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HOME > TOPICS > The Nonproliferation Regime      
The Nonproliferation Regime

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) represents three basic bargains. The first is encapsulated in Articles One and Two of the treaty. They prohibit states with nuclear weapons from transferring them or the means to make them to states that lack nuclear weapons, and ban nonweapons states from acquiring them. The second NPT bargain is set forth in Articles Three, Four, and Six. These articles stipulate that the nuclear weapons states will negotiate in good faith to disarm and will share the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy with nonweapons states. In exchange, the nonweapons states pledge not to acquire nuclear weapons and to allow international inspections of their civilian nuclear facilities and materials to verify whether non-nuclear weapons states are in compliance with the treaty and are not diverting peaceful nuclear activities or materials to make nuclear weapons.

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Oct 22, 2020 Mitchell Institute Talk
Presentations; Audio & Video
Oct 15, 2020 Say No to Enrichment and Reprocessing In the Middle East
One foreign policy promise both Biden and Trump have made is to prevent further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East by cutting a nuclear deal with Iran. Biden wants to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement Trump pulled out of. Trump says he wants to cut a “better” deal... But as Victor Gilinsky and I explain in our Foreign Policy piece, “To Prevent Proliferation, Stop Enrichment and Reprocessing in the Middle East,” blocking the bomb’s further spread in the Middle East requires more than just “fixing” Iran. The Saudis have threatened to acquire nuclear weapons and have secretly been working with the Chinese on processing uranium. Washington also must soon review and renew the terms of its civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with Turkey (whose president, Recep Erdogan, recently said Ankara has a right to acquire nuclear arms), as well as with Egypt (which once harbored weapons ambitions) and Morocco.   Unfortunately, the United States now has not one, but three different nonproliferation standards in the Middle East.  Each takes a different approach to limiting uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent reactor fuel (enrichment can produce weapons-grade uranium; reprocessing nuclear weapons explosive plutonium).  In the case of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, Iran is allowed to enrich and may eventually reprocess as well. Meanwhile, the deal Washington cut with the UAE requires Abu Dhabi to uphold what is referred to as the nonproliferation gold standard by forswearing both activities. In the case of Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, Washington only prohibits enriching and reprocessing of U.S.-origin nuclear materials.  As Victor and I argue, this conflicting patchwork is unsustainable. In its place, the United States should promote the Gold Standard from Morocco through Iran, including Israel. This means Iran should give up enriching and reprocessing as the UAE already has and the Saudis, Turks, Egyptians, Moroccans, and Israelis should. This would not impact Israel’s current nuclear weapons arsenal. But it would cap it and point the way for [Israel’s] security to depend less on nuclear weapons.  Our proposal for a no-enrichment and no-reprocessing zone in the region also would help address Middle Eastern states’ demands to move towards a nuclear weapons free zone. In fact, it would be more feasible, and if achieved, have more lasting significance since it would preclude the possibility of non-nuclear states in the region making nuclear weapons.    
Op-Eds & Blogs
Sep 25, 2020 Let's Try an Honest Nonproliferation Policy in the Middle East
  Yesterday, something quite odd occurred. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Under Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs David Hale was asked what our government’s nonproliferation goals were in striking a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia. Was the Trump Administration aiming to get Riyadh to agree to the “Gold Standard”? This would require Riyadh to forswear enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel—two activities that could bring it to the brink of making bombs. This was hardly a trick question: In May of 2018, Secretary Pompeo publicly testified that the United States was pushing this objective. Yet, yesterday, Under Secretary Hale refused to confirm this, pleading the matter was classified. It’s not entirely clear why Mr. Hale refused to go on the record. But he did have cause to be cautious. Increasingly, Washington is getting crosswise with itself as it pushes U.S. power reactor technology exports to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan, saddling them and Iran with a patchwork of conflicting nuclear nonproliferation conditions. As Victor Gilinsky and I note, in the attached Bulletin of Atomic Scientists piece “Toward an honest Middle East nonproliferation policy,” America’s agreement with the UAE requires it legally forswear enriching uranium and reprocessing entirely and adopt intrusive international nuclear inspections. In contrast, Washington agreed to allow Iran to enrich in a limited fashion. Meanwhile, current U.S. agreements with Turkey and Egypt permit them to enrich in an unlimited manner so long as they do not use U.S. – origin materials. The proposed agreement with Saudi Arabia, if there is one, may be some kludge of these three approaches. The United States needs to simplify. In specific, Washington should push the Gold Standard for all existing civilian nuclear programs in the Middle East and encourage states there not to build any additional large reactors. This may be difficult, but it should be our goal. Given the abundance of cheap natural gas, solar energy, and new opportunities to connect Middle Eastern pipelines and grids, nuclear power in the region no longer makes economic sense. It does, however, pose a worrisome security risk both for nuclear bomb making and presenting tempting missile targets. Pretending otherwise or, worse, being silent when we should speak honestly about these liabilities is a luxury we can no longer afford.  
Op-Eds & Blogs
Aug 05, 2020 Unsafeguardable - - Enriching Uranium and Reprocessing Spent Fuel
Last week's revelation that Saudi Arabia has been secretly collaborating with China to produce uranium yellowcake put a spotlight on the Saudi's worrisome nuclear program. Admittedly, producing yellowcake is only the first step toward enriching uranium. The long pole in the technical tent to make nuclear bombs is enriching uranium and reprocessing spent reactor fuel. The Saudis insist they want to enrich. Once they do, however, preventing possible military diversions to make bombs will be nearly impossible. The attached in-depth research by Greg Jones, "Can Bulk Nuclear Fuel Facilities Be Effectively Safeguarded?" drives this point home. His short answer to his own question about enrichment and reprocessing plants is no, effective safeguards are not possible. First, would-be bomb makers can hide enrichment and reprocessing facilities from international inspectors, make a bomb and not get caught until one or more weapons are in hand. Second, even declared enrichment plants making low enriched uranium that can't be made into bombs can be converted so quickly to produce weapons-grade uranium that little can be done before a nuclear weapon is built. Finally, measuring what declared enrichment and reprocessing plants produce is still so inaccurate that a would-be bomb maker could incrementally divert enough nuclear explosive material to make one or more bombs worth without tipping off any inspector. For all these reasons, it's best to prevent enrichment and reprocessing activities from ever starting in countries that lack nuclear weapons.  This is especially true of a country like Saudi Arabia, which, in addition to hiding its latest nuclear collaboration with Beijing, lied about Jamal Khashoggi's ghastly murder, and covertly bought a Chinese missile factory. These three strikes ought to make cooperating with Riyadh on nuclear energy, much less, trusting them with enrichment or reprocessing, out of bounds.  Greg Jones' analysis, of course, speaks to much more than just the Saudi case. It clarifies what kind of nuclear activities -- reprocessing and enrichment -- the U.S. and other nuclear supplier states should say no to. Thinking that we can let safeguard nonweapon states from diverting enrichment and reprocessing to bombs, is a mistake.
Working Papers & Monographs
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.    
Op-Eds & Blogs
May 28, 2020 "Advanced" US Reactors: New Foreign Policy and Security Concerns
 Over the last few weeks, Defense and Enery officials have made a number of remarkable announcements promoting the export and overseas deployment of "advanced reactors"-- nuclear plants as small as several megawatts electrical (and up) that use new types of reactor fuels. Overturning decades of U.S. policy not to encourage the separation of weapons-usable plutonium overseas, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for nuclear energy announced earlier this month the department's desire to send U.S. spent fuel to France, India, and Japan for reprocessing. This would be part of a larger effort to develop plutonium-based fuels for several proposed U.S. advanced reactor designs. The Energy Department also wants to expand American uranium enrichment capacity to produce nearly 20% enriched fuels for other proposed reactor systems. Small versions of these reactors are intended for export. The Energy Department wants to develop these reactors and their fuel cycles with advanced nuclear nations (e.g., Japan, South Korea, India). The Department of Defense, meanwhile, let out contracts for a microreactor it hopes to begin testing 2023 for deployment at the very edge of battle at military theaters like Afghanistan.    What foreign policy and security concerns do these advanced reactors raise? The short answer is plenty. For starters, they include the possible reopening of America's nuclear cooperative agreements with South Korea, India, and China and persuading other countries to let us insert military reactors on their soil.   All of this should raise eyebrows. Last week, Sharon Squasoni (of George Washington's Institue for International Science and Technology Policy) and I offered congressional staff a short brief, "'Advanced' US Reactors: New Foreign Policy-Security Concerns." The following are the Powerpoint slides, a suggested list of readings, and a brief memo on the Build Act, which the nuclear industry want to use to help finance U.S. advanced reactor exports.  
Presentations
Apr 21, 2020 Nuclear Test Ban: Don't Test, Don't Ratify, Don't Unsign
Late last week, the State Department caused a stir raising suspicions that the Chinese have been violating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). There were two immediate responses: Some wanted to unsign the treaty, which would clear the way to resume nuclear testing, others pushed back and doubled down on their earlier calls to ratify the treaty. As I make clear in the following analysis I wrote yesterday for The National Interest, neither camp's advice should be heeded. "The United States can't fully verify small nuclear test violations and should not ratify the treaty until it can, but for the same reason," I wrote, "it shouldn't unsign the treaty until it has clear proofs that it can publicly share." As for resuming nuclear testing, it would only further slow our nuclear modernization program and increase its already sky-high costs. On this last point, I share the insights of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's top nuclear weapons designers. "There is something here to irk everyone," I conclude. "Resuming nuclear testing is for chumps; unsigning or ratifying the treaty is for the flamboyant. For now, steering clear of all three is America's best course."
Op-Eds & Blogs
Apr 11, 2020 Iran Says It Does Not Want a Bomb: We Should Listen
While the world focuses its attention on battling the Coronavirus, Iran has made several provocative moves, including a threat to pull out of the NPT and build-up of low-enriched uranium. Many analysts have interpreted these actions as the opening moves in a sprint toward the bomb. Others interpret Iran as a state desperate for sanctions relief.  Which view is correct? This desperate. As John Spacapan argues in the attached The National Interest piece, "Why America Should Believe Iran When It Says It Doesn't Want Nuclear Weapons", Iran learned a lesson from the Arab Spring, and particularly the case of Libya, that contradicts the conventional wisdom on why enemies of the United States pursue, or don't pursue nuclear arms proliferation. In particular, the last decade has taught Tehran that dictators in the Middle East are far more likely to be killed or overthrown by their own people than by the United States. This suggests that when Iranian officials say they do not want to get a bomb, maybe we should listen. 
Op-Eds & Blogs
Mar 27, 2020 Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Troubles Remain Unaddressed Amid a Global Pandemic
Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina announced that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, scheduled to begin April 27, would be postponed, perhaps until next year. The question now is what should be done with the extra time.   In "Nuclear Proliferation Troubles Remain Unaddressed Amid a Global Pandemic," published by The National Interest, Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski make five recomendations. These include backing off the promotion of nuclear power, which 50 years ago seemed an economic imperitive, but is no longer. They also reccoment doing more to deter withdrawals from the treaty and making default enforcement of NPT and International Atomic Energy Agency violations more likely. Finally, they reccomend considering states outside of the treaty -- Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea -- to be members in noncompliance that could come into more compliance by incrementally reducing their own nuclear weapons-related holdings.    All of this may seem ambitious. But now we have more time to review the bidding. Surely, if we want to skirt the next slow moving (nuclear) Pearl Harbor, we should use it. 
Op-Eds & Blogs
Mar 09, 2020 The NPT turns 50: Will it get to 60?
As Washington opens its talks with the Russians over nuclear arms control and increases pressure on Iran and North Korea to get them to negotiate, there’s one nuclear diplomatic effort that’s going all but unnoticed— the tenth review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Slated for late April, the NPT Review Conference at the United Nations in New York will celebrate the treaty’s 50th anniversary. The question is how much longer might this treaty last. As Henry Sokolski argues in the attached version of a piece to be published in the March issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the jury is out. Several countries — Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — have recently threatened to withdraw from the treaty. The means to go nuclear are increasingly available and our security reliance, and that of our adversaries, on nuclear weapons and their early use is again drifting upward. Should we worry? The short answer is yes. If we care about deterring nuclear war, we have to care about limiting the fundamental uncertainties that come with increased numbers of nuclear and near-nuclear armed states. What can be done? Plenty. As Henry Sokolski argues in the essay below, we need to work with Russia and others to make NPT withdrawals far less likely. We also need to stop pushing the most dangerous and uneconomical forms of civilian nuclear energy and modernize our military in ways that deemphasize the military value of nuclear arms. The good news is we still have time.    
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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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