Nonproliferation Review March 2015

Volume 22 • Number 1


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Brazil’s Nuclear Submarine Program: A Historical Perspective
Andrea de Sá

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Narratives about Brazil’s nuclear program are distorted by supporters and critics alike. In Brazil, the national nuclear infrastructure is seeing a period of expansion, with plans to build new nuclear power plants and industrial-scale fuel production facilities. While Brazil’s leaders herald the nuclear sector as a triumph for indigenous science and technology, foreigners view the nuclear program as a dangerous legacy of the military regime. This discrepancy becomes even more apparent in discussions about the ongoing construction of Brazil’s first nuclear-powered submarine. Brazil’s military touts the submarine as a symbol of political status, economic growth, and military might. But from abroad, the military’s involvement in nuclear development is considered unnecessary, worrisome, and even irresponsible. These narratives—often incomplete or selective—have polarized discussions about Brazil’s nuclear submarine program and caused considerable political antagonism during safeguards negotiations. This article works to dispel myths, highlight legitimate concerns, and explain historical perspectives that shed light on some difficulties that can be anticipated in future negotiations.

The South African Denuclearization Exemplar: Insights for Nonproliferation Monitoring and Verification
Frank V. Pabian

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The South African case of nuclear weapons rollback is a unique historical moment notable for the dramatic shift from deception to cooperation. The unprecedented transparency to convince the international community of the veracity of that rollback is heralded as an exemplar for verifiable denuclearization. Less known is how that rollback affords insights into how a nuclear weapons program can clandestinely be hidden by the ambiguity provided by an otherwise completely legitimate peaceful nuclear energy program. Using a variety of open sources, including now declassified internal South African and US government documents, it can be shown that South Africa employed a variety of tactics before denuclearization—and even for short time after as a new signatory to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons—to thwart discovery of the existence and extent of that program. This article reviews that information to derive instructive lessons on the lengths that a nuclear proliferant state might go to conceal its true capabilities and intentions.

What Do We Mean By Nuclear Proliferation?
Todd C. Robinson

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What do we mean by nuclear proliferation? What does it mean to proliferate? This article investigates both the literal and figurative meaning of the term “proliferation.” It argues that many of the definitions and conceptualizations of nuclear proliferation often used by scholars are either limited in their utility or logically inconsistent. It then reconceptualizes and redefines the term, incorporating an understanding of both its etymological origins and the geopolitical context in which the phenomenon occurs. It concludes by exploring the potential impact that the politicization of the phenomenon may have on the identification of occurrences of proliferation, from both an academic and a policy-making perspective.

In Good Health? The Biological Weapons Convention and the “Medicalization” of Security
Amanda Moodie

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Since the 1990s, the group of stakeholders working to combat biological weapons (BW) proliferation has broadened to include new actors who have not traditionally focused on security issues, including organizations from the public health sector, researchers in the life sciences, and the biosafety community. This has had significant benefits for the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the arms control establishment more broadly. However, the BWC’s agenda has become increasingly dominated by issues of international health and global health security. By focusing solely on response strategies, the United States and other interested parties risk losing sight of other important elements of a counter-BW strategy, including deterrence and prevention. Focusing on public health-related issues to the exclusion of more traditional security matters puts the nonproliferation regime at risk, because it limits the amount of time that stakeholders have available to grapple with the critical questions facing the BWC and the biological weapons nonproliferation establishment—questions that must be answered if the regime is to survive.


A Bioterrorism Prevention Initiative: A Collaborative Approach
Anne-Yolande Bilala and Francisco Galamas

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The threat of terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction remains a daunting concern. Governments have undertaken several initiatives at the national and international level to prevent such illicit use, yet challenges remain. Notable is the absence of a single collaborative international forum of experts dedicated solely to bioterrorism prevention. The establishment of a Bioterrorism Prevention Initiative could be possible a solution to address this gap. This article explores possibilities for such an initiative and the ways in which it could strengthen the existing bio-nonproliferation regime.


No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security, Thomas M. Nichols
David O. Smith

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In his book, Thomas M. Nichols calls for a constructive rethinking about the history of nuclear weapons and the attitudes that have grown up around them. Despite dramatic reductions since the end of the Cold War, the United States still maintains a robust nuclear triad that far exceeds the needs of realistic deterrence in the twenty-first century. Nichols advocates a new strategy of minimum deterrence that includes deep unilateral reductions to the US nuclear arsenal, a no-first-use pledge, withdrawing US tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, and ending extended nuclear deterrence for allies. The weakest part of his argument eschews nuclear retaliation against small nuclear states that attack the United States, opting instead to use only conventional weapons to guarantee regime change. He admits this will entail enormous cost and sacrifice, but cites the “immorality” of retaliating against a smaller power with few targets worthy of nuclear weaponry, which totally ignores the massive underground facilities constructed to shield military facilities in many of these states. Despite this, Nichols’s thoughtful approach to post-Cold War deterrence deserves thoughtful consideration.

Churchill’s Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race, Graham Farmelo
Alex Wellerstein

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This book on the early British nuclear weapon program assembles a fascinating cast of characters in a gripping narrative. It particularly succeeds at illustrating the importance of “atomic energy” imagery in the United Kingdom well before the discovery of fission, and provides nuanced insights into Churchill’s handling of issues relating to the atomic bomb and scientific expertise. However, in arguing that the British had a “lead” on the manufacture of atomic bombs that was “lost” to the United States during the early Manhattan Project, the book overstates its case, and in the process misunderstands what it took to make the bomb.

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 Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

The Nonproliferation Review ISSN 1073-6700
Copyright © 2015 by Middlebury Institute of International Studies