Nonproliferation Review November 2009

Volume 16 • Number 3


View this issue’s note from the Editor


View this issue’s contributor bios


Peter Brookes • Jeffrey Lewis • Elvira Rosert • Brian Rappert and Richard Moyes


Nuclear Weapons as the Currency of Power: Deconstructing the Fetishism of Force
Anne Harrington de Santana

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There are important similarities between the pattern of behavior Karl Marx identified with respect to commodities—a pattern he called “fetishism”—and the pattern of behavior identified in this article with respect to military force. Marx identified money as the mature expression of commodity fetishism; the author identifies nuclear weapons as the mature expression of the fetishism of force. As such, nuclear weapons function as the currency of power in the international system. This article lays out a theory of nuclear fetishism by adapting four themes that are characteristic of the pattern of behavior known as fetishism: materiality, historicality, efficacy, and reification. By applying these categories to the fetishism of nuclear weapons, the author shows that nuclear weapons represent a new social form consistent with, yet distinct from, other fetish objects.

Nuclear Proliferation: The Role and Regulation of Corporations
Joshua Masters

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As the potential for the involvement of corporations in the manufacture of nuclear weapons has increased, particularly through dual-use technology, global regulation has failed to keep pace. Where regulation of private corporations does exist, in the form of treaties, UN resolutions, or more informal arrangements, the obligations fall only on states. This state of affairs is a result of international law’s traditional deference to state sovereignty; yet, it has led to significant shortcomings in the global regulatory regime, where states are unwilling or unable to meet their obligations. While radical departures from the traditional model of international law might remove the regulatory gaps caused by noncompliant states, such changes are unrealistic in the current political climate. More realistic changes must be focused on, offering greater recognition of the role of private corporations in nuclear proliferation and increasing state compliance with existing regulation.

The Rollback of Libya’s Chemical Weapons Program
Jonathan B. Tucker

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In 2003, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi agreed to eliminate his country’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and long-range Scud missiles under strict verification by U.S. and British experts and international inspectors. This article examines the negotiation and implementation of Libya’s WMD rollback, with a primary focus on its chemical weapons program, and draws some lessons for the future. Although the Libyan case was unique in many ways, some aspects have relevance for other countries, including the critical role played by multilateral nonproliferation organizations, the utility of economic sanctions and export controls, the importance of a flexible U.S. disarmament funding mechanism, the value of rotating technical assistance teams in and out of the country that is disarming, and the desirability of remaining politically engaged with a former proliferator after rollback is complete.

Cooperation, Signals, and Sanctions: Gaming the Nuclear Inspection Regime
Scott Helfstein

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This paper uses game theory and modeling to address the role of incentive structures and information dynamics in nuclear inspections. The traditional argument is that compliant states should be willing to allow inspections to prove their innocence, while proliferating states are likely to impede inspections. This argument does not take into account the historical variation in inspection, signaling, and sanctioning behaviors. Using a game theoretic analysis and model, it is shown that the separation of proliferators from nonproliferators only occurs when the likelihood of proliferation is high and punishment costs are moderate. The model assumes that states can choose how much to cooperate with inspectors and must pay opportunity or secrecy costs when inspections are effective. The results are tested against a set of real-life cases, providing support for the claims of historical variation and the model’s deductive propositions.

Verifiability, Reliability, and National Security: The Case for U.S. Ratification of the CTBT
Kaegan McGrath

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The rejection of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) by the U.S. Senate in October 1999 could have been avoided, and the consequences of that vote still loom in the minds of supporters of the treaty. President Barack Obama has embraced the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, and a key element of the Obama administration’s arms control agenda is delivering on U.S. CTBT ratification. In order to secure the two-thirds majority in the Senate necessary to ratify the treaty, senators that remain skeptical of nuclear disarmament must also be convinced that the entry into force of the CTBT is in the national security interest of the United States. This article provides an analysis of the issues surrounding U.S. CTBT ratification divided into three segments—verifiability of the treaty, reliability of the U.S. stockpile, and the treaty’s impact on U.S. national security—and concludes that CTBT ratification serves the security objectives of the United States. The CTBT constitutes an integral component of the multilateral nonproliferation architecture designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and it constrains the qualitative development of nuclear weapons, thereby hindering efforts by states of concern to develop advanced nuclear weapons.

Together toward Nuclear Zero: Understanding Chinese and Russian Security Concerns
Cristina Hansell and Nikita Perfilyev

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To understand the prospects for engaging China and Russia on disarmament, the authors examine views of U.S. strategic policy in Beijing and Moscow, the two countries’ mutual perspectives, and prospects for particular disarmament measures. Through an appraisal of nuclear force postures and doctrines and linkages to missile defense, conventional military capabilities, and possible space weaponization, the authors explain why nuclear disarmament involves strategic considerations writ large, and not simply nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. They analyze Chinese and Russian views of a variety of possible disarmament and arms control measures and relevant strategic considerations. While formal arms reduction negotiations are only likely with Russia in the short term, they note that confidence-building measures could already be instituted that involve China. Finally, they note there exists a small window of opportunity to move cooperatively toward nuclear zero; however, as decisions on military procurement are realized, this window will shrink.


Saving the NPT: Time to Renew Treaty Commitments
Paul Meyer

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For more than forty years, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has provided major security benefits to the international community; however, the treaty is suffering from internal and external pressures, and benign neglect on the part of its members is undermining its authority. To ensure the treaty’s continued viability, it is time for member states to start showing the NPT the respect it deserves and to renew their commitments to its fundamental purposes. Achieving this requires remedial action in at least four areas of vulnerability: reinvigorating nuclear disarmament; strengthening nonproliferation; overcoming the NPT’s institutional deficit; and fostering a rapprochement between NPT and non-NPT states that does not abandon the goal of treaty universalization. There is still time before the 2010 NPT Review Conference for concerted action to restore the NPT’s vitality and for the United States to resume its leadership role on behalf of the treaty and its membership.

Assessing the Merits of the CTBT
David Hafemeister

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The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the nonproliferation regime have been weakened; perhaps no other issue demonstrates this as dramatically as the status of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the ratification of which the U.S. Senate rejected in October 1999. Despite the U.S. rejection, the test ban has strong international support—the most recent vote to promote the CTBT in the UN General Assembly passed overwhelmingly, with 175 votes to 1 (the United States) and three abstentions. The Obama administration favors U.S. ratification of the CTBT, but this is no guarantee that Washington will ratify the test ban. Members of Congress must weigh the benefits and risks of signing the treaty; however, these calculations can sometimes be difficult to carry out. This article examines whether a return to nuclear testing would in fact benefit the United States, or if a test ban would be a greater contribution to U.S. national security.

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Cooperation and the CTBT: Scientific Collaboration between Weapons Labs
Irvin R. Lindemuth

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Post Cold War “lab-to-lab” collaborations on unclassified scientific issues between U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons laboratories set the stage for bilateral cooperation in materials control and other nuclear areas. They also became the major element in a cooperative process initiated by a Presidential Decision Directive to ensure Russia’s compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. These collaborations have always been highly favored by leaders of the Russian nuclear weapons complex—the same leaders who oversee Russia’s participation in various government-to-government programs. This article reviews these collaborations and examines the possibility that U.S. rebuffs of Russian proposals and the U.S. failure to keep promises of expanded collaboration could contribute to Russia’s reluctance in major programs and even lead to a return to nuclear testing by Russia. The author argues that a renewed U.S. commitment to the process should be an immediate goal of the Obama administration and is an essential step in re-engaging Russia to solve the nuclear problems remaining from the Cold War. Steps for doing so are recommended.

Scientist in a Strange Land: A Cautionary Tale
Charles Calisher

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In 1975, the author, a diagnostic virologist working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, was invited by the Cuban government to travel to Havana and participate in the testing of human serum samples in order to study and better understand the arthropod-borne virus situation in the island nation. The results of the serologic survey indicated that Cuba was vulnerable to the spread of dengue viruses, and in fact, two years after the serologic survey, Cuba experienced an outbreak, followed a few years later by a much more deadly epidemic caused by dengue virus 2. Subsequently, the Cuban government alleged that the U.S. government was involved and publicly, falsely implicated the author. The author believes science should not be captive to political manipulations.


The Tradition of Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons, by T.V. Paul
Reviewed by Linton F. Brooks

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Despite considerable perceived benefits to their use, nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare since 1945. Drawing on historical examination of decisions of virtually all nuclear-armed states, T.V. Paul explains this non-use as an informal (and potentially fragile) tradition, rather than a deeply held taboo. His analysis suggests that self-deterrence based on reputational consideration is the major source of the tradition of non-use. Though he misstates policies of the George W. Bush administration (for which that administration deserves part of the blame), he provides a solid, useful explanation of the development of the tradition of nuclear restraint and of the threats to its continuation. Both academics and politicians would do well to pay attention to his work.

Nonproliferation Norms: Why States Choose Nuclear Restraint, by Maria Rost Rublee
Reviewed by Nina Tannenwald

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In this timely book, Maria Rost Rublee provides the most constructivist analysis to date of why states choose to forgo nuclear weapons. Drawing on social psychology, she makes a persuasive case for the role of international nonproliferation norms. Her analysis provides a model example of testing alternative explanations, and the case studies (on Japan, Egypt, Libya, Sweden and Germany) are well-done, often bringing new empirical evidence to bear. Her most important finding is that the renunciation of nuclear weapons was, in each case, part of a rethinking of a state’s identity and its role in the international system. One might wish for a bit more precision in her analysis of antinuclear norms, especially specifically legal norms, and more rigor in her research design. Still, Rublee’s book provides important evidence that decisions to forgo or acquire nuclear weapons are ultimately political decisions linked to conceptions of national identity, not simply narrow, materialistic calculations of military advantage.

Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America’s Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad, by Jeffrey T. Richelson
Reviewed by Matthew Bunn

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InDefusing Armageddon, Jeffrey T. Richelson provides a rich history of the U.S. team with the job of finding and disabling terrorist nuclear bombs that might be smuggled into the United States. But the book provides little analysis of how effective this bomb squad could be at finding small and only weakly radioactive nuclear devices (or the materials needed to make them). While better accounts of the underlying risk of nuclear terrorism are available elsewhere, that danger is very real; while a multilayered defense is needed, improved security for nuclear stockpiles worldwide will do more to reduce the risk than last-ditch searches for bombs after they have already entered the United States.

Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World, by Tom Zoellner; and Plutonium: A History of the World’s Most Dangerous Element, by Jeremy Bernstein
Reviewed by Judy Pasternak

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Two recent books focus on uranium and plutonium—the fissile materials used in nuclear weapons. Tom Zoellner’sUranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World is more cultural history than science, a sprawling, engaging read that brims with vivid detail and strikingly religious imagery. Jeremy Bernstein’sPlutonium: A History of the World’s Most Dangerous Element is a straightforward, informative volume that explains clearly how the atom was unlocked and how plutonium bombs were designed. Bernstein gives telling glimpses, too, of the scientists behind the discoveries. Both authors note that the consequences of the rush to process fuel for weapons included environmental damage and severe health problems for workers.


Statements of fact and opinion expressed in The Nonproliferation Review are the responsibility of the authors alone and do not imply the endorsement of the editors, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, or the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
The Nonproliferation Review ISSN 1073-6700
Copyright © 2009 by Monterey Institute of International Studies