During his election campaign, Jimmy Carter dramatized a broad but inchoate popular concern when he promised that curbing the spread of nuclear weapons would be among his highest foreign policy priorities. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that public attention during 1977 tended to focus on his initial highly visible actions and especially on their confrontational aspects. Both critics and sympathizers tended to score what they saw as the Administration's policy as if it were a football game with clear-cut winners and losers, and in the process the wider outlines of policy were sometimes obscured.

In fact, nonproliferation policy is much more like a large construction project than an adversary contest. It may, to be sure, never follow the precise blueprints of its architects, which will always need a degree of improvisation and adjustment. But it is to be judged by whether it is in fact advancing toward the kind of result laid out as its long-term goal. In the recent words of a perceptive critic, it is such long-term strategy that provides the "wider canvas" against which the merits of individual actions can be judged.1

So I shall try in this article to fill in and to put into focus the key elements of nonproliferation policy as they have emerged during the past year-sometimes in complex and little-publicized actions and negotiations-and to assess these elements in a long-term context. What are we (as a nation) really trying to do for the long pull, and how are we making out?


The goal of our nonproliferation policy is to slow the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities-preferably to zero-and to minimize, and keep under control, any destabilizing impact of the diffusion of nuclear technology (i.e., any impact tending in the direction of conflict between nations or other forms of violence). Obviously, these are not tasks for the United States alone; they require for their achievement the highest possible degree of consensus among nations that now have or might in the future wish to have nuclear technology. Thus, the long-run task can be defined as the development of an international regime of practices and institutions for governing the split atom that will be widely accepted as legitimate, equitable, and reasonable, and hence can operate effectively in the face of continuing technical and political change.

We are sometimes told that the goal is hopeless because the nuclear "horse is out of the stable." But proliferation is a matter of degrees, not absolutes. Our policy can affect the number of horses, which horses, and when horses leave the barn. Of the 20 countries with relatively advanced nuclear technology, all but a handful have chosen not to develop nuclear weapons. As basic nuclear technology spreads to some 40 countries over the next two decades, it could make an enormous difference whether this kind of situation persists.

Skeptics might challenge this goal. Some have argued, for example, that proliferation does not matter or could even have a stabilizing effect on world politics. Just as nuclear weapons have produced prudence in U.S.-Soviet relations, they argue, so may nuclear weapons stabilize regional balances. But this assumes stable governments with established command-and-control systems; the absence of strong destabilizing motivations such as irredentist passions; and the discipline to resist the temptation for preemptive strikes against adversaries during the early stages when new nuclear weapons capabilities are soft and vulnerable. Such assumptions are heroic and myopic. On balance, the risk of increased regional instability seems far greater.

And if one thinks of private groups, the destabilizing impact seems even more conclusive. Whatever the actual chances of successful acquisition of a nuclear device by a terrorist group, even threats of such action may create difficulties that could dwarf the present serious problems from this quarter. And, as we have seen in other connections, terrorist groups may be in league with maverick states, and thus not dependent solely on their own limited technological capabilities.

Globally the wide or rapid spread of nuclear capabilities could affect both the central strategic balance and prospects for the gradual evolution of a peaceful and just world order. To illustrate both points, take the cases of the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan. One of the striking and constructive features of the world since 1945 is that these two great powers of the prewar period have been reintegrated into world coalitions and institutions as the third and fourth most powerful states in economic terms without their feeling it necessary to develop equivalent nuclear military power. This makes the central strategic balance more calculable, and is a major stabilizing factor both in Europe and Asia. And both offer models of countries achieving major influence in world politics without nuclear weaponry.

Any further significant increase in the number of nations with their own nuclear weapons tends exactly in the opposite direction. At a certain point-especially if it were to call into question the basic decisions hitherto maintained by Germany and Japan-widespread proliferation would surely have profound consequences. Over the long term, if countries are able to achieve their goals of security, status, and economic well-being without the necessity of developing military nuclear power, the prospects are much greater for the evolution of new forms of effective power, coalitions and institutions, and for a more peaceful world less dependent on real or assumed military balances.

In fact, this Administration's soundings of the past year have confirmed the conclusion of past Administrations. There is, we find, a widely shared, indeed a general, sense that proliferation is likely to be destabilizing and that nuclear weapons will not significantly enhance the power or security position of most states. This provides a common international interest upon which nonproliferation strategy can be based. As long as countries can be made better off without a bomb than with one, then a policy of slowing the spread of nuclear weapons technology rests on a realistic formulation of common interests, and there are serious prospects for gaining agreement on a legitimate and stable international nuclear regime.


While the Carter Administration has taken a number of dramatic new nonproliferation initiatives, there is more continuity than difference with the past.

At the end of World War II, it was recognized that the civil and military aspects of nuclear energy were closely related, and that the American technological monopoly would not last. In devising what became the Baruch Plan, David Lilienthal's committee informed Secretary of State Byrnes early in 1946 that "to 'outlaw' atomic energy in all of its forms and enforce such a prohibition by an army of inspectors roaming the earth would overwhelm the capacity and the endurance of men, and provide no security."2 Yet the Baruch Plan to create a strong international authority to develop nuclear energy was a more ambitious step than international realities would permit.

With the rejection of the Baruch proposals by the Soviet Union, American policy turned temporarily to a posture of seeking to protect its monopoly by severely restricting the export of any nuclear technology. But this did not prevent the Soviet Union and Britain each from obtaining a bomb, and in December 1953, President Eisenhower launched a third approach with his "Atoms for Peace" program. The idea of the Atoms for Peace approach was to assist countries in their development of civilian nuclear energy, in return for their guarantees that they would use such assistance only for peaceful purposes.

The Atoms for Peace approach has been criticized for promoting nuclear energy in some instances before it was economically justified. Some sensitive technologies were declassified prematurely; and guarantees of "peaceful use" were sometimes too loosely written. In practice, the early Atoms for Peace policy failed to achieve the right balance.

Nonetheless, the philosophy of the Atoms for Peace program made sense as a long-term strategy. Essentially, the United States was offering to share the fruits of its then-long technological lead at an accelerated pace, in return for the acceptance by other countries of conditions designed to control destabilizing effects from such sharing. The policy may have been oversold, and not fully thought through in its execution at a time when too little was known about the pace and cost of peaceful nuclear development. But it was not a selfish policy, or so regarded, and it served to create an initial consensus on which to build.

Specifically, a seminal accomplishment was the institution of a system of international safeguards administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), established in Vienna in 1957. Under the IAEA safeguards system, countries must file with the Agency regular detailed reports on their civilian nuclear activities and must allow international inspectors to visit their nuclear facilities to verify the reports and to ensure that there has been no diversion of materials from civilian to military purposes. Essentially the safeguards system is part of a bargain in which countries are assisted to meet their peaceful nuclear energy needs in return for their accepting the intrusion of safeguards into their sovereignty.

In the mid-1960s, the objective of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons was explicitly codified in the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) signed in 1968 and entering into force in 1970. By then peaceful nuclear technology, while still going forward, had come to seem somewhat less attractive than had seemed likely in the 1950s. Cheap oil dominated the energy picture, while in the area of nuclear weapons, the number of weapons states had stabilized at five after the Chinese test of 1964. In these circumstances, an initial group of 98 nations was prepared to sign the Treaty, undertaking not to develop or aid development of nuclear weapons or explosives. In addition, non-weapons signatory states agreed to put all their nuclear facilities under safeguards, not merely those imported from abroad.

The NPT was surely a major step forward, even though a number of weapons states and potential weapons states refused to sign it, so that significant facilities remained outside the safeguards system. And for a few years, the problem seemed quiescent. In the early 1970s neither the Nixon Administration nor most expert outsiders felt it necessary to give a high priority to reinforcing nonproliferation policy. The IAEA and NPT seemed to be working reasonably well, and the achievement of even the limited SALT I agreement seemed to carry out the NPT obligation of the major weapons states to negotiate seriously toward a reduction in what the Third World calls "vertical proliferation."

This complacency was, of course, shattered by two events in 1974. One was the Indian explosion of a "peaceful" nuclear device using plutonium derived from a Canadian-supplied research reactor-an event viewed as violating the spirit if not the letter of the loosely written 1950s-vintage Canadian safeguards agreement. The other was the oil embargo and fourfold increase in oil prices, which created widespread insecurity in energy supply. Problems with oil led to a sudden surge of expectations about the importance of nuclear energy and raised questions about whether there would be sufficient uranium fuel.

The net effect was to accelerate governments' plans for early commercial use of plutonium fuel, particularly-it was hoped-through the spread of breeder reactors. Plutonium is a man-made element that is produced in uranium-fueled reactors, but must be extracted from the radioactive spent fuel rods if it is to be used as a fresh fuel. Unlike the low-enriched uranium currently used as fuel in most reactors, plutonium is a weapons-usable material. Because of the high cost of reprocessing plants for extracting plutonium from spent reactor fuel, it is unlikely to be an economically superior fuel until there are severe shortages (and much higher prices) of uranium. Yet in some cases, reprocessing plants were offered to countries that were only just building their first uranium-fueled power reactors and lacked any serious economic justification for reprocessing.3

Recovering from a late start, the Ford Administration undertook important initiatives in 1975-76. It began to organize the nuclear supplier governments to agree on a code of conduct for nuclear exports. Meeting secretly in London, the new Nuclear Suppliers Group began the process of developing a set of guidelines for nuclear exports.4 And in the final days before the 1976 election, President Ford accepted the recommendations of an internal study and announced a moratorium on commercial reprocessing of spent fuel in the United States pending further evaluation.

At the same time, a number of congressional initiatives were undertaken that were designed to tighten the conditions for nuclear exports from the United States, and several private studies of the nuclear fuel cycle, notably the so-called Ford-Mitre Report and the American Physical Society Report, were coming to the conclusion that the commercial use of plutonium was economically premature and dangerous. By the time the Carter Administration came into office, there was considerable activity, uncertainty and public anxiety about nuclear energy and proliferation, and several critical choices had to be faced at once.


Over the past two decades, a general international consensus had developed on the legitimacy of the IAEA and the international safeguards system, and on the policies reflected in the NPT. The new Administration made the basic choice to build upon this consensus. The alternative of curtailing nuclear power or cutting off all nuclear exports, though suggested by some, would not be successful in the long term.

Specifically, one of the most poignant notes in the 1976 congressional hearings on nonproliferation had been David Lilienthal's plea for a total export moratorium. However, the Administration rejected this not because of concerns about losing business or balance-of-payments revenues, but because it would fail as a long-term nonproliferation policy. A moratorium would have aroused nationalistic resistance to our policy; others would quickly step in to fill the order books; and we lacked the means to induce other nations to follow our policies. It was also important that we not turn our backs on other countries' energy needs. While a moratorium might make us feel pure, it would not make us safe. In a world where other sources of supply exist, a score of countries have nuclear technology, and a half-dozen are already involved in plutonium technology, nuclear isolationism would be a "Pontius Pilate policy" producing clean hands but disastrous overall effects.

The Carter Administration thus reaffirmed its commitment to the basic philosophy of Atoms for Peace and the NPT. But it could not ignore the way that technological change was threatening to erode the political value of the international safeguards system. Thus the second decision the Administration had to face was how to deal with the growing diffusion of reprocessing facilities.

Where reprocessing plants operate under national control, there are possibilities for clandestine diversion or sudden taking over of substantial quantities of weapons-usable plutonium by the operating nation. With sufficient advance preparation in the design, testing and fabrication of the non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons, a nation conceivably could have a nuclear arsenal soon after the plutonium became available. In such cases, even if the international inspectors promptly notified the IAEA of a diversion, the warning would not be timely.

How much time constitutes "timely warning"? There is no simple answer. Weeks are better than days, and years better than months. The longer the time available for diplomatic efforts, the better the chances of bringing about a favorable outcome. Critics have argued that opposition to the spread of commercial reprocessing is pointless because a potential proliferator could acquire plutonium anyway by secretly building a small covert reprocessing plant. They argued that this would take only six or seven months. But such a route would be very risky, with an uncertain probability of successful operation combined with a high probability of detection. Deciding to construct a secret (as opposed to an open commercial) plant would be a difficult decision for most governments, and could provide clear evidence to the world of an intent to build nuclear weapons.

Thus, the Administration saw many nonproliferation benefits in delaying the premature spread of commercial reprocessing plants. On the other hand, it was well aware that for the past quarter-century the nuclear industry in this and other countries has proceeded on the assumption that reprocessing would begin when there were sufficient light water reactors to justify the large-scale facilities needed for economic operation, and that plutonium would be recycled in light water reactors until the fast breeder reactors were introduced. Foreign nations without our fossil fuel and natural uranium resources were even more strongly wedded to the belief that reprocessing and plutonium stockpiles would be needed at an early date.

The Administration believed that a second look was required at these assumptions of the past. We could not be dogmatic about the long-term prospects for the breeder reactor (which requires reprocessing, though not necessarily the current type). We realized that countries such as France, Germany and Japan lacked the natural resources we possessed and were much more heavily dependent upon energy imports. Consequently, we carefully avoided criticism of other countries' breeder reactor research and development programs. We believed that there was time to develop information, technology and institutions for a safer fuel cycle before breeders became commercially competitive. On the other hand, recycling plutonium for use in light water reactors represented a clear and present danger, with at best marginal economic advantages. By challenging assumptions about recycling while keeping an open position on the breeder reactors, the Administration sought to buy time and to focus on an area where a consensus might be developed.

I shall not try here to review the technical arguments in detail. Proponents of reprocessing argued that plutonium recycling would reduce uranium needs by a third and thus make a significant contribution to energy "independence" of resource-poor nations. But if one applies this one-third fraction to any reasonable estimate of the proportion of total energy needs that will be met by nuclear electrical-generating capacity, one can quickly see that such recycling makes at most a marginal contribution to replacing other energy resources and at a very uncertain cost. For example, if Japan achieves its maximum efforts goal of 60,000 megawatts of electricity from nuclear sources by 1990, this will represent 11 percent of Japan's energy needs. Using recycled plutonium in those reactors would reduce total energy imports by less than four percent. Moreover, there are other potential ways of stretching uranium resources. There is also evidence that waste disposal problems could be exacerbated, rather than alleviated, by reprocessing.5

The question was whether the world had come too far down the plutonium road or whether there was still time for a second look. Our conclusion was that there is still time to examine fuel cycle alternatives that minimize proliferation and physical protection risks. This was the basis for the President's April 7 decisions to extend the previous Administration's moratorium on the commercialization of reprocessing, and to restructure the U.S. breeder reactor program to emphasize safer fuel cycle technologies rather than early commercialization. The intent was not to turn the clock back, nor did we expect resource-poor nations to automatically follow our lead. The purpose was to escape the prevailing inertia in order to explore ways to shape nuclear technology and institutions to reinforce rather than erode the international safeguards system.

The fact that President Carter's first statement on April 7, 1977 focused on issues relating to plutonium led critics to charge that the Administration's nonproliferation policy was technical rather than political, and ignored problems other than reprocessing. In fact, the Administration had focused on the plutonium and reprocessing issue because that issue was immediately before us for decision. We never believed that stopping reprocessing would stop proliferation. Nor did we believe that using reactors designed to generate electricity was the best source of weapons material for a country openly dedicated to building a bomb. The concern was to preserve the existing distance between commercial and weapons uses of nuclear energy.

For the past two decades, the barriers to misuse of commercial nuclear energy have worked. But we saw the premature diffusion of plutonium technology as reducing those barriers, eroding the international system of safeguards and, consequently, threatening the delicate political balance of the international nuclear regime. The Administration also rejected a number of proffered solutions (such as allowing commercial reprocessing in the United States while attempting to deny it to other countries) because it was economically marginal, and because such an overtly unilateral solution would have negative effects on important political instruments such as the Nonproliferation Treaty-which promotes non-discriminatory behavior in the commercial aspects of nuclear energy.

Looking to the future, the Administration could envisage three components of a solution to the reprocessing problem-time, technology and institutions. If reprocessing is deferred until it is economically necessary, the world gains considerable time to develop reprocessing technologies that do not provide ready access to weapons-usable materials and to design possible international facilities for reprocessing. Early commercialization of reprocessing in national (or multinational) plants could deprive the world of the time to develop safer technologies and institutions.

These, then, were the reasons for the Administration's early initiatives. The outcomes of these initiatives are, obviously, still unclear, for they were taken in the context of a wider strategic canvas. And to that I now turn.


A year ago, it was not uncommon to encounter debates between Europeans and Americans over the merits of a "controls" versus a "denials" strategy for nonproliferation. Europeans accused Americans of overemphasizing denial of access to technology. They argued correctly that technology would eventually spread and indigenous unsafeguarded facilities could be developed. From this they concluded that it was better to transfer technologies under international "controls," i.e., safeguards. "Controls," of course, was something of a misnomer. What was at issue was international monitoring and timely warning of the possible misuse of a transferred technology, and whether monitoring was sufficient for technologies where warning time was negligible. And "denials" too was a misnomer for what can only be restraints.

Such debates were sterile exercises, since each side had only part of the answer. Both safeguards and restraints are necessary but by themselves insufficient elements of a nonproliferation strategy.

Technology transfers cannot be delayed forever, but they can be postponed until national energy programs really require such transfers and until we have time to develop more proliferation-resistant technology and more effective international institutions. In the interim, the question is whether restraints on the transfer of sensitive technology are consistent with our undertakings to contribute to "the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" under Article 4 of the Nonproliferation Treaty. Clearly there is a degree of tension, but so long as it is temporary, we believe that restraint is consistent with the fact that under the Treaty, we also undertake to avoid steps that would lead to the spread of nuclear weapons.6

The long-run solution to these difficulties must be an international consensus both on the undesirability of the further spread of nuclear weapons and on the nature and management of the nuclear fuel cycle. And this is the essence of the Carter Administration's six-pronged nonproliferation strategy, which starts with but goes beyond simply monitoring and restraints on transfers. Its six elements are:

(1) Making the safeguards system more effective by insisting upon comprehensive safeguards;

(2) Self-restraint in the transfer of sensitive technologies and materials that can contribute directly to weapons until we have learned to make them more safeguardable;

(3) Creation of nonproliferation incentives through fuel assurances and assistance in the management of spent fuel;

(4) Building consensus about the future structure and management of the nuclear fuel cycle through cooperative studies;

(5) Taking steps at home to ensure that our domestic nuclear policy is consistent with our international objectives;

(6) Taking steps to reduce any security or prestige motives that states might have to develop nuclear explosives.

Let us look at the Carter initiatives in each of these six dimensions.

1. Safeguards

Starting from our basic decision to build upon the existing consensus about the legitimacy of international safeguards, we felt (along with others) that safeguards had to be improved. One means of improvement has been technical work and assistance to the IAEA. Safeguards do not have to be perfect to be effective as a deterrent. They merely have to ensure that there is a high probability that IAEA inspectors will detect a diversion. The United States is contributing some ten million dollars over a three-year period for training, information processing, and new measurement and surveillance technology such as special cameras and seals.

Even more important, the Congress and the new Administration have now agreed that the United States should insist that all countries that receive American material or facilities must place all their nuclear facilities under safeguards. (Such comprehensive coverage is sometimes called full-scope safeguards.) The Administration proposed such export conditions last April, and has consistently supported the legislation recently passed by the Congress that mandates their application to any supply of American materials after an 18-month transition period.

Full-scope safeguards can plug a serious loophole in the international safeguards system. They also remove what is at present a source of discrimination against nations that have, by signing the NPT, already accepted as a legal obligation the placing of all their facilities under safeguards. Currently, under the types of agreement previously accepted by the United States and other suppliers, a non-NPT recipient country has to submit only imported materials to safeguards. It may retain or develop a similar facility of its own alongside, without safeguards. This loophole, obviously, could be plugged by recipient countries all adhering to the NPT. But because some countries have historical objections to the Treaty, the new legislation makes it clear that the United States will continue supply so long as the recipient country, in practice, accepts international inspectors to safeguard all its facilities. This condition, called "de facto full-scope safeguards," in fact exists today in all but five non-weapons states that have received (or might receive) U.S. nuclear materials: India, Egypt, Argentina, Israel and South Africa.7

In relation to India, President Carter resisted suggestions that the United States should adopt a punitive attitude based on the 1974 explosion-by immediately withholding cooperation. Such action would probably have alienated India and generated sympathy for it among Third World countries. In addition, it might have provoked domestic Indian opinion toward developing weapons. Instead, he accepted India's position that it did not intend to follow up with the further steps to make nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Desai publicly pledged no further explosions.

In addition, the United States hoped India would reassure its neighbors by allowing international inspection of all its facilities. In practice, all but a few of India's currently operating facilities are internationally safeguarded. On the other hand, under the new nonproliferation legislation the President would have little alternative but to seek an amicable disengagement in our nuclear cooperation if India cannot take this step within the 18-month transition period. In either case, the seriousness of our commitment to an effective international safeguards system will be clear to all states interested in developing nuclear energy.

2. Restraints on Sensitive Transfers

The second aspect of the strategy is restraints on transfers of weapons-usable materials and sensitive facilities, particularly the enrichment and reprocessing plants that can give countries direct access to weapons-usable material.

First, more specific controls were placed on U.S. exports of highly enriched uranium. Many research reactors fueled with weapons-usable highly enriched uranium can be converted to use non-weapons grade uranium. To encourage such conversion and minimize flows of weapons-usable material, the Administration requested justifications for use of highly enriched material and set limits on the amounts that could be transported or accumulated in one place. Exports of such material were made subject to presidential approval. Exports were not prohibited (though this was misunderstood by some at first), but more stringent transfer conditions were established.

Another important choice in the restraint dimension concerned the role of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. This Group had made considerable progress in moving toward a set of guidelines for exports, including restraints on sensitive transfers. In December 1976, France announced that it would henceforth not export reprocessing plants, and Germany's similar announcement in June 1977 meant that, leaving aside the earlier arrangements with Pakistan and Brazil, there was general supplier agreement about the undesirability of further transfers of reprocessing plants.

At the same time, the Suppliers Group cannot alone solve the proliferation problem over the long term. At some point, countries will be able to design their own sensitive plants. Perhaps they will be less efficient, more costly, and take a longer time, but eventually they could be built. A position of trying to hold back other countries without giving them anything in return would, over time, erode. In the meantime, it would create considerable resentment of the kind that could make countries want to speed up their indigenous efforts in the very direction that was contrary to general nonproliferation interests. Thus restraint can only be an interim policy until the world develops technologies and institutions that make the sensitive parts of the fuel cycle as safe as the reactors that are currently sold.

In addition, we wished to avoid bitter divisions along rich-poor, North-South or supplier-consumer lines that would interfere with development of broader consensus in the nuclear area. The Suppliers Group had already become such a source of friction. Many consumer countries saw it as a "secret cartel" that was at odds with the IAEA system. In fact, while the early meetings of the Group were secret, its purpose was quite the opposite of a cartel. Rather than discussing ways to raise prices, the members were seeking guidelines to prevent commercial competition from undermining safeguards obligations.

In order to make their purposes clear and to underline their support for the IAEA, the supplier countries have now published their presently agreed Guidelines by each submitting them to the IAEA, in January 1978. (The Guidelines set forth safeguards conditions, urge restraint on sensitive transfers, and establish consultation procedures in case of safeguards violations.) The Group left the possibility of further refinements of the Guidelines as well as possible expansion of membership for future meetings. Publication of the Guidelines helped to correct misperceptions of the Suppliers Group and showed that the Group's activities will be supportive of the IAEA safeguard system. London did not become an institutional antipode to Vienna.

3. Incentives

The third component of our international nonproliferation strategy is the creation of nonproliferation incentives. If nations are to forego their own enrichment and reprocessing facilities, they must have an adequate, timely, reliable, and economic supply of nonsensitive nuclear fuels, and they must be confident that there will be adequate disposition of the spent fuel from their reactors.

To be successful, a program of assured fuel supply must assure access to adequate supplies of natural uranium and enrichment services at reasonable prices. In this connection, the President announced on April 7 that the United States would increase production capacity for enriched uranium. By 1988, a fourth U.S. enrichment facility will be in production at Portsmouth, Ohio, to help assure that there will be no U.S. or global shortage of low-enriched uranium fuel.

In addition, on April 27, the President sent a legislative message to the Congress that supported more stringent export criteria, while carefully avoiding provisions that might lead to a broad export moratorium. One of the aims of the policy on exports is to make the export criteria clear and U.S. fuel supply predictable.

Another essential feature of such a program is the development of an international institutional arrangement to ensure vulnerable countries against interruptions in bilateral supplies. Internationally controlled stockpiles of low-enriched uranium could be available for release under carefully defined conditions to countries in compliance with their nonproliferation undertakings. In October, President Carter announced our willingness to contribute to such a fuel bank and to join with others to study its establishment.

The problems related to the need to ensure adequate spent fuel and nuclear waste storage are equally urgent. The Department of Energy is presently studying a wide range of solutions. In October, it announced our willingness to make a limited amount of storage capacity available for spent fuel from other nations. We are also studying with other countries the development of international centers for the storage of spent fuel. (Both fuel assurances and spent fuel storage are subjects of intensive study in the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation, discussed below.)

Finally, in the area of energy planning, the Administration established a program to provide assistance to developing countries in assessing their energy needs. Many developing countries lack the planning basis for judging the relative roles of nuclear and non-nuclear energy. Consequently, investments are sometimes ill-advised and premature. By offering assistance in energy planning, the United States can help them lay a more appropriate groundwork for energy investments.

4. Building Consensus

The first three elements would not be sufficient unless it were possible to hold out the prospect of moving in the future toward a somewhat more equitable and more satisfactory system. That fourth part of the strategy-building consensus on the shape of the nuclear fuel cycle-is one of the purposes of the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE). The President called for such a project in his April 7 statement and after careful negotiations it was set up and held its opening conference in Washington in October 1977. The idea behind INFCE is to have both the supplier countries and the consumer countries come together to study the technical and institutional problems of organizing the nuclear fuel cycle in ways which provide energy without providing weaponry.8 The 40 countries that assembled in Washington to establish INFCE included consumers and suppliers, rich and poor, East and West, and 11 countries that had not signed the NPT.9

The purpose is to evaluate scientifically various aspects of the fuel cycle, and lay an agreed factual basis upon which a consensus might be built. Participation in the program does not commit a country to its future course of action. There will be no votes in INFCE. A Technical Coordinating Committee, which meets in Vienna with the assistance of the IAEA, oversees eight Working Groups, each of which is concerned with an important element in the effort to strike a balance between the benefits of nuclear energy and its proliferation risks. Over the next two years, INFCE will explore a variety of ways to make the nuclear fuel cycle safer than is currently believed possible in the transnational nuclear fraternity. INFCE is not a quest for a single solution, but as the following description of the Working Groups indicates, INFCE can provide better international understanding of the elements from which solutions can be composed-time, technology and institutions.

The first two groups deal with natural resources and enrichment capacity. If the facts support the Administration's view that uranium and thorium resources are more plentiful than is commonly believed, there will be less time pressure to move to next-generation fuel cycles before we have solved their proliferation risks.

At the same time, it is not enough merely to prove the existence of sufficient uranium, thorium and enrichment. One must also establish an international system of assured fuel supply. That is why the third group specifically addresses institutional ways to assure supplies for resource-poor countries.

The fourth group will examine the economic and proliferation implications attendant on various reprocessing alternatives. The United States is especially interested in reprocessing techniques that would avoid producing pure plutonium. At the same time, however, the groups will also explore the feasibility of technical and international institutional means of increasing the safeguardability of conventional fuel reprocessing methods. Similarly, the fifth group, which will deal with breeder reactor systems, will focus on whether there may be breeder systems that are economical and at the same time minimize the presence of weapons-usable material.

The sixth and seventh groups will examine problems associated with spent fuel and waste disposal. Clearly, a growing nuclear economy requires responsible storage and disposal programs. Some argue that reprocessing alleviates the waste management problem by removing plutonium before disposal. However, reprocessing and subsequent fuel fabrication themselves produce wastes that must be disposed of. Scientific evidence will be brought to bear on the conflicting claims that reprocessing increases or reduces the environmental risks involved in nuclear waste management. The development of international institutions in this area may create a precedent for international cooperation in other aspects of the fuel cycle.

The eighth group will look at advanced reactor and fuel cycle concepts including ways to improve the efficiency of uranium utilization in current types of reactors. There is credible evidence that it may be possible to more than double the utilization rate through various techniques.10 This effectively would double the existing uranium resource base, resulting in a longer lifetime of the current fuel cycle, yielding more time to design proliferation-resistant future fuel cycles.

What the United States hopes INFCE will do is to lay the basis for a longer term consensus. We do not expect that INFCE will produce one agreed document at the end. It is quite unlikely that everybody is going to agree over that short a period. However, many of the disputed technical problems and possibilities will be clarified. We do not expect to find a simple technical fix. But we hope to find combinations of time, technology and institutions that can produce a more safeguardable fuel cycle. Then it will be the task of diplomacy to get wide agreement to adopt such safer technologies.

5. Domestic Nuclear Policy

Budgets speak more clearly than speeches. For this reason we felt it essential to our nonproliferation strategy that our domestic policy be consistent with our international policy. We did not expect other countries to quickly follow suit; we were sure they would not do so if our domestic actions undercut our international policy. Thus, the President took two decisions that were not widely popular in the Congress; indefinite deferral of commercial reprocessing and restructuring of the breeder program.

The Administration rejected proposals to make the partially completed Barnwell, South Carolina, plant into a multinational reprocessing center. Accepting such a proposal would have tended to undercut our argument that commercial reprocessing is premature, while an inadequate proposal at this stage could spoil a multinational approach which might hold promise in the long term. We felt that if we were telling other countries that going ahead now with the current type of reprocessing has marginal economic benefits and great security dangers, we had to apply that same logic to ourselves. The President announced this on April 7, and in talking to other countries about deferring reprocessing, we have pointed to the fact that we are not claiming any commercial preference for ourselves.

Similarly, we took the position that the breeder reactor program should be restructured to emphasize development of a safer fuel cycle rather than early commercialization. This meant cancellation of the Clinch River project, which was not the safest or most advanced design, but was oriented toward demonstrating early commercialization. We felt that it was inconsistent for us to urge caution and deliberation on entering into the plutonium generation, while at the same time proceeding with a design that had been explicitly created to provide early commercialization of the plutonium breeder. When the Congress did not agree with the President on the Clinch River breeder reactor, the President exercised his first veto since entering office.11

In another, less visible aspect of domestic policy, the Department of Energy has been working on the safeguardability of the next generation of enrichment technology. This includes not only centrifuge technology, which is under active development in several countries and is scheduled for deployment in the United States in 1988, but also longer term projects such as laser isotope separation. We will ensure that safeguardability criteria are included at the laboratory stage before going to the engineering stage.

6. Measures to Affect Motivations

The last but most basic dimension of the nonproliferation strategy concerns efforts to reduce the motivations that countries may develop to build nuclear weapons-chiefly military security and the quest for political prestige.

In the bilateral context, the security guarantees that the United States provides to its allies are among the most important nonproliferation policy instruments we have. Critics who argue that the Administration failed to pursue disputes over reprocessing with our allies because it feared to destabilize the alliances miss the point. Any policy pursued to the point of severely shaking those alliances would be a failure in nonproliferation terms. A cooperative approach with our allies is not only good alliance policy, it is also good nonproliferation policy.

In other parts of the world, new bilateral security guarantees are less feasible in the post-Vietnam era, but the existing ones still have value. Countries with a security relationship with us have to ask whether their security would really be enhanced by the introduction of a vulnerable nuclear capability, if that would have the effect of removing the residual American security relationship. To the extent that other nations rely on the United States for the supply of the conventional arms for which they have reasonable needs to assure their own security, there is no question that our conventional arms sales also play a part in affecting motivations to turn to nuclear weapons.

We also have multilateral instruments to address the security motivations. Most important is, of course, the Nonproliferation Treaty, which 103 nations have now ratified. The Treaty has helped to create an international regime in which states agree that their security interests would be better served by avoiding the further spread of the bomb. It provides important reassurances that potential adversaries are confining their nuclear activities to peaceful purposes.

The NPT is a delicate international arrangement. Countries without nuclear weapons have accepted an explicitly unequal status in the military area, on the condition that they be treated equally with regard to civil nuclear cooperation. Thus we have to avoid, to the greatest extent possible, discriminatory policies on the civil side that would weaken the fabric of the Treaty as one of the key nonproliferation institutions.

Another multilateral instrument is the nuclear weapons free zone. The Administration has supported the establishment of such zones wherever the states in a region can agree. The most important example is the Latin American Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, which was established in the 1960s by the Treaty of Tlatelolco, but which lacked several adherents, including U.S. ratification of its first protocol, before becoming fully effective. Early in his term, President Carter announced that the United States would ratify the protocol, and later in the year Argentina declared its intent to ratify the Treaty. Once these ratifications are completed, only Cuban, Russian and French actions would be necessary before the Treaty enters fully into force.

As for prestige motivations that might lead states to acquire nuclear weapons, the best answer is to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in world politics. This was a goal that President Carter stated in his Inaugural Address. Efforts to control the vertical proliferation of nuclear arsenals through the SALT and Comprehensive Test Ban negotiations have an important effect on nonproliferation policy. At the same time, we must avoid military doctrines that imply that nuclear weapons have more than a negative or deterrent role.

Above all, we must be careful not to reinforce any notion that being a nuclear weapons state provides unusual privileges or position in international affairs. Over time, we want to show other countries that the weight of their voice in international gatherings-on the Law of the Sea, exchange rates for their currencies, resource transfers, or any other issue-really does not have much to do with whether they possess a nuclear weapon or not. There are much more usable and directly effective forms of power. The clear corollary is that the United States must be careful not to try to use its own nuclear status to win games in other areas.

Disincentives are also important. A temptation to go nuclear can be counterbalanced in many cases by the prospect of severe adverse reactions. The general heightened concern that has accompanied the Administration's high priority for nonproliferation has raised perceptibly the probability of a strong international reaction to any violation of international safeguards or other proliferation event. Peaceful nuclear cooperation helps to provide disincentives for proliferation. Temptations toward proliferation are counterbalanced by the cost of disrupting expensive nuclear electric-generating systems. The new U.S. nonproliferation legislation inscribes in statute strong sanctions against those who would violate safeguard agreements. Moreover, under the Suppliers Guidelines, members agree to avoid commercial competition while consulting about cases of possible safeguards violations. Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that the international response will make safeguards violations, and violations of the nonproliferation regime generally, very costly actions.


The Carter initiatives on nonproliferation stirred up a degree of turmoil at home and abroad. The nuclear industry had been proceeding internationally on a set of fixed assumptions about moving as quickly as possible from uranium to plutonium, with only secondary attention to the proliferation problem. But the turmoil has started a process of rethinking. It is no longer business as usual. In recent years, the industry had examined and rejected a series of measures that could have been used to make the use of plutonium more proliferation-resistant, albeit more expensive. Now the industry at home and abroad is looking at those ideas again.

Similarly, countries that currently plan to use plutonium are beginning to look at ways to reduce the proliferation risk-such as introducing radioactivity to prevent plutonium fuels from being stolen or misused. As one high European official has put it: "We don't agree with all your answers, but we admit that you've raised the right questions." One of the major accomplishments of the first year was raising a concern, making nations realize that proliferation is a priority issue that deserves serious measures beyond business as usual.

But beyond the posing of a challenge, the first year also saw the beginnings of an international institutional response. The supplier countries maintained their unity, agreed on a moratorium on sensitive transfers, and published common export safeguards guidelines. A brand new dialogue was begun in INFCE, and the broad participation in that effort represents the first step toward a common consumer-supplier approach. While dramatizing the challenge that technology was posing, the Administration took careful note of the energy concerns of other countries. We were careful to avoid any comment on other countries' breeder research and development programs while focusing on the dangers to their security and the dubious economic benefits of reprocessing for recycling in the current type of reactors.

The situation was aptly summed up by Rudolph Rometsch, Deputy Director General of the IAEA, who said that as recently as a year ago it was hard to find either utility or government officials interested in ways to internationalize plutonium control and other aspects of the fuel cycle in order to make them more proliferation-proof. Now "quite a number are willing to go a long way to make that possible." He added that "this may be the most positive point, if properly exploited, to emerge from the renewed U.S. concern over proliferation."12

The objectives the Administration has set out to accomplish cannot be achieved quickly. International institutional responses take more time to develop than does an initial national challenge. Basic assumptions change slowly. Consensus can only be developed over time. New problems and temptations continually arise and require responses.

To repeat, nonproliferation policy is not a game where one can easily score victories and defeats. If one country defers reprocessing or another sets off an explosion, that alone does not constitute the success or failure of a nonproliferation policy. Our goal, which we share with others, is to strengthen an international regime of norms and institutions that rests on shared interests and thus to strengthen the presumption against proliferation. Both the technological explorations and the specific institutional innovations examined in INFCE are designed to reinforce and expand the consensus on the regime that is centered on the IAEA. A strong international regime can consist of many institutions, so long as they are complementary.13

In summary, one can view three decades of American nonproliferation policy as an attempt to resolve the tension between national interests-our own and others-in nuclear technology, and the shared international interest in the avoidance of nuclear war. Increasingly, nations have come to understand that the potential or actual undertaking of nuclear explosions, in their own country or elsewhere, is a matter of legitimate concern to the community of nations. Our efforts toward strategic arms limitation and a comprehensive test ban respond to those concerns, and our nonproliferation policy reflects an appreciation of the need for an international rather than a unilateral solution.

Thirty years ago, the Baruch Plan proposal for internationalization was rejected, in part because it was seen as an attempt to perpetuate what was then an American nuclear monopoly. The succeeding period of strict export controls on civilian as well as military technology emphasized U.S. self-sufficiency to the neglect of the common interest in peaceful nuclear development. The Atoms for Peace policy used the promotion of nuclear research and civilian applications to build an international regime of safeguards. In recent years, with civilian nuclear power becoming at once more widespread and overlapping with the technology and materials used for nuclear weapons, the international community has entered a period of reexamination and redirection.

For the period ahead, our aim is to work with the international community in minimizing the weapons potential of civilian technology, and building institutions to manage the remaining areas of overlap. The development and diffusion of nuclear technology requires of all involved nations a dual commitment to caution and to shared benefits: that which cannot be effectively safeguarded or postponed must be jointly controlled. The alternative would make us all poorer.


1 See Stanley Hoffmann, "The Hell of Good Intentions," Foreign Policy, Winter 1977-78.

2 A Report on The International Control of Atomic Energy, Washington: GPO, 1946, p. 17.

3 For a description of the nuclear fuel cycle, and the economics of reprocessing, see Spurgeon Keeny, ed., Nuclear Power Issues and Choices: Report of the Nuclear Energy Policy Study Group, Cambridge: Ballinger, 1977 (sometimes called the Ford-Mitre Report); and "Report to the American Physical Society by the Study Panel on Nuclear Fuel Cycles and Waste Management," supplement to Reviews of Modern Physics, January 1978.

4 The original seven suppliers were Britain, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States, the Soviet Union, Canada, and Japan. The current membership also includes the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Italy, and Belgium.

5 See Nuclear Power Development in Japan, Tokyo: Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, January 1978, p. 5, for figures on energy savings; see reports cited in footnote 3 on disposal problems.

6 Specifically, Article 4 of the Treaty cannot be taken out of context, but must be read in conjunction with Article 1 in which we agree "not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon state to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. . . ."

7 In addition, the Vandellos reactor in Spain is not under IAEA safeguards, but is jointly operated with France, which controls the plutonium produced.

9 Without burdening the reader with all the 40 participants, it may be helpful to list the countries chairing the eight Working Groups described in the text. The Co-Chairmen of the Working Groups are: (1) Canada, Egypt, India; (2) France, Federal Republic of Germany, Iran; (3) Australia, Philippines, Switzerland; (4) Japan, United Kingdom; (5) Belgium, Italy, U.S.S.R.; (6) Argentina, Spain; (7) Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden; (8) Republic of Korea, Romania, the United States.

10 On the possibilities for improved efficiency of thermal reactors, see Y. I. Chang, et. al., Alternative Fuel Cycle Options: Performance Characteristics and Impact on Nuclear Power Growth Potential, Argonne National Laboratory Report, ANL 77-70, September 1977.

11 Contrary to some interpretations, the Administration did not try to kill all breeder programs. As President Carter told the Newspaper Farm Editors on September 30, 1977, "I have no objection to breeder reactors. I don't think the time has yet come." The Department of Energy 1979 budget of $367 million for breeder research and development is the largest breeder budget in the world. It is also about the same as the budget for solar research and development.

12 Nucleonics Week, July 7, 1977.

13 For example, the four types of institutions being examined in INFCE-an international stockpile of low-enriched fuel, international spent fuel depositories, international enrichment facilities, and international reprocessing facilities-could have the effect of reinforcing the IAEA-centered international regime without necessarily being part of the IAEA or having exactly the same membership.

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  • Joseph S. Nye is Deputy to the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology. He chairs the National Security Council Group on Nonproliferation that formulated the Carter Administration's policy. He has been Professor of Government at the Harvard University Center for International Affairs, 1969-77, and is the co-author of Power and Interdependence and a contributor to Nuclear Power Issues and Choices: Report of the Nuclear Energy Policy Study Group (the Ford-Mitre Report cited in footnote 3 below).
  • More By Joseph S. Nye Jr.