Additional Protocol but also to justify their plans for a peaceful nuclear program to independent expert groups. These groups would likely be skeptical of plans for the construction of a uranium-enrichment plant under national control when secure supplies of enriched fuel at competitive prices are available on the international market.

However, in order to persuade states-parties to accept such changes in the interpretation of the treaty, the weapons states should be willing to move more quickly and forcefully to fulfill their obligations under Article VI, including providing the resources required to secure and then dispose of the large excess stocks of weapons-useable material. The amount of excess material stocks hopefully will grow over time as disarmament progresses, but they already constitute a considerable risk of diversion by nonstate actors, particularly in Russia.

In sum, although the existence of three de facto states outside the NPT is not high on the current nonproliferation agenda, they need to be engaged more fully in the nonproliferation regime in order to address the Iranian and North Korean problems as well as to maintain the viability of the treaty itself. Whatever measures a given state may take against proliferation on its own, the task of reducing nuclear risks including further proliferation lies beyond the capacity of any single state. Leadership in mobilizing and institutionalizing the needed collective effort and action is today in the hands of the United States.

NPT Article X

1. Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.
2. Twenty-five years after the entry into force of the Treaty, a conference shall be convened to decide whether the Treaty shall continue in force indefinitely, or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods. This decision shall be taken by a majority of the Parties to the Treaty.


1. Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), pp. 396-397.

2. The reference is to a signal picked up by one of the Vela satellites—the United States’ primary means of detecting aboveground nuclear explosions—that originated about 1,500 miles southeast of Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Although a blue-ribbon panel of scientists convened by the Carter administration to investigate the signal concluded that it was probably not of nuclear origin, there is a considerable body of evidence that lends credence to the proposition that the flash resulted from an Israeli nuclear device detonated in a joint Israeli-South African test exercise. Stephen Green, Living by the Bomb (Brattleboro, VT: Amana Books, 1988), pp. 111-134.

3. See Frank Barnaby, The Invisible Bomb (London: I. B. Tauris, 1989), pp. 24-25.

4. There is evidence that Israeli opposition to the FMCT has hardened since the first Bush and Clinton administrations made their initial overtures. For example, according to Aluf Benn, the diplomatic correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, in two letters and several conversations in 1999, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Clinton, “We will never sign the treaty, so do not delude yourselves, no pressure will help. We will not sign the treaty because we will not commit suicide.” See Aluf Benn, “The Struggle to Keep Nuclear Capabilities Secret,” Ha’aretz, September 14, 1999 (Internet edition); Aluf Benn, “Sharon Will Stick to Tradition of Nuclear Ambiguity,” Ha’aretz, February 18, 2001.

5. Wolf’s remarks were to the Preparatory Committee Meeting for the 2005 NPT Review Conference, which focused on the actions of “irresponsible NPT parties” that pose fundamental challenges to the NPT.

6. See Reuven Pedatzure, “Completing the Deterrence Triangle,” Carnegie Proliferation Brief 3, no.18 (June 29, 2000).

7. This is mainly due to the lack of hard information on the size and operating history of the facilities used to produce the requisite plutonium and highly enriched uranium as well as the amounts of these materials that are incorporated into weapons. See David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 259-281.

8. Gerald F. Seib and Carla Anne Robbins, “U.S. Win Over Iraq May Do Little to Curb Spread of Nuclear Arms,” Wall Street Journal Europe, January 16, 2003, p. 10.

9. “No Iranian government, regardless of its ideological leanings is likely to abandon programs to develop weapons of mass destruction that are seen as guaranteeing Iran’s security.” Elaine Sciolino, “Nuclear Ambitions Aren’t New for Iran,” The New York Times, June 22, 2003 (quoting CIA director George Tenet).

10. Elaine Sciolino, “Nuclear Accord Shows Iran’s New Pragmatism,” International Herald Tribune, October 29, 2003, p. 9. Although the actual enrichment of uranium will (hopefully) be suspended, there was no commitment to suspend enrichment research and development or other activities such as construction of a heavy-water production plant that raise legitimate concerns about the rationale for Iran’s nuclear program.

11. The phrase is from a statement by the head of the U.S. delegation to the 2000 NPT Review Conference, who noted that “Israel has stated that it is prepared to surrender its nuclear weapons in the context of a just, stable, and enduring Middle East peace.” See Gerald Steinberg and Aharon Etengoff, “Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Developments in the Middle East: 2000-1” (Ramat-Gan, Israel: Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, December 2002), p. 38.

12. McGeorge Bundy, William Crowe Jr., and Sidney D. Drell, Reducing Nuclear Danger (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1993), pp. 69-70.

13. For example, see George Perkovich, India’s Nuclear Bomb (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 459-464.

14. David E. Sanger, “North Korea’s Bomb: Untested but Ready, CIA Concludes,” New York Times, November 9, 2003 p. 4; “Islamabad Gave Key Nuclear Help, Admits Iran,” Hindu, November 13, 2003 (Internet edition).

15. Lawrence Scheinman, “Engaging Non-NPT Parties in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime,” Programme for Promoting Nuclear Non-Proliferation Issue Review no. 16 (Southampton, United Kingdom: Mountbatten Centre for International Studies, University of Southampton, May 1999).

16. National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, December 2002.

17. In August 2003, China indicated that it was not opposed to a compromise proposal for a CD working agenda that would permit negotiations on an FMCT while establishing a group dealing both with weapons in outer space and nuclear disarmament without any explicit reference to negotiations. Although the United States has not yet responded to this proposal, the Bush administration’s distaste for any linkage of an FMCT with other issues it does not want addressed is well known. Thus, it seems unlikely that negotiations on an FMCT in the CD will resume any time soon. See “U.S. Reviewing FMCT Policy,” Arms Control Today, November 2003, p. 43.

18. Geoffrey Kemp, “Iran’s Nuclear Options,” in Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Options: Issues and Analysis, ed. Geoffry Kemp (Washington, DC: Nixon Center, 2002), p. 8 (emphasis added).

19. Anupam Srivastava and Seema Gahlaut suggest that, if India and Pakistan agree to make their export control systems identical to that of the NSG as well as the Australia Group and the MTCR, the principal supplier states within these regimes would assist the civilian programs in these countries through technology transfer and co-development. Anupam Srivastava and Seema Gahlaut, “Curbing Proliferation from Emerging Suppliers: Export Controls in India and Pakistan,” Arms Control Today, September 2003, pp. 12-16.

20. See “New Mexico Will Host the $1.2 Billion U Enrichment Plant,” Nuclear News, October 2003, p. 64. Besides the plant in New Mexico, to be built by Louisiana Energy Services using technology developed by the European Urenco enrichment consortium, the United States Enrichment Corporation also plans to build a centrifuge plant in Ohio using technology previously developed in the United States under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy.

21. See Princeton-Stanford Workshop on Arms Control, August 22-26, 2003, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.

Marvin Miller is a research affiliate at the MIT Center for International Studies. He retired from the MIT Department of Nuclear Engineering in 1996. Lawrence Scheinman is distinguished professor of international policy, Monterey Institute of International Studies and adjunct professor, Georgetown University. He served as assistant director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency for Non-Proliferation and Regional Arms Control in the Clinton Administration and was a member of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Board on Arms Control and Nonproliferation from 1998-2001.

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Congress Approves Syria Sanctions Bill

Karen Yourish

Congress has sent a bill to the White House that requires President George W. Bush to sanction Syria unless the country immediately halts development of ballistic missiles, stops producing biological and chemical weapons, ends its alleged support for terrorism, and withdraws from Lebanon. However, the bill provides the White House with broad authority to waive the penalties in the interest of national security. In acceding to the Senate’s version of the legislation Nov. 20, the House endorsed a more flexible measure that is supported by the Bush administration.

Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the author of the original House bill, said after the 408-8 vote that the bill is “a fair approach to dealing with the threat that Syria poses to the stability of the Middle East and to American interests around the world.” Recognizing the watered-down nature of the measure, however, he urged the president to “strictly enforce this important legislation.”

The Bush administration was initially reluctant to impose sanctions on Syria, fearing it would make Mideast peace efforts more difficult. Administration officials changed their tune after warning Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, without success, that there would be consequences if Syria failed to stop its support for terrorism. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Ever the more cautious chamber, Senate leaders stressed the flexibility inherent in the measure. “The bill, as amended, adds to the tools available to the president to move Syria toward a more responsible course,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said on the floor prior to the Senate’s 89-4 vote on Nov. 11. He said the bill “provides the president with the ability to calibrate U.S. sanctions against Syria in response to positive Syrian behavior when such adjustment is in the national security interest of the United States.”




Congress has sent a bill to the White House that requires President George W. Bush to sanction Syria unless the country immediately halts development...

World Leaders Rethinking Key NPT Provision

Christine Kucia

Stung by the apparent strides of North Korea and Iran toward developing nuclear weapons, U.S. and international policymakers are rethinking Article IV of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In recent speeches, key officials have proposed changing the provision, which facilitates procurement of nuclear technology and material by non-nuclear weapon-states for peaceful applications if they agree not to build nuclear weapons. The changes would help prevent countries seeking nuclear weapons from gaining access to the materials needed to build a bomb.

“Recent events have made it clear that the nonproliferation regime is under growing stress,” Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the UN General Assembly Nov. 3. Reiterating an idea he expressed in an October interview with Arms Control Today, ElBaradei suggested that nonproliferation security structures needed to be overhauled. (See ACT, November 2003.) In his UN speech, ElBaradei recommended “limiting the processing of weapon[s]-usable material…in civilian nuclear programs—as well as the production of new material through reprocessing and enrichment—by agreeing to restrict these operations exclusively to facilities under multinational control.” He said controlling the availability of fissile material worldwide is crucial to allowing nuclear power development to proceed while guarding against the spread of nuclear weapons know-how.

ElBaradei’s annual report to the United Nations cites Iran’s breach of its safeguards agreements in developing its nuclear power fuel-cycle. He also expressed hope that North Korea would rejoin the nuclear nonproliferation regime. North Korea announced its withdrawal as a state-party to the NPT after announcing the existence of a uranium-enrichment program and restarting its suspended plutonium program. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) In response, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which includes representatives of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union, told North Korea Nov. 21 that it would suspend its nuclear power assistance program, citing Pyongyang’s nonproliferation violations.

Russian atomic energy minister Alexander Rumyantsev and U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham offered similar perspectives of a fragile nonproliferation framework during their presentations to a meeting of the UN First Committee, which focuses on disarmament matters. Rumyantsev emphasized the security of nuclear and radiological materials worldwide. Russia, the United States, and the IAEA have been actively engaged in the retrieval of Soviet- and Russian-supplied highly enriched uranium from research reactors around the world in order to stem the proliferation threat posed by vulnerable stores of the weapons-usable material. Rumyantsev built upon a proposal offered by ElBaradei, suggesting “construction in the long term under IAEA auspices of several large international [spent nuclear fuel] handling centers.” Russia previously has suggested that it could host such centers, but no action has been taken to date.

Abraham called the NPT and IAEA “properly the center of the nuclear nonproliferation regime” but stressed that world leaders must “think about how to ensure that the essential ‘bargain’ between nuclear and non-nuclear states—a bargain central to advancing the underlying principles of Atoms for Peace—can be sustained into the future.”






Stung by the apparent strides of North Korea and Iran toward developing nuclear weapons, U.S. and international policymakers are rethinking Article IV of the 1968...

Editors Note: The Atomic Dilemma

Miles Pomper

On December 8, 1953, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a landmark address to the UN General Assembly in which he pledged the United States’ “determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma—to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”

In the half-century since Eisenhower’s historic “Atoms for Peace” speech, U.S. efforts to construct a viable nonproliferation regime have at times been inconsistent, haphazard, and incomplete, as well as occasionally hypocritical. Nonetheless, through cooperation with other nations, U.S. presidents from both parties have built an edifice of arms control treaties and supporting export control regimes that have helped limit the spread of nuclear weapons. Rather than facing a world with dozens of nuclear powers, we can still count the number of nuclear weapons states on the fingers of both hands.

The cornerstone of this structure has been the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which exemplifies Eisenhower’s twin and potentially conflicting goals of limiting the spread of nuclear power for military purposes while allowing its free use for civilian needs. The treaty has been signed and ratified by every nation in the world except for India, Israel, and Pakistan. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the accord earlier this year, but a final determination of its status has not been made.

Still, that treaty and the nuclear nonproliferation regime more generally are challenged today as never before. Knowledge on how to make nuclear weapons has become increasingly available. The end of the Cold War brought a mixed blessing. It eliminated the superpower competition that had brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of a nuclear holocaust. But its demise also lessened the commitment of the major nuclear powers—particularly the United States— to arms control and loosened the Kremlin’s control over its nuclear infrastructure, encouraging the dissemination of Russian nuclear expertise abroad. Moreover, the end of a bipolar security structure has eroded long-term relationships that encouraged third parties to rely on the United States and the Soviet Union, rather than their own arsenals, for their security. At the same time, the September 11 terrorist attacks raised the specter of suicidal substate actors using nuclear weapons.

This special issue of Arms Control Today seeks to take stock of these developments on the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech. George Bunn examines the historic basis of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and its effects on current crises. Joseph Cirincione and Jon B. Wolfsthal look at the crises involving Iran and North Korea, two NPT members who have sought to advance nuclear weapons programs secretly despite the treaty’s strictures. Lawrence Scheinman and Marvin Miller suggest strategies for coaxing Israel, India, and Pakistan to comply further with NPT goals in order to increase the universality of its norms. Leonard Weiss delves into the failure of the United States and other nuclear-weapon states to meet their commitments under the NPT. Finally, Peter Lavoy shows the difficulties in separating the civilian benefits of nuclear power from the dangers of nuclear proliferation. As Lavoy demonstrates, the legacy of Eisenhower’s initiative is a mixed one: through the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the drafting of the NPT, some of Eisenhower’s lofty ambitions were fulfilled. Yet, determined states such as India also took advantage of this initiative to dedicate “the miraculous inventiveness of man” to death as well as life. We are still struggling to solve the “fearful atomic dilemma.”

The Enduring Effects of Atoms for Peace

Peter R. Lavoy

Five decades ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented a bold and imaginative nuclear initiative to the United Nations. Although the “Atoms for Peace” plan was immensely popular and fundamentally altered the way the world treated nuclear energy, some contemporary observers contend that the policies and capabilities it produced inadvertently fueled the global spread of nuclear arms. As Leonard Weiss recently wrote, “[I]t is legitimate to ask whether Atoms for Peace accelerated proliferation by helping some nations achieve more advanced arsenals than would have otherwise been the case. The jury has been in for some time on this question, and the answer is yes.”[1] This contention is correct but somewhat incomplete. On the one hand, Eisenhower’s policies did hasten the international diffusion of scientific and industrial nuclear technology, and some recipient nations—Israel, India, and Pakistan—did divert U.S. nuclear assistance to military uses. On the other hand, Atoms for Peace produced many of the most important elements of today’s nuclear nonproliferation regime: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the concept of nuclear safeguards, and most importantly, the norm of nuclear nonproliferation. In the final analysis Eisenhower was no more or less successful than his successors in trying to balance the possession and possible use of nuclear forces for America’s defense with efforts to discourage other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Truman’s Legacy: Technology Denial and Secrecy

The U.S. government was concerned about the diffusion of nuclear weapons technology and materials even before it manufactured its first nuclear explosives for possible military use in the Second World War. In order to prevent Germany, Japan, or Russia from acquiring the expertise or materiel required to make nuclear bombs, President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed the Manhattan bomb development project under strict secrecy—so secret, in fact, that his vice president, Harry Truman, was unaware of the bomb’s existence until after Roosevelt’s death.[2] The high stakes of the nuclear race with Germany, however, soon led Washington to collaborate with its closest wartime allies, Great Britain and Canada. The world’s first nuclear nonproliferation accord, the secret Quebec agreement of August 1943, committed the Atlantic allies not to communicate any atomic information or share sensitive technology or materials with third parties without mutual consent.[3]

When the United States was nearing completion of its first nuclear device, Danish physicist Niels Bohr urged Roosevelt to tell the world about nuclear weaponry and start planning to control atomic energy in order to head off an international arms race.[4] Roosevelt was more intent on winning the war than worrying about its aftermath, but Bohr persuaded defense officials Vannevar Bush and James Conant that the wartime stress on secrecy should yield to the creation of a supranational nuclear control authority. Because other countries soon could acquire the means to make their own nuclear weapons, they reasoned, international control would be less risky than a nuclear arms race. Scientists involved in the U.S. atomic bomb program, including Robert Oppenheimer, also tried to convince U.S. and British officials of the impending threat of a postwar arms race and of the historic opportunity the bomb provided for global political cooperation.[5]

After ordering the nuclear attack on Japan, then-President Truman asserted that Americans alone “must constitute ourselves trustees of this new force” and directed the Department of State to devise an international control plan.[6] The resultant Acheson-Lilienthal report stated that the “development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and the development of atomic energy for bombs are in much of their course interchangeable and interdependent” and concluded that no country could be trusted to develop atomic power because even a primarily peaceful program might provide fissionable materials to build bombs.[7] In June 1946, the United States presented a modified version of the Acheson-Lilienthal report to the United Nations. However, whereas the original plan envisaged an International Atomic Development Authority to manage global nuclear activities, Truman’s representative, Bernard Baruch, inserted language allowing the proposed agency to impose sanctions for minor treaty breaches and to establish a new, veto-free UN Security Council to deal with major violations.

Baruch asserted that the United States must retain its stock of nuclear bombs (which in June 1946 numbered nine) until the new agency created a reliable formula for international control and intrusive inspections. The Soviet Union, which for four years had been racing to develop its own nuclear weapons arsenal, rejected the Baruch plan, viewing it as a disingenuous effort to freeze and legitimize the global atomic disparity and preserve an unrivaled U.S. capacity for nuclear coercion. The Soviets also saw intrusive inspections as a threat to their sovereignty. Soviet Ambassador Andrei Gromyko declared, “The USSR government has no intention of permitting a situation whereby the national economy of the Soviet Union or particular branches of that economy would be placed under foreign control.”[8] Instead, Gromyko argued that every U.S. nuclear device must be eliminated prior to the creation of a less intrusive international control body. Washington refused, and disarmament negotiations broke down.

As the United Nations debated proposals for international arms control, the United States enacted the August 1946 Atomic Energy Act. The act made the entire nuclear program secret and also created an independent, civilian Atomic Energy Commission to oversee nuclear research and development and to maintain physical control over U.S. nuclear forces until their release to the military. The commission was responsible for implementing a rigid system of security classification and export licensing, which effectively banned the release of sensitive data on industrial atomic uses as well as on the design and manufacture of nuclear explosives, not to mention nuclear material and technology exports. By these measures and through steps taken to buy up worldwide supplies of uranium and thorium,[9] Washington tried to prevent additional countries from going nuclear.

Eisenhower’s Military Challenges

Although only two additional countries had joined the nuclear club—the Soviet Union and Great Britain—Eisenhower abandoned the policies of strict nuclear secrecy and technology denial largely because Moscow’s growing mastery of nuclear technology meant that it soon would be able to provide other countries peaceful nuclear assistance. U.S. officials feared that the Kremlin would score a huge propaganda victory, especially in the developing world, if the United States did not alter its own nuclear export policy. In addition, Moscow’s nuclear force buildup, starting with its first nuclear detonation in August 1949 and advancing with its thermonuclear weapon test in August 1953, compelled Washington to devise some countermeasure to the growing Soviet nuclear threat to U.S. territory.

The strategy Eisenhower approved in October 1953 slashed defense spending, which had spiraled during the Korean War, and—compared to the previous “containment” policy approved in the famous National Security Council (NSC)-68 document—established more aggressive requirements for security alliances, covert operations, overseas propaganda, and nuclear weapons.[10] This “New Look” strategy maintained that a large force of nuclear weapons was “indispensable for U.S. security” because only a “massive atomic capability” could deter Soviet aggression. In Eisenhower’s eight years in office, the U.S. nuclear stockpile grew from 1,005 to more than 20,000 weapons. Military doctrine changed too. “In the event of hostilities,” the new nuclear strategy stated, “the United States will consider nuclear weapons to be as available for use as other munitions.”[11] Ironically, the United States is now trying to discourage India and Pakistan from adopting a similar nuclear doctrine.

A Bold Nuclear Initiative

In a celebrated address to the UN General Assembly on December 8, 1953, Eisenhower heralded a new Atoms for Peace campaign designed to “hasten the day when fear of the atom will begin to disappear from the minds of people.” The president began his speech by warning of two impending “atomic realities.” First, he advised that the means to produce nuclear weapons, then possessed by only a few states, would eventually spread to other countries, “possibly all others.” Next, he affirmed that surprise nuclear attack for the foreseeable future would be a serious military threat, one which neither “superiority in numbers of weapons” nor powerful defense systems could prevent.

Ultimately, the president’s message was one of hope. He claimed that atomic energy soon could be channeled to improve the socioeconomic condition of humankind. To redirect nuclear research away from military pursuits and toward “peaceful...efficient and economic usage,” Eisenhower invited “the governments principally involved” to “make joint contributions from their stockpiles of...fissionable materials to an international atomic energy agency...set up under the aegis of the United Nations.”[12] Mandated to collect, store, and distribute fissile materials, the proposed IAEA would not have the ownership and punishment powers that doomed the chance for agreement on Baruch’s International Atomic Development Agency. Rather, the new agency and “uranium bank” were intended as simple steps to establish international trust and draw Moscow into a cooperative arms control dialogue.

U.S. officials realized that the IAEA would take years to establish and thus sought other dramatic proposals to advance the president’s nuclear initiative. In August 1954, the U.S. Atomic Energy Act was revised to allow nuclear technology and material exports if the recipient country committed not to use these items to develop weapons. U.S. companies were now free to sell nuclear technology to “strengthen American world leadership and disprove the Communists’ propaganda charges that the [United States] is concerned solely with the destructive uses of the atom.” Because U.S. power reactor programs were “unlikely to produce economically competitive atomic power for a decade or more,”[13] Washington increased funds for its own reactor programs, reoriented these programs to foreign requirements, and initiated foreign aid and information programs to make potential recipients interested in U.S. technology. It also provided friendly nations nuclear training, technical information, and help in constructing small research reactors.

Nuclear Commerce and Proliferation

In March 1955, Eisenhower intensified his efforts to promote peaceful nuclear uses, directing the Atomic Energy Commission to provide “free world” nations “limited amounts of raw and fissionable materials” as well as generous assistance for building power reactors. These exports were intended to maintain U.S. global leadership, reduce Soviet influence, and assure continued access to foreign uranium and thorium supplies.[14] In retrospect, it appears that these objectives were achieved, but an unintended outcome of Atoms for Peace was the proliferation of worldwide nuclear research and power programs, several of which eventually would be converted to the production of nuclear weapons.

Did U.S. policymakers not realize that sharing nuclear information and promoting peaceful nuclear uses could stimulate the appetite for nuclear weapons and increase the bomb-making capabilities of other nations? They generally understood the risk. In September 1955, Isador Rabi, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission General Advisory Committee, told State Department nuclear affairs adviser Gerard Smith that, without effective international controls to prevent the diversion of commercial nuclear facilities to military uses, “even a country like India, when it had some plutonium production, would go into the weapons business.”[15] As it turned out, the safeguard systems the United States enacted to ameliorate this risk were inadequate.

In particular, U.S. officials did not sufficiently enforce their own rules. In order to curb what Secretary of State John Foster Dulles called the “promiscuous spread” of nuclear arms,[16] the new export policy “ordinarily” required recipients of U.S. fissile materials or reactors to send used fuel elements to U.S. facilities for chemical processing; to establish adequate production accounting, inspection, and other control technologies; and eventually to accept IAEA safeguards.[17] In practice, however, U.S. enforcement of these measures was not very strict, other nuclear supplier states adopted even more relaxed controls, and the IAEA safeguards system turned out to be looser than originally envisioned. As a result, foreign nuclear technology recipients such as India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Israel slipped through the cracks of the nascent nonproliferation regime.

U.S. officials also were guilty of wishful thinking. They had too much confidence in their ability to control the nuclear behavior of other countries. To make matters worse, their emphasis on the scientific, commercial, and political benefits of U.S. nuclear exports prevented them from paying adequate attention to the security needs and perceptions of recipient countries, several of which would go on to misuse U.S. assistance. Moreover, many officials at that time believed that they had a responsibility to bring a scientific discovery as revolutionary as that of atomic energy into widespread application, whatever the risks. As the first Atomic Energy Commission chairman, David Lilienthal, recalled: “[T]his prodigious effort was predicated on the belief and hope that this great new source of energy for mankind could produce results as dramatically and decisively beneficial to man as the bomb was dramatically destructive.”[18] Lilienthal’s successor, Lewis Strauss, expressed this hope in a September 1954 speech: “It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy electrical energy too cheap to meter—will know of great periodic regional famines only as a matter of history—will travel effortlessly over the seas and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds—and will experience a life-span far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age. This is the forecast for an age of peace.”[19] Such optimism in the ability of U.S. technology to deliver prosperity and peace to the world did not abate until India’s 1974 nuclear explosive test demonstrated the dangerous potential of “peaceful” nuclear technology.

U.S. Nuclear Assistance

Within a year of Eisenhower’s UN speech, the United States began training foreign scientists at a new School of Nuclear Science and Engineering at Argonne Laboratory; declassified hundreds of nuclear studies and reports; sponsored the first UN Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, where many of the declassified documents were released; and concluded nuclear cooperation agreements with more than two dozen countries. The United States was responsible for whetting appetites for nuclear research and development in many countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Pakistan, having no prior nuclear program. Even in countries such as India and Israel, where a strong demand for nuclear technology already existed, Washington mounted a major campaign to increase interest in nuclear energy. In late 1955, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development put on a large exhibit at the New Delhi Trade Fair featuring a 30-foot-high reactor diagram, “hot” laboratories, and numerous working models. Nearly two million Indians attended.[20]

Washington’s promotion of nuclear technology was a particularly high priority in South Asia in the mid-1950s because it supported two of the Eisenhower administration’s major policy directives: NSC 5409 (“U.S. Policy toward South Asia”), which the president approved in March 1954 to support “strong, stable and responsible governments” in a region that is “a major battleground in the Cold War”[21]; and NSC 5507/2 (“Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy”), which he approved in March 1955 to utilize nuclear technology exports to promote the international and regional interests of the United States. India’s nuclear energy chief, Homi Bhabha, was the last person that needed to be coaxed. He lobbied to make India the first recipient of U.S. nuclear material under Washington’s new nuclear export policy. The Atomic Energy Commission sold India 10 tons of heavy water in February 1955 for use in its Cirus research reactor, a facility Canada had agreed to supply with generous financing. The United States was so intent on concluding a nuclear supply contract with New Delhi that it offered the heavy water four years before the reactor’s completion. U.S. policymakers were especially eager to please India owing to their concern that, following Joseph Stalin’s death in March 1953, “the USSR and Communist China will focus increasing attention on India in an effort to insure [sic] at least its continued neutralism, and if possible to bring it closer to the Communist Bloc.”[22]

Largely because of its own regional security interests, but in some part because of Bhabha’s relentless lobbying, the United States became India’s leading supplier of nuclear technology and materials. Washington provided New Delhi with more than $93 million in Atoms for Peace loans and grants between 1954 and 1974, three-quarters of which subsidized the construction and operation of India’s first power reactor at Tarapur. In a few cases, India and other countries refused U.S. offers of assistance and tried to bargain for more advanced technologies. For example, when Washington offered India a standard research reactor deal in May 1955, Bhabha declined and asked instead for the United States to transfer to India a nuclear power reactor “omitting essential safeguard features,” which Bhabha called “onerous” and “more or less of an insult to India’s peaceful intentions.” After discussing the matter, U.S. officials insisted that a reactor sale would be considered but only if India accepted international safeguards.[23]

Requests by India and other strategically located recipients of U.S. assistance for more than what Washington would offer became routine. Less than a month after Eisenhower’s UN speech, Indian atomic energy official S. S. Bhatnagar asked if the United States could establish a “joint enterprise with the Indian Atomic Energy Commission analogous to the U.S.-UK arrangement with South Africa” and collaborate in the development of Indian uranium resources.[24] Washington declined. Also in January 1955, Bhabha asked a U.S. embassy official if the Atomic Energy Commission would provide India with technical information on the effects of nuclear explosions or establish a joint monitoring station in India to record airborne fragments produced by nuclear explosions.[25] Once again, Washington indicated that it was “emphatically not interested.” However, U.S. officials never suspected that Bhabha was trying to produce nuclear weapons, even though the technology and materials he accumulated under Atoms for Peace enabled India to manufacture and detonate a nuclear device in 1974 and become a full-fledged nuclear-weapon state in 1998.[26]

An Imperfect Regime

Critics correctly point out that the road to nuclear weapons production would have been much rockier for India and Pakistan had the United States not launched Atoms for Peace. The liberal nuclear export policies initiated by the United States and other Western suppliers in the mid-1950s dramatically reduced the costs of undertaking serious nuclear research and development for dozens of nations around the world. Proponents of nuclear energy in countries without a nuclear program before Atoms for Peace, or other countries with foundering programs, were now able to convince national leaders of the technical and economic feasibility of operating nuclear reactors, uranium-enrichment plants, and plutonium reprocessing facilities. In a handful of cases, highly determined governments succeeded in producing nuclear weapons from so-called peaceful nuclear technologies.

That is only part of the story. There are many more instances where the diversion of scientific or industrial nuclear materials for military uses was detected and defeated by the nonproliferation notions and instruments that began under Atoms for Peace. Argentina, Brazil, Taiwan, and South Korea are cases in point. The norm of nuclear nonproliferation; the principle of regulated nuclear commerce; the idea of nuclear safeguards; and the IAEA, which was supposed to bring all of these tools together, are the linchpins of the current nonproliferation regime. Indeed, the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty can be seen as a refined, negotiated expression of Atoms for Peace and follow-on efforts by the Eisenhower administration.[27] Without doubt, the nuclear nonproliferation regime is imperfect, but it has managed to limit the possession of nuclear weapons to a single-digit number of states. Even more significant is the fact that not a single nuclear weapon has been employed as part of a military conflict since the Second World War. Considering the dire forecasts made in the 1950s and 1960s about the rapid international spread of nuclear arms and the likelihood of nuclear war,[28] these are outcomes that probably would have pleased Eisenhower and many of his presidential successors.


1. Leonard Weiss, “Atoms for Peace,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 59, no. 6 (November-December 2003), pp. 41-42.

2. Truman was not informed of the atomic bomb until April 25, 1945, 12 days after he assumed the presidency. David McCullough, Truman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), pp. 376-377.

3. U.S. Department of State, “Articles of Agreement Governing Collaboration between the Authorities of the USA and the UK in the Matter of Tube Alloys,” Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS): The Conferences at Washington and Quebec, 1943 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1970), pp. 1117-1119.

4. Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, The New World, 1939-1946: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, vol. 1 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), p. 326.

5. Lawrence S. Wittner, One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement Through 1953 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993); Robert J. Oppenheimer, “Niels Bohr and Atomic Weapons,” New York Review of Books, December 17, 1964.

6. “Radio Report to the American People on the Potsdam Conference,” August 9, 1945, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1945 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1961), p. 213.

7. The document was a compromise between Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson and a scientific group led by Oppenheimer and David Lilienthal that wanted an international body to take immediate control over all atomic activities. Acheson insisted that U.S. nuclear authority should be relinquished gradually. U.S. Department of State, A Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1946).

8. Joseph L. Nogee, Soviet Policy Towards International Control of Atomic Energy (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1961), p. 136.

9. In June 1944, the U.S. government created with the British government a Combined Development Trust to buy up all known supplies of uranium and thorium overseas. Operating under the direction of Manhattan Project director Brigadier General Leslie Groves, the trust tried to survey, produce, and acquire sufficient uranium and thorium supplies to meet the nuclear research and development needs of the wartime allies and, as a protective measure, to monopolize these supplies so that none would fall into German or Soviet hands. “Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom for the Establishment of the Combined Development Trust,” February 13, 1944, FRUS, 1944, vol. 2, pp. 1026-1028. This effort was discontinued when global uranium and thorium were discovered to be too widespread and plentiful to monopolize. For background, see Jonathan E. Helmreich, Gathering Rare Ores: The Diplomacy of Uranium Acquisition, 1943-1954 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).

10. The 1950 NSC report urged “containing the Soviet system...by all means short of war to...foster the seeds of destruction within the Soviet system that the Kremlin is brought at least to the point of modifying its behavior to conform to generally accepted international standards.” It advised shelving global disarmament schemes, such as the Baruch plan, as long as Moscow refused inspection of its nuclear facilities. U.S. Department of State, FRUS, 1950, vol. 1, p. 271.

11. U.S. National Security Council (NSC), “Basic National Security Policy,” NSC 162/2, October 29, 1953, in FRUS, 1952-54, vol. 2, pp. 578-597.

12. Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1960), pp. 813-822.

13. NSC, “Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy,” NSC-5507/2, March 12, 1955, pp. 2, 7.

14. Ibid., p. 13.

15. Gerard Smith, September 14, 1955, FRUS, 1955-1957, vol. 20, p. 198 (memorandum for the file).

16. William B. Bader, The United States and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons (New York: Pegasus, 1968), pp. 29-35.

17. NSC, “Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy,” p. 17.

18. David E. Lilienthal, Change, Hope and the Bomb (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 96.

19. Stephen Hilgartner, Richard C. Bell, and Rory O’Connor, eds., Nukespeak: The Selling of Nuclear Technology in America (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1982), p. 44.

20. Operations Coordinating Board, “Progress Report on Nuclear Energy Projects and Related Information Programs,” May 23, 1956, pp. 8-9.

21. NSC, “U.S. Policy toward South Asia,” 5409, February 19, 1954, p. 1.

22. CIA, “Communist Courses of Action in Asia through 1957,” National Intelligence Estimate 10-7-54, November 23, 1954, p. 12

23. U.S. Department of State, “U.S.-India Relations in the Field of Atomic Energy,” December 10, 1956.

24. George Allen, telegram to John Foster Dulles, January 9, 1954.

25. Andrew Corry, memorandum to U.S. Department of State, January 29, 1954, p. 1. For a detailed analysis of India’s use of U.S. assistance to develop nuclear weapons, see Peter R. Lavoy, Learning to Live with the Bomb: India, the United States, and the Myths of Nuclear Security (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

26. R. Gordon Arneson, letter to Andrew Cory, February 24, 1954.

27. This takes nothing away from the administrations of President John F. Kennedy, which aggressively promoted nuclear nonproliferation, or of President Lyndon Johnson, which negotiated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Eisenhower administration created several of the key building blocks of the nonproliferation regime, which in turn facilitated the nonproliferation efforts of subsequent U.S. governments.

28. For example, Kennedy warned the public in March 1963 that 15-25 states might obtain military nuclear capabilities by the 1970s, the likely result of which would be international instability, reduced opportunities for nuclear disarmament, an increased chance of accidental war, and heightened prospects for global powers to become entangled in regional conflicts. The New York Times, March 23, 1963. Kennedy based this pessimistic forecast on a secret study that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had given the president one month earlier. In the document, McNamara expected that by 1973 eight new states might acquire nuclear weapons—China, Sweden, India, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Germany, Israel—and that, shortly thereafter, many more countries could go nuclear as the cost of acquiring nuclear weapons “may come down by a factor of 2 to 5 times.” Robert McNamara, “The Diffusion of Nuclear Weapons with and without a Test Ban Agreement,” February 12, 1963 (memorandum to Kennedy). A few months later, the CIA, in its first national intelligence estimate on nuclear proliferation, concluded that India, Japan, and a few other countries threatened by China “almost certainly” will “continue development of their peaceful nuclear programs, some to a point which would significantly reduce the time required to carry through a weapons program.” CIA, “Likelihood and Consequences of a Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Systems,” NIE 4-63, June 28, 1963.


Peter Lavoy is director of the Center for Contemporary Conflict and co-director of the Regional Security Education Program at the Naval Postgraduate School. From June 1998 to June 2000, he served as director for Counterproliferation Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Portions of this article are based on a chapter of his forthcoming book Learning to Live with the Bomb: India and Nuclear Weapons, 1947-2000.

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