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HOME > TOPICS > Nuclear Abolition & The Next Arms Race      
Nuclear Abolition & The Next Arms Race
As the U.S. reduces its nuclear arsenal, what might the next arms race look like? Assuming current nuclear trends continue, the next two decades will test America’s security and that of its closest allies as they never have been tested before. Before 2020, the United Kingdom could find its nuclear forces eclipsed not only by those of Pakistan, but of Israel and of India. Soon thereafter, France may share the same fate. read more
Mar 24, 2021 China's Civil Nuclear Sector: Plowshares to Swords? (Occasional Paper 2102)
  Today, Reuters reported that China is pushing the development of a new generation of fast breeder reactors that make significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium. The article draws on reports that China is building not one, but two large reprocessing plants (the first likely to come on line in 2025; the second sometime before 2030) and two large fast breeder reactors (projected to begin operation in 2023 and 2026). With the normal operation of fast breeder reactors of the size China is building comes the annual production of hundreds of bombs’ worth of weapons-grade plutonium. This has major military implications. To help clarify them, the Reuters article, cites NPEC’s research report, “China’s Civil Nuclear Sector: Plowshares to Swords?”, which NPEC is releasing today. The senior-most nuclear nonproliferation policy officials of both the Trump and the Obama Administrations — Christopher Ford and Thomas Countryman — coauthored the report’s preface and endorsed its determinations. The report’s key finding is that given China’s large fast reactor program, China could conservatively produce 1,270 nuclear weapons by 2030 simply by exploiting the weapons-grade plutonium this program will produce. If China chose, in addition, to make weapons that either used highly enriched uranium or composite (uranium-plutonium) cores, it could increase this number by a factor of two or more. The report makes several recommendations. First, our government needs to learn why, after 2017, China stopped reporting privately on its civilian plutonium activities and holdings to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). China, Russia, the United States, France, the UK, and Japan agreed to make these reports and have done so since 1997. Second, the US, South Korea, Japan, and China should make this information public and also publicly share their uranium holdings and enrichment related activities. On the defense side, Washington should ask Beijing to reveal what its military plutonium and uranium holdings are. The United States already did so in 1996 and 2001. Finally, the report recommends that the United States explore with China, Japan, and South Korea the idea of taking a commercial plutonium production timeout. Currently, fast reactors are far less economic than the least economic of conventional reactors. Japan, South Korea, and the United States could and should offer to delay their fast reactor and commercial plutonium programs if China would agree to do the same. The full report includes work by Hui Zhang of Harvard’s Belfer Center, Greg Jones, Frank Von Hippel of Princeton University, David Von Hippel, and two appendices consisting of previously published NPEC studies. The later examine the difficulties of preventing abrupt and incremental diversions from commercial nuclear fuel-making plants of the type China and Japan have or are planning to build and that South Korea and the United States are considering developing.  
Occasional Papers & Monographs
Feb 23, 2021 Blocking the Gateways to Nuclear Disorder: Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia
 The following presentation was given by Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan at NPEC's Public Policy Fellowship Research Retreat on February 23, 2021.
Presentations; Audio & Video
Feb 22, 2021 Limiting Missiles: What We're Up against
 After the renewal of New START, the Biden Administration has its work cut out for it to reach additional arms control agreements with Russia or China. In the short run, neither Moscow nor Beijing seems likely to strike a major deal. Things look a bit more optimistic in the long run but whatever agreements can be reached will have to focus far more sharply on limiting missiles and drones.  The attached NPEC-commissioned research, “Long-Term Prospects for Missile Controls,” by David Cooper of the U.S. Naval War College, explains why. Dr. Cooper makes a compelling case that controlling precise missiles and their related enabling systems (e.g., GPS and imaging satellites) will be at least as important as controlling nuclear warheads. He also makes several specific recommendations to focus future arms control negotiations.  Attached is a brief video of a presentation he gave last night at NPEC’s research retreat. It is sure to draw you in and make you want to read his longer analysis (also attached).     
Articles; Audio & Video
Feb 19, 2021 "Biden Should End U.S. Hypocrisy on Israeli Nukes," Foreign Policy
Wednesday, President Biden phoned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the official read out of the call, no mention was made of Israel’s nuclear program. As a result, it is unclear if Biden committed to pledging not to press Israel to give up its nuclear weapons or to confirm their existence as long as Israel feels threatened. Israel has demanded every American president since Bill Clinton make this pledge in writing. In the attached Foreign Policy piece, “Biden Should End U.S. Hypocrisy on Israeli Nukes,” Victor Gilinsky and I argue Biden shouldn’t. Israel has a triad of nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and was recently rated the world’s eighth most powerful state, just behind Japan. After the Abraham Accords, Israel is unlikely to be pushed into the sea. On the other hand, pressure is mounting on Washington to uphold its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) promise to limit its nuclear forces. Last fall, the United States called on China to abide by this NPT pledge and after extending New START, the Biden Administration announced its desire for China to join in follow-on nuclear reduction talks. The Administration is currently attempting to engage Iran to renew and fortify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Yet, it will be difficult to do so credibly without acknowledging Israel’s nuclear arsenal — something currently forbidden by Executive order of anyone holding a US security clearance.  The same also is true of dealing with Egyptian threats to hold the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference hostage if Washington refuses to participate in talks to establish a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Israel is expanding its nuclear activities at Dimona. All of this suggests its time the Biden Administration break with the past and stop indulging Israel’s nuclear demands. Washington pretend Israel has no bombs. All of this suggests it's time the Biden Administration break with the past and stop indulging Israel’s nuclear demands.
Op-Eds & Blogs
Feb 10, 2021 Making Arms Control Competitive Again
Last week, the United States and Russia agreed to extend New START for another five years. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States will build on the five-year extension to devise an arms control treaty that addresses all of America’s and Russia’s nuclear weapons as well as, “the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenals.” The question is how. We get an answer in the attached study, “Arms Control Among Rivals,” that John Maurer of the US Air Force’s Air University just completed for NPEC. In it, he makes the case for "competitive arms control." Such diplomacy follows three basic rules.  First, Washington should avoid limiting military technologies that it has a decisive advantage in. Second, the United States should ensure equal limits in areas where it can compete effectively but cannot predominate. Finally, Washington should be willing to allow adversaries to enjoy military advantage in categories of weapons that the United States does not wish to compete in. Maurer explains how these principals have been exercised in the past and how they should be exercised by American diplomats today. His analysis is must reading not only for those who are uncomfortable striking diplomatic deals, but for those who are all too eager to do so.    
Articles
Sep 29, 2020 "Time for a New Middle East Nonproliferation Strategy," RealClearDefense
With Saudi Arabia secretly pursuing nuclear technology and Turkey and Egypt pushing nuclear programs as well, Washington should ponder why states tied to Washington or NATO for their security may go nuclear anyway. The short answer is, they increasingly believe America will abandon the region or already has. This suggests what’s needed — an American-led effort to create more credible security and improved economic conditions in the region. As NPEC’s Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan argues in the attached piece for RealClearDefense, “What if Middle Eastern States worked together?”, America now has an opportunity to organize a coalition of friendly Middle Eastern states that would provide more security and prosperity than a nuclear bomb or reactor ever could. Rather than profer more bilateral deals state-by-state, Washington needs to approach the region by cultivating a coalition of like-minded states.  On the security side, Washington could start by leading efforts to strengthen the ground forces of a group of friendly states, such as the UAE, Israel Jordan, Tunisia, Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco with improved joint training and exercises. The U.S. and other Western states would promise this aid along with air power and intelligence assistance, but not ground forces, for members that come under attack. On the economic side, the United States and other Western states would redouble their long-term development financing for non-nuclear energy alternatives, new infrastructure projects, and programs to promote entrepreneurship and improve schools. Diplomatically, the U.S. and its Western allies would facilitate solutions to regional energy disputes. This diplomatic, economic, and security initiative would insist on coalition members forswearing dangerous nuclear weapons-related activities, such as enriching uranium and reprocessing spent reactor fuel. Members would accept the International Atomic Energy Agency’s highest standard of inspections under the Additional Protocol. Washington and others assisting the coalition would encourage nonnuclear energy options, not nuclear ones. The ultimate aim of this effort would be to strengthen and expand it to include Turkey and Saudi Arabia. None of this will be easy but, if anything of lasting value is to come from the recent diplomatic opening to Israel, it should be this.
Op-Eds & Blogs
Sep 05, 2020 "To Stop A Possible Iranian Nuclear Bomb, Don't Cave, Don't Bomb," The National Interest
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. 
Op-Eds & Blogs
Aug 06, 2020 "Hiroshima at 75: A Peek into Our Nuclear Future," The American Interest
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.  
Op-Eds & Blogs
Jul 07, 2020 "Conventional wisdom says Turkey won't go nuclear. That might be wrong.," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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.  
Op-Eds & Blogs
Jun 09, 2020 Towards More Competitive, Long-term Arms Control
Monday, the Trump Administration’s special envoy for arms control announced he will be meeting this month with his Russian counterpart to discuss whether and how to extend the New START agreement. One reported option is to agree to extend New START (if Russia agrees to include additional weaponry), renew it annually, and draw the United Kingdom and France into future talks to engage Beijing.   By any measure, this is an ambitious agenda. In fact, most significant peace and arms control treaties take roughly a decade to negotiate and last no more than 20 years.  With this in mind, NPEC held a workshop this week on how missile-driven competitions with Russia and China might unfold over the next two decades and how this should inform Washington's long-term arms control efforts. Attached are three memos the workshop used to discuss these matters.  The first, by John Maurer of the American Enterprise Institute (soon to assume a professorship at the Air War University), is a long-term prospectus on competitive arms control. Sound agreements, he argues, “require asymmetry in the capabilities to be limited” and that “large, obvious asymmetries” make talks “all but impossible."   John spotlights where China, Russia, and the US stand relative to one another. He believes Washington needs to decide if it wants to promote nonproliferation to keep the number of states negotiating small enough for future arms talks to succeed.   The second brief by David Cooper of the Naval War College is drawn from his forthcoming book on the future of arms control.  His message — “we need to arms race towards arms control” — borrows from the dual—track strategy that generated the INF Treaty. David offers several arms control proposals for the mid- to long-term. These include banning intermediate-range missiles in Europe, imposing ceilings on long-range and nuclear-armed hypersonics, and capping multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) and nuclear weapons generally. The last brief is mine.  Besides laying out how the offense-defense competitions might unfold with China and Russia, it offers four arms control initiatives that could be discussed now. None — deterring NPT withdrawals, calling for a Pacific peaceful plutonium production pause, prohibiting the nuclear targeting of cities, and capping long-range hypersonics — depend on establishing a symmetry of numbers.  Some could usefully be raised with Russia and with China, France, and the UK. It is unclear if any of these ideas will gain traction. But if we are serious about deterring wars and developing effective competitive diplomacy, they are a good place to start.   
Presentations
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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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