International efforts to stem the spread of nuclear weapons typically focus on thwarting the atomic ambitions of North Korea and Iran. This, however, is a game that is unlikely to be won. North Korea has built and tested nuclear weapons, and Iran is on the threshold of being able to build them. The leaders of both countries remain unmoved by international condemnation and pressure. To them, the prestige, security, and influence presumed to derive from nuclear weapons seem more compelling than the weak penalties and uncertain inducements of multilateral diplomacy. Another round of sanctions or talks is unlikely to change this calculus.
Rather than fixating on the proliferation they are unable to prevent, concerned countries should pay more attention to preventing proliferation to states that have not yet decided to build nuclear weapons, particularly states in the Middle East. Such a strategy will require that the international community improve its ability to detect suspect activities, strengthen the tools to disrupt networks for transferring nuclear technology, and actively dissuade other countries from going nuclear by enhancing those countries' security and devaluing nuclear weapons.
Since it is likely too late to reverse the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, the United States and its partners should also stop fixating on negotiations with them. Instead, they should concentrate on containing the regional effects of these states' nuclear programs while creating the conditions for rolling them back should future leaders prove more responsive to inducements and pressure.
International efforts can disrupt and delay the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but it is difficult to deny the ambitions of leaders dead set on acquiring them. This is why efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons should look ahead to preventing the next generation of nuclear proliferation.
Detecting secret nuclear activities has proved to be a nearly impossible task. It took years before national intelligence agencies pieced together an understanding of the Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan's illicit nuclear-trafficking network. Libya's work on uranium
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