Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
In 1954 the United States began, innocently enough, to share its nuclear resources with the world. Since the start of the Atoms for Peace program we have supplied nuclear technology and materials to 29 countries in an effort to extend the benefits of peaceful atomic power to all mankind. In the intervening years, other nations have developed their own nuclear capabilities, or have received assistance from U.S. licensees in other countries, such as France, or through sharing arrangements such as Euratom and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). All told today, over 500 nuclear reactors are in operation in 45 countries. By 1985, the number of operating power reactors throughout the world is expected to quadruple.
The implications for world peace and stability are momentous. Atoms intended for peace can also be used for war. A nation with a functioning nuclear reactor and a reprocessing facility can produce plutonium for the manufacture of explosive devices. Small reprocessing plants for weapons-grade plutonium can be built fairly quickly, at moderate expense, and are difficult to detect. The weapons technology is readily available, and once plutonium is acquired nuclear arms can be fabricated with relative ease. According to some estimates, by 1980 the world's nuclear reactors will have produced 300,000 to 450,000 kilograms of plutonium. As little as five or six kilograms is required to make a bomb with a destructive force of 10 to 20 kilotons of TNT, which was the size of the two bombs that devastated Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
The nuclear club, which recently counted only the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and China among its members, is already losing its exclusivity. The recent Indian explosion, despite its "peaceful" label, has set its doors ajar. Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Italy, South Africa, Spain and West Germany are either near, or perhaps, like Israel, already inside. Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Iran, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan have it within their technological means to enter the club in the near future.
The further spread of nuclear reactors seems inevitable and could be desirable. The world's energy demands will intensify; fossil fuel resources are depleting. Particularly in the last year, oil costs are adding billions to balance-of-payments deficits and causing widespread shortages. Nuclear power offers a source of energy, independent of foreign oil supplies. For countries like India, oil imports consume foreign-exchange earnings needed for such essential imports as food. Understandably, nations seeking reliable alternatives to expensive oil see nuclear power as the answer.
They are aided and abetted by the nuclear-exporting states, which are scrambling to pay their own oil bills. Salesmen from Canada, West Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States are busy making their rounds. The competition is intense. Businessmen see the opportunities and seek new markets. Westinghouse and General Electric reactors know no national boundaries. Through a French venture, Westinghouse reactors find their way to Iran and wherever else the French can make a sale.
The momentum becomes self-generating. Chastened by the oil embargo, nations realize that possession of nuclear reactors without control over nuclear fuel gives only illusory energy independence. Independent and diversified sources of nuclear fuel are, therefore, sought.
At present the dominant reactor type in the world market remains the American light-water design, fueled by enriched uranium-of which the United States is almost the sole present source. As a result of rapid growth in demand, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission may no longer have the capacity for long-term supply commitments to all customers; when contracts were entered into to supply the newly promised 600-megawatt reactors to Egypt and Israel last June (not to be completed till the mid-1980s) new contracts for traditional European customers had to be delayed. Partly because of foreseeable limitations of American supply and partly to get away from the cost and political strain of dependence on the United States, efforts to produce enriched uranium elsewhere are going forward rapidly. Already, two European consortia, Eurodif and Urenco, are starting construction of factories to supply Europe's enriched uranium requirements and to compete with U.S. (and Soviet) output. Thus, competition to sell reactors expands to include competition to sell fuel.
The same striving for independence has contributed to the growing popularity of heavy-water reactor designs, notably the Canadian Candu, which rely on relatively abundant and widely dispersed natural uranium for fuel. One reason India took the heavy-water reactor route may have been to free itself from dependence on foreign fuel suppliers.
The spread of nuclear reactors has thus taken on a wholly new dimension. We face a new era in nuclear power, totally different from the situation as recently as ten years ago. As nuclear power spreads, the danger that nuclear weapons too will spread and come into new hands has grown and intensified as well.
The risks of accident and theft-already significant even within the United States-will inevitably be heightened. While accidents do not usually have international consequences (the local damage may be enough to worry about!), theft or diversion into private hands is both a national and an international problem. The wide publicity this danger has received is not, I am convinced, overdrawn. Determined terrorist groups or criminal elements with access to nuclear materials would have unlimited capacity for blackmail. Primitive delivery systems would suffice. Under certain circumstances, plutonium could be used as a poison, as well as for nuclear explosives.
Against the risk of private diversion, existing control systems in the major nuclear nations, including the United States, are not adequate. What, then, could the risk become in nations that lack our technological and security resources and experience?
Location of nuclear reactors in politically unstable nations adds another dimension. Their control can shift radically as governments change hands. The ability to pinpoint responsibility and impose accountability becomes almost impossible.
As nations acquire nuclear materials and technology, the temptation to develop explosives will intensify. Nuclear capability tends to be viewed as a measure of power and prestige. By a recent poll, a majority of Indians now favor that nation's acquisition of the nuclear weapon. The timid international reaction which India's action generated cannot have gone unnoticed by other nations which may be moving toward nuclear capability.
As the nuclear-weapons potential spreads, destabilizing influences will become more pronounced. Nations will find it difficult to exercise self-denial for long when traditional enemies start down the nuclear path. Confronted by nuclear India, Pakistan cannot help but feel anxiety. Indeed, it is now seeking a reprocessing plant, and if successful, will acquire its own source of plutonium. Iran, although it is a party to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), may also be moving in that direction. Its plans for accumulating reactors appear to exceed any realistic energy requirements. Iraq in time could follow suit. Israel and Egypt, as well as others on the nuclear threshold, may be tempted to follow.
And momentum has been added by the feeble Test Ban Agreement reached at the recent Moscow summit. The 150-kiloton threshold, the 1976 effective date, and the total exemption of explosions for "peaceful" purposes all imply-even proclaim-that the United States and the Soviet Union are not very serious about stopping proliferation. "Peaceful" nuclear explosions are indistinguishable from explosions for non-peaceful purposes, a point brought home forcefully by the Indian detonation last May. If the superpowers are unwilling to exercise restraint themselves, they cannot expect restraint from others.
Against this background of ever-widening nuclear capacity and temptation stands the Nonproliferation Treaty. Signed in 1968, it is a testament to the anxieties aroused by the French tests that began in 1960 and the Chinese tests that began in 1964. A startled world then awakened to the reality that nuclear weapons were no longer the province of the few.
The treaty has 83 parties. It has 23 additional signatories which have so far withheld ratification. Both China and France have steadfastly refused to join. Also missing are Argentina, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Israel and South Africa. South Korea, Japan, West Germany and Egypt have signed but not yet ratified.
The treaty remains just that: an agreement to be observed by those willing to join and for so long as it suits their purposes, with two powerful nuclear states, as well as many potential nuclear states, on the outside. It is a mighty gesture, but it falls seriously short of coping with today's realities.
The treaty is shot through with potential contradictions. It prohibits the transfer of weapons on the one hand, but it encourages the exchange of nuclear materials and technology on the other. It puts nuclear assistance under safeguards, but requires that such safeguards not interfere with international nuclear exchange. It requires safeguards on a recipient's nuclear facilities, but it does not forbid assistance to a nation which has refused to join the treaty. It imposes limitations on transfers by nuclear-weapons states, but makes no provision whatever for subsequent transfers by recipients to third countries. And, at bottom, it contains no sanctions.
Woven throughout the NPT is an assumption that safeguards can prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. But that assumption is open to question. When the NPT was concluded, there was no agreement on the safeguards to be imposed. Instead, the matter was left open for inclusion in subsequent agreements which each party would negotiate with IAEA. Failure to reach agreement at the time on the fundamental standards which would underlie the NPT is a significant commentary on the lack of international consensus.
As IAEA safeguards have developed, it is clear that they are unsuited to the present task. They consist of little more than an inventory accounting system. They can detect diversions after, or as, they occur; but they are powerless to prevent them from happening. They neither impose nor require security to prevent diversions, so that either real or feigned theft of plutonium is a possibility. Once the diversion has occurred, a recipient nation can confess, but the international community is unprepared at present to invoke meaningful sanctions. And IAEA safeguards, of course, do not even apply to nations, including the United States, which are classed as nuclear-weapons states under the treaty, although the United States and the United Kingdom have voluntarily offered to apply IAEA safeguards to a broad range of their facilities.
IAEA safeguards are, moreover, insufficiently adaptable to changing technologies. The Canadian heavy-water reactor and the West German reactor in Argentina are particularly disturbing in this respect. They operate on raw or lightly .enriched uranium and produce large quantities of plutonium. Diversions from these reactors are more difficult to detect than diversions from light-water reactors.
Other technological developments will intensify the problem. The variety of reactors is increasing. While the American light-water reactor normally requires enriched uranium, a material not now freely available, new technologies such as the centrifuge, laser technology, and a secret technology reportedly being developed in South Africa could in time make enriched uranium readily available. Additional problems will be created by the high temperature gas reactor (HTGR) which, while it has certain safety advantages, requires uranium so highly enriched that it can be used directly for weapons manufacture. Also, the new fast-breeder reactors, just becoming practicable, use plutonium as fuel and produce still more plutonium.
Keeping up with changing technology will on the face of it require vastly more resources than have been committed to the task so far. Presently, IAEA has budgeted only $200,000 for research on safeguards for the entire international community. The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) will spend at most $474,000 on safeguards research in fiscal 1975-down from the $785,000 budgeted back in 1969. Along with some research within the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, this appears to represent the entire worldwide effort on international safeguard research. Moreover, there is no established procedure for translating American national safeguards into international safeguards.
Apart from its limited charter, IAEA itself has deficiencies that reflect the interests which it serves. And the interests served are those which favor proliferation of nuclear capacity. Such proliferation is implicit in the NPT, with its emphasis on widespread sharing of nuclear materials and technology, and implicit too in the purpose and structure of IAEA.
Founded in 1957 to foster international nuclear cooperation, IAEA exists to promote the international development and use of atomic power. As with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, service to its constituency is an overriding goal. Its 104 members overwhelmingly reflect the interests of recipients. They, not the supplier nations, retain ultimate control, although admittedly the United States has leverage both politically and because of its budgetary contributions. When questions of safeguards, security, sanctions and research arise, answers which interfere with access to nuclear power may not enjoy much support.
Many critical questions are now pending before IAEA. Among them is the question of whether "peaceful" nuclear explosions should be permitted, and, if so, under what conditions. Here the United States whetted the appetite of some with Project Plowshare. The NPT imposes obligations on each party to the treaty to make the benefits of "peaceful" explosions available to all. Should the questions which such peaceful explosions raise be resolved by the recipients through IAEA or by the suppliers?
Under the present circumstances, it appears that neither has the necessary perspective to provide final answers to this and to the many other questions raised by the spread of nuclear power. Nationalistic expectations will go on rising. Potential recipients will continue to see immediate gains in the acquisition of a nuclear capability. Limitations on freedom of action will be resisted. Nuclear-exporting nations will be reluctant to forgo the opportunity they now see to serve their immediate self-interest in new and bigger markets. And down the road other nations, seeing the profit to be gained from sales of nuclear materials and technology, will hope that they too, in time, can share in those profits. The nuclear-sharing agreement entered into by India and Argentina just six days after the Indian explosion highlights the possibility. For a long time to come, the need for power and the desire for profit will dominate national nuclear policy-unless perceptions of self-interest change.
This is where the United States must take the lead. The self-interest of all nations is served by controlling the nuclear menace. If that self-interest were now clearly perceived, this alone might produce restraint and caution throughout the world. We can hope so-but we dare not depend on it. The policies of governments are not always the creatures of enlightened self-interest, particularly when the benefits of one course of action are immediate and the benefits of another are remote.
The dangers of nuclear proliferation require an intense reexamination and a major new international effort to contain them. All nations must be made to see the seeds of destruction in the rush to extend nuclear capability throughout the world without adequate safeguards. That effort will be led by the United States or not at all.
The conventional wisdom argues that the United States should accelerate its nuclear sales efforts. If the United States doesn't, it is argued, others will; and the result will be expanded sales by countries which do not insist on adequate safeguards, as well as the spread of reactors, like the heavy-water reactor, which are more difficult to police and more susceptible to plutonium diversion.
The conventional wisdom is a prescription for the escalation of proliferation. Aggressive promotion by the United States can only induce others to follow suit. And like lemmings, nations will then surge toward the sea, drawn by little more than the short-term prospect of energy and profit.
I suggest that instead of surging ahead, the United States declare a conditional one-year moratorium, make no sales of nuclear reactors except to countries which submit all their facilities to IAEA safeguards, and immediately begin an intensive effort through concerted international action to develop and implement improved safeguard and security systems. The moratorium should be imposed on the supply of fuel, technology and nuclear-related materials-with an exception only for commitments under existing contracts. In addition, the moratorium should apply to all countries which refuse to subject their re-exports to acceptable safeguards.
Such an act would offer the world an example-and time. It would demonstrate that the United States is in deadly earnest. It would reduce the competitive pressures to export. It would offer a breathing spell during which supplier nations, and recipients as well, could re-examine the dangers which they all confront from unpoliced and vulnerable nuclear facilities. If other supplier nations did not join the effort, we could resume. But there is a basis for believing that perceptions of the danger are beginning to stir and that American leadership would evoke a favorable response from the supplier nations, including the new government of France.
In the late 1950s the United States came to realize that the world was headed for disaster if it continued poisoning the environment with nuclear tests. Taking the lead, the United States ceased atmospheric testing. By its gesture, it sparked a better understanding of the danger. The Limited Test Ban Treaty followed in 1963.
A similar gesture is now in order. Our action could convince others that the problem is urgent and offer supplier nations relief from competitive pressures. It could spur efforts to attack the problem with effective and enforceable safeguard and security systems.
A moratorium will be useful only if it leads to significantly enhanced international safeguards and physical security systems. The task will not be easy. Extraordinarily complex and delicate international political issues will be raised. But the NPT review conference, scheduled to convene in May 1975, offers a forum. Careful preparation now could lead to a resolution of at least some of these issues at the conference.
A key element in developing adequate international safeguards is strict control over all materials and technology that can be used to make weapons or can otherwise be used for destructive purposes. At present, highly enriched uranium and plutonium fall into this category. Every step necessary must be taken to ensure that these materials do not fall into unauthorized hands once a nuclear facility is in place, and that no state which does not now have a weapons capability can divert sufficient quantities of these materials to make explosives.
This means that nuclear facilities should not be installed in any country unless there is assurance that plutonium and enriched uranium cannot be diverted for weapons purposes. At a minimum, therefore, no reprocessing plants should be allowed in such countries, for it is the reprocessing plant which makes possible the development of weapons-grade plutonium. All reprocessing should be done elsewhere, at first (as at present) by the supplier nations under newly agreed-upon terms and conditions, but ultimately under international auspices. Plutonium should be banned as an export to be used with natural uranium as a reactor fuel, notwithstanding the temptations to create fuel in this way.
There must be similar assurance that the enriched uranium fuel for light-water reactors goes directly into the reactor and that the spent fuel core is returned directly to the supplier. In addition, exports of materials such as computers, intended to be used for nuclear-weapons development, must be controlled. Provision must be made for the physical security of the reactor in order to prevent unauthorized access and theft by terrorist groups, criminal elements, or others, and for security in storage and in transit. The multinational corporations must be prevented from evading safeguards by licensing or otherwise establishing manufacturing or processing facilities in non-safeguarded nations. And finally, effective sanctions must be developed, together with the means and willingness to enforce them.
Adequate sanctions require more than the withholding by individual suppliers of fuel, which is, or could become, available from other sources. Sanctions will require agreement among all fuel suppliers to withhold fuel from any non-safeguarded or non-complying nation. Such an agreement should also cover the supply of replacement parts and related equipment, including computers. Broad economic sanctions should be agreed to as a last resort.
An agreement on sanctions by the suppliers would enhance the authority of the IAEA. It has little bargaining power now, and if it negotiates a weak safeguard agreement with one nation, it sets a precedent for others. Under my formula IAEA safeguards would comply with supplier standards, and violations of the IAEA safeguards would invite sanctions from the suppliers.
Initially, all this will require that the supplier nations-the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and West Germany-acting through arrangements such as the informal Zangger Committee of the IAEA, agree on uniform standards and be prepared to enforce them. The present institutional arrangements, which include both suppliers and recipients, are too heavily biased in favor of recipient nations to expect anything but minimal standards. Membership in the supplier club should not be left open lest it encourage applications.
Consensus among all nations-suppliers and recipients alike-is desirable and should be the goal. But the short-term objective must be immediate action. The longer we wait, the longer the list of supplier nations will grow and the greater will be the difficulty in securing agreement.
In taking these first steps, the supplier nations must be prepared for resistance from recipients, at least initially. Safeguards which preclude recipient-nation control over the reactor by-product or over sources of fuel cannot help but be unpalatable. There will be resistance to an ongoing presence at nuclear facilities which cannot be policed by periodic inspection or by remote control devices. There will be concern over continued dependence on supplier nations for fuel and fuel reprocessing. But because the dangers of proliferation are so great and because the failure to halt it now may make it impossible to halt it at all, supplier nations must take all steps necessary, however unpalatable they may be to recipients.
Over the long run, international control can be made more attractive and should come to be seen as a great benefit. Arrangements which provide recipient nations with assurances against arbitrary termination of nuclear-sharing agreements would help. An international nuclear bank from which fuel could be drawn on prescribed terms and conditions would remove understandable anxieties about dependence on other nations. A common financing arrangement to help recipients bear the start-up costs of nuclear power installations would provide strong incentives to cooperate. And insurance against unauthorized access can give the governments of recipient nations greater assurance against terrorist revolutionary activities.
None of these measures will be easy to achieve. But the breathing spell provided by a moratorium would provide an opportunity for all to embark on the serious efforts required.
There are other steps which the United States should initiate. One is a concerted effort to bring all nations into the NPT. Another is expansion of the transfer restrictions in the NPT to include re-exports of nuclear materials and technology by recipients. A third is a prohibition on transfers of nuclear materials or technology to non-NPT nations. A fourth is acceptance of internationally agreed-upon safeguards on the non-safeguarded nuclear facilities of supplier nations. Fifth, we should encourage an adequately funded international safeguard research effort, starting at once with adequate funding for current IAEA safeguard activities.
These many steps require international agreement. There are other steps which the United States can take on its own.
Internal institutional arrangements must be clarified. At present, the lines of authority between the AEC, which controls certain nuclear exports under the Atomic Energy Act, and the Department of Commerce, which controls all other exports under the Export Administration Act, are not clearly delineated. Once a cooperation agreement for the export of nuclear reactors and fuel is entered into, little careful scrutiny is given to exports of replacement equipment and nuclear-related materials such as computers. U.S. export-control procedures need to be harmonized to ensure that there is an opportunity for consultation with the agencies best equipped to gauge the political, military and nuclear proliferation consequences of a given export. As it now stands, the AEC may have the technical competence to assess the adequacy and workability of safeguards. But institutionally we have little assurance that the political consequences and the enforceability of such safeguards have been adequately assessed. A better institutional framework would include a joint State and Defense Department committee with the clear responsibility for the review and approval of all exports of nuclear equipment, fuel, related equipment and licenses.
Congress, too, should have a greater voice. All bilateral cooperation agreements should require affirmative congressional approval. The judgment of the Congress is not necessarily wiser than the collective judgment of the executive branch. But it can at least act as a check, and each cooperation agreement could become the occasion for discussion.
The United States itself can do much to reduce proliferation incentives. The AEC Plowshare program to develop nuclear explosives for peaceful applications should not be reactivated. The United States should stress the limited military utility of nuclear weapons, or to put it differently, make the nuclear option less tempting, by emphasizing conventional defenses. In areas where the weapons do not now exist, reliance on the concept of nuclear deterrence should be de-emphasized and nuclear free zones sought. In dealings with China and the Third World, economic development should be promoted as an alternative to military measures to achieve national power. We should pull back nuclear weapons stationed abroad and publicly disavow new deployments, except in areas dependent on the U.S. nuclear shield. In that regard, it would be difficult to conceive a more counter-productive move at the moment than to position nuclear weapons in the Indian Ocean on the island of Diego Garcia, a development at which Defense witnesses appeared to be hinting last spring when they spoke of stationing B-52s there.
To decelerate the race to manufacture and sell fuel, the United States should re-establish its reliability as a supplier. To do so, it must resolve the controversy over private versus public ownership of reprocessing plants. Only the government can do the job. If private-sector participation is desired it could be obtained through investment in a government corporation, along Comsat lines. The corporation could later become the U.S. participant in an international organization for the supply and control of fuel.
The United States might also support the seating of non-nuclear powers on the U.N. Security Council as a means of loosening the connection between nuclear power and international influence. Probably as much as anything, a realistic SALT agreement with the Soviet Union would help to diminish the significance of nuclear arms. In its every action, the United States should carefully weigh the consequences of nuclear proliferation.
After 20 years of somnolence, Indira Gandhi and Richard Nixon have awakened the United States, if not the world, to the perils of nuclear proliferation. However inadvertently, the explosion in the Indian desert and the offers of nuclear assistance in the Middle East have sparked a long overdue reexamination of "peaceful" nuclear proliferation. Among scientists and civil servants, there is a growing realization that the cows have started out of the barn-and may soon be gone. The peace and stability of the world may well depend on how earnestly we face up to the implications.