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Op-Eds & Blogs
Sep 05, 2020 To Stop A Possible Iranian Nuclear Bomb, Don't Cave, Don't Bomb
Next June, Iran will select a new president to replace Hassan Rouhani. Soon, the 81-year-old cancer survivor Ayatollah Khamenei will pass from the scene as well. What does this suggest about how the US should approach Iran’s nuclear program? Rather than rushing for a deal that merely pauses Iran’s nuclear program, leaving future Iranian leaders tempted to weaponize, Washington should lay the groundwork for an eventual deal that rolls it back.  NPEC’s Wohlstetter Fellow, John Spacapan, makes this case in the attached piece for The National Interest, “To Stop A Possible Iranian Nuclear Bomb, Don't Cave, Don't Bomb.” Of course, Tehran won’t roll back its nuclear program today, but three conditions might get it there: First, with continued economic pressure, the Mullahs may need to bargain. Second, the United States could make clear, through how it trains and equips Iran’s neighbors and operates in the region, that it has no plans to attack Iran. This would deprive Iran of the “deterrence” pretext to acquire nuclear weapons. Third, the US and other nuclear suppliers should insist Iran and all other non-nuclear weapons states in the Middle East forswear enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel. Blocking states from making nuclear fuel is the only way to guarantee civilian programs aren’t secretly fueling bomb efforts.    This is a hybrid of the Biden and Trump approaches and it's the right one regardless of who wins in November. 
Aug 24, 2020 Will North Korea Benefit from Joe Biden's Plan for Iran?
 "Will North Korea Benefit from Joe Biden's Plan for Iran?" is an op-ed Henry Sokolski wrote. It appeared in The National Interest on August 24, 2020. 
Aug 06, 2020 Hiroshima at 75: A Peek into Our Nuclear Future
  Seventy five years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, one wonders what the next 75 might bring. As I note in The American Interest piece, "A Peek into Our Nuclear Future,” the good news is military science has made massively indiscriminate city busting less attractive. Instead, modern warfare is focused on precision guided munitions and non-kinetic weaponry — directed energy, electronic jamming, and cyber warfare systems. This raises the optimistic prospect that 75 years hence, nuclear weapons might well achieve the same lowly status as chemical weapons did 75 years after their first stunning strategic use in World War One.  The bad news is that, before such a less indiscriminate, nuclear discounted world might be reached, nuclear weapons could spread, be used, and gain in popularity. Catalyzing this future is the increasing availability of nuclear technology and advanced missiles. Relatively weak states as well as medium-sized powers are now acquiring the means to strike their neighbors precisely with advanced missiles. They are also acquiring dual-capable nuclear technologies that afford them nuclear weapons options. Which of these two trends will win out? It’s unclear. If we continue to spread the most dangerous forms of nuclear technology and advanced delivery systems and fail to restrain weapons technologies designed to inflict strategic surprise and indiscriminate harm, our future will be unkind.  
Aug 05, 2020 Thinking Hard About Missile Defense
  Last month, the Japanese canceled on a major US-Japan missile defense project, Aegis Ashore. Japanese officials cited cost and effectiveness as issues driving their decision. The question now is what Japan and the US might do next. Much of the discussion has focused on different kinds of offensive missile or active missile defense measures.  This is too narrow a focus. As Bryan Clark of the Hudson Institute and I argue in the attached Real Clear Defense piece, “Thinking Hard about Missile Defense,” a key part of the missile defense solution for Japan lies in perfecting passive defenses — mobility, camouflage, decoys...and hardening. These first three types of passive defense are hardly new. Hardening, however, is undergoing a quiet technical revolution with the advent of ultra high performance concrete, which is five to ten times more resilient than conventional reinforced concrete.  When combined with other more traditional forms of passive defense, ultra hardening can geometrically increase the number of weapons needed for an attack because an adversary has to assume each potential target is hardened. It also should reduce missile defense requirements significantly, making terminal limited foot-print active defense systems, like Patriot and other shorter range missile defense systems, sufficient where previously they might have been dismissed as inadequate. As Washington works with its allies to protect key overseas bases, how much missile defense of what type is going to be a major issue that will be easier to work if passive defenses and hardening are dialed in.      
Jul 17, 2020 Federal Financing of U.S. Nuclear Exports - Under What Conditions?
    Late last week, the Trump Administration’s newly created foreign investment agency, the Development Finance Corporation, opened its doors to financing U.S. nuclear reactor export projects. Previously, their rules forbade this and with good cause:  Even small modular reactors are projected to cost one half to several billion dollars and large ones can cost more than 10 billion dollars per unit. Those numbers could empty the bank. The reactors also pose safety and nuclear weapons proliferation risks. That’s why no private bank will finance such exports.  You would think that would recommend due diligence and caution. Yet, as Victor Gilinsky and I note in “Trump’s new foreign investment agency: Itching to build on nuclear quicksand,” in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Development Finance Corporation has been quite content with its decision. Its press release on lifting the nuclear ban extolled the virtues of advanced reactors for the developing world. Nor was there any hint of what sorts of conditions might apply to the corporation funding nuclear reactors.   Would recipient countries have to have sound safety regulations? Would they have to meet security requirements? Would they have to allow international inspections? Would U.S. financing be limited to exports subject to the requirements of the Atomic Energy Act’s Section 123? Could corporation financing also cover equipment purchases from other suppliers? Could corporation financing be used to buy shares of foreign nuclear companies? Nobody yet knows. The agency has not yet offered any guidelines. It should. After all, the corporation’s original purpose was to focus on the developing world and to compete with China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Instead, the development corporation has opened itself up to nuclear industry pleading (which has already begun) to support large reactor projects in Western and Eastern Europe.   What should be done? Congress, which created the Development Finance Corporation, needs to exercise oversight. In specific, it should urge the corporation to produce guidelines for nuclear projects and make them subject to public comment for 60 days as if they mattered as much as any “high-risk” project the corporation might finance. Congress could also hold a hearing. Just one would do.  
Jul 10, 2020 Coping with the Ground-Based Laser ASAT Threat
  As we approach the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing, the front lines of nuclear deterrence are moving from missile launch sites and air bases on earth to key satellites based in space. Knock out key satellites essential to command, control, communication, and informing military forces, and you can lobotomize any military no matter how powerful. In this regard, what China and Russia are up to deserves attention: Both are deploying a variety of anti-satellite weaponry to disable US and allied satellites. The latest development is their deployment of ground-based lasers that can dazzle US and allied imagery satellites. As Brian Chow and I detail in the attached Space News op-ed, “US satellites are increasingly vulnerable to China’ s ground-based lasers.” Chinese dual-use and dedicated military ground-based anti-satellite (ASAT) lasers can already temporarily blind US and allied imagery satellites. By the mid-2020s, the Chinese may have lasers powerful enough to damage the structures of the satellites they target. This threat will require the United States and its allies to operate differently in space. Up until recently, we and our allies assumed space was a sanctuary. It is no longer. As Brian and I note, the United States needs to operate its imagery satellites as if they will be damaged once a war begins. This means taking as much imagery in peacetime as possible, relying more on lower resolution images that can be taken from increasingly plentiful commercial satellite constellations, and pushing to diversify America’s source of images away from military-dedicated satellites.  It also suggests new diplomatic positions the United States and its allies should consider, including extending New START’s formal prohibitions on interference with “national technical means of verification,” which includes sensor-carrying satellites.  The next trick is getting China to adhere to such prohibitions. In our piece, Brian and I describe additional diplomatic initiatives to deal with future ground-based laser ASATs.      
Jul 07, 2020 Conventional wisdom says Turkey won't go nuclear. That might be wrong.
Turkey's successful military intervention in Libya has raised eyebrows in the West. No other Middle Eastern state would dare deploy conventional forces hundreds of miles from its borders, with no international coalition backing it, to defeat the dominant Libyan force backed by nuclear powers Russia and France. If Ankara is as set on becoming a regional power player as their recent moves suggest, what else might they do?  Think nuclear. As NPEC's Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan argues in the attached piece for The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, "Conventional wisdom says Turkey won't go nuclear. That might be wrong," three signs point to Turkey pursuing the bomb. First Erdogan has made it clear at the UN General Assembly and at a Turkish political rally in Antalya, he wants the bomb. Second, Turkey is building nuclear power plants. They can provide bomb materials and a cover to acquire weapons-related technology. What they won't provide in Turkey, is cheap electricity. Third, Erdogan has bent over backward to form a military alliance with nuclear-armed Pakistan, a country that has previously shared nuclear weapons-related technology with Iran, Libya, and North Korea. All of this suggests the United States should act now to convince the Turks to change course.  
Jun 25, 2020 The Energy Department's Dangerous Plutonium Dream
Late last month, the Department of Energy (DoE) again floated the idea of chemically extracting or "reprocessing" nuclear weapons explosive plutonium from spent fuel reactor fuel. Why? To keep up with Russia and China in building multi-billion dollar fast "advanced" reactor commercial demonstration programs that make current expensive nuclear electricity look dirt cheap.  But as Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski argue in "The Energy Department's Dangerous Plutonium Dream," published in The American Interest, following Moscow's and Beijing's command nuclear programs is a mistake. Russia and China are pushing fast reactors and reprocessing to "save" uranium left in spent reactor fuel, which they and DoE officials see as a resource that is being "wasted." This view, however, is like insisting that moonlight and ocean wave energy is going to "waste" because it has yet to be captured, while ignoring the fantastic costs needed to harness them. Uranium, in fact, is plentiful and dirt cheap. "Saving" it by reprocessing it and plutonium from spent fuel, on the ohter hand, is dangerous and extremely expensive.  Reprocessing and fast reactor proponents actually know this. That is why they are eager to internationalize commercial advanced fast reactor and fuel cycle demonstration projects. This includes exporting American spent reactor fuel to be reprocessed abroad in France, India, and even Japan. All of this will burn financial holes in our pockets and, if we are unlucky at all, help would be bomb makers. It surely is the wrong way to compete with Russia and China. 
Jun 03, 2020 Trouble ahead: Other countries can build military reactors free of safeguards
Earlier this year, the Defense Department kicked off a design competition for micro nuclear reactors that can be deployed with U.S. military forces overseas. Such reactors on U.S. military bases would not be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections because America is recognized to be a nuclear weapons state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). What's worrisome, is that in principle, countries lacking nuclear weapons could build military reactors free of inspections as well. As Victor Gilinsky and I wrote in the attached Bulletin of Atomic Scientists piece, "Small military nuclear reactors: In need of global safeguards," the NPT does not prohibit non-weapon states from all military applications of nuclear energy--only those that involve nuclear explosives. IAEA safeguards agreements with these states actually include a provision that notes this possibility and excludes these activities from safeguards. To its credit, the IAEA views what is "peaceful" nuclear activity as broadly as possible in order to cover as many activities with safeguards as possible. But as former Brazilian ambassador Sergio Duarte who serves as president of the 2005 NPT Review Conference and chairman of the IAEA Board of Governors, recently noted, "There is no definition of 'peaceful uses' in any multilateral treaty on nonproliferation." Both South Korea and Iran have announced a desire to develop naval reactors that would entail building ground-based prototypes. If the U.S. promotes small reactors as a killer app, it's conceivable it will be giving other countries that lack nuclear weapons ideas. This is a prescription for mischief. The 2020 NPT Review Conference has been delayed until next year. Before it meets, it would be smart to clarify that non-weapons states' military reactors, naval or otherwise, need to be safeguarded no matter what.    
May 15, 2020 Bad Business: Pushing US Nuclear Exports
The nuclear industry and the Department of Energy (DOE) want to raid our wallets...again. This time, it’s not to save the planet, but supposedly to give industry a fighting chance against rising Russian and Chinese civilian nuclear export competition. As Victor Gilinsky and I warn in "The Nuclear Industry at the Feeding Trough," posted by The American Interest, the American taxpayer shouldn't buy this.  First, the Russian and Chinese nuclear industry is not as healthy or as influential as claimed. Second, the nuclear industry’s pleas (most recently trumpeted in DOE’s nuclear strategy report, “Restoring America’s Competitive Nuclear Energy Advantage”) presume an American commercial nuclear industry that no longer exists. Westinghouse, General Electric, and Combustion Engineering have sold themselves out to foreign partners and holding companies. US nuclear exports are no longer significant. Also, US nuclear electricity is now more expensive than gas-fired electricity, hydroelectric, and renewables.  Finally, what the industry is demanding in regulations to promote exports — a relaxed approach to nuclear nonproliferation controls — will actually undermine America's national security.   
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The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization
founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
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