2004 May 25 Tuesday
The Problem Of Just-In-Time Nuclear Proliferation

Writing for the New York Times William J. Broad reports on the growing problem of states that are developing nuclear power industries which can use those industries as a starting point for nuclear weapons development.

Experts now talk frankly about a subject that was once taboo: "virtual" weapon states - Japan, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Taiwan and a dozen other countries that have mastered the basics of nuclear power and could, if they wanted, quickly cross the line to make nuclear arms, probably in a matter or months. Experts call it breakout.


"If you look at every nation that's recently gone nuclear," said Mr. Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute, "they've done it through the civilian nuclear fuel cycle: Iraq, North Korea, India, Pakistan, South Africa. And now we're worried about Iran."

The moral, he added, is that atoms for peace can be "a shortcut to atoms for war."

Canada and Belgium are of course unlikely to build nuclear weapons. But at least one "virtual" weapons state has a strong and growing incentive to develop nuclear weapons: Taiwan. Faced with a Beijing government and nationalistic sentiment on the mainland determined to force Taiwan to submit to mainland control and with China's continued economic growth translating into steadily increasing military capabiities Taiwan's only realistic possibility for continued independence may be the nuclear option.

Broad mentions work on efforts to develop more proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel cycles. But it seems unlikely that Iran will accept getting its nuclear fuel from abroad or sending its waste to another country. Even if it did it could cheat on such an agreement.

Mitchell Reiss, the State Department’s director of policy planning, says the problem is that many non-nuclear states could embark on a project to build nuclear weapons and succeed before inspections programs could detect the effort.

Drawing an analogy to manufacturing and distribution techniques that were pioneered commercially by Japanese manufacturers and are now used worldwide, Reiss said he is concerned that nuclear proliferators could soon follow suit. Such “just-in-time” proliferation he said, would mean that materials for nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons materials would no longer be stockpiled but only brought together when they need to be used.

“The concept works beautifully in the private sector, and there’s no reason why it can’t work for the bad guys,” Reiss said. “But this will create enormous challenges for the [International Atomic Energy Agency], for the Nuclear Suppliers Group [an export control clearinghouse for most of the major countries with civilian nuclear industries], for all the countries of the world, in order to prevent continued nuclear proliferation.”

In particular, Reiss said this strategy might pose particular problems for on-site inspections—a key tool of international nonproliferation regimes.

“I think on-site inspections certainly are important—essential in some cases,” Reiss said. ”Still, there is a concern that you can inspect a place one day and there will be nothing there, and you come back the next week and everything will be there.”

If you are interested in more policy proposals for controlling nuclear proliferation see a recent presentation by Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in which he makes seven proposals to make nuclear proliferation more difficult (PDF format). Keep in mind when reading it that these are seven proposals on top of many other he and others have made in the past. Also see my previous post Henry Sokolski: Taking Proliferation Seriously.

I am still betting on Iran successfully building nuclear weapons within a few years. Iran would need to be offered much bigger carrots and sticks before it would halt and reverse its drive to build nuclear weapons.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 25 11:12 AM  US Foreign Weapons Proliferation Control

Kenelm Digby. said at May 25, 2004 1:46 PM:

Please don't get me wrong, I am not a big fan of the Iranian regime, and I strongly disapprove of the recnt trend of proliferation of nuclear weapons amongst unstable third-world state.
BUT in the light of the recnt American aggressive action in Iraq, coupled with the disturbing images of the physical and sexual abuse of Iraqi captives by male and female US army personnel, (which must be very degraing and humiliating to any self-respecting Muslim man), one can well understand the Iranian desire to possess such weapons, and to use the, if the United States ever threatens Iranian territory or sovereignty.
One can also understand the North Korean paranoia about possible American subjugation and the subsequent systematic abuse, humiliation and degradation of a proud people by an American military which places itself above the law.
Never underestimate the power of insult on a proud people.
Not wishing to pontificate or use hyperbole, the shocking images of brutality and barbarism released in the last few weeks have had an incalculable cost.

Glenmore said at May 25, 2004 7:31 PM:

Is Russia helping Iran finish its nuclear facility? Didn't they 'help' us finish our embassy in Moscow a few years ago? Do you suppose there are any similarities?

Eric Weis said at May 27, 2004 4:50 AM:

Kenelm Digby must have a narrow veiw of what goes on in the world, one that is viewed through American News outlets. There was little hoopla raised by the Arab World about the so-called torture and abuse in Iraq by American soldiers until they realized what a big deal it was here in America, how quick is forgotten what real torture and Abuse is. Most of the events that took place in the Iraq prison are standard sexual preference of many people around the world (Sato Masochism)I do not condon what was done but I can hardly call it torture. I beleived it crossed the line of desent treatment.

T. J. Madison said at May 27, 2004 5:53 PM:

>>One can also understand the North Korean paranoia about possible American subjugation and the subsequent systematic abuse, humiliation and degradation of a proud people by an American military which places itself above the law.

This is really funny. I seem to recall that NK descended into cannibalism years ago.

I might even go so far to say that nuking NK might be a humanitarian gesture. If you think I'm joking go do a little more research about life in NK.

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