Nonproliferation Review July 2012


Volume 19 • Number 2


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Kicking the Hornets’ Nest: Iran’s Nuclear Ambivalence and the West’s Counterproductive Nonproliferation Policies
Patrick Disney

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This article applies the concept of nuclear ambivalence to the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nuclear ambivalence differs from other approaches to understanding nuclear proliferation in that it focuses on the deeply misunderstood relationship between the two potential uses of nuclear power: energy and weapons. According to this theory, the civilian applications of nuclear technology cannot be separated from the potential military applications and vice versa. Ambivalence, therefore, extends into the realm of states’ nuclear intentions, making it impossible to know with certainty what a potential proliferator’s “true” intentions are. This article will demonstrate that the concept of nuclear ambivalence applies in the case of Iran, suggesting that current international nonproliferation efforts run the risk of encouraging rather than discouraging Iranian weaponization. The final section outlines recommendations for policy makers to reverse this counterproductive nonproliferation approach.

Of Hawks and Doves: Mapping Policies Toward Iran and North Korea
Michal Onderco and Wolfgang Wagner

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The policies toward countries aspiring to acquire nuclear weapons continue to be heavily contested, differing even among countries that consider nuclear proliferation as one of the main threats to international security. This article maps the actual policies of liberal democracies toward Iran and North Korea along a continuum from confrontation to accommodation. Using data from an expert survey, the authors outline four main findings. First, policies toward both Iran and North Korea have become increasingly confrontational over time. Second, no policy convergence was observed among the states studied; that is, notwithstanding the adoption of joint sanctions, differences remained between states preferring confrontation and those opting for accommodation. Third, states maintained remarkably stable policy profiles over time. Finally, despite obvious differences between the norm violations of North Korea and Iran, states generally followed remarkably similar policies toward both countries. The authors’ findings indicate that states exhibit stable preferences for either confrontation or accommodation toward nuclear aspirants. Although a comprehensive examination of the causes of these policy differences is beyond the scope of this article, the authors present evidence that a major cleavage exists between members and non-members of the Non-Aligned Movement, indicating that the degree to which nuclear aspirants’ sovereignty should be respected is a main issue of contention.

Learning to Live with a Nuclear Iran
Peter Jones

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Could an Iranian regime that had developed a nuclear weapons capacity be “deterred?” What would such deterrence look like? What would both Iran and its foes have to do to promote stability? This article considers these questions, beginning with an exploration of the internal political landscape of Iran and how it influences critical choices made by the regime. Next, the article examines Iran’s nuclear program, within the context of domestic decision making as the key driver. Third, the article discusses Iranian culture and negotiating behavior and how these might affect the question of deterrence. Finally, the article asks what it all means for attempts to deter Iran, should it ever become a nuclear weapons–capable state—particularly an undeclared one, which is the most likely outcome.

The Proliferation Risks of Gas Centrifuge Enrichment at the Dawn of the NPT: Shedding Light on the Negotiating History
John Krige

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The negotiating history of Article IV of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is analyzed using previously overlooked archival sources. Contrary to received wisdom, there was a lively debate in the spring of 1968, much of it restricted to behind-the-scenes exchanges between Washington and London, over the proliferation risks of gas centrifuge technology for uranium enrichment. The United States put its faith in classification, safeguards, and peaceful use. The United Kingdom feared that clandestine enrichment using centrifuges would render the NPT a dead letter.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: A Nuclear-User-Pays Model of International Security
Lyndon Burford

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The funding of international nuclear risk mitigation is ad hoc, voluntary, and unpredictable, offering no transparent explanation of who is financially responsible for the task or why. Among many non-nuclear-armed states, this exacerbates a sense of injustice surrounding what they see as a discriminatory nuclear regime. The resulting erosion of the regime’s legitimacy undermines support for efforts to prevent nuclear weapons dissemination and terrorism. This article proposes a transparent, equitable “nuclear-user-pays” system as a logical means of reversing this trend. This system envisions states contributing financially to international efforts to mitigate nuclear risks at a level relative to the degree of nuclear risks created by each state. “National nuclear risk factors” would be calculated by tabulating the risks associated with each state’s civilian and military nuclear activities, as well as advanced dual-use and nuclear-capable missile activities, multiplying the severity of each risk by the probability of it occurring, and combining these results. A nuclear-user-pays model would create financial incentives for national and corporate nuclear risk mitigation, boost legitimacy and support for nuclear control efforts among non-nuclear- armed states, assist in preventing nuclear weapons dissemination and terrorism, and advance nuclear disarmament by helping progressively devalue nuclear weapons.

Banking on Nonproliferation: Improving the Implementation of Financial Sanctions
Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley

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In the past decade, governments have increasingly relied on financial sanctions to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. By targeting not only individuals and entities involved in illicit activities, but also banks that allow transactions to occur, financial sanctions were expected to stanch the flow of funds that support proliferation and compel compliance with international law—notably by Iran. Ten years later, Iran’s nuclear program has advanced, calling into question the effectiveness of financial sanctions. Previous research evaluating financial sanctions has focused on the impact of sanctions on the targeted country or on the enforcement of sanctions by the international community. Little attention has been devoted to their implementation by banks and government agencies. Based on interviews with US and European bank and government representatives, this article argues that the inefficiency of financial sanctions is due to shortcomings in training and information support from governments to financial institutions: governments on both sides of the Atlantic have provided little or no assistance to enable banks to identify patterns of proliferation financing and implement the sanctions regime. To transform financial sanctions into effective nonproliferation tools, governments need to play a greater role in their implementation.

The Ambivalent Neutral: Rereading Switzerland’s Nuclear History
Ursula Jasper

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Traditional analyses of Switzerland’s nuclear weapons program often explain both its beginning and its end by merely subsuming it under the broad logic of security calculations: the country originally developed an interest in nuclear weapons due to its precarious security environment after the end of World War II; it ended its nuclear ambitions roughly two decades later when it felt less threatened by external powers. Yet this depiction of the Swiss case brushes aside the historical political context in which Switzerland’s nuclear decision-making was embedded. Drawing upon studies in sociology and political theory, this article argues that understanding the Swiss debate on nuclear weapons is possible only if we manage to comprehend the significant political and cultural changes that took place within Swiss society. These changes deeply affected the country’s defense and foreign policy conceptions and also altered prevalent notions of neutrality, thereby ultimately foreclosing the nuclear option. In more abstract theoretical terms the article moreover suggests that we need to overcome depictions of objectively given threats or predetermined interests and develop analytical tools that help us disentangle the complex, non- linear ways in which threat perceptions, identities, and preferences evolve and shape states’ proliferation policies.

Germany’s Current and Future Plutonium Inventory
Jochen Ahlswede and Martin B. Kalinowski

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In the past, Germany reprocessed a significant amount of its spent nuclear fuel, partly on its own territory but mostly as a customer of British and French reprocessing plants. In mid-2005, Germany stopped this practice, banning new transports of spent fuel for reprocessing—although the already-exported material would be allowed to be reprocessed and recycled in German reactors as mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. In total, about 6,500 tonnes of heavy metal (tHM) have been contracted for reprocessing, but a significant portion of this material has neither been reprocessed nor recycled as MOX fuel in German reactors. Due to the complex import- export history and the partly nontransparent information policy of the German government and utilities, a comprehensive and up-to-date plutonium balance for Germany is not publicly available. This report provides an assessment of Germany’s plutonium inventory (stored domestically or abroad) based on open-source information. Special attention is paid to the issue of whether the entire inventory of separated plutonium can be completely irradiated in German nuclear reactors before the last of them is shut down in 2022. The authors conclude that Germany’s stock of plutonium waiting to be recycled was about 12.2 tonnes as of 2010; this plutonium should be completely re-imported from the United Kingdom and France by 2017. Germany’s MOX-consumption capacities should be sufficient to irradiate the remaining plutonium, although further delays are expected that could leave Germany with an inventory of separated (unirradiated) plutonium.


A New Standard for Preemptive Military Action Against WMD Threats
Fred Wehling

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International law clearly requires an imminent threat of attack as a justification for the preemptive use of military force. However, the standard definition of an imminent threat was derived centuries before the development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or ballistic missiles and other delivery systems that can reach their targets in a matter of minutes. Any use of force to alleviate threats posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMD) prior to tactical warning of the actual launch of such weapons falls into the legally and ethically controversial category of “anticipatory self-defense,” leaving decision makers potentially liable to prosecution for war crimes. Effective and ethical enforcement of nonproliferation therefore demands a standard for imminence of threat broad enough to allow military action as a last resort but sufficiently restrictive to prohibit indiscriminate action against suspected WMD programs. Following a critical review of selected literature and cases on preemption, the author proposes a new standard for preemptive military action: the existence of operational WMD, or a clandestine program to develop WMD, in contravention of international law. The author discusses the implications of this new proposed standard, which at the time of writing would permit preemptive attack against WMD-armed terrorist groups but prohibit it against all states except Iran and possibly North Korea.


15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation, by L. Douglas Keeney
Reviewed by James Clay Moltz

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Early nuclear history is often a top-down story about the struggle of the nation’s civilian leadership to deal with the changes wrought by the bomb. Douglas Keeney’s recent book, 15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation, focuses instead on the US military. He offers a detailed, bottom-up history of the US Strategic Air Command (SAC) based on newly declassified SAC documents. While the book is not (as suggested by its title) a biography of General Curtis LeMay, it describes how he shaped SAC into an effective operational fighting force. Keeney’s account has its weaknesses, but it is a useful reminder of the myriad activities (and occasional accidents) that occurred during the years when SAC comprised the core of the US nuclear deterrent.

Detect and Deter: Can Countries Verify the Nuclear Test Ban?, by Ola Dahlman, Jenifer Mackby, Svein Mykkeltveit, and Hein Haak
Reviewed by Andreas Persbo

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In a new book, a quartet of Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) veterans diligently chronicles the development of the treaty’s verification regime. The book highlights great strides forward in seismic monitoring and proposes ways in which the regime can be made even better. Its careful, diligent examination of the verification regime makes it a worthwhile read for those wishing to acquaint themselves with the CTBT; those who are more knowledgeable about the treaty will be more interested in the authors’ policy recommendations. Although unevenly written, Detect and Deter should nevertheless be on the reading lists of those wishing to better understand the CTBT.

Asia’s Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks, by James Clay Moltz
Reviewed by Joan Johnson-Freese

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Asia’s Space Race by James Clay Moltz combines academic analysis with a pragmatic policy perspective. Space activity is on the rise in Asia, involving multiple states that have varying levels of capabilities. Political pundits in the United States often ask whether the United States is in a space race with China; Moltz explains how and why the real current space race is actually within Asia. Moltz further explains why the United States must maintain an awareness and understanding of the pace and extent of Asian states’ space activities. Unless all space-faring nations understand the need for extended space cooperation, the sustainability of the space environment, important to all, could be threatened.


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.

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