The possibility that additional nations, or even terrorists, might get nuclear weapons has been a cause of deep anxiety ever since the first atomic weapon was exploded in 1945. It has been the subject of one important treaty (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT) and more recently preventing proliferation was one of the central objectives of the Carter Administration, in an effort that generated intense controversy. Today an assessment of that effort is important because nuclear proliferation continues to be a most dangerous prospect in the coming decades-deserving of as much attention as the Soviet Union and the national security risks arising from dependence on foreign oil, as well as the basic economic problems of high inflation and low productivity.

The Reagan Administration clearly faces a legacy of unresolved proliferation problems. In several non-weapons states construction continues on facilities useful for producing weapons-grade material. And serious differences persist among the major exporting countries over conditions for international commerce in nuclear materials and technology.

One of the basic elements of the controversy has concerned the linkage between weapons potentials and the spread of nuclear power facilities. This was the cornerstone of the Carter Administration's approach. It is unquestionably of central importance in assessing the dangers of access by terrorist or other subnational groups to weapons-grade materials. But in the case of weapons acquisition by nations, which has been the main concern of U.S. policy (and is our principal concern here), the significance of nuclear power facilities is more debatable and may even be of secondary importance, since nations can build plants specifically for weapons programs, as all the present weapons states have done.

It has been argued, in these pages and elsewhere, that nuclear power is uneconomic as an energy source, and that the linkage between nuclear proliferation and power facilities is so central and inescapable that the expansion of nuclear power should be slowed down and opposed even to the point of its eventual elimination.1 And there has in fact been a substantial drop in construction of nuclear power facilities. However, industrialized and developing countries alike continue to feel a need for nuclear power as one of the important options in coping with their energy problems. This is a view that we share. We do not believe that the demise of nuclear power is likely or desirable, or that it can be either a necessary or sufficient condition for coping with weapons proliferation.

We believe that with the experience of the last 20 years, and particularly in light of the Carter Administration's determined effort to establish a new world consensus on this subject, it has been demonstrated that major revisions in the policy of the United States and other nations are now required. This is not to say that progress in world understanding of the problem has not been made, or that the efforts of the Carter Administration have been without significant successes. But we believe that assessment of past policy can only lead to the conclusion that it was flawed in important respects and that a significant change of course is needed.

Let us start with the experience of the last four years-in which we were active participants-and then see how this vital task might be addressed more successfully.


The Carter policy had its roots in two developments in the 1970s. In 1974, India exploded an atomic device and became the sixth nation in the world with a nuclear-weapons potential. And in the aftermath of the oil embargo of 1973, with the sharp price rises that followed, it was believed that nuclear power facilities would be rapidly expanded throughout the world, and that the danger of their misuse to produce weapons potentials had taken on a new dimension.

Such concerns are not new. But during the 1960s there had developed expectations among the major industrial powers that international arrangements would limit the risks. Under the NPT, which entered into force in 1970, non-weapons states which signed the treaty foreswore nuclear explosives and agreed to accept inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of their nuclear programs to verify that material was not being diverted to military purposes. In return, the treaty assured them that there would be no limitation on nuclear commerce or on the spread of nuclear facilities, and that the full development of nuclear power would be assisted and promoted.

There were two weaknesses in the NPT regime. First, a number of nations with substantial nuclearpower programs did not accede to it-notably India, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Israel.

And second, by the late 1970s it appeared to many, including the U.S. government, that the treaty was inadequate even for parties to it, because inspection alone might not provide "timely warning" of diversions for nuclear-weapons purposes. The principal reason for this concern was the likely spread of facilities to reprocess the spent fuel from reactors in order to separate the plutonium produced during power generation in addition to the unconsumed uranium. Such reprocessing had up to then been generally assumed to be desirable in order to economize on the use of limited uranium resources. With such reprocessing and reuse of the separated material in reactors (called thermal recycle), uranium requirements could be reduced by about 35 percent, assuming the continued use of thermal reactors of the types then and now predominant. And in the case of more advanced "breeder" reactors, uranium requirements could be even more radically reduced, so that many major nations saw the "breeder," using plutonium fuel and ultimately meeting its own fuel needs by the breeding process, as the long-term means for making nuclear power the central element in their energy programs.

Once plutonium is separated, it can be used for weapons manufacture. In fact, the production and separation of plutonium are widely regarded as the most difficult tasks in the making of fission weapons. If reprocessing were to become widespread, plutonium would accumulate and enter into world trade. A "plutonium economy" would result. Diversion of the relatively small amounts required to begin weapons programs might escape detection by a "safeguarding" inspection system. And there could be little time between detection of diversion or termination of safeguarding arrangements and production of nuclear weapons.

Uranium enrichment facilities also raised concerns. A majority of the world's power reactors are of "light-water" design that requires that the quantity of the uranium isotope 235 be increased from the naturally occurring 0.7 percent to about three percent.2 The supply of enriched uranium is therefore a major factor in international nuclear commerce, and although the United States and the Soviet Union had in the past met most of the world's needs, it seemed likely that enrichment facilities (then under construction in Europe) might be built in a number of additional countries. Even when such facilities are designed to produce only three-percent enriched uranium, they can be used to produce more highly enriched uranium useful for weapons purposes.

The dangers of an emerging "plutonium economy"-and, with somewhat less priority, the spread of enrichment facilities-were forcefully presented in 1976 in private studies, notably the Ford-Mitre Report.3 In late 1976, the Ford Administration accepted these arguments and announced that the United States would forego the reprocessing of spent fuel and the export of enrichment and reprocessing technology. The same rationale supported the policies adopted in early 1977 by President Carter, who also announced a reorientation of the American breeder-development program. Commercialization was to be deferred and a major demonstration reactor (Clinch River) was to be cancelled.

Furthermore, the Carter Administration worked closely with members of Congress on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 (NNPA). A number of members of Congress had already become deeply concerned, and these proponents actually sought even more restrictive conditions on the export of nuclear technology, services and materials than those proposed by the President. The legislation was a compromise, imposing severe unilateral American conditions on nuclear materials exported from the United States.4 Specifically, it was provided that non-nuclear-weapons nations wanting U.S. enrichment services, nuclear fuel and equipment, and sensitive nuclear technology must agree to have international safeguards on all their peaceful nuclear activities ("full-scope safeguards") and grant the United States "consent rights" over reprocessing and transfer to other countries of certain spent reactor fuel. This included U.S. supplies of enriched uranium fuel under new or amended nuclear cooperation agreements, as well as non-U.S.-supplied fuel used in U.S.-supplied reactors. Particularly difficult was the requirement that existing agreements for cooperation be renegotiated to meet these requirements. Although most of the existing agreements at the time of passage of the Act contained U.S. consent rights, there was a significant exception in the case of agreements with EURATOM, the European nuclear entity.5

The NNPA also contains a number of provisions aimed at increasing nations' confidence in access to fuel and enrichment services. It was hoped that motives for reprocessing, premature commitments to breeders, and development of independent enrichment capabilities would be reduced if assurance of supplies could be strengthened. Because it was widely believed, particularly in the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan, that reprocessing was highly desirable, if not essential, for disposal of the waste matter in spent fuel, the Act also calls for establishment of international spent-fuel storage facilities. (President Carter also suggested that the United States accept limited amounts of spent fuel for indefinite storage.)

In addition to the passage of the NNPA, the Carter Administration intensified an effort already initiated under President Ford to bring together the major Western industrialized nations with nuclear capacity in order to achieve common policies in the export of nuclear materials. The so-called Suppliers Club, acting with minimum publicity, was one forum for determined U.S. efforts to get other suppliers to forego new commitments to export reprocessing technology.

There was also convened, on U.S. initiative, an International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE), which with participation of a large number of both industrialized and developing nations undertook a two-and-a-half year study to investigate alternative fuel cycles which might keep down risks of diversions to weapons production. INFCE's findings were not binding on governments, but they were to be considered in nations' policy formulations. Pending INFCE's conclusion, there would be something of a moratorium on nations' moving off in new directions in nuclear trade and power.

All these moves were widely discussed, and their antecedents and progress have been analyzed in previous articles in this journal.6 They highlight the U.S. preoccupation with nuclear power as the principal proliferation villain.


On the plus side, the Carter policy heightened concern, worldwide, about nuclear proliferation. A danger that had tended to lose attention in the mid-1970s-even after the Indian explosion-was dramatized and made a matter of much more urgent concern and priority, especially among the major industrial states. There have been some successes, notably the decisions by France not to go ahead with previous plans to supply reprocessing plants to Pakistan and South Korea. It seems unlikely that in the foreseeable future any of the supplier states will export reprocessing or enrichment technology, and it may even be possible to reach agreement that all future nuclear exports be conditioned on non-nuclear-weapons states accepting international safeguards on all their nuclear facilities.

The decline from the projected levels of expansion of nuclear facilities-a decline not foreseen or intended when U.S. policy was developed-furthered nonproliferation aims. As prospects for nuclear power darkened, demand for uranium and enrichment services became lower than anticipated in the first months of the Carter Administration. With uranium prices falling, the impetus for thermal recycle, commercialization of breeders, and the spread of enrichment plants has diminished somewhat. Arguments of the Carter Administration that thermal recycle would be uneconomic and that uranium resources would be sufficient to permit deferring breeder commercialization now seem even more persuasive.

And there have been political developments which, although not the result of nonproliferation policy, have reduced motivations for the spread of nuclear weapons. A notable example is the U.S.-encouraged rapprochement between Israel and Egypt, which may have affected the possibility of nuclear weapons programs not only in these two countries but to some extent in the Middle East as a whole. Although that was not the primary reason for the U.S. initiative, nor even a much-noted likely consequence, it could prove to be, in the long run, an important nonproliferation breakthrough. And more recently, Argentina and Brazil have made a beginning on cooperation in nuclear fields. With clearer insights into each other's activities, there should be less concern in these two countries about possible commitments to weapons.

While these positive developments are encouraging, there have been at least five specific areas in which the Carter policy has fallen short of its objectives.

First, the reactions of most governments, and of the nuclear industry both domestic and foreign, have been negative. Only a few governments reacted favorably, notably Australia, which has large unexploited uranium resources but no near-term interest in nuclear power, and Canada, where reaction to the Indian nuclear explosion of 1974 had been strong (a Canadian-supplied reactor having been used to produce the plutonium). And Canada has little interest in either reprocessing or breeders, having even greater uranium reserves, relative to demand, than those of the United States.

However, the views of Japan and major West European countries have been largely unfavorable-a reaction intertwined with the predictable reaction of the nuclear industry, which perceived a threat to its exports and even to its viability. U.S. decisions to forego reprocessing and to delay breeder commercialization were construed as reflecting a generally negative attitude to nuclear power, a perception reinforced when President Carter characterized it as an energy option of last resort. U.S. industry saw these decisions and the new nuclear trade restraints as competitive disadvantages, forfeiting U.S. leadership. At the same time, there was suspicion abroad that the changes were motivated by commercial considerations: by a desire to discourage development abroad of reprocessing and breeders, technologies in which the United States was falling behind.

More specifically, American arguments that thermal recycle would be uneconomic and that breeder commercialization could be prudently deferred until the next century were poorly received. While these judgments have been largely vindicated by events, critics claimed, particularly during INFCE, that studies overestimated uranium producibility or gave undue weight to unproven and speculative uranium resources, while underestimating the likely demand for nuclear power. A more telling criticism was that such analyses were of little relevance to advanced industrial countries having small uranium resources. For them, total world reserves and aggregate producibility are much less important than assured access to adequate resources. They perceived a need for early breeder commercialization and saw U.S. efforts as naïve or even reflecting American insensitivity to their energy problems.

These reactions were particularly marked in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Japan, where the pressure for nuclear power was particularly strong (at least in official circles); in both cases, accession to the NPT had been politically possible only when those governments had obtained clear understandings that their freedom to develop all aspects of nuclear technology would be in no way abridged.7

U.S. protestations that its initiatives were consistent with the general purposes of the treaty and particularly with Articles I and II, which bar the transfer of weapons, control over them, or assistance in manufacturing or acquisition, fell on deaf ears. The United States has been charged with disregarding its obligations under NPT Article IV, which, it was felt, called not only for noninterference in, but support for development of, power-related technology in all countries party to the treaty.

The NNPA's call for renegotiation of existing international agreements if nuclear commerce were to continue not only gave offense but eroded confidence in the United States. It tended to promote desires for a greater degree of fuel-cycle independence. The issue arose strikingly during an inquiry about possible expansion of Britain's reprocessing capacity. Presiding Justice Peter Parker captured much of the sentiment about ex post facto changes in terms of nuclear trade by observing: "I do not accept that the best way to achieve a new bargain is to break an existing one."

As a result of these reactions, the Carter policy was unsuccessful in dissuading both Europe and Japan from proceeding with reprocessing and from continuing to develop breeder reactors-an area in which France has now assumed a clear-cut role of world leadership. In the case of Japan, serious friction arose because of Japanese desire to ship spent fuel (over which the United States has consent rights) to Europe for reprocessing and to reprocess other such fuel in a pilot plant in Japan. The United States acceded to such requests, but delays and cumbersome procedures irritated the Japanese, while the affirmative decisions were objectionable to some of the congressional sponsors of the NNPA. While plans of the Federal Republic of Germany for reprocessing have been scaled down (because of environmental opposition and not because of proliferation concern or U.S. pressure), neither it nor other countries interested in reprocessing and breeders have been willing to follow the U.S. lead of indefinitely deferring their commercialization. France, the U.S.S.R. and the U.K. are going ahead with reprocessing on a large scale and the FRG, Japan and possibly Belgium may follow.

Finally, despite U.S. pressures and the expenditure of considerable political capital, the Federal Republic of Germany insisted on going ahead with its previous commitments to assist Brazil in acquiring reprocessing and enrichment facilities. And the FRG and Switzerland have recently agreed to provide Argentina with a power reactor and a heavy-water plant, although Argentina is unwilling to forego reprocessing or to formally accept full-scope safeguards.

Second, the case of Pakistan not only presented special difficulties but appeared to confirm the argument of many critics that the Carter policy offered no way of dealing with cases where a nation without a need for reprocessing or enrichment plants for its power program nonetheless constructs such plants-presumably to create a weapons potential. Facilities for a small weapons program can be built in much less time than those for even a modest power program and at about one-tenth the cost. Even in nations committed to nuclear power but also wanting a weapons potential, construction of special weapons facilities might be preferable. Fuel remains in power reactors for long periods of time: several years. It is then more difficult to process than that from reactors dedicated to weapons programs. The plutonium produced, though usable, is much less suitable for weapons. Though "weaponsgrade" plutonium can be produced in power reactors, it would result in degradation of reactor efficiency.

Aroused by the Indian explosion, Pakistan went ahead to acquire advanced enrichment technology on a covert basis from European sources. It was able to get well along toward an explosives capability before the existence of this program became firmly established. Pakistan has also continued to build reprocessing plants.

The Pakistan case shows the inherent difficulty of any attempt to stop a nuclear-explosives program even when there exists "timely warning." The United States and other nations became fully aware of what Pakistan was doing, well in advance of the program's fruition (now expected to be in several years), but were unable to mount any concerted program that could dissuade the Pakistani government. The United States initially took a strongly disapproving posture, to the point of withholding economic assistance badly needed by Pakistan. But no other nation took similar steps, and when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought the strategic position and importance of Pakistan to the forefront even the United States overrode its nuclear concerns in an effort to re-establish close military and security ties with the threatened Pakistani government. While the joint efforts of the supplier states may have slowed the Pakistani program somewhat by limiting the export of critical components, it has not been possible either to reduce Pakistani concern about its security, the rationale for its explosives-directed efforts, or to convince Pakistan that such efforts may in fact lessen its security. In any case, it continues its program aimed at an explosives potential.

Third, there was the recent test case of whether the United States should continue to supply nuclear fuel to India for use in her Tarapur light-water reactors. Acting under the NNPA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that India did not meet the requirements for shipments already contracted for, because of her refusal to accept safeguards on all her nuclear facilities. The Administration took the position that the export-license applications for the fuel fell within the grace period of the Act, and in the end President Carter exercised his authority to authorize shipment of the fuel. Under the Act, the Congress could have overridden this decision, and in October 1980 such an override resolution carried in the House but narrowly failed of passage in the Senate.

The issue sharply divided the Administration from its own congressional allies in the drafting of the NNPA. In the end, it honored the long-standing supply commitment-arguing that to repudiate it could have led to India's lifting IAEA safeguards. But the episode did little to improve either the U.S. image as a reliable supplier or its overall nonproliferation posture.

Fourth, the results of the INFCE evaluation (published in March 1980) were, from the U.S. standpoint, disappointing-or at best mixed. The hope that the proliferation problem could be dealt with, or at least mitigated, through "technical fixes"-a principal motivation for INFCE and an earlier Ford initiative, the Nonproliferation Alternative Systems Assessment Program (NASAP)-proved illusory. All reactors produce plutonium (or uranium-233, which is also a weapons-usable material), and if they are to use uranium (or thorium, the precursor to U-233) most efficiently, reprocessing is essential. By changing the design of a reactor and operating procedures, efficiency can be improved without reprocessing. But to the surprise of few in the technical community, neither NASAP nor INFCE came up with realistic fuel-cycle alternatives that would permit reprocessing and reuse in reactors while making access to weapons materials difficult for nations (as distinct from terrorists).

Fifth, there has been little movement with respect to the major positive provisions of the Carter policy (embodied in the NNPA) concerning fuel assurances and international spent-fuel storage. Expansion of U.S. enrichment capacity has been delayed, as there is now a buyer's market for enrichment services; there has been little interest abroad in the establishment of an International Nuclear Fuel Authority or in a "fuel bank" (and none within the Administration in allocating resources for them).

Interest has developed in an international plutonium-storage system (IPS). While some such system is envisioned in the Act, the United States has not been very supportive because of concern that its development would lend legitimacy to reprocessing and the development of a "plutonium economy," and because of the belief, almost certainly correct, that conditions governing release of plutonium from an IPS to national custody that could be widely acceptable to other nations would be less stringent than the United States would like to see.


The experience of the past four years has clearly fallen far short of the hopes originally entertained for the Carter policy. Some of the difficulties speak for themselves. But it may be helpful to analyze more specifically why the policy has had only limited success and has been in some respects counterproductive.

We began with the observation that U.S. initiatives have disproportionately emphasized nuclear power as a path to proliferation. The point is fundamental, and we will return to it again. But there are other flaws in the premises on which U.S. policy rests.

As the case of Pakistan demonstrates, even efforts to act on a "timely warning" are likely to be ineffective-as indeed was the case earlier with India and Israel. Now Iraq may be moving toward an explosives potential. These examples do not mean that "timely warning" is an empty concept, but they surely raise questions about its value and whether U.S. policy should rely on it so heavily.

Next, how valid is the U.S. basic thesis that if nuclear power were based on "once-through" fuel cycles (no reprocessing), the risks of proliferation could be contained? Informed critics do not accept the American contention that once-through fuel cycles are preferable to those that involve reprocessing. They argue that if the main concern is manufacture of weapons by governments, not by terrorists, the radioactivity of fission products in spent fuel would not prevent nations from extracting plutonium required for a modest weapons program. It would be safer, they say, to reprocess spent fuel and feed the extracted plutonium back into reactors, than to allow it to accumulate in spent-fuel stockpiles, which they call "plutonium mines."

Even if a nation feels secure about access to enrichment services and has no present interest in thermal recycle or breeders, it may want to get experience in enrichment or reprocessing on a small scale. The former is a difficult technology and the best choice between different approaches is not obvious. While reprocessing is more straightforward, and there is broader experience with it, at least on an experimental scale, it has become increasingly clear during the last half-dozen years that environmentally acceptable reprocessing of commercial fuel is not a simple matter. In view of these considerations and the relatively low cost of research and development, a nation with an interest in enrichment or reprocessing may want to acquire experience well in advance of commercialization. Unfortunately, pilot plants, or even research facilities, can produce enough material for a modest weapons program. But U.S. argumentation, and INFCE, failed to address this question, focusing largely on the economics and timing of commercial-scale activities.

But perhaps the most serious flaw in U.S. policy has been its emphasis on unilateral denial of nuclear materials as a form of leverage to prevent proliferation. There has been in U.S. policy a basic conflict, which antedates the initiatives of recent years, between denial of access to nuclear materials and a companion emphasis on assuring access to reactor fuel, so that recipients would rely on U.S. supply and be less motivated to acquire facilities and weapons-usable materials from other sources.

While the Carter Administration and Congress stressed the importance of supply assurances in policy and legislation, the emphasis was on denial: on attempting to prevent unwanted developments by restraints on international commerce, particularly by conditioning U.S. exports on other nations acceding to U.S. nonproliferation conditions on fuel-cycle activities. This approach led to a lowered confidence in importing nations about access to materials and technology, and so gave impetus to nuclear autarky. The result is likely to be a short-term reduction in proliferation risks-e.g., South Korea will not soon acquire reprocessing capability and in Pakistan it will have been delayed-but an increase in such risks over the longer term.

The U.S. denial policy is based on an inflated view of U.S. leverage. There was a time when the American lead in reactor technology, licensing arrangements with Japanese and European reactor suppliers, and a virtual monopoly on supply of enrichment services for the market-economy states gave the United States considerable leverage, but over the last few years the situation has changed significantly. The lead in technology has been largely lost, some of the licensing arrangements are at an end, and only 18 percent of EURATOM's enrichment requirements are U.S.-supplied, compared with 27 percent coming from the U.S.S.R.-a consequence in part of lack of confidence in the United States as a reliable supplier. In Japan, the United States is still the dominant supplier of enrichment services, and as pointed out above has consent rights (unlike the case with EURATOM) over the disposition of U.S.-origin spent fuel. Considerable theoretical leverage therefore remains, but it is probably illusory. While the United States can for a while exercise these consent rights as in the past (but with considerable irritation to Japan), we will not be able to insist for long on a different regime for Japan than is likely to obtain with EURATOM.

Ideally, international arrangements affecting nuclear trade should be as nondiscriminatory as possible, with conditions of trade, safeguards and permitted fuel-cycle activities being the same for nuclear-weapons states and non-weapons states. But in the real world this cannot yet be the case. National legislation prescribing universally applicable rules, even though it includes provisions looking toward special handling of exceptional cases, is bound to cause trouble-as did the NNPA of 1978.

Partly in reaction to the rigid and unilateral U.S. policy of recent years, attention abroad is now centered on a code of conduct to make international supply of fuel, technology and services more predictable than at present, where the United States reserves a right to seek unilateral changes in the terms of agreements.

There are important reasons for having universal standards. Some key suppliers of nuclear technology will not impose proliferation-related conditions on exports unless assured that competitors will apply the same conditions. Sanctions are likely to be effective, if at all, only if major states act in concert. It will be politically easier for nations to accept constraints in the name of nonproliferation if there is widespread acceptance of them. But there are reasons for not pushing universality too far (as current policy does). Needs, and national perceptions of needs, for different fuel-cycle facilities vary from country to country. So will the risks of their misuse. Weapons development is a near-term danger in the case of some half-dozen countries. Another half-dozen are of concern for the longer term. But most countries should be seen as essential to the solution of the proliferation problem, not as elements of the problem itself.

It appears, unfortunately, that the emphasis on general applicability has had the result that policy initiatives of recent years, and the NNPA, have had little relevance to real proliferation problems. They have, however, proved a major irritant in relations with friendly countries heavily committed to nuclear power which offer no near-term proliferation risks.

In sum, while the last two Administrations and the Congress are to be credited for focusing world attention on proliferation, it is time to remodel the instruments for dealing with it, and to seek to alter the premises on which past policy was based.


We should start with a reminder-surely it need be no more than that for most readers of Foreign Affairs and for most government officials-that the best hope of stemming nuclear proliferation lies in dealing effectively with the motives that lead nations to want to have nuclear weapons. This is probably the only real long-term hope, if one assumes that a totally international Baruch approach is forever unreachable. The real nonproliferation successes of the postwar period have been in the establishment and maintenance of NATO and a reliable security relationship with Japan. Without them, there would probably have been either two or three more nuclear-weapons states, or a war to prevent that from happening. So first priority must go to reducing motivations to acquire weapons.

In those motivations, prestige may sometimes be a driving factor. But security is, and will be, the main consideration. The means for providing security are severely limited: guarantees, dispute resolution, allaying suspicions of aggressive intentions. The prospect of great benefits from success should encourage an immensely difficult diplomacy involving higher costs and risks than if the world were fission-free. For example, deterring the possibility of South Korea pursuing a nuclear option is an important additional reason for maintaining an American military presence in South Korea-a policy almost changed under the Carter Administration but reaffirmed in the end both by President Carter and now by President Reagan.

And, in the effort to deal with the motivations of individual nations to go nuclear, there is a second key priority that cannot be stressed too strongly. There may be some cases where unilateral action by the United States can be effective in reducing weapons motivations-e.g., the Israeli-Egyptian case-but, more generally, collective action will be needed if increases in national motivations are to be prevented, e.g., if an Arab-Israel nuclear arms race is to be avoided.

Security threats confront industrial democracies and much of the rest of the world, arising from differences with the Soviet Union and from the possibility of a collapse of international oil trade. We face an unstable world, breeding motivations to acquire, and maybe to use, nuclear weapons. Recent U.S. policy initiatives have been irritants in what would have been, and will be, in any case, a most difficult task of reconciling conflicting perspectives in the industrial democracies on how to cope with these other problems.

Third, we must not lose sight of the impact of the example of the United States and allied nations in terms of their own nuclear-weapons postures and especially in terms of progress toward limiting the so-called vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons by existing weapons states. The search for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (CTB) is an example of our tendency to approach these other problems without reference to their proliferation implications. The CTB has been thought of primarily as a Soviet-American issue. A treaty has eluded us up to now because of concerns that the weapons development and confidence of one of the superpowers would suffer more than the other's. No weight has been given to the continuing proliferation dangers presented by the absence of a CTB and the nonproliferation advantages of such a treaty. A number of nations have justified non-accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty because it imposes different obligations on the weapons states than on the rest, but many non-NPT parties might accede to a CTB which would not involve any discrimination. Although it would not preclude some nuclear-weapons development, without testing a nation would have less confidence in devices it might construct; design would have to be more conservative, requiring more fissionable material per weapon; and there would be greater reluctance to build a weapons stockpile, all of which, cumulatively, could result in reducing the chances of new arms competition. Accession of the United States and the Soviet Union to a CTB would also lead to greater acceptance for the NPT, since it would moderate the claims of superpower noncompliance with Article VI of the NPT, which calls on them to try to make progress on arms control.

The same considerations obviously add urgency to the pursuit of strategic arms limitations, either through a revised SALT II or a new SALT III. And in its own defense planning the United States should carefully weigh nonproliferation considerations before deciding on the large expansion of its weapons-plutonium program now under consideration.

While there has been great emphasis on the possibility that nuclear power programs might lead to proliferation, U.S. policy has shown little awareness that reductions in nations' dependence on oil imports resulting from the use of nuclear power could cut proliferation risks. Nuclear-capable nations desperate for oil would be less likely to supply oil-producing nations with technology useful in weapons programs if their dependence on foreign oil could be reduced. More generally, reduced dependence could lead to greater international stability with consequent reductions in national motivations to acquire nuclear weapons.8

There are those who discount this consideration, claiming that nuclear power can make only a small and nonessential contribution to a nation's energy needs and that the preferred alternative to nuclear power is not the use of more oil.9 The United States, however, still uses for electricity generation a substantial amount of oil, which could be replaced with nuclear energy. For some of the other major industrial democracies and some developing countries, nuclear power is a strong alternative to the use of more oil and liquified natural gas for the generation of electricity for the next few decades, however well they may do with other means of power generation and with conservation programs. Thus, aggregate demand for oil, not to mention its price and the seriousness of interruptions in international oil commerce, including the likelihood of war over oil, may well depend to a substantial extent on the development of nuclear power.

This is not to advocate unrestrained expansion of nuclear power as a solution to world energy needs. Far from it. While it has a role to play in many countries, particularly in reducing their dependence on others for energy, its problems have been unduly discounted, and it has been oversold, especially in the case of developing countries, only a few of which can realistically expect to have near-term electricity demand sufficient to justify generating plants as large as the smallest nuclear units now being built. Nuclear power will continue to be advocated in some countries where it would be undesirable on both economic and proliferation grounds. This tendency should be stoutly resisted with security and economic arguments. The results may, however, be unproductive if any nation or group of nations goes beyond persuasion and tries to impose its view about energy options, including nuclear fuel cycles.

Two questions remain. First, if nations decide to acquire weapons, in spite of other efforts to deal with their security concerns or other motivations, is there anything that should be done? And second, even absent such a decision, what should be done to try to influence the development of nuclear power so that the risks of proliferation will be minimized?

There is little to say about the first. Notwithstanding the poor record and the poor prospects for trying to prevent weapons acquisition by using denial and sanctions, there may be cases where they should be tried. They seem appropriate in the case of Pakistan. If similar cases arise in the future, it should be recognized that there will be difficult trade-offs between nonproliferation and other foreign policy objectives. But success will require both support from other supplier nations and sanctions going beyond constraints on nuclear trade.

Turning to the second question, one should aim to influence the character of national nuclear power programs, even where it seems unlikely that the governments involved would misuse them. Governments change; wars occur, and facilities built by one state may fall under the control of another; and there is the threat of access by subnational groups to materials used in, or produced by, power plants.

In contrast to the views of some governments and many in industry, we continue to believe that there are significant differences in proliferation risks between different fuel cycles. The accumulation of stockpiles of plutonium and the spread of reprocessing and enrichment plants are undesirable; from a nonproliferation perspective they should be discouraged. But efforts to do this through denial are likely to be counterproductive. Any success is likely to be transient and achievable only at substantial long-term cost, possibly in terms of increased impetus for nations to move in dangerous directions and certainly in terms of worsened relations with other nations with which cooperation is important. To give an example: while the United States is probably right in contending that recycle of plutonium in present-day reactors will be uneconomic for many years and that breeder commercialization is premature for most nations, few countries with a serious interest in nuclear power are likely to foreswear these possibilities, at least as research and development options. Heavy-handed American efforts to induce them to do so are likely to be ineffective at best and may backfire. Certainly, they will be resented, and they may be exploited by domestic proponents of these options where the weight of argument might otherwise go against them.

From the preceding arguments it should be clear that a fundamental element in any new U.S. policy is substantial revision of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978. Inflexible provisions for the export of U.S. nuclear materials should be modified so that the use of denials is left largely to the President as a matter of executive discretion. And the policy and law should be changed so that other nations can deal with the United States on a presumption that, except in the case of significant changes in proliferation risks, conditions on terms of trade will not be altered unilaterally.

In effect, these changes would shift the central emphasis of U.S. policy from unilateral denial to working closely with allied nuclear-capable nations and, with developing nations, relying on persuasion coupled with assurances of supply. Discouragement of the spread of reprocessing and enrichment, and the accumulation of stocks of weapons-usable materials, must be closely linked to recipient nations' feeling assured of supply of fuel and services, to economic self-interest, and to the development of realistic appreciation of the effect of moves that might be construed as leading to an explosives potential.

Although the United States has been unable to fulfill promises to help others dispose of their spent fuel, has made little progress on a fuel bank, and has found little interest in an International Nuclear Fuel Authority, these concepts should not be abandoned. More promising opportunities lie, however, in long-term commitments for supply and in stockpiling by importing nations of uranium and enriched fuel. Much has been done on this score without government encouragement. With diminished demand for nuclear power, consumers find themselves with stockpiles or commitments for uranium and enrichment service that go a long way toward meeting future needs.10 With currently low uranium prices, long-term contracts and stockpiling offer economic alternatives to thermal recycle and breeder options as ways to reduce dependence on others for fuel. They should be encouraged.

But some reprocessing and accumulation of plutonium stocks will be inevitable. Two American moves would be desirable. We should support the establishment of an International Plutonium Storage System, even if the criteria for release are less stringent than we would like to see. The time has passed when it is persuasive to argue that U.S. participation in such a system would be undesirable because it might legitimize reprocessing. And a major effort should be made to reach a consensus among supplier nations that all future nuclear commerce will be conditioned on the purchasers' accepting IAEA safeguards on all their peaceful nuclear activities.

Neither the establishment of an IPS nor the broader application of IAEA safeguards can prevent the misuse of facilities or materials for explosives production. They can, however, provide greater transparency for nations' nuclear programs. If intent is seen to be benign, this will be useful in allaying concerns of others; if it is not, or if there is ambiguity, this will alert the rest of the world, as well as those in the nation in question who might oppose weapons development.


During the last decade, and especially the past four years, nonproliferation concerns have been at the forefront of U.S. policy, and acceptance of their importance is now much more widespread among other major industrialized and nuclear-capable nations, and indeed in the world. Let us hope that the Reagan Administration does not backslide on this issue, which is central to American security. In pointing out the difficulties and flaws of the policy of the Carter Administration-some of which are of course much clearer in hindsight than they were at the time-our aim has been solely that of assessment and constructive criticism. The main point now is to digest the lessons of recent experience and to translate them into effective modifications of U.S. policy.

The keynote in that effort must be an emphasis on working closely with other nations. We should neither act alone nor dictate the paths others should take.

1 Amory B. Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins and Leonard Ross, "Nuclear Power and Nuclear Bombs," Foreign Affairs, Summer 1980.

2 The principal competitor is the "heavy-water" reactor, which is attractive to countries concerned with assurance of supply because it uses uranium more efficiently than other thermal reactors and can operate on uranium of naturally occurring isotopic composition. It requires, however, water containing nearly 100 percent of the heavy-hydrogen isotope, deuterium, as compared with 0.016 percent in ordinary water. Production of this involves sophisticated technology that is not yet widespread.

3 "Nuclear Power: Issues and Choices," Report of the Nuclear Energy Policy Study Group (S.M. Keeny, Chairman), Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1977.

5 The European Atomic Energy Community comprises Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The Act excepted EURATOM from the requirement that it grant U.S. reprocessing consent rights for two years, and, subject to its agreement to negotiate on that question, it permits annual presidential extensions thereafter.

The Act also includes a grace period, since expired, with respect to the implementation of its full-scope safeguards export requirement, and it allows provision for presidential waiver of this provision as well as for authorization of exports that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission refuses to license despite a positive executive-branch recommendation, if justified on nonproliferation and other security grounds.

Presidential extensions for EURATOM are subject to override by the Congress by joint resolution (in effect requiring a two-thirds majority in both Houses); the other waivers are subject to override by concurrent resolution (requiring a majority in both houses).

6 See Abraham A. Ribicoff, "A Market-Sharing Approach to the Nuclear Sales Problem," Foreign Affairs, July 1976; Paul L. Joskow, "The International Nuclear Industry Today," Foreign Affairs, July 1976; Joseph Nye, "Nonproliferation: A Long-Term Strategy," Foreign Affairs, April 1978; Victor Gilinsky, "Plutonium, Proliferation and the Price of Reprocessing," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1978/79; Thomas L. Neff and Henry D. Jacoby, "Nonproliferation Strategy in a Changing Nuclear Fuel Market," Foreign Affairs, Summer 1979; Pierre Lellouche, "International Nuclear Politics," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1979/80.

7 In ratifying the NPT, for example, Germany called attention to formal U.S. statements that "there is no basis for any concern that this treaty would impose inhibitions or restrictions on the opportunity for non-nuclear-weapons states to develop their capabilities in nuclear science and technology. . . . This treaty does not ask any country to accept the status of technological dependency or to be deprived of developments in nuclear research. . . . The whole field of nuclear science associated with electric power production . . . will become more accessible under the treaty to all who seek to exploit it."

8 See David J. Rose and Richard K. Lester, "Nuclear Power, Nuclear Weapons and International Stability," Scientific American, April 1978.

9 Lovins et al., loc. cit. footnote 1.

10 Thomas Neff and Henry Jacoby, "World Uranium: Softening Markets and Rising Security," Technology Review, January 1981.



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  • Gerard Smith was Chief of the U.S. Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) from 1969 to 1972, and has recently published Doubletalk: The Story of SALT I. From 1977 to 1980 he was Ambassador at Large and Special Presidential Representative for nonproliferation matters. George W. Rathjens is a Professor of Political Science at MIT; he served as Ambassador Smith's deputy in 1979-80.
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