"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

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.

Top of page






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.

Top of page






The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty: History and Current Problems

George Bunn

Fifty years ago this month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his “Atoms for Peace” address to the UN General Assembly. He proposed to share nuclear materials and information for peaceful purposes with other countries through a new international agency. That speech led to negotiations which, several years later, created the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA today has the dual responsibility of helping countries that do not have nuclear weapons to engage in peaceful nuclear programs while ensuring that they do not make nuclear weapons. In the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, the IAEA gained authority for policing the nuclear activities of member countries to ensure that those without nuclear weapons did not acquire them.

Today, the NPT is a worldwide treaty that bans all members except the United Kingdom, China, France, Russia, and the United States from having nuclear weapons and commits those five states to eventually eliminating their atomic arsenals. The treaty provides the norm and the foundation for an international regime to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. The 187 states that subscribe to the NPT include all significant states of concern with the exception of India, Israel, Pakistan, and—arguably—North Korea.[1] According to Ambassador Robert T. Grey, a former U.S. arms control negotiator, the NPT is “in many ways an agreement as important as the UN Charter itself.”[2] Yet, many believe that the NPT regime is battered and in need of strengthening.[3]

The NPT has in fact suffered major blows. Since 1991, uranium enrichment, plutonium separation, and other possibly weapons-related activities that Iraq, North Korea, and Iran hid from IAEA inspectors have been discovered. Iraq’s weapons program was found after the 1991 Persian Gulf War thanks to UN Security Council orders demanding more intrusive inspections than were then required by IAEA inspection standards. North Korea’s weapons program later became known through intelligence, IAEA inspections, and North Korea’s own admissions. The IAEA’s discovery of Iran’s failure to disclose experiments with plutonium separation and uranium enrichment to inspectors has recently led to a standoff with Tehran.

Historically, the IAEA has rarely demanded inspections beyond the perimeter of reactors or related nuclear sites that had been declared open for inspection by the countries where they were located. Further, uranium enrichment and plutonium separation does not violate the NPT if done for peaceful purposes under IAEA inspection. In fact, a number of more developed countries (e.g., Japan) conduct such activities. In the three countries where uranium enrichment or plutonium separation was thought to have been conducted for weapons purposes—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—the activities had taken place largely at locations not declared open for inspection to the IAEA.

Moreover, that North Korea and Iran both obtained enrichment technology from Pakistan suggests dangers to the NPT regime from nonparties that are not bound by the treaty’s prohibition against assisting non-nuclear-weapon states in acquiring nuclear weapons. The back-to-back nuclear tests by New Delhi and Islamabad in 1998 illustrate the dangers that an arms race in South Asia can have and suggest the temptation that such tests could encourage current non-nuclear-weapon parties to withdraw from the treaty in order to follow suit.

At the same time, the United States has not complied with some of its own NPT-created obligations. For example, in 1995 the United States won the agreement of the non-nuclear-weapon NPT states-parties to extend the NPT indefinitely by promising to negotiate a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The treaty was duly negotiated and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, but the Senate failed to ratify it in 1999. The Bush administration now opposes the CTBT, and the Senate is unlikely to consider it again, at least before the next election. That reflects a broader tendency by this Bush administration to downgrade treaties and regimes and to upgrade unilateral efforts, such as the pre-emptive use of force against Iraq, to enforce compliance with nonproliferation.

In addition, the Bush administration has undertaken efforts to create new types of nuclear weapons that might well require new testing.[4] Thus, while pushing other countries to reject the acquisition of nuclear weapons for their defense, the United States seems to be relying ever more heavily on nuclear weapons for its own defense. This double standard constitutes another threat to the NPT regime.

These points are all relevant to the status of the NPT today and will be explained in more detail below or in other articles in this issue.

Early Nonproliferation Efforts

Eisenhower’s 1953 “Atoms for Peace” speech came after the failure of earlier U.S. nonproliferation efforts. At the end of World War II, when the United States had the only nuclear weapons in the world, President Harry Truman proposed to destroy the U.S. nuclear arsenal if other countries would agree not to acquire nuclear weapons and would permit inspections to verify that agreement. The “Baruch Plan” of the Truman administration would have given an agency under the jurisdiction of the UN Security Council a monopoly over research on how to make nuclear explosives and the power, free of veto and backed up by military force if necessary, to conduct inspections in other countries to make sure they were not making nuclear weapons. The United States, however, would not surrender its weapons to the agency until inspectors were on duty in the Soviet Union and in other countries with nuclear potential. The Soviet Union rejected this approach; it was already seeking its own nuclear weapons. Skeptical about the Baruch Plan being debated at the United Nations, the U.S. Congress enacted the 1946 Atomic Energy Act with provisions designed to keep nuclear technology secret from other countries.[5]

By contrast, Eisenhower proposed providing assistance to other countries in the peaceful uses of atomic energy. As a result of his proposal, the U.S. Atomic Energy Act was amended to authorize nuclear assistance to others, and the IAEA was created to provide both assistance and inspectors for peaceful nuclear activities. The United States, followed by the Soviet Union, France, and others, began providing research reactors that used weapons-usable, highly enriched uranium (though usually in lesser amounts than needed for a weapon) to non-nuclear-weapon states around the world. These transfers and the training that accompanied the reactors helped scientists in many countries learn about nuclear fission and its potential uses.

As these scientists moved up the nuclear learning curve, global support increased for controlling the spread of the new technology in order to prevent its use for weapons. Soon, debate about nonproliferation in the UN General Assembly produced a 1961 consensus Irish resolution saying that countries already having nuclear weapons would “undertake to refrain from relinquishing control” of them to others and would refrain “from transmitting information for their manufacture to States not possessing” them. Countries without nuclear weapons would agree not to receive or manufacture them. These ideas were the basis for the NPT.[6]

The United States submitted a simple draft treaty based on this resolution to the Soviet Union when a new 18-nation Disarmament Conference opened in Geneva in 1962. The Soviet response was to insist on a treaty that would prohibit the arrangements that the United States then had with NATO allies such as West Germany for deployment, in their countries, of U.S. nuclear weapons under the control of U.S. soldiers—weapons to be used to protect these countries, if necessary, in the event of an attack on them by the Soviet Union and its allies. The Soviet proposal and U.S. plans for a “multilateral force” of naval vessels with nuclear weapons—vessels manned by sailors from participating NATO countries and under NATO command—became major obstacles to agreement. By then, the multilateral force plan was strongly supported only by West Germany. However, for the United States to agree that an NPT should prohibit U.S. allies not having nuclear weapons from joining in control of U.S. nuclear weapons in peacetime required meetings with President Lyndon Johnson at Camp David, further negotiations with Soviet representatives, recommendations to the president from an important committee of distinguished advisers, lengthy discussions with West Germany and other allies, a congressional resolution urging negotiation of a nonproliferation treaty, and bureaucratic maneuvering to gain Johnson’s approval for proposed treaty language.

In the compromise, the United States gave up on the multilateral force; the Soviets gave up on a prohibition against U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons in West Germany (and other allied countries), provided the weapons remained under sole control of U.S. personnel. The non-nuclear-weapon states were asked to accept draft language which prohibited them from having nuclear weapons and which called for the IAEA to be permitted to carry out inspections to guarantee that their nuclear programs were limited to peaceful uses. In addition, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States agreed to provide assistance to non-nuclear-weapon NPT members in their pursuit of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and agreed to conduct future negotiations to halt the nuclear arms race and reduce their nuclear weapons with the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.

Negotiations then began for gaining acceptance of these provisions by important non-nuclear-weapon governments and their parliaments and for prescribing the inspections that would be conducted by the IAEA pursuant to the NPT. India, which had participated actively in the NPT negotiations as a country without nuclear weapons, refused to join. It wanted to retain the option to produce its own nuclear weapons as its then-adversary, China, already had. Pakistan, another adversary of India, refused to join because India would not. Israel, which the United States had tried to restrain from acquiring nuclear weapons in separate negotiations during the 1960s, also refused to join. China and France had not participated in the NPT negotiations but had acquired nuclear weapons before its negotiation was completed. The NPT draft permitted them to join the treaty with the same rights and duties as the other nuclear-weapon states—the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States. They did so later.

States began signing the treaty in 1968, and it went into force in 1970. However, the negotiations at the IAEA among parties and potential parties on the scope of inspections for non-nuclear-weapon parties continued for several years. Many countries, including West European allies of the United States, did not ratify the treaty until these negotiations were completed to their satisfaction.[7] There were also further negotiations every five years at NPT review conferences. These dealt with implementation of treaty provisions such as those promising assistance to non-nuclear-weapon states for peaceful uses and calling for reductions of nuclear weapons and for nuclear disarmament. At an important conference in 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely from its initial 25-year term.[8] The 1995 decision and the review conference of 2000 focused particular attention on the NPT-related promises of the nuclear-weapon states to “cease the nuclear arms race” including stopping nuclear testing, negotiating reductions of nuclear weapons, and eventually achieving nuclear disarmament.[9]

Current Problems

Even as the legal regime was expanded by these agreements, the NPT came under strain elsewhere. One of the most significant blows was Iraq’s demonstrated ability to hide its nuclear-weapon-making efforts from IAEA inspectors before the Gulf War. With inspection authority from UN Security Council resolutions adopted after that war—authority beyond what the 1970s negotiations on NPT verification standards had given the IAEA—inspectors found previously hidden Iraqi efforts to enrich uranium to make nuclear weapons and even an attempt to use (for a weapon) highly enriched research-reactor uranium provided for peaceful purposes by France and the Soviet Union.[10]

These findings produced a major effort to strengthen the IAEA’s NPT inspection authority through an additional protocol. The IAEA parties who negotiated the 1997 model for this protocol did not agree, however, that the NPT required its parties to accept the model, as had been the case with earlier IAEA safeguards standards. It is now up to each NPT party to negotiate with the IAEA a revised safeguards agreement pursuant to the model.[11] As of mid-2003, only 81 of 187 NPT states had negotiated new safeguards agreements; only 37, or about 20 percent, had given final approval to them through parliamentary or other ratification.[12] Even the United States has not yet adopted legislation to implement its new safeguards agreement. Some non-nuclear-weapon states may be holding back, asking why they should take on more nonproliferation obligations when, as they perceive it, the United States rejects an important one—the CTBT prohibition on nuclear testing—and then proposes new types of nuclear weapons for itself.[13]

After the experience with Iraq, IAEA inspectors sought new techniques to deal with other problem states such as North Korea. Some evidence was produced by IAEA inspectors in the 1990s using a new technique called “environmental monitoring”—testing for small traces of evidence of nuclear activities in the air, on walls or vegetation in areas within or surrounding a nuclear site, or in streams or rivers nearby. This is explicitly authorized in the 1997 Mode Additional Protocol for use even at sites far from the reactors that a country has declared open for inspection.[14] Results from using these and other techniques at declared sites encouraged the IAEA to press North Korea for broader inspections in the early 1990s, but Pyongyang refused. A stalemate between North Korea and the IAEA eventually led to bilateral negotiations between the United States and North Korea and the 1994 Agreed Framework between the two countries which called for Pyongyang to dismantle a reactor whose spent fuel rods had apparently been used by North Korea to produce plutonium. Pyongyang was also asked to provide information about its past activities. These steps were to be in exchange for the construction of new, more proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors from South Korea and Japan, as well as interim supplies of heavy-fuel oil from the United States.[15] However, North Korea appears to have engaged in nuclear-weapon activities at other sites after the 1994 agreement was inked. During 2002-2003, North Korea and the United States each concluded that the 1994 agreement was not to their liking, and North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT.[16]

Discovery of Iran’s failure to disclose experiments with plutonium separation and uranium enrichment to IAEA inspectors has triggered concern since last year. Using environmental monitoring and other techniques at declared sites and undeclared sites that Iran permitted them to check, the IAEA inspectors uncovered many suspicious items, including tiny samples of enriched uranium, tubes apparently used for enriching uranium in centrifuges, and stocks of unenriched uranium—none of which Iran had reported to the IAEA. In negotiations with the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, Iran agreed to sign an additional protocol authorizing broader inspections in Iran and to put aside its uranium-enrichment plans, at least for the time being. Though the IAEA director-general’s report shows that Iran had not disclosed to earlier inspectors its uranium-enrichment efforts or an experiment in plutonium separation, he concluded that the IAEA lacked direct proof that these efforts were for the purpose of making weapons—to the consternation of officials in the United States. The IAEA Board of Governors then adopted, with U.S. support, a decision to order continued inspections in Iran for clandestine activities.[17]

The uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation efforts of Iraq, North Korea, and Iran have produced renewed calls for the NPT not to permit such efforts even if subject to IAEA inspection. The concern is that, once a country gains access to this technology, it might then withdraw from the NPT (as North Korea did) and use its stocks of weapons-usable uranium or plutonium to make weapons. The Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) had earlier recommended that new uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation plants of non-nuclear-weapon states be placed under multilateral ownership and control so that the co-owners from the different countries could check on each other.[18] However, Japan; some western European non-nuclear-weapon countries; and Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and a few others, as well as all the nuclear-weapon states, have or have experimented with enrichment or reprocessing facilities. Should these all now be subject to a rule requiring multilateral ownership and oversight? Would limiting the requirement to non-nuclear-weapon countries be regarded as adding further insult to the NPT’s existing discrimination in favor of nuclear-weapon states? IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has recommended that all enrichment and reprocessing facilities used for civilian purposes should be multilaterally owned and controlled in the future, with each country involved being urged to check on what its partner countries are doing to make sure that the enriched uranium or separated plutonium is not used for weapons purposes.[19]

The Bush administration has pressed hard on Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to restrain them from acquiring nuclear weapons, but it has done so sometimes in unilateral or domineering ways that seem inconsistent with a multilateral regime like that of the NPT. The American-led, counter-proliferation-justified, preventive-war invasion of Iraq in 2003 that the United States waged without UN Security Council authorization is a recent example. At the time, the invasion was said to be necessary to prevent Iraq from again acquiring nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons or long-range missiles. It took place even though Security Council-authorized inspections, consistent with the NPT, were going on in Iraq to look for these weapons. It resulted in UN inspectors being withdrawn from Iraq for their own safety. U.S inspectors have subsequently found little evidence of ongoing biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons programs but the decision reflected Bush’s tendency to downgrade treaties and international efforts in favor of more proactive proliferation efforts.”[20]

Likewise, the Senate failed to ratify the CTBT in 1999. The Bush administration has not asked the Senate to reconsider that vote and instead has said that the United States “will not become a party” to that treaty.[21] At the same time, the administration seeks money from Congress for new types of nuclear weapons—ones that may well need testing before the United States would rely on them. However, in 1995, when the United States negotiated an agreement with all the non-nuclear-weapon states to extend the NPT beyond 1995, it agreed to negotiate a CTBT by 1996 as part of the price it had to pay to gain agreement to renew the NPT.[22] The CTBT was negotiated by 1996. Then, in the 2000 NPT review conference, the Clinton administration agreed on “the importance and urgency” of ratification of the CTBT “without delay” to “achieve the early entry into force” of the treaty even though the Senate then had no plans to vote again on the CTBT.[23] Is the CTBT such an essential element of the nonproliferation regime that U.S. failure to join it could provide persuasive justification for withdrawal from the NPT for those who choose to do so?[24]

Other problems of this sort occurred with Article VI of the NPT, agreed to in the original treaty negotiations in order to gain the support for the treaty of non-nuclear-weapon states. In that provision, the United States and the other recognized nuclear-weapon states promised to negotiate nuclear-weapon reductions with the goal of nuclear disarmament. Then, to gain the votes of these parties for extension of the NPT in 1995, the United States agreed to pursue “progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons.”[25] At the 2000 NPT review conference, the Clinton administration made similar commitments. It also promised to implement START II (negotiated in the prior Bush administration) and to conclude “START III [more reductions] as soon as possible while preserving and strengthening the [Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)] Treaty as the cornerstone of strategic stability.”[26]

These promises were shredded when the present Bush administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty. The withdrawal nullified START II because the Russian Duma had conditioned its approval vote for START II on a continuation of the ABM Treaty. The substitute for START II negotiated with Russia by President George W. Bush, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty of 2002, required withdrawal of warheads from many long-range missiles on each side to the end that, by 2012, no more than 2,200 warheads would be deployed on either side.[27] The treaty, however, does not require the warheads to be destroyed, calls for no inspections, has a more permissive withdrawal clause than in START II, and contains no stated plan for a subsequent treaty such as START III that would require further reductions. Does this satisfy the NPT commitment to negotiate toward nuclear disarmament? ElBaradei has suggested that the United States may be employing a double standard by not actually cutting its own arsenal of nuclear weapons (as distinct from its missiles) while attempting to restrain other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.[28]

To gain the agreement of the non-nuclear-weapon NPT parties to the treaty’s extension in 1995, the United States also made promises in connection with a UN Security Council resolution calling for what are called negative security assurances, which for the United States was a promise not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon NPT parties unless they attack the United States while in alliance with another nuclear-weapon state.[29] Yet, in its Nuclear Posture Review of 2001 and its National Strategy on Weapons of Mass Destruction of 2002, the Bush administration made clear that it was prepared to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon NPT party that threatened the use of chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies whether or not this NPT party was allied with a nuclear-weapon state.[30] Thus, the United States watered down another promise that was important to gaining the support of non-nuclear-weapon NPT states-parties for renewal of the NPT in 1995. Whether all these problems will produce further withdrawals from the NPT is, of course, unknown, but they might be used as excuses for withdrawal by any who want to do so.

What Has the NPT Accomplished?

The NPT nonproliferation norm, the long-term efforts of the United States and others to gain acceptance of it, and the international inspections the NPT produced deserve significant credit for the fact that the world does not now have 30 or more countries with nuclear weapons.

In 1963 the Department of Defense looked at the motivations of the “nuclear-capable” countries at the time and estimated for Kennedy that perhaps 10 more of them could have nuclear weapons and suitable delivery vehicles in less than a decade if nothing was done to prevent such a scenario from unfolding; they were the remaining major industrialized Group of Seven allies of the United States plus China, Czechoslovakia, India, Israel, Poland, and Sweden.[31] Thus, based on the 1963 list, 14 or more countries could have had nuclear weapons by the early 1970s.

The Defense Department’s list did not include Switzerland, Australia, South Korea, or Taiwan, which all had scientists who were then considering or would soon consider how to build nuclear weapons. It did not include South Africa, which later built several nuclear weapons, then gave them up and, like the others, joined the NPT. It did not include any republics of the Soviet Union. Three republics—Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine—had Soviet weapons on their territory when the Soviet Union collapsed and gave them up to join the NPT after negotiations with Russia and the United States supplied them with financial incentives and promises not to attack them with nuclear weapons. Without the NPT norm, these countries would probably not have given their inherited weapons up. The Pentagon list did not include Argentina and Brazil, which later began nuclear weapons programs but then negotiated a bilateral agreement not to acquire nuclear weapons and joined the NPT—turning rivalry into cooperation in response to the norm of the NPT and of a Latin American Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone agreement.[32]

North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq began later and were not on the Pentagon’s 1963 list either.[33] If there had been no NPT, if all these countries plus the ones on the list acquired nuclear weapons, the total would have been at least 28 by now. Some neighbors and rivals would then probably have been motivated to acquire nuclear weapons themselves. What would the total have become? More than 30 countries with nuclear weapons? Today, we have nine counting North Korea but not Iran.

The single most important factor in producing this success has been the nonproliferation norm established by the NPT and the incentives for remaining non-nuclear that the NPT helped initiate. The next most important factor has probably been leadership, cooperative efforts, and financial assistance in some cases from the United States working with many other NPT parties.[34] Given the more difficult nonproliferation and security challenges of today, it is vital that U.S. leadership be used to strengthen, not to weaken or abandon, the nuclear nonproliferation regime.


1. Some believe that North Korea’s withdrawal was invalid and count it still as a party to the treaty.

2. See Bipartisan Security Group, Status of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Interim Report (Global Security Institute, June 2003), preface.

3. See Mohamed ElBaradei, “Towards a Safer World,” The Economist (October 18, 2003), pp. 47-48; Ariel Levite, “Never Say Never Again,” International Security (Winter 2002-2003), p. 59; T. Ogilvie-White and John Simpson, “The NPT and Its 2003 Prep Com Session: A Regime in Need of Intensive Care,” The Nonproliferation Review (Spring 2003), p. 40; Stanley Foundation Conference, “Global Disarmament Regimes: A Future or a Failure?” (2003), p. 2; “Nuclear Breakout,” The New York Times (July 27, 2003), p. 12.

4. See Sidney Drell et al., “A Strategic Choice: New Bunker Busters vs. Nonproliferation,” Arms Control Today (March 2003), p. 3.

5. George Bunn, Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians (Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 59-72.

6. Leonard Weiss, “Atoms for Peace,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (November-December 2003), pp. 34, 37, 41; Bunn, Arms Control by Committee, pp. 64-66. Arms Control by Committee provides a more detailed account of the history of the NPT’s negotiation.

7. Glenn T. Seaborg with Benjamin S. Loeb, Stemming the Tide: Arms Control in the Johnson Years (Lexington Books, 1987), p. 305; Charles N. Van Doren, “Some Perspectives on Supplier Control,” in The Nuclear Suppliers and Nonproliferation, eds. Rodney Jones et al. (Lexington Books, 1985), p. 17.

8. “Decision: Extension of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” May 1, 1995, NPT/CONF.1995/32/DEC.3.

9. Ibid.; “2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Final Document,” 2000 NPT/CONF.2000/28 (May 22, 2000). See Bipartisan Security Group, Status of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, pp. 2, 11-16.

10. See Joseph Cirincione, John Wolfsthal, and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002), pp. 271, 273-275; George Bunn and Chaim Braun, “Terrorism Potential of Research Reactors Compared with Power Reactors,” American Behavioral Sciences (February 2003), pp. 714, 717-718.

11. See “Strengthening the Effectiveness and Improving the Efficiency of the Safeguards System,” IAEA GC(40)17 (August 23, 1996), Annex I. For a view that authority for the requirements of the protocol could have been interpreted to be obligatory rather than voluntary, see George Bunn, “Inspection for Clandestine Nuclear Activities: Does the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Provide Legal Authority for the IAEA’s Proposals for Reform?” Nuclear Law Bulletin (OECD Nuclear Agency, June 1996), p. 9.

12. See ElBaradei, “Towards a Safer World,” pp. 47-48.

13. See Mohamed ElBaradei, “Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Revising the Basics, The Assymmetry Remains,” speech at the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference, November 14, 2002; Mohamed ElBaradei, “Curbing Nuclear Proliferation,” Arms Control Today (November 2003), p. 3.

14. See Bunn, “Inspection for Clandestine Nuclear Activities,” pp. 11-12.

15. See Cirincione, Wolstahl and Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals, pp. 241-250; Michael May et al., Verifying the Agreed Framework (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, UCRL-ID-142036, 2001), chap. 1.

16. See “Nuclear Weapons on the Korean Peninsula,” Arms Control Today (May 2003), p. 3.

17. See Brenda Shaffer, “Iran at the Nuclear Threshold,” Arms Control Today (November 2003), p. 7. The text of the agreement of Iran with the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany appears at p. 25. For a brief description of the confidential IAEA director-general’s report on Iran’s nuclear program to the IAEA Board of Governors, see William J. Broad, “Surprise Word on Nuclear Gains by North Korea and Iran,” The New York Times, November 12, 2003, p. A3.

18. See Carleton Thorne, ed., A Guide to Nuclear Export Controls (2001), p. 101 (Nuclear Suppliers’ Group Guidelines [Part 1], para. 7); ElBaradei, “Towards a Safer World,” pp. 47-48; ElBaradei, “Curbing Nuclear Proliferation.”

19. ElBaradei, “Towards a Safer World.”

20. Jason D. Ellis, “The Best Defense: Counterproliferation and U.S. National Security,” The Washington Quarterly 26, no. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 116-117. For the two national strategy documents most pertinent to U.S. pre-emptive use of force to achieve nonproliferation, see National Strategy of the United States (September 17, 2002), sec. 5; White House, National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (December 11, 2002), sec. V.

21. Sherwood McGinnis, remarks to the UN General Assembly First Committee.

22. See “Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament,” NPT/CONF.1995/32/Dec.2 (May 11, 1995), para. 4(a) (hereinafter “Principles and Objectives”).

23. “The 2000 NPT Review Conference, Final Document,” NPT/CONF.2000/28, art. VI, para. 5 (hereinafter “2000 NPT Final Document”).

24. In the voting on the UN General Assembly First Committee’s 2003 resolution supporting the CTBT as important to nonproliferation, the United States was the only country to oppose. See The First Committee Monitor, October 27-31, 2003.

25. See “Principles and Objectives,” para. 4(b).

26. See “2000 NPT Final Document,” art. VI, para. 15, practical step 7.

27. See “Letter of Transmittal and Article-by-Article Analysis of the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions,” Arms Control Today (July/August 2002).

28. Stephan Pullinger, “U.S. Policy: WMD, Good and Bad,” Disarmament Diplomacy (October-November 2003), p. 55.

29. George Bunn, “The Legal Status of U.S. Negative Security Assurances to Non-Nuclear Weapon States,” The Nonproliferation Review (Spring-Summer 1997), p. 1.

30. See National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction; U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, (Global Security Institute, December 2002).

31. See Bunn, Arms Control by Committee, p. 68.

32. See Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain Their Nuclear Capabilities (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995), chaps. 1-5; Lewis A. Dunn, Controlling the Bomb: Nuclear Proliferation in the 1980s (Twentieth Century Fund, 1982), pp. 13-14, 17, 100, 110-111; Thomas Jonter, Sweden and the Bomb: The Swedish Plans to Acquire Nuclear Weapons, 1945-1972 (Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate, 2001), chaps. 4-5.

33. See David Albright and Kevin O’Neill, Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle (Institute for Science and International Security), chap. 1; Reiss, Bridled Ambition, chaps. 1, 5, and 6; Leonard Spector and Jacquiline R. Smith, “North Korea: The Next Nuclear Nightmare?” Arms Control Today (March 1991), pp. 8-13.

34. See Levite, ”Never Say Never Again,” pp. 75-85.

George Bunn, the first general counsel for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, helped negotiate the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and later became U.S. ambassador to the Geneva Disarmament Conference.

Top of page






Summit Leaves Iran, North Korea Questions Unanswered

Christina Kucia

Despite what they described as “open, very frank” discussions about Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded their Sept. 26-27 talks at Camp David without any concrete decisions on how to address the crises.

At a joint press conference Sept. 27, Bush said the United States and Russia “share a goal…to make sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program.” Putin maintained that “Russia has no desire and no plans to contribute in any way to the creation of weapons of mass destruction, either in Iran or in any other spot, region in the world.” He noted that Russia’s decision to help Iran build a nuclear reactor at Bushehr is in full compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and agreed with Bush that both countries will continue to urge Iran to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency requirements.

The United States has criticized Russia’s assistance to Iran in constructing the $800 million reactor and providing nuclear fuel for the plant. Russia has maintained that it will require Iran to return any spent fuel, although the two countries have yet to sign an agreement enforcing this pledge. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) Concern over Iran’s nuclear energy program escalated in September after international investigators detected traces of highly enriched uranium in two facilities. (See “Concern Heats Up Over Iran’s Alleged Nuclear Program,” p. 20.)

Both presidents agreed that North Korea must cease its nuclear weapons program. At the press briefing, Bush reiterated his call for North Korea “to completely, verifiably, and irreversibly end its nuclear programs.” Putin, however, also pressed the United States to offer Pyongyang “guarantees in this sphere of security,” drawing attention to U.S. reluctance to provide such explicit guarantees. (See “U.S. Shows More Flexibility in North Korea Talks”) On the Iraq front, Bush failed to secure military or financial support from Putin for Iraq’s reconstruction.

Also during the summit, both sides discussed implementation of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which entered into force in May 2003. (See ACT, June 2003.) The Bilateral Implementation Commission, which is scheduled to meet twice yearly, has yet to convene. The commission’s first meeting may be scheduled later this fall, in late October or early November.




Despite what they described as “open, very frank” discussions about Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President...

U.S. Shows More Flexibility in North Korea Talks

Paul Kerr

With another round of six-party talks concerning the North Korean nuclear crisis likely to take place, the Bush administration has signaled new flexibility in its bargaining position. Although U.S. policy is still far from fully formed, the biggest change appears to be that the United States will not insist that North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear facilities before Washington addresses some of North Korea’s concerns. Instead, Department of State officials say, they are looking at a step-by-step approach to reduce tensions.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sept. 22 that future multilateral discussions are likely, and officials from South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China—the other participants in the recent talks held in Beijing—have all expressed support for another round.

North Korea, however, has been ambivalent. An Aug. 30 statement from the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) indicated that Pyongyang was uninterested in further six-party talks. But a Sept. 2 agency statement reaffirmed Pyongyang’s “will to peacefully settle the nuclear issue…through dialogue.”

Subsequent North Korean statements have argued that future six-party talks will not be useful unless Washington changes its “hostile policy” of threatening a military attack and economic strangulation. Pyongyang officials have repeatedly demanded that the two countries conclude a non-aggression treaty before Pyongyang destroys its nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang’s ambivalence toward future talks stems from its aversion to U.S. demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program before addressing any of North Korea’s concerns. Indeed, the United States has repeatedly insisted that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program as a necessary—although not necessarily sufficient—condition for improved bilateral relations.

North Korea contends that the United States continued to articulate this position during the Beijing talks. (See ACT, September 2003). However, a senior State Department official insisted during a Sept. 4 press briefing that the U.S. delegation actually displayed more flexibility than the North Koreans claim and that Pyongyang’s statements seemed “pre-scripted” rather than responsive to the actual discussions.

The official said the U.S. presentations were “different in tone and in content” from those made during talks with North Korea in Oct. 2002 and this past April. The official added that the U.S. delegation “made clear that we are not seeking to strangle North Korea…we can sincerely discuss security concerns in the context of nuclear dismantlement, and...we are willing to discuss a sequence of denuclearization measures with corresponding measures on both sides.” The United States did not specify what measures it would take, the official said.

This account of the U.S. position is somewhat consistent with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Aug. 29 statement that all parties had reached a “consensus” to solve the nuclear crisis “through synchronous and parallel implementation.” However, a Sept. 1 statement from the South Korean government said there were “sharp differences” between the two sides, and Wang told reporters the same day that—despite his earlier comments—Washington’s policy is the “main problem” preventing diplomatic progress.

Pyongyang’s Proposal

During the talks, North Korea reiterated and elaborated on its solution for resolving the standoff. According to an Aug. 29 KCNA statement, North Korea proposed a step-by-step solution, calling for the United States to conclude a “non-aggression treaty,” normalize bilateral diplomatic relations, refrain from hindering North Korea’s “economic cooperation” with other countries, complete the reactors promised under the 1994 Agreed Framework, resume suspended fuel oil shipments, and increase food aid. In return, North Korea would dismantle its “nuclear facility,” as well as end missile testing and export of missiles and related components.

North Korea made a similar proposal during a round of trilateral talks held in Beijing in April. A Sept. 10 KCNA statement also said that Pyongyang would discuss verification measures for any agreement “only after the U.S. drops its hostile policy.”

“Nuclear facility” appears to refer to its plutonium-based nuclear reactor frozen under the Agreed Framework—the agreement that defused the first North Korean nuclear crisis by providing North Korea with heavy fuel oil and two proliferation-resistant light water reactors in exchange for freezing its plutonium-based nuclear facilities. An August KCNA statement denied U.S. charges, first made during a bilateral meeting in Oct. 2002, that North Korea possesses a uranium-enrichment program—another method for producing fuel for nuclear weapons.

A Compromise?

Following meetings with Bush and Powell in early September, South Korean Foreign Affairs-Trade Minister Yoon Young-kwan said in a statement that the United States would probably go to the next round of talks with a proposal that would likely address North Korea’s security concerns. Powell said in August that the United States could support some form of written security assurance to North Korea, although he ruled out a nonaggression treaty.

Although State Department spokesman Richard Boucher Sept. 5 said the United States is not “going to grant inducements to North Korea to change its behavior,” a State Department official interviewed by ACT Sept. 24 said Washington is “looking at a sequence of steps” toward North Korean dismantlement. The senior State Department official stated Sept. 4 said North Korea would not “have to do everything before they would hear anything.”

Still, U.S. policy is clearly in flux. For example, the senior State Department official said Washington has not “completely decided” on procedures for verifying any North Korean agreement. And although Bush said in May that the United States “will not tolerate” a nuclear-armed North Korea, the administration has not said how it will respond to North Korea’s producing nuclear weapons. Powell stated during a Sept. 22 interview with Business Week that the United States will say “Gee, that was interesting” if North Korea test nuclear weapons, contending that North Korea would only conduct such a test to “scare the international community.”

State Department Spokesman J. Peter Ereli said Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is to meet his counterparts from South Korea and Japan Sept. 29-30 to coordinate their North Korea policies.

A Nuclear Doctrine?

North Korea articulated the circumstances under which it would use nuclear weapons in a Sept. 1 KCNA statement, which describes Pyongyang’s “nuclear deterrent” as “defensive,” adding that its weapons will “remain unused” unless another country “provokes” it. North Korea does not intend to sell its nuclear weapons or provide them to terrorists, the statement adds.

North Korea told the U.S. delegation during the April talks that it had nuclear weapons and made a veiled reference to testing them. According to the senior State Department official, during the August talks the North Korean delegation threatened to test nuclear weapons or “demonstrate the means that they would have to deliver” them—an apparent reference to their missiles. The Sept. 2 statement warned that North Korea “will have no option but to increase its nuclear deterrent force” if the United States does not change its policy.

KEDO’s Future

Meanwhile, Bush agreed Sept. 14 to waive the restrictions on funding to the Korean Peninsula Development Organization (KEDO), the U.S.-led consortium that is building the reactors under the Agreed Framework. Congress had prohibited funding KEDO unless Bush determined “that it is vital to the national security interests of the United States.” Bush’s decision provided “up to” $3.72 million for KEDO’s administrative expenses—not for the actual reactors, which the United States has never funded.

U.S. allies have opposed scrapping the reactor project. Minister Yoon said Seoul favors a “temporary suspension” of the project, as opposed to terminating it, according to a September press release.
Decisions about the reactor project’s future would be made at a KEDO Executive Board meeting, but no meeting has been scheduled, a KEDO official said during a Sept. 24 interview.

A North Korean Proposal

The following is the keynote speech given by Kim Yong II, North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs, at the six-party talks in Beijing Aug. 27. It is the most detailed account to date of what the North Koreans proposed, and appeared in an article published by KCNA, the state-run news agency:

For a package solution, the U.S. should conclude a non-aggression treaty with the D.P.R.K., establish diplomatic relations with it, and guarantee the economic cooperation between the D.P.R.K. and Japan and between the north and the south of Korea. And it should also compensate for the loss of electricity caused by the delayed provision of light-water reactors [LWRs] and complete their construction.

For this, the D.P.R.K. should not make nuclear weapons and allow the nuclear inspection, finally dismantle its nuclear facility, put on ice the missile test fire, and stop its export.

According to the order of simultaneous actions, the U.S. should resume the supply of heavy-fuel oil and sharply increase the humanitarian food aid while the DPRK should declare its will to scrap its nuclear program.

According to this order, we will allow the refreeze of our nuclear facility and nuclear substance and monitoring and inspection of them from the time the U.S. has concluded a nonaggression treaty with the DPRK and compensated for the loss of electricity.

We will settle the missile issue when diplomatic relations are opened between the DPRK and the U.S. and between the DPRK and Japan. And we will dismantle our nuclear facility from the time the LWRs are completed.

First, the DPRK and the U.S. should make clear their will to clear up bilateral concerns.
The DPRK will clarify its will to dismantle its nuclear program if the U.S. makes clear its will to give up its hostile policy toward the DPRK.

Second, all the countries participating in the six-way talks should agree on the principle to implement the measures for solving the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the U.S. through simultaneous actions.

If our reasonable proposal is turned aside at the talks, we will judge that the U.S. does not intend to give up its attempt to stifle the DPRK by force at an appropriate time while persistently insisting the DPRK “scrap its nuclear program first” to waste time.

In this case, the DPRK cannot dismantle its nuclear deterrent force but will have no option but to increase it. Whether the nuclear issue will be settled or not depends on the U.S. attitude.

In His Own Words

The following are excerpts from the first public comments made by Charles L. “Jack” Pritchard, former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, since he resigned from the State Department in late August (prior to the Beijing talks) over the Bush administration’s approach toward North Korea. The comments were made during a Sept. 8 press briefing at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.:
“I’ll start off by saying…the prospects for success, unless the format is slightly altered, are very grim. [T]he six-party formulation is in fact the right one. Multiparty internationalization of the issue, particularly on the nuclear issue, is the right track to take…The change that has to occur is putting in the component of a true bilateral engagement between the United States and North Korea....
“What is required is a sustained involvement by the United States with North Korea. Does that mean that we’re going to resolve the problem bilaterally? No. We’re going to lay the ground work that will put it back into the six-party format….But it cannot occur without a sustained and serious dialogue between the United States and North Korea. You cannot get to the point where you understand who your opponent is at the negotiating table unless you have had continuous contact with them over a period of time….
“[I]t’s going to be very difficult to trust any arrangements that are made with the North Koreans. But the alternative is not acceptable. Allowing the North Koreans to become a declared nuclear weapons state, testing the nuclear weapons, and potentially having the ability to transfer the technology or the weapons is not acceptable. Nor is not negotiating acceptable….
“Rather than the drive-by meetings that occur, where we roll down the window and we kind of wave to the North Koreans and then move on, we’ve got to have a full-time negotiator who can do the coordination with North Korea, do the coordination of our policies with our allies Japan and South Korea on a continuous basis, and touch base with the Chinese and the Russians….”






With another round of six-party talks concerning the North Korean nuclear crisis likely to take place, the Bush administration has signaled new flexibility in its bargaining position. 

Concern Heats Up Over Iran's Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors unanimously adopted a resolution Sept. 12 that sets an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate fully with the agency’s efforts to resolve concerns that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Tehran has sent mixed signals as to whether it will comply, possibly setting the stage for a showdown in the UN Security Council.

The resolution is the IAEA board’s strongest action to date regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In June the board issued a statement calling on Iran to resolve concerns created by its failure to report certain nuclear activities, as mandated by its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Such agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes. Iran ratified the NPT in 1970 and has repeatedly denied that it is pursuing nuclear weapons. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

The IAEA action follows months of pressure from Washington. The Bush administration expressed satisfaction with the resolution, with White House press secretary Scott McClellan describing it Sept. 25 as “one last chance for Iran to comply” and adding that the matter “should be reported to the Security Council” if Iran fails to do so. Although President George W. Bush said Sept. 25 that “there will be universal condemnation” if Iran does not cooperate, McClellan would not speculate on what course of action the administration would recommend if the matter is referred to the Security Council. The board is to evaluate Iran’s progress shortly after the deadline.

The United States has long had suspicions that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but international concern accelerated during the last year as more details about Iran’s uranium-and plutonium-based nuclear programs emerged. When operational, both programs could produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei issued a report in June summarizing the agency’s investigation into Iran’s nuclear programs and concluding that Iran had violated its safeguards agreements. A second report in August provided more details on Iran’s programs and revealed inconsistencies in previous Iranian statements to the agency, raising more questions about Tehran’s nuclear intentions.

Tehran has suggested that it is willing to cooperate with the IAEA but has voiced concerns that such cooperation will not be sufficient to meet U.S. demands. The IAEA is sending a team to Iran Oct. 2 to begin inspections and get a more complete picture of Iran’s nuclear activities, an IAEA official said in a Sept. 29 interview.

The Resolution

The most important component of the resolution calls on Iran to take “all necessary actions…to resolve all outstanding issues involving nuclear materials and nuclear activities” by the deadline, expressing particular concern about Iran’s gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment program. A pilot gas centrifuge plant near the town of Natanz contained more than 100 centrifuges as of February, when ElBaradei first visited the facility. Centrifuges spin uranium hexafluoride gas in cylinders to increase the concentration of the relevant isotopes. Tehran is also building a commercial facility that could hold enough centrifuges to produce fissile material for 25 nuclear devices per year. (See ACT, June 2003.)

The February discovery of the Natanz facility’s advanced state produced suspicions that Iran had secretly tested its centrifuges with nuclear material—an action that would violate its safeguards agreement. Under the agreement, Tehran can only conduct such tests if IAEA inspectors are notified. Iran has said it tested the centrifuges without nuclear material, but IAEA experts dismiss its claim.

In June, Iran adhered to the letter if not the spirit of its agreement by introducing nuclear material into the Natanz facility’s centrifuges under IAEA safeguards. That action came despite a board of governors’ request earlier that month that Tehran refrain from doing so. Iran accelerated its tests in August. The resolution “calls on Iran to suspend all further uranium-enrichment-related activities, including the further introduction of nuclear material into Natanz,” but there is no indication that Iran has stopped.

The resolution further calls on Iran to comply with the agency’s investigation into the matter by “providing a full declaration of all imported material and components relevant to the enrichment programme.” ElBaradei reported in August that environmental samples taken by IAEA inspectors revealed the presence of highly enriched uranium (HEU) at the pilot facility. Iran has explained the findings by claiming that it imported contaminated components, but the material’s presence may also indicate that Iran tested its centrifuges with nuclear material.

Iran’s acknowledgment that it had obtained some of the components through “foreign intermediaries” contradicted the country’s past contention that its enrichment program was entirely indigenous.
The centrifuge technology’s origin is unknown. Although a French report in May asserted that the technology is likely of Pakistani origin, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamidreza Asefi told reporters Sept. 1 that Iran has not cooperated with Pakistan. The August IAEA report says that the machines are of “an early European design,” but that does not exclude the possibility that they originated in Pakistan. (See ACT, September 2003.)

The IAEA resolution also requires Iran to allow inspectors to conduct environmental sampling in “whatever locations the IAEA deems necessary” to complete its verification tasks. Conducting samples has been a particularly contentious issue. Iran delayed allowing inspectors to conduct samples at a location called the Kalaye Electric Company for months after inspectors first requested access. When inspectors conducted sampling in August, they found “considerable modification” of the facility which could adversely impact the samples’ accuracy.

The IAEA has been particularly interested in the Kalaye site because Tehran acknowledged it produced centrifuge components there and the agency believes that sampling could help verify the government’s claim that it has not tested centrifuges with nuclear material. The IAEA has not revealed the results of the sampling, but the Associated Press reported Sept. 29 that Ali Akbar Salehi, Tehran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, acknowledged that inspectors found HEU at the site. He again blamed contaminated components.

Will Iran Comply?

Whether Iran will comply with the IAEA’s demands is an open question. Asefi said Tehran’s response to the resolution “is still being examined and…Iran’s final stance will be declared in due time,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported Sept. 21. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, however, said in a television interview that Iran is “determined to cooperate” with the agency, according to a Sept. 28 Associated Press report.

Earlier in the month, Tehran seemed to issue a veiled threat to pull out of the NPT. Iran’s representatives walked out of the IAEA meeting when the resolution was adopted, and Asefi told reporters Sept.14 that Iran would “review its cooperation” with the IAEA. However, Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh told the IAEA General Conference Sept. 16 that, although Iran “objects” to the resolution, it is still “fully committed to its NPT responsibility.”

Salehi discussed his government’s thoughts in more detail with Der Spiegel on Sept. 15, saying Iran would take “appropriate measures” if the United States tries to force it to forgo all uranium-enrichment activities. These measures could include limiting its cooperation with the IAEA to the minimum level required by its original safeguards agreement, “completely” ending cooperation with the agency, or pulling out of the NPT, he said. During the course of the agency’s investigation, Iran has allowed the IAEA to conduct inspections beyond those required by Iran’s safeguards agreement.

Additional Protocol

The resolution reiterates the IAEA’s June request that Iran “promptly and unconditionally” implement an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. An additional protocol allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities that countries have not declared to the agency in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs.

The IAEA and Iran have had ongoing discussions about the agreement, and Salehi said Sept. 15 that Iran is ready to begin negotiations “leading to our signing it.” IAEA spokesperson Melissa Flemming said that concluding the protocol was unnecessary for the agency to conduct its current investigation, Agence France Presse reported Sept. 25.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in August that Iran signing the additional protocol would not be sufficient to satisfy Washington’s concerns about that country’s nuclear programs.

Moscow-Tehran Cooperation Continues

Russia continues to move forward on the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor near the Iranian city of Bushehr. Russia has agreed to provide fuel for the reactor, with the condition that Iran sign an agreement to return the spent fuel, but Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev could not say when this agreement will be concluded, Agence France Presse reported Sept. 19.

Iran has also introduced a new variable. Russian Deputy Minister for Nuclear Energy Valery Govorukhin said that Iran now wants Russia to pay for the removal of the spent fuel, the Itar-Tass news agency reported Sept. 10. Rumyantsev added Sept. 19 that the two sides are negotiating this new demand—a process that could further delay conclusion of the agreement.

Although a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman called on Iran Sept. 13 to conclude an additional protocol and cooperate with the IAEA, Govorukhin added that Russia’s provision of reactor fuel is not conditioned on Iran signing the protocol. Moscow has hinted at such linkage in the past.

Washington has long opposed the Bushehr project because of concerns that Iran will gain access to expertise and dual-use technology that can aid it in developing a nuclear weapons program. Russia contends that the reactors will not contribute to a nuclear weapons program and will operate under IAEA safeguards.

Russian officials have said they may build more reactors in Iran and IRNA reported Aug. 26 that Russia has delivered feasibility studies to Iran for a second reactor being planned for Bushehr. The two governments agreed to conduct the studies in December 2002. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) Govorukhin said Sept. 10 that the Bushehr reactor will be completed in 2005, but the Aug. 26 IRNA report placed the date at 2004.

How Long Until a Weapon?

Major General Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, the head of Israeli military intelligence, told Jane’s Intelligence Review that Iran can develop a nuclear device “within two years” after gaining the ability to produce sufficient uranium, according to a Sept. 13 Agence France Presse report. Iran has said that it plans to start installing centrifuges into the commercial Natanz facility in 2005.

Ze’evi-Farkash, however, added that Israel believes 2004 is “the point of no return” because Iranian scientists will have by then acquired all the “necessary knowledge” for building a nuclear device.

Public U.S. estimates give a slightly longer time frame. A January 2003 Congressional Research Service report states that “the consensus among U.S. experts appears to be that Iran is still about eight to ten years away from a nuclear weapons capability, although foreign help or Iranian procurement abroad of fissionable materials could shorten that timetable.” A February Defense Intelligence Agency estimate says Iran will have a nuclear bomb by 2010 if it acquires the necessary technology and fissile material. Whether these estimates take into account the most recent Iranian nuclear developments is unknown.

Additionally, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton argued during a June congressional hearing that Iran could build “over 80 nuclear weapons” if it had access to sufficient fuel, operated the Bushehr reactor for 5-6 years, and chose to withdraw from the NPT.

The IAEA Resolution: An Excerpt

1. Calls on Iran to provide accelerated cooperation and full transparency to allow the Agency to provide at an early date the assurances required by Member States;
2. Calls on Iran to ensure there are no further failures to report material, facilities and activities that Iran is obliged to report pursuant to its safeguards agreement;
3. Reiterates the Board’s statement in June 2003 encouraging Iran not to introduce nuclear material into its pilot enrichment cascade in Natanz, and in this context calls on Iran to suspend all further uranium enrichment-related activities, including the further introduction of nuclear material into Natanz, and, as a confidence-building measure, any reprocessing activities, pending provision by the Director General of the assurances required by Member States, and pending satisfactory application of the provisions of the additional protocol;
4. Decides it is essential and urgent in order to ensure IAEA verification of non-diversion of nuclear material that Iran remedy all failures identified by the Agency and cooperate fully with the Agency to ensure verification of compliance with Iran’s safeguards agreement by taking all necessary actions by the end of October 2003, including:
(i) providing a full declaration of all imported material and components relevant to the enrichment programme, especially imported equipment and components stated to have been contaminated with high enriched uranium particles, and collaborating with the Agency in identifying the source and date of receipt of such imports and the locations where they have been stored and used in Iran;
(ii) granting unrestricted access, including environmental sampling, for the Agency to whatever locations the Agency deems necessary for the purposes of verification of the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations;
(iii) resolving questions regarding the conclusion of Agency experts that process testing on gas centrifuges must have been conducted in order for Iran to develop its enrichment technology to its current extent;
(iv) providing complete information regarding the conduct of uranium conversion experiments;
(v) providing such other information and explanations, and taking such other steps as are deemed necessary by the Agency to resolve all outstanding issues involving nuclear materials and nuclear activities, including environmental sampling results;
5. Requests all third countries to cooperate closely and fully with the Agency in the clarification of open questions on the Iranian nuclear programme;
6. Requests Iran to work with the Secretariat to promptly and unconditionally sign, ratify and fully implement the additional protocol, and, as a confidence-building measure, henceforth to act in accordance with the additional protocol;
7. Requests the Director General to continue his efforts to implement the Agency’s safeguards agreement with Iran, and to submit a report in November 2003, or earlier if appropriate, on the implementation of this resolution, enabling the Board to draw definitive conclusions....




The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors unanimously adopted a resolution Sept. 12 that sets an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate fully...

U.S. Lawmakers, Officials Seek End to NK Nuclear Aid

Charles Crain, Medill News Service

As diplomats seek to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, some U.S. lawmakers and Bush administration officials are pushing to end a program designed to provide North Korea with civilian nuclear energy.

Since last year, the United States and several allies have been building two light-water reactors in North Korea whose construction was a key component of the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea agreed to freeze its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program in exchange for the reactors and other aid. In 1995 the United States, South Korea, and Japan established the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to build the two reactors. KEDO remains in the early stages of its work—having established basic infrastructure and poured concrete for the first reactor—but none of the nuclear components for the reactor have yet been delivered.

Reuters reported on August 26, the day before negotiations commenced between North Korea and the United States and four other countries, that the program to build nuclear reactors in North Korea would probably be suspended in September. Citing U.S. officials, the report said the suspension was a compromise between the United States, which wants to end the program entirely, and South Korea and Japan, which prefer a suspension.
In addition, a June South Korean embassy release had said the United States has proposed stopping the construction of two reactors in North Korea, but the release said South Korea opposes such a move.

A State Department source, however, said August 26 the United States was not lobbying for a suspension. He said decisions about KEDO’s future would be made by its board when it meets in September.

A diplomatic source familiar with KEDO and with the negotiations said a suspension of KEDO’s work would probably result in the program’s demise. “KEDO is like a train—it’s hard to stop and hard to get back on track,” the source said. He said there was less than a 50 percent chance the program would be restarted after a suspension.

Meanwhile, some members of the U.S. Congress are seeking to ensure that KEDO will not continue, regardless of decisions taken by the Bush administration or other KEDO member states.

An amendment to the House energy appropriations bill that passed July 18 would prohibit the government from allowing U.S. hardware or technical information from being transferred, directly or indirectly, to states the United States identifies as sponsors of terrorism.

Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA) said he is confident the Senate will approve similar language to end U.S. support for the reactors project and that President George W. Bush would sign it into law. A spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) said he expected one or more senators would add similar language to the Senate bill.

Cox said he has spoken with a number of senators’ offices and has received especially strong support from Senator John Kyl (R-AZ). In an August 20 op-ed in the Asian Wall Street Journal, Kyl wrote, “After eight years of the Agreed Framework…the result was not one, but two North Korean nuclear weapons programs.” He advocated a hard-line stance, adding, “History shows it is futile to negotiate with Pyongyang as if it were a normal government.”

Cox and Kyl, along with Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), have opposed the project since its inception. In January, Kyl sponsored a bill to prohibit “certain” aid to North Korea or KEDO. The bill had seven co-sponsors, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a senior member on the Armed Services Committee; Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence; and Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), an Armed Services Committee member.

Congressional critics of the legislation have suggested that it is irrelevant because the Bush administration has decided not to request funding for KEDO. Cox disagreed: “I think that’s exactly wrong, because they’re still pouring concrete.” He added, “We haven’t put our foot down and said no yet.”
In addition, Cox said simply declining to fund KEDO would be an unclear and ineffective signal because it would leave open the possibility of other countries continuing to build the reactors with U.S. technical support. Cox said the language in the amendment would prevent even foreign countries and companies from continuing construction, since U.S. technology is vital to the designs. “If this language remains in the legislation, this will be the end of it,” Cox said. “There remains this haze of ambiguity, and I want to make sure this is all transparent.”

But the State Department source said congressional action would not necessarily limit the administration’s options or spell the end of KEDO. “One of the nice things about the Congress is that Congress can pass one bill today and tomorrow, if conditions change, pass another bill,” he said.

Some supporters of negotiations with North Korea express concern that terminating support for KEDO could make matters worse. Erasing ambiguity might be counterproductive, according to the foreign diplomat familiar with KEDO. He said suspending the reactors project and making its resumption contingent on North Korean cooperation would be a valuable bargaining tool, which would be lost if the program is canceled. “You need the carrot and the stick—everybody sees the stick, after Iraq, but you also need to show the carrot,” he said.

The diplomat also said unilateral action by the United States might strain relations with South Korea and other U.S. allies at a time when the international community is seeking to present a united front. South Korea, in particular, has advocated for negotiations with North Korea. “If you want to really get rid of this difficulty with North Korea, and if at the same time you want to avoid a war, that means you have to engage them,” he said.


As diplomats seek to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, some U.S. lawmakers and Bush administration officials are pushing to end a program designed to provide...

IAEA to Discuss Advances in Iran's Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors will hold a crucial meeting on Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities this month to address concerns that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The meeting comes after the agency released an August 26 report saying that “there remain a number of important outstanding issues” about Tehran’s nuclear program that require “urgent resolution.”

That report was the latest in a series of warnings by the IAEA about Tehran’s nuclear activities. Prompted by the United States and other countries, a June IAEA Board of Governors statement called on Iran to resolve concerns created by the government’s failure to report nuclear activities “as required by its safeguards obligations.” The statement specifically called on Tehran to sign an additional protocol to its IAEA Safeguards Agreement and allow the agency to conduct environmental sampling at the Kala Electric Company—a site where Iran might have carried out illegal uranium-enrichment activities. Safeguards agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran ratified in 1970, to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes.

The Board’s statement came just after the IAEA issued a report June 6 about Iran’s undeclared nuclear activities. Agency experts have visited Iran several times during the past two months to verify information Iran subsequently provided about these activities.

The United States has long expressed concern that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program—a charge Iran has repeatedly denied. A State Department official interviewed August 28 said that the most recent report provides “further incriminating evidence” of Iran’s violations of its safeguards agreement, adding that the IAEA needs to continue to pursue these matters.

Iran Considers Additional Protocol

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei visited Iran July 9 to urge Tehran to conclude an additional protocol, and a group of IAEA experts followed up on his visit on August 5-6 for further discussions about the matter. Since 1997, the IAEA has encouraged NPT member states to sign an additional protocol, which allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities that countries have not declared to the IAEA, in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs.

Although Iran has not yet agreed to sign it, Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said that “Iran views the additional…protocol positively” and will continue discussions with the IAEA, according to an August 13 Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report. The discussions are for clarifying details about the protocol, he said. Iran told the agency that Iran is “prepared to begin negotiation with the [IAEA] on the Additional Protocol,” according to the August 26 report.

Iran might have softened its stance on the issue of an additional protocol. Although a June IRNA report stated that Iran was conditioning its signing of the protocol on Western countries lifting restrictions on supplying nuclear technology to Iran, Aghazadeh said August 13 that “conditions are not important.” He implied, however, that Iran still wants access to nuclear technology, suggesting that the policy has not changed substantially. Article IV of the NPT says that states-parties “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.” The United States has laws against exporting dual-use goods and technology to Iran, and Washington has urged Russia to end its assistance for a nuclear program in Iran that Tehran and Moscow claim is for civilian purposes. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

Secretary of State Colin Powell said August 1 that Iran signing the Additional Protocol wouldn’t be sufficient to satisfy Washington’s concerns about that country’s nuclear programs.




The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors will hold a crucial meeting on Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities this month to address concerns that Iran is...

IAEA Report Highlights Inconsistencies in Iranian Statements About

Paul Kerr

On August 26, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report saying that “there remain a number of important outstanding issues,” about Tehran’s nuclear programs that require “urgent resolution.” The report updates the agency’s Iran investigation, presents new information about Iran’s nuclear activities, and reveals some inconsistencies in information Iran had previously provided to the IAEA about these programs. The agency will continue to investigate the unresolved issues about Iran’s nuclear activities, the report says.

Uranium Enrichment

Gas Centrifuges

One of the most important portions of the report concerns Iran’s gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment program. Washington publicly confirmed in December that Iran has a uranium-enrichment facility at the Iranian town of Natanz. Uranium enrichment can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, but it also has civilian energy applications.

Iran has made substantial progress on the facility. By February, Iran had installed more than 100 centrifuges at the Natanz facility’s pilot plant, but Tehran says it plans to install more than 1,000 by the end of 2003. A commercial plant also located at the site is expected to contain enough centrifuges to produce the equivalent of 25-nuclear bombs worth of fissile material each year.

The centrifuge technology’s origin is unclear. A French report presented at the May meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group asserted that the technology is likely of Pakistani origin, but the August 26 IAEA report says the machines are of “an early European design.”

The advanced state of the pilot facility has raised questions about whether Iran has tested centrifuges with nuclear material. The existence of the facility does not in itself violate Iran’s safeguards agreement, but testing centrifuges with nuclear material without declaring such tests to the IAEA would do so.

Tehran clams it used simulations to test the centrifuges without nuclear material. The report, however, dismisses this explanation and states that environmental samples taken at Natanz by agency inspectors in March and June “revealed particles of high [sic] enriched uranium.” Agency inspectors use sampling to determine if nuclear materials are present in a given location—a possible indication of past nuclear activity.

Iran had not declared that it possesses highly enriched uranium. Tehran has cited its importation of contaminated centrifuge components to explain the material’s presence. The report comments that “it is possible to envisage a number of possible scenarios to explain the presence of high enriched uranium” in the samples, adding that the IAEA will evaluate these unspecified scenarios during the course of its investigation.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today in June that Iran might have used uranium hexafluoride—the material introduced into gas centrifuges for processing into reactor-grade fuel—imported from China in 1991 to test centrifuges. A June 6 IAEA report revealed Tehran’s failure to disclose that it imported this material, although its safeguards agreement required it to do so. (See ACT, July/August 2003.) The report added that some of this material was found to be missing and Iran had not accounted for its absence. Iran asserts that it either evaporated or leaked from its containers. The agency is continuing to investigate the issue.

The August report revealed some other inconsistencies regarding Iran’s explanation of the enrichment program. For example, Iran had claimed the program was entirely indigenous and began in 1997 but has now acknowledged importing centrifuge components and gives 1985 as the correct starting date. Additionally, Iran initially claimed to have tested its centrifuges with inert gases but now says this is not the case.

Kala Electric Company

Inspectors took environmental samples at the Kala Electric Company during an August 9-12 visit, something Iran had previously refused to allow. The IAEA has been particularly interested in conducting sampling at this site because Tehran acknowledged it produced centrifuge components there, and the agency believes that sampling could help verify the government’s claim that it has not tested centrifuges with nuclear material. The samples are still being analyzed, but the most recent report notes that “considerable modification” of the Kala Electric Company site since inspectors’ first visit in March could adversely impact the samples’ accuracy.

Iran Plunges Ahead

Although the IAEA Board of Governors asked Iran in June to refrain from introducing nuclear material into the centrifuges at the Natanz facility, Iran did so on June 25 to test a single centrifuge, according to the August report. Iran began testing a small cascade of 10 centrifuges on August 19. A cascade is a series of connected centrifuges used to ensure that the uranium is enriched sufficiently. Tehran is following the appropriate safeguards measures for the facility, the report adds.

Laser Enrichment

The recent report also discusses Iran’s laser-based uranium-enrichment program—an alternate method of enriching uranium mentioned as an issue of concern in the June report. The report states that “Iran has a substantial [research and development] program on lasers,” but Iran claims not to have an enrichment program. IAEA inspectors visited two sites, one at Ramandeh and the other at Lashkar Ab’ad. Only the latter was identified as having a laser testing facility, but inspectors did not find any activities related to uranium enrichment being conducted there. The IAEA has asked Iran to confirm that there had not been any past “activities related to uranium laser enrichment” at any location in the country and to allow environmental sampling at that location—a request the government is considering. Tehran had previously refused access to these sites.

Other Issues of Concern

The report also says Tehran has provided additional information about its heavy-water reactor program. The government has said it plans to construct a heavy-water research reactor at Arak, where it has also been constructing a heavy-water production plant, starting in 2004. A State Department official interviewed in June said the reactor might be part of a nuclear weapons program because it is too small to contribute significantly to a civilian energy program but could generate plutonium for reprocessing into fissile material.

According to the report, Iran claims the reactor is for producing isotopes for civilian purposes and that its size is appropriate for that purpose. The report, however, notes that Iran did not provide information about hot cells, which the IAEA says it would expect to find at a facility meant to produce isotopes. Hot cells are facilities used in isotope production, but they can also be used in reprocessing spent nuclear reactor fuel. The IAEA has asked Iran to look into the matter further, citing reports that Tehran is attempting to procure equipment used in hot cells.

The report also addresses Iran’s claim that it is building a facility that would convert uranium oxide into uranium hexafluoride without having tested it with nuclear material. Iran first told the agency that it obtained design and testing information about the facility from another country but has now admitted that it conducted uranium conversion experiments in the early 1990s, according to the report. An Iranian official announced the facility’s completion in March.

In addition, the August report contains new information about Iran’s conversion of imported uranium tetrafluoride into uranium metal. Tehran has told the IAEA that it had undertaken these conversion experiments because it had once considered constructing a uranium metal-fueled reactor. The United States is especially concerned about this issue because the most likely use Iran would have for uranium metal would be in nuclear warheads, a State Department official said in June.

Excerpts From the IAEA August 26, 2003 Report

D. Findings, Assessments and Next Steps
47. In connection with the nuclear material imported by Iran in 1991, Iran has submitted ICRs, PILs and MBRs, as well as relevant DIQs. The Agency has verified nuclear material presented to it and is currently auditing relevant source data. The issue of depleted uranium in the UF4 remains to be resolved, and the environmental samples taken in connection with the UF6 cylinders need to be analysed. To confirm that the pellet irradiation experiments have been solely for radioisotope production, the Agency has taken samples from the hot cells and lead shielded cells at the laboratories of the Tehran Nuclear Research Centre. The analytical results are not yet available.
48. In its letter of 19 August 2003, Iran acknowledged that it had carried out uranium conversion experiments in the early 1990s, experiments that Iran should have reported in accordance with its obligations under the Safeguards Agreement. Iran has stated, however, that it is taking corrective action in that regard. The Agency will continue its evaluation of the uranium conversion programme.
49. As regards enrichment, and as mentioned earlier, during the meeting of 9–12 August 2003, the Agency team received new information about the chronology and details of Iran’s centrifuge enrichment programme. Agency evaluation of the new information will require, inter alia, an assessment of the various phases of the programme and analysis of environmental samples taken at the Kalaye Electric Company workshop.
50. Additional work is also required to enable the Agency to arrive at conclusions about Iran’s statements that there have been no uranium enrichment activities in Iran involving nuclear material. The Agency intends to continue its assessment of the Iranian statement that the high enriched uranium particles identified in samples taken at Natanz could be attributable to contamination from imported components. As agreed to by Iran, this process will involve discussions in Iran with Iranian officials and staff involved in the R&D efforts and visits by Agency inspectors and enrichment technology experts to facilities and other relevant locations. In that connection, Iran has agreed to provide the Agency with all information about the centrifuge components and other contaminated equipment it obtained from abroad, including their origin and the locations where they have been stored and used in Iran, as well as access to those locations so that the Agency may take environmental samples. It is also essential that the Agency receive information from Member States either from which nuclear related equipment or other assistance relevant to the development of Iran’s nuclear programme has been exported to Iran, or which have information on such assistance.
51. In connection with the Agency’s investigation of Iran’s heavy water reactor programme, the Agency is currently evaluating design information provided on the heavy water reactor.
52. Since the last report was issued, Iran has demonstrated an increased degree of co-operation in relation to the amount and detail of information provided to the Agency and in allowing access requested by the Agency to additional locations and the taking of associated environmental samples. The decision by Iran to start the negotiations with the Agency for the conclusion of an Additional Protocol is also a positive step. However, it should be noted that information and access were at times slow in coming and incremental, and that, as noted above, some of the information was in contrast to that previously provided by Iran. In addition, as also noted above, there remain a number of important outstanding issues, particularly with regard to Iran’s enrichment programme, that require urgent resolution. Continued and accelerated co-operation and full transparency on the part of Iran are essential for the Agency to be in a position to provide at an early date the assurances required by Member States.
53. The Director General will inform the Board of additional developments for its further consideration at the November meeting of the Board, or earlier, as appropriate.




On August 26, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report saying that “there remain a number of important outstanding issues"...

Nuclear India at the Crossroads

Rajesh M. Basrur

Five years after first publicly testing nuclear weapons, India stands at a critical point in its strategic path. It faces today a crucial choice between maintaining a minimal deterrent and expanding its arsenal so as to sustain a Cold War-style posture toward its nuclear adversaries. Two factors are likely to shape its decision: its selection of a deterrence “model” based on two very diverse experiences with China and Pakistan and, more crucially, its own ability to comprehend and articulate the assumptions and ramifications of “minimum deterrence.”

The 1998 tests broke with a history of leisurely, covert, and often hesitant weaponization and forced on Indian leaders important issues relating to doctrine and organization. Yet, the Indian government has truly to grapple with these concerns. The Draft Nuclear Doctrine floated in 1999 was widely debated but yielded no detailed follow-up. After a long gap, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government in January 2003 released a short statement reiterating its commitment to “building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent.” (See ACT, January/February 2003.) It emphasized that India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons (except against biological or chemical weapons) but promised massive retaliation in response to a nuclear attack to inflict “unacceptable damage” on the enemy. It also announced the existence of a Nuclear Command Authority under civilian control and the appointment of a commander-in-chief of the Strategic Forces Command as the apex military decision-maker.1 Apart from gradual organizational consolidation, India has demonstrated its deterrent capabilities in two ways: through the range of tests carried out in 1998 and through the array of missiles undergoing various stages of development and induction into its forces.2

Still, India’s nuclear doctrine has yet to crystallize fully in the form of a clearly thought-out and articulated posture. On the one hand, there is a strong element of restraint in the fact that nuclear warheads have not been deployed on missiles but are stored in an unassembled state. On the other, the quest for a triad of launch platforms invites a continually expanding arsenal. As the organization of India’s nuclear assets proceeds, pressures to stretch capability beyond the confines of minimum deterrence—or simply to redefine “minimum” to encompass more—are likely to increase. The persistence of high-level threat perceptions will also encourage an expansionary process. Which path will India’s leaders take? Its relationships with China and Pakistan offer very different possibilities.

India and China: Oligopolistic Competition

It is often forgotten that India faces not one but two nuclear adversaries: China and Pakistan. With both rival nuclear powers, India must contend with territorial disputes, a history of war, and perceptions of nuclear threat. Yet, its relations with China and Pakistan are very different in tenor. India’s stable relationship with China is conducive to a relaxed and minimalistic nuclear posture; its tense and crisis-ridden confrontation with Pakistan facilitates a volatile and expansionary one.

The China factor was central to Indian nuclear strategic thinking from as far back as 1964, when China tested its first nuclear bomb just two years after it had inflicted a serious military defeat on India. The war left unsettled a territorial dispute over their long border that still engages the two countries in endless talks. It also left Indians distrustful of the Chinese for having “betrayed” their friendship. The threat of a Sino-Indian war has since arisen on more than one occasion, most significantly in 1986-1987 in the Sumdorong Chu valley in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, an area which China to this day does not recognize as part of India. China threatened to “teach India a lesson,” and both sides mobilized several divisions.3 Eventually, a political compromise was reached, although full withdrawal of forces took place only in August 1995.

China was a primary cause for India’s decision to go nuclear, even though from the Indian standpoint, the Chinese threat was not direct or immediate. New Delhi viewed evidence of China’s assistance to Pakistan’s missile and nuclear programs as strong indication of less-than-benign Chinese intent.4 In a 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton, Vajpayee justified his decision to test a nuclear weapon openly by pointing to the threat from China, which Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes more bluntly characterized as “potential threat number one.”5 Indian concerns about China’s nuclear aid to Pakistan and the larger issue of its efforts to contain India (through an enhanced presence in Myanmar, for example) are yet to be assuaged. Chinese concerns about India’s steadily expanding missile reach are likewise growing.6

Despite the persistence of sources of tension, India and China have managed their relationship remarkably well. The border problem has been kept in abeyance through the mechanism of annual talks since the early 1980s, and a Joint Working Group was established in 1988. Meanwhile, other aspects of the relationship have flourished. Trade grew from $1.1 billion in 1995 to nearly $3.5 billion in 2001.7 In April 2003, Fernandes visited China and expressed “a deep sense of satisfaction and the conviction that this visit will be the beginning for drawing a road map for the near future.”8 In July and August 2003, a confrontation between border patrols at the Line of Actual Control in the region of Arunachal Pradesh was met with a diplomatic rather than a military response.9

The overall picture that emerges is akin to “oligopolistic competition,” in which large rivals compete but do so in a stable market. India and China appear to have reached an understanding that their persistent differences on the border and on the nature of the Chinese-Pakistani relationship should not be allowed to prevent the stabilization of their strategic relationship as a whole. A measure of this stability is India’s disinterest in attempting to catch up with China’s nuclear arsenal either in qualitative or quantitative terms, although there is an ongoing effort to ensure its ability to reach additional Chinese targets through the development of the Agni-III missile, which has a range of more than 3,000 kilometers.10 Notably, while Indian and U.S. critics have fretted that the planned U.S. ballistic missile defense system will have a “cascading” effect on China, India, and Pakistan, generating expanding arsenals and consequent tensions, Indian officials have expressed no such fears.

India and Pakistan: Spiraling Hostility

The Indo-Pakistani relationship stands in stark contrast. The rising tensions accompanying the process of nuclearization have fed on a history of violent partition in 1947, which was followed by three wars in 1947-1948, 1965, and 1971. During the 1980s, the covert development of nuclear weapons by both countries brought increased tensions and what some have termed the “stability-instability paradox”—the persistence of low-level conflict between the two South Asian nuclear rivals.11 Pakistan encouraged the militant Khalistan movement in India’s Punjab state, and major crises involving the amassing of troops on both sides of the border occurred in 1986-1987 and 1990. An insurgency in the Indian-held portion of Kashmir obtained Pakistani support, and tensions escalated in the 1990s.

The 1998 nuclear tests, besides confirming a process of weaponization already well under way, ratcheted up tensions still further. Like other nuclear rivals before them, India and Pakistan attempted and failed to gain advantage over each other through coercive diplomacy.12 In 1999, Pakistan’s clandestine seizure of several mountain peaks in the Kargil region of Kashmir brought a short, sharp military clash that many regard as a war. Persistent terrorist violence in Kashmir culminating in an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 generated a fresh crisis. Indian leaders, blaming Pakistan for supporting the militants, responded with a massive mobilization of conventional forces, threatening an unspecified form of “limited war.” The crisis subsided only after a prolonged confrontation that endured until October 2002. Both events aroused global pressures for peace but brought no bilateral concessions. Rather, they left the belligerents dissatisfied, intimating the possibility of more to come.

In contrast with the Indo-Chinese case, the Indo-Pakistani relationship has been marked by a secular trend of rising confrontation, although interspersed with high-level attempts to negotiate (the summits of 1988, 1999, and 2000). Despite some successes in the past, such as the 1960 Indus Water Treaty and formal and informal nuclear confidence- building measures agreed on in 1988 and 1999, the trend has not been positive.13 Tit-for-tat nuclear and missile testing and contentious rhetoric have remained the most striking feature of the relationship. Trade links are marginal, cultural exchanges have all but dried up, and regional collaboration has suffered. The outlook for positive change is uncertain at best. Neither India nor Pakistan has a strong government or is likely to. Power will likely continue to be distributed between groups jostling uncertainly for control. With the religious right on the rise in both countries, there is much skepticism as to whether the most recent effort to cut the Gordian knot will yield results. The scope for compromise on Kashmir, which would require substantial concessions by both sides, seems limited. In contrast with the Indo-Chinese relationship, the Indo-Pakistani one presents a picture of spiraling competition, with the prospect of crises and arms racing ever hovering in the background.

India’s choices about the path ahead are likely to be pulled in different directions by the two kinds of strategic relationships it faces. New Delhi’s relationship with Beijing encourages a combination of restrained competition and limited but growing cooperation. The relatively smooth ties between the two countries will allow India to maintain a fairly stable nuclear force even if the Chinese force expands, while resisting arms racing, fears about vulnerability, and the risk-taking that tends toward recurrent crises. The Indo-Pakistani “spiral model,” on the other hand, is inherently unstable. It is highly competitive; thrives on a zero-sum view of the adversary; and encourages arms acquisition, concerns about vulnerability, and the direct or indirect manipulation of nuclear capability for coercive diplomacy.

At present, the Indian posture lies somewhere in between these two approaches. India has chosen not to have its nuclear forces deployed for immediate launch and has not expressed many public worries about the balance of forces vis-à-vis China. Also, the aggressive nuclear rhetoric in which India and Pakistan have periodically engaged has not been paralleled by threat and counter-threat in terms of deployed strategic forces. At the same time, in other ways, India has favored an expansionary nuclear weapons policy, supporting open-ended development of its nuclear force, notably the long-term drive for a diversely constituted nuclear triad. New Delhi has also continued to try to practice coercive diplomacy under the nuclear shadow. Should this dichotomy persist, the “realist” outlook of those who press for an expansionary nuclear policy is likely to prove triumphant, as it is hard to resist the apparent security of greater numbers and technological sophistication in an environment of high tension. The redirection of nuclear strategy by India in this way would almost inevitably be followed by a replication by India and Pakistan of Cold War postures and politics on an “affordable” but still risk-laden scale.

The key question then is, How might such a shift be prevented? There are two ways in which this could be done. India’s and Pakistan’s bitter competition could be transformed into a more manageable relationship like the one New Delhi enjoys with Beijing. If that does not prove possible, restraint and stability might still be induced by means of a clearer understanding of minimum deterrence and its basic assumptions. In the first case, the United States can play a valuable role. In the second, it cannot.

Common Interests and Behavioral Restraint

One key to tamping down nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan is to focus on vital interests that are common to both countries. In a nuclear relationship, nothing can be more vital than the necessity of preventing war and nuclear catastrophe. India and Pakistan have to arrive at the understanding that, although Kashmir might be central to their respective identities as nations, avoiding nuclear conflict comes first. This means separating the dispute over Kashmir from the larger nuclear relationship so as to maintain a broad stability in the way that India and China have done.

India needs to comprehend that large-scale mobilizations such as the one it carried out during 2001 and 2002 significantly raise nuclear risks. The fact that war did not break out is hardly reassuring, because one could just as well occur in the next crisis, and although Pakistan might view supporting terrorist groups active in India as a low-cost strategy, it is actually counterproductive to Islamabad’s broader security interests. Many of the “freedom fighters” of Kashmir have links with al Qaeda and the larger objective of global Islamic revolution, which includes overthrowing the Pakistani state.14 In addition, they have already come close to triggering a subcontinental war through the attack on India’s parliament. Their capacity to do so again remains undiminished, particularly by means of an act of nuclear or radiological terrorism.

Maintaining the present posture of deterrence without active deployment of nuclear weapons is in the interests of both countries. If India and Pakistan choose to deploy their weapons, tensions would inevitably rise. The possibility of an accidental war triggered by a false alarm of nuclear attack would go up sharply. Nuclear weapons are also targets for terrorists. A terrorist attack on either side’s nuclear forces could be misinterpreted as an enemy assault, which would further raise the risk of nuclear war. The coexistence of terrorism and nuclear infrastructures on both sides of the border creates a common interest between the two states, because neither would like the region’s terror groups or al Qaeda to acquire nuclear capability. A strategy of minimum deterrence also has a built-in advantage if an arsenal is kept down to small numbers. The smaller the number of weapons, the less the likelihood of “normal accidents,” and the fewer the targets for terrorists.15

The United States has played both a catalyzing and a dampening role in the complex nuclear politics of the region. U.S. intervention has reduced the likelihood of an actual war, but its propensity to intervene in the continual conflicts of the region has enabled India and Pakistan to employ a novel strategy: the generation of crises to invite U.S. intervention and put its adversary under pressure. This has worked in part; the Kargil conflict, although a serious diplomatic reverse for Pakistan, did give Kashmir a prominent place on the global agenda of the United States. Similarly, although India did not succeed in ending cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, it did place Pakistan under an intense and diplomatically disadvantageous spotlight. The United States has astutely avoided becoming entangled in an attempt to resolve the Kashmir issue, but it could do more to separate the political problem of Kashmir from the military-strategic problem of nuclear instability.

Unlike the United States and the Soviet Union, India and Pakistan have shown an inclination for arms control fairly early in their development as nuclear powers. As far back as 1988, Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto agreed to exchange lists of nuclear facilities annually and promised not to attack them in case of war. Soon after the 1998 nuclear tests, under the 1999 Lahore Memorandum of Understanding, India and Pakistan agreed, among other things, to notify each other of impending missile tests. By and large, they have adhered to these agreements even at the height of tension and crisis. The key is to persuade them to go further.

The United States can play a significant role in at least three ways. First, its active presence in the region acts as a restraining factor in times of high tension. Second, it can promote organizational “best practices” in weapons safety and security during storage and transportation. Third, electronic systems such as permissive action links (PALS) to prevent unauthorized launch or sabotage can be offered. The most common objections to providing such assistance are that it would violate the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), that it will amount to “rewarding” proliferators, and that the possession of electronic safety locks will encourage active deployment and increase the element of risk. The first argument misinterprets the NPT. Article I of the treaty, which obliges its signatories not to “transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly,” cannot be understood to proscribe anything which contributes to its own stress on the dangers of nuclear war to “all mankind” and the “need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war.” The term “control,” within the meaning of the treaty, clearly refers to enabling functions, not restrictive ones designed to prevent war. The second argument rests on the facile assumption that states’ decisions to proliferate are affected by the prospect of reward. There is no evidence to support this. The third fails to weigh the benefits of more effective command and control against the risks, undoubtedly real, of false confidence derived from technical sophistication. In volatile situations involving armed confrontation amid a high level of terrorist activity, the former should take precedence.

Understanding Minimum Deterrence

At the same time, the concept of “minimum deterrence” has not been adequately spelled out and hence might be undermined by pressures emanating from perceived threats or by groups with vested interests. For instance, India’s stress on the “credibility” of deterrence reflects a lack of clarity as to what exactly constitutes deterrence. Because of the enormity of their effects, nuclear weapons need not be certain to inflict massive damage. Even a small risk of large-scale devastation suffices to deter. Beyond creating that risk, an emphasis on credibility serves only to try and reassure oneself that one’s weapons will “work.” If we go a step further and consider that any decision to go to war presumes the weighing of potential costs against potential benefits, then it becomes very difficult in most cases, including the Indo-Pakistani case, to consider war as rationally desirable: it is hard to conceive of potential benefits that might outweigh even a small risk of nuclear attack.

In short, deterrence is sufficiently “credible” if it creates a small risk in the adversary’s mind. This central assumption generates a wide array of strategic rules: a few nuclear weapons are adequate for deterrence to be effective; deployment is not necessary except under conditions of grave threat; numerical balances or imbalances are meaningless; one “leg” of a potential triad is enough to deter; and the risk of escalation makes a counterforce-countervalue distinction irrelevant. Missile defense is not problematic for two reasons: minimum deterrence is tolerant of numerical imbalances in forces, and the risk of some missiles penetrating a defense shield can never be eliminated.16 Above all, second-strike capability, which is the basis of stable deterrence, does not require large, invulnerable forces that can certainly strike back. A small force that might be able to strike back creates a sufficient risk in the mind of the adversary to deter a first-strike decision.

This implies that, even if strategic relations with a particular adversary take a turn for the worse, there is no need for a change in nuclear posture. A rational adversary will invariably try to avoid nuclear conflict, even when threatening it. A study of Indo-Pakistani conflicts shows just this. In Kargil, Pakistan bore the humiliation of retreat; in 2002, India accepted failure by eventually “redeploying” (read, withdrawing) its troops. Neither wanted to risk war when the other responded with the threat of force. Likewise, President John F. Kennedy did not risk a strike on Cuba, where the “balance” of forces appeared to be tilted overwhelmingly in his favor. The last is a striking example of how minimum deterrence actually operates even under a very different doctrine and force posture. Logically, even if Pakistan were to develop a sizably larger force than India, this would not change the strategic equation between them. It would be no more significant than the numerical “imbalance” between Indian and Chinese forces.

Yet, Indian thinking in many ways contradicts the rules of minimum deterrence. Apart from the unnecessary emphasis on credibility, the officially stated threat of massive retaliation against a first strike is superfluous, because the adversary cannot know where India will strike and with what result but must assume as much because of the scale of the risk. Similarly, the quest for a triad is an exercise in superfluity. The risk of massive damage posed by any leg of the triad is sufficient to deter. The Indian emphasis on being able to target Beijing in order to deter China effectively is also hard to fathom. It assumes that the Chinese would tolerate the loss of thousands of their citizens residing in smaller cities. The simple test of assessing the requirements of minimum deterrence is to ask, What would it take to deter me/us? The requirements for credibility are quickly brought down.

In this sphere, the role of the United States is at best negligible, at worst seriously problematic. U.S. doctrine, still struggling to divest itself of the Cold War doctrine of assured destruction, provides no basis for a stable minimum deterrence posture. On the contrary, it might actually be a hindrance to stability in the region. For instance, although minimum deterrence allows large quantitative and qualitative gaps of the kind that exist between India and China, American thinking would tend to focus on the vulnerability associated with such gaps. Indian strategic thinkers would do well not to think like most of their American counterparts.17

Room for Optimism

What, one might ask, if Pakistan does not respond appropriately? So far, Pakistan too has shown a mix of the two strategic models outlined above. It has shown caution in the deployment of its conventional forces and in the nondeployment of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it has demonstrated risktaking and belligerence in its clandestine Kargil operation and in its support for terrorists operating in Kashmir. The possibility of inducing a shift in Pakistani thinking lies in the diplomatic realm—in persuading it of the risks associated with its current strategy and of the minimal loss involved in a gradual shift to negotiation on nuclear issues without backtracking on political commitments. This would be more feasible than attempting to devise a full solution when the political ground for it is infertile.

A little appreciated aspect of the Indo-Pakistani relationship is that Indians and Pakistanis think and behave in remarkably similar ways. Both have minimalistic strategic cultures characterized by long, slow, and covert weapons development; a history of military targeting in war that eschews indiscriminate destruction; an unwillingness to be overly exercised by numerical differences in nuclear weaponry; and a belief that deployment is not a prerequisite for deterrence to be effective.18 Above all, both countries tend to treat nuclear weapons more as political instruments than as military ones. A disadvantage of this is their tendency to generate crises in order to obtain strategic benefit. A positive aspect is that arms control is likely to be much easier to accomplish, unburdened by the operational minutiae that dogged negotiators during the Cold War.

Indian diplomacy needs to focus on transforming the Indo-Pakistani relationship into something resembling the Indo-Chinese one. The Vajpayee government’s sustained commitment to its current peace initiative in spite of a series of terrorist assaults provides ground for optimism. Even if Pakistan were to balk, an Indian commitment to minimum deterrence in the sense described here would in no way affect the strategic relationship to India’s fresh disadvantage. Equally, a sizeable expansion of India’s nuclear arsenal would not benefit India because it would bring economic and political costs, not to speak of strategic risks. Minimum deterrence is an absolute concept, not a relative one. India would do well to shape its deterrence posture accordingly and avail of its benefits while minimizing its costs and risks.


Return to Text

Table 1.


150 km/ 1,000 kg
250 km/ 500 kg
Dhanush/ Prithvi-3
350 km/ 1,000 kg
Agni-1 Variant
725 km/ ~1,000 kg
1,500 km/ 1,000 kg
Serial Production
2,000+ km/ 1,000 kg
3,000-5,000 km/ ?kg
5,500+ km/ 2,000 kg Indigenous/Russia
Sagarika (SLBM)
350 km/ 500 kg

Note: Some uncertainty in range estimates are inevitable given the direct relationship between range and payload for ballistic missiles. For example, reductions in payload can increase range.

Sources: ACA, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, U.S. Department of the Air Force, National Air Intelligence Center, U.S. Department of Defense



1. Indian Ministry of External Affairs, “The Cabinet Committee on Security Reviews Operationalization of India’s Nuclear Doctrine,” January 4, 2003, www.meadev.nic.in/news/official/20030104/official.htm.

2. Anthony H. Cordesman, The India-Pakistan Military Balance (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 2002), pp. 27-34. India’s missile program includes short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles utilizing land-, air-, and sea-based platforms, although the last are in a relatively early phase of development.

3. V. Natarajan, “The Sumdorong Chu Incident,” Bharat Rakshak Monitor, 3, no. 3 (November-December 2000), www.bharat-rakshak.com/MONITOR/ISSUE3-3/natarajan.html.

4. John W. Garver, Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century (Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, 2001), pp. 324-331.

5. Ibid., pp. 336-337.

6. Jing-dong Yuan, “India’s Rise after Pokhran II: Chinese Analyses and Assessments,” Asian Survey 41, no. 6 (November-December 2000), pp. 978-1001.

7. Indian Ministry of External Affairs, “India-China Trade Statistics, Table 1: India-China Trade (1995-2001), www.meadev.nic.in/foreign/ind-china.htm.

8. “China, India Should Enhance Ties: Jiang Zemin,” Times of India, April 26, 2003.

9. Amit Baruah, “Indian, Chinese Foreign Ministers to Meet Later This Year,” Hindu, August 8, 2003.

10. The Agni-III is scheduled for initial test launching in 2003. “India Preparing to Test-fire Agni-III: Fernandes,” Times of India, April 6, 2003.

11. Michael Krepon and Chris Gagné, eds., The Stability-Instability Paradox: Nuclear Weapons and Brinkmanship in South Asia (Washington, DC: Henry L. Stimson Center, June 2001).

12. Verghese Koithara, Coercion and Risk-Taking in Nuclear South Asia (Stanford University: Center for International Security and Cooperation, March 2003).

13. The Indus Water Treaty provides for the sharing of the waters of the transborder Indus river basin. For a detailed review of confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan, see Michael Krepon et al. A Handbook of Confidence Building Measures for Regional Security, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: Henry L. Stimson Center, March 1998), pp. 129-200.

14. Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 208-209.

15. Scott D. Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 28-45.

16. In addition, India need not worry about an expansionary Chinese response to U.S. missile defense; that would take the form of a larger inventory of long-range missiles, whereas China targets India with intermediate-range missiles.

17. There are certainly powerful arguments in American writings that are in accord with minimum doctrine, but these are largely ignored by the policy-making community.

18. On India, see Rajesh M. Basrur, “Nuclear Weapons and Indian Strategic Culture,” Journal of Peace Research, 38, no. 2 (March 2001), pp. 181-198.


Rajesh M. Basrur is Director of the Center for Global Studies in Mumbai, India. At the time he wrote this article, he was a Visiting Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.




Subscribe to RSS - Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty