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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Nuclear Suppliers Pass on U.S. Proposals

Wade Boese


President George W. Bush’s proposals for tightening exports of nuclear materials and technologies failed to win support at a May 27-28 meeting of nuclear suppliers. But the group did adopt other nuclear export measures and accepted four new members, including China.

In a Feb. 11 speech, Bush urged other nuclear suppliers not to ship enrichment and reprocessing equipment to countries that lack facilities for these purposes. Enrichment and reprocessing facilities can be used in making nuclear fuel or atomic arms.

Bush also recommended that no nuclear exports go to governments not bound by an additional protocol, a safeguards measure that empowers the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to carry out intrusive inspections to verify that a country is not developing nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration wanted the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a voluntary export control regime, to adopt both proposals. But at their May meeting in Göteborg, Sweden, the 40 NSG members failed to reach the necessary consensus to act.

Both Argentina and Brazil, which have yet to adopt additional protocols, voiced reservations about making a country’s willingness to submit to tougher IAEA inspections a prerequisite for receiving nuclear imports. Russia, which has a record of controversial nuclear dealings with India and Iran, argued for narrowing the condition to apply only to enrichment and reprocessing exports rather than to all nuclear trade.

Bush’s other initiative met stiffer resistance. Several NSG members objected that barring future enrichment and reprocessing exports could lead other governments to complain that they are being denied their right under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes. With a treaty review conference scheduled for next May, some NSG members are reluctant to enact any measure that might be construed as widening the divide between nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.”

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton attempted to ease such worries, if unsuccessfully. “We can do this in a way that does not deprive NPT parties that are fully compliant with their obligations under the NPT of the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology,” Bolton said May 27.

Finding greater favor, but still falling short of adoption, was a joint U.S.-French proposal calling on NSG members to suspend nuclear deals with countries that the IAEA Board of Governors charges with having failed to meet their NPT obligations. Although backing the general concept, some members argued it needed to be refined to make clear precisely what would trigger and end a trade suspension.

NSG members did agree on some matters. They adopted a catchall provision to authorize governments to control exports suspected of being destined for a nuclear weapons program even if no law requires the item in question to be regulated, and pledged to share more information about worldwide nuclear procurement.

The group also approved membership for China, Estonia, Lithuania, and Malta. The four countries became full members June 10 after exchanging letters with the NSG reaffirming their intent to follow regime rules.

Nonetheless, China plans to proceed with supplying a nuclear reactor to Pakistan under a May 4 deal that is contrary to NSG principles. (See ACT, June 2004.) The regime allows governments to complete any transactions concluded before they become official NSG members.

Washington did not take NSG inaction on its initiatives as the last word and succeeded in getting its fellow Group of Eight (G-8) members—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom—to adopt a one-year moratorium on new deals to export enrichment and reprocessing technologies (see page xx). All G-8 members also belong to the NSG. In addition, the United States set next year as a goal for getting the full NSG to adopt its initiatives.