"[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
July/August 2007
Edition Date: 
Sunday, July 1, 2007
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IAEA, Congress Tackle Nuclear Fuel Supply

Oliver Meier and Miles A. Pomper

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei June 13 presented the agency’s Board of Governors with a report outlining ways countries might work together to discourage the spread of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing facilities. The report came as the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and increased interest in nuclear energy have prompted growing concern, including in Congress, about the spread of such facilities that could provide either fuel for power plants or fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The text of the report was not publicly released, reportedly because some board members objected to doing so. Nonetheless, knowledgeable sources said the report, written by IAEA staff, evaluates the legal, technical, financial, and institutional aspects associated with the problem, analyzing nearly a dozen proposals for multilateral cooperation put forward by IAEA member states, many at a special, two-day agency conference in September 2006. (See ACT, November 2006. ) But the sources said the report does not advocate any particular plan for moving forward and leaves the thorniest issues for the states on the IAEA board to resolve.

The proposals outlined in the report essentially fall into three camps: reliance on the international market, backup commitments by individual states, and the establishment of a last-resort facility under the auspices of the IAEA. All are intended to convince countries to rely on the international market rather than national facilities to enrich uranium or to extract plutonium for spent nuclear fuel. In his June 11 statement to the board, ElBaradei essentially argued that all of the mechanisms could complement each other, calling for “an incremental approach, with multiple assurances in place.” In doing so, he stuck to a theme that he has embraced since receiving an IAEA expert group report in February 2005, which evaluated several steps toward a multilateral solution of the problem. (See ACT, March 2005. )

According to a June 15 IAEA press release, the report argues for moving toward a multilateral framework by creating mechanisms that would “assure the supply of fuel for nuclear power plants; over time, convert enrichment and reprocessing facilities from national to multilateral operations”; and “limit future enrichment and reprocessing to multilateral operations.”

The debate on how to prevent the spread of sensitive nuclear technology by limiting the construction of national nuclear fuel-cycle capabilities in additional states has gained new urgency since President George W. Bush in February 2004 proposed to limit supply of such technologies to states that already have such capabilities. (See ACT, March 2004. ) Efforts to get the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to endorse such proposals permanently have languished, although the NSG has since approved annual moratoria on initiating any new agreements along these lines. Several developing countries, however, have criticized this approach as discriminatory, arguing that it institutionalizes a new cartel of technology holders. In particular, they say that it would infringe on their rights under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for access to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The agency says its proposals would not limit the right of states-parties to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and maintains that states would remain “free to choose their fuel options.” But it left important details to the IAEA board. For example, the board would still have to decide whether to limit supply assurances to countries that do not operate enrichment and reprocessing facilities or who renounce such an option. It would also have to decide whether it would require any potential recipients to have in place an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement. Such protocols provide the agency with greater authority to search for undeclared nuclear activities.

A June 8 statement from the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, provides some indications of a possible board response. The group, which includes several key IAEA board members, stated that any proposal on fuel supply assurances should provide “added value” to the nonproliferation regime. Although the G-8 supported the IAEA’s position that participation in any fuel supply mechanism should be voluntary, there are differences regarding what that would mean. The G-8 said only that a possible future mechanism “should not preclude any state from purchasing nuclear fuel cycle services on the existing market beyond the frameworks of multilateral mechanisms,” without taking a position on the right to set up new indigenous enrichment and reprocessing facilities.     

In an indication of the U.S. position, the House of Representatives on June 18 passed by voice vote the International Nuclear Fuel for Peace and Nonproliferation Act to help establish an international nuclear fuel bank. The bill was introduced by House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and provides $50 million to supplement an equivalent September 2006 pledge to the IAEA by the private Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).

Implementation of the NTI pledge and the Lantos bill, however, will depend on the pledge of an additional $50 million by a third party. The bill authorizes the contribution to establish the fuel bank on the territory of a non-nuclear-weapon state, including maintaining a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for reactor fuel to provide to eligible countries as a fallback mechanism. Only states that do not operate enrichment or reprocessing facilities “on any scale,” are in compliance with their safeguards obligations, and have an additional protocol to their safeguards agreements in force would be eligible to receive services from the fuel bank. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee June 27 endorsed somewhat similar legislation by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind). In addition, the House Appropriations Committee June 11 approved an energy and water spending bill that would provide $100 million in fiscal year 2008 for the fuel bank, if an additional $50 million were pledged by other IAEA member-states.

Unlike the Lantos legislation, the IAEA report says that a future nuclear fuel bank could be either a physical entity or a virtual one providing guarantees that appropriate fuel is forthcoming. It outlines the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. The report also argues that supply assurances should be tailored narrowly to convince states that their nuclear fuel supply will not be cut off for purely political reasons, that is, reasons other than a failure to pay for nuclear fuel or to meet their nonproliferation commitments under their safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Such safeguards are intended to prevent the diversion of peaceful nuclear material or technology to weapons purposes.

Because the member states had not seen the more than 90-page report before it was presented to the board, initial reactions were guarded. Several developing states of the Nonaligned Movement, including Iran, apparently repeated their concerns that any multilateral mechanism must not infringe on their right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Germany, acting in its current capacity as EU president, said in a June 14 press release that the report “comes at the right time” and that the European Union is “eager to find a solution which takes sufficient account of the current proliferation concerns regarding sensitive components in the nuclear fuel cycle.”

A Department of State official said June 19 that the United States believes that the IAEA report provides the basis for moving forward with debates on the board on the issue and that Washington “looks forward to discussion of the question of establishing a fuel assurance mechanism and to early action by the board to approve an IAEA role in a mechanism.” Still, substantive discussions are not expected before the next board meeting in September. They could also be postponed until the subsequent session in November.

Iran Offers to Resolve Issues With IAEA

Paul Kerr

Iran has invited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials to visit Tehran in order to “develop an action plan for resolving outstanding issues” related to the country’s past nuclear activities, agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming announced June 25. “The IAEA intends to send a team as early as practicable,” she added. Iran’s invitation came as permanent members of the UN Security Council began work on a new resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran.

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Tehran’s lead nuclear negotiator, issued the invitation the previous evening during a meeting with IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei. Larijani and ElBaradei also had discussed the plan during a June 22 meeting.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad-Ali Hosseini told reporters June 24 that Iran could reach an agreement with the IAEA within two months.

Iran has a gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program and is constructing a heavy water-moderated nuclear reactor. Iran says these programs are for peaceful purposes, but both also could be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Unresolved issues related to these programs have been a persistent source of controversy. Since its investigation began in 2002, the IAEA has discovered that Tehran engaged in secret nuclear activities, some of which violated its safeguards agreement with the agency. The government has provided explanations for some of these issues, but the agency says that several others remain unresolved. (See ACT, March 2006.)

IAEA safeguards agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities.

Partly in response to Iran’s failure to clarify the outstanding nuclear issues, the Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran in two previous resolutions, the most recent of which was adopted in March.

According to a May report from ElBaradei to the IAEA Board of Governors, the outstanding issues include “information relevant to the assembly of centrifuges, the manufacture of centrifuge components…and research and development of centrifuges or enrichment techniques.”

 Most recently, ElBaradei told the IAEA board June 11 that the agency is unable “to make any progress in its efforts to resolve [the] outstanding issues,” adding that “it is incumbent on Iran to work urgently” with the IAEA so that it can “provide assurance regarding the exclusively peaceful nature of all of Iran’s nuclear activities.”

Iran has previously promised to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation, but nothing has come of those pledges. For example, an April 2006 Iranian letter said that Tehran was “prepared to resolve the remaining outstanding issues” with the agency and pledged to provide a timetable for compliance within the next three weeks. (See ACT, June 2006.)

More recently, Iran reiterated in a February letter to the IAEA its willingness to cooperate with the investigation. But this offer appeared to retain a previous condition that the Security Council end its involvement with the Iranian nuclear issue. (See ACT, March 2007.)

Meanwhile, Larijani met June 23 with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, in Lisbon in an effort to restart negotiations with Germany and the five permanent members of the Security Council.

Those countries have said repeatedly that they are willing to negotiate with Tehran about a June 2006 offer of incentives intended to persuade the Iranian government to end its uranium-enrichment program. However, they continue to insist that Iran suspend work on those programs, a step it has refused to take.

Solana described the meeting as “very constructive.” Similarly, Larijani said that they had a “good discussion,” according to an official Iranian radio report. Solana told reporters that the two officials, who also met in April and May, are to meet again in about three weeks, according to Agence France-Presse.

Resolution Work Proceeds Slowly

The two previous Security Council resolutions included a demand that Iran suspend all activities related to its enrichment program, as well as construction of its heavy water reactor. (See ACT, April 2007.)

The resolutions also require Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA’s investigation, as well as to ratify an additional protocol to its comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreement. Iran has signed an additional protocol, which augments the IAEA’s authority to investigate possible undeclared nuclear activities, but has not ratified it.

ElBaradei’s May report, which he issued per the council’s request, showed that Iran has not complied with the most recent resolution, which the council adopted in March. Resolution 1747 requires Iran to comply “without further delay” with the council’s demands or face “further appropriate [nonmilitary] measures.” (See ACT, April 2007.)

Hosseni said that Iran would increase its cooperation with the IAEA in order to dissuade the UN Security Council from adopting another resolution. However, Department of State spokesperson Tom Casey told reporters the next day that the United States is “moving forward with a discussion” with other permanent council members about “what kind of sanctions” could be included in a new resolution. He did not specify further.

Iranian officials have reiterated that Tehran will react negatively to a new sanctions resolution. Larijani said that Iran would respond to such a measure by making “another, longer stride” in its nuclear program but did not elaborate, according to an interview in the June 21 edition of Newsweek. Likewise, Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, warned in a June 15 interview with the semi-official Mehr News Agency that Tehran could further decrease its cooperation with the IAEA if the council were to adopt another sanctions resolution.

Iran has gradually scaled back its cooperation with the agency since early 2006. For example, Tehran had been behaving as if its additional protocol were in force since the fall of 2003, but stopped doing so in February 2006.

More recently, Iran has not allowed the IAEA to inspect its heavy water reactor facility since Tehran’s March decision to end its compliance with a portion of the subsidiary arrangements for its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, April 2007.)

The Wisdom of Sharing the Peaceful Atom

Atoms for Peace: A Future after Fifty Years? Edited by Joseph F. Pilat
Johns Hopkins University Press, March 2007, 392 pp

Ambassador Norman A. Wulf

When President Dwight Eisenhower made his historic Atoms for Peace address to the UN General Assembly in December 1953, that body had a total of 60 members. Now there are 192. By itself, this increase in independent countries, dramatic as it is, might be enough to justify a re-examination of the wisdom of sharing the peaceful atom. But other changes that have altered the assumptions underlying the proposal compel such a re-examination.

With the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an arms race involving nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, Eisenhower’s speech foresaw applying “atomic energy to the needs of agriculture [and] medicine…and to provide abundant electrical energy.” To prevent misuse of the peaceful atom and to prevent acquisition of the capability to develop nuclear weapons, reliance was placed on international inspections (safeguards) and export controls. Few countries, it was believed, had the capability to develop the enrichment and reprocessing technology and equipment that would allow them to produce the enriched uranium or separated plutonium needed for nuclear weapons. Safeguards would prevent diversion of this material once imported from the few potential suppliers, and export controls would prevent those suppliers from providing critical technology and equipment to foreign weapons programs.

This approach can be seen in the subsequent drafting of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). While Article IV sought to enshrine the goal of Atoms for Peace, Article III requires non-nuclear-weapon states to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards “for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfillment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing the diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons” (emphasis added). This focus on diversion also is contained in the safeguards agreements developed for non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the NPT, commonly referred to as 153 agreements. Scant attention was devoted in those agreements to undeclared equipment or materials because of the assumption that constructing such capabilities was beyond most parties. Meanwhile, those countries capable of exporting technology related to enrichment, reprocessing, or use of fissile material would ensure that such items were subject to IAEA safeguards. To provide precision on what was subject to safeguards, NPT states-parties capable of such exports met and elaborated a list called the Zangger Committee Understandings. India’s 1974 test of a “peaceful” nuclear explosive device led to the establishment of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and to even stricter controls on enrichment and reprocessing technology. These control lists were expanded several times throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

This system of enforced scarcity worked remarkably well for several decades. Because change is the only constant, however, it soon became necessary to adapt the original regimes. More countries were not only gaining their independence but also enhancing their industrial capability.

The 1991 discovery of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program forced action. Through program 93+2 and the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, the IAEA sought to respond to the increasing capability of additional countries to manufacture nuclear-related technology by broadening its safeguards approach from merely looking for diversion of declared materials to looking for undeclared equipment and material. In the words of NPT Article III, the IAEA is now seeking to verify a party’s “fulfillment of its [NPT] obligations.”

Meanwhile, some countries were defeating export controls on sensitive technology and equipment by acquiring individual components. The NSG responded by placing limitations on such components and by making non-NPT states-parties with unsafeguarded programs ineligible for new civil nuclear supply. This latter reform decreased the risk of diversion of imported nuclear items but, more importantly, had the effect of granting preference to NPT states-parties in civil nuclear cooperation, a benefit they had long sought as a reward for joining the NPT. These efforts were further bolstered by the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995, which made permanent the norms and principles underlying the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

These adaptations were essential to meet the growing proliferation challenge. Not unexpectedly, the challenges continue. One of the greatest challenges is the prospect of cooperation among proliferators or between proliferators and would-be proliferators. Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s actions with Iran, Libya, and North Korea must leave any informed observer with the unsettling concern that anybody with the necessary resources could obtain the technology for enrichment on the black market and obtain the needed equipment clandestinely.

Indeed, the concern must extend to the design of nuclear weapons because this was also allegedly provided by Khan to Libya and perhaps others. When the fact that a Malaysian company manufactured centrifuges is combined with the knowledge Khan shared on evading export controls, there must be greater concern that “anybody can do it.” If a country as isolated as North Korea can build and operate a reactor and a reprocessing plant, can export controls combined with IAEA safeguards ever again be considered adequate? Free trade also plays a role as the resultant further spread of industrialization means that increasingly complex factories and processes are built in ever-growing locales. It is understandable, albeit mistaken, for some to conclude that the nonproliferation effort should be abandoned and the focus placed instead on counterproliferation.

This is the context in which Atoms for Peace: A Future After Fifty Years? appears. The book is a compilation of papers from a conference held in 2003, and admittedly the passage of three and a half years from that conference to the publication of this book diminishes its value. Yet, most papers are presented by leading nonproliferation experts and wrestle with issues still germane today. Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson Center; Ambassador Linton Brooks, then-administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration; and Laura Holgate of the Nuclear Threat Initiative are among the authors dealing with nuclear terrorism. Daniel Poneman, a senior nonproliferation official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, and Lawrence Scheinman of the Monterey Institute are among the authors looking at the future. Thus, editor and contributing author Joseph Pilat of Los Alamos National Laboratory has performed a valuable service in making this compendium of articles available in book form. No one can walk away from reading this book without agreeing with his overall conclusion:

So, mixed results and all, the legacy of Atoms for Peace profoundly influences the debate on all things nuclear. It may be expected that it will be defended or attacked, as pundits, policy analysts, and politicians put forward divergent proposals for a future in which nuclear energy remains as it was understood at the dawn of the nuclear age—a Janus-headed reality posing both extraordinary risks and benefits.

Any serious reader seeking to understand this tension will find in this book a wealth of information.

But what of the concern regarding widespread industrialization diminishing the effectiveness of the classical nonproliferation tools: export controls and international safeguards? Although several of the papers in the book touch on this problem, one chapter by Christopher Chyba of Princeton University succinctly sets forth the problem and begins the process of searching for answers. The goal he espouses for the United States is admirably straightforward as he notes the contrast between nuclear and biological weapon futures: “We may no longer be in a strong position to shape [the biological weapons future] although we need to make wise choices where we can. We want to continue to be able to shape our nuclear future” (emphasis added). Chyba readily concludes that there is no silver bullet. Rather, he espouses “a self-reinforcing web of nonproliferation measures” focusing both on supply-side and demand-side measures.

It has long been understood that export controls and safeguards can slow proliferation but not prevent it. Global industrialization is continually shortening the amount of time that export controls and safeguards can buy. Chyba concludes that this dictates far more attention being paid to demand-side measures “even as we preserve the importance of supply-side measures.” Tellingly, he concludes, “[t]his will continue to require an approach to the proliferation challenge that weighs the long-term consequences of short-term actions, and has the patience to make strategic choices that are in the long-term national interest.”

All the contributors to this book seem to agree on Chyba’s central point: the United States needs to provide the leadership to shape the world’s nuclear future. The tragedy is how often the current administration has failed that leadership test. This is not to say that everything that has gone wrong in the nonproliferation field is the fault of the United States. The current administration, however, has often failed abysmally in its response to those exogenous events. The administration not only fails to realize that the nonproliferation regime consists of several strands and that weakening one strand weakens all, but it also fails to appreciate that the ever-diminishing time that traditional nonproliferation tools make available must be used wisely.

In part, that failure is structural: politicians think in two- to four-year increments while within the Department of State, where nonproliferation has increasingly become the province of the Foreign Service, the three-year assignment cycle often defines the time horizon. With such a structure, weighing the long-term consequences of short-term actions, as Chyba recommends, has become ever more difficult. The structural problems were increased by an ill-advised reorganization of the nonproliferation bureau in the State Department that diluted its nonproliferation focus with other responsibilities and was used as an opportunity to marginalize many career civil servants with technical knowledge and experience while increasing the role of “right-thinking” political appointees. Although structural problems contribute, ideological rigidity combined with overwhelming hubris and a failure by President George W. Bush and his national security advisers to maintain discipline have been responsible for this administration’s failure to use wisely the time purchased by nonproliferation efforts.

Through seven prior presidents, a central pillar of U.S. nonproliferation policy has been support for universal adherence to the NPT. Thus, when North Korea threatened to withdraw from the NPT in 1993, the Clinton administration worked with Russia and the United Kingdom, the three NPT depositary governments, on a statement “questioning” Pyongyang’s stated justification for withdrawal. This concern was incorporated into UN Security Council Resolution 825. By contrast, the Bush administration silently acquiesced in 2003, finding itself constrained because it had recently withdrawn from the ABM Treaty; the withdrawal clauses in both treaties are virtually identical. Only after North Korea detonated a nuclear weapon was its NPT withdrawal condemned by a Security Council resolution.

The North Korea issue has been a battleground between those advocating regime change and those seeking behavior change. Advocates of regime change prevailed, relying on what is now admitted to be less dramatic evidence for their claim of North Korean cheating than they then believed, and the United States walked away from the 1994 Agreed Framework, which the Clinton administration had negotiated with Pyongyang. North Korea shortly thereafter responded by throwing out the IAEA, which had maintained a continuous presence at their plutonium facilities; separated what is believed to be five to seven bombs’ worth of plutonium from spent fuel; and conducted a nuclear test. The sensible course of maintaining controls over plutonium that was known to exist while seeking to deal with an enrichment program that might exist was not pursued.

The most recent evidence of the ongoing battle within the administration was the imposition of financial sanctions on North Korea, which occurred near the conclusion of the September 2005 six-party agreement on denuclearization principles. The Bush administration’s approach to dealing with North Korea could, until recently, be appropriately characterized as consisting of three no’s—no carrots, no sticks, no results. One is left with the sad belief that the deal with North Korea that the Bush administration currently appears to be pursuing is one that could have been achieved much earlier and without removing all constraints on plutonium.

On Iran, the administration was correct when it sought prompt referral of the matter to the UN Security Council. Yet, those efforts failed because the administration was not trusted after its “misuse” of Security Council resolutions to justify its invasion of Iraq and because the administration was unwilling to incur the costs needed to sell this approach. The Security Council’s failure was compounded by the administration’s initial refusal to collaborate outside the Security Council with China, Russia, and the European Union. The administration simply did not seem to consider that others were unwilling to place significant sticks on the table unless the United States was willing to place significant carrots. The time for solving nonproliferation problems on the cheap is past. In order to demonstrate seriousness, Washington must be prepared to pay significant costs to prevent proliferation.

The result was the United States sitting on the sidelines from 2003-2005 while the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) as well as Russia and China continued searching for incremental steps that might nudge Iran into action. The Europeans, who could impose sanctions without Security Council action by withholding trade benefits, are following the U.S. model by refusing to incur significant costs. While the West dithers, Iran’s enrichment program is rapidly expanding.

Meanwhile, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, not trusting Washington’s leadership after U.S. disregard for IAEA conclusions on Iraq, has moved the agency from its technical role into an ever more political role by seeking to ensnare Iran with incremental steps. This approach has backfired and has emboldened Iran in the belief that the penalties that it must endure for proliferation are bearable.

An important strand of the overall nonproliferation regime is the universal condemnation of all nuclear proliferation. The administration has virtually severed this strand by succumbing to the siren song from India. The Bush administration’s view is that India, as a democracy, a huge market for U.S. products, and a potential ally in “containing” China, should be exempt from the principle that all proliferation is bad. The problem is not that the administration failed to get enough from India for abandoning principle. The problem is abandoning principle. Over the years, the United States on at least four occasions has silently placed bilateral pressure on friends to halt their nascent proliferation programs. Similar future efforts will be far less likely to succeed now that the United States has agreed that some proliferation is acceptable.

The Bush administration’s antipathy toward multilateral instruments and organizations has led to some disdainful treatment of the NPT and its review process, the IAEA, and export control regimes such as the NSG. Hostility combined with a lack of U.S. leadership has increased downward pressure on the overall regime.

Unwilling to force compliance with its decision to seek prompt entry into force of its additional protocol, the White House has accommodated the Pentagon’s delaying tactics and supported implementing legislation that is inconsistent with the terms of the protocol. The protocol is still not in force for the United States with the result that Washington has little ability to persuade others to accept it.

Instead of seeking to capitalize on U.S. ascendancy in smart conventional weaponry by minimizing the importance of nuclear weapons, the administration seeks to build new nuclear weapons and shorten the time required to resume testing. Under Department of Defense pressure, the administration failed to follow up on the promising May 2002 U.S.-Russia summit at which Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin set out the parameters of a comprehensive strategic nuclear dialogue. Many countries view these U.S. actions as showing a lack of compliance with Article VI of the NPT, undermining our ability to convince others to take Iranian noncompliance seriously.

The book contains a chapter written by then-Assistant Secretary for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker that parrots the expected ideological catechism to justify inaction on further nuclear arms controls: “It is simplistic and misleading to suggest that countries pursue nuclear weapons primarily in reaction to the nuclear policies of the United States and other legitimate nuclear weapon states. Countries bent on acquiring nuclear weapons have their own reasons.” It is not false modesty to profess that no one, including political appointees of this administration, really knows why a country may decide to acquire nuclear weapons. What is reasonable to assume is that all countries perform some semblance of a cost-benefit analysis. The logic of their analysis may not be the same as ours. Recall that the South African rationale for acquiring nuclear weapons was to draw in the major powers should a civil war develop there. A truly humble foreign policy would candidly admit that we do not know why countries decide to proliferate but pay attention to all the strands that make up the nonproliferation web and take logical actions to make acquisition less attractive. At a minimum, an appropriate rationale would eschew arguments that the United States must have nuclear weapons to deter the same threats that other countries also face.

The foregoing critique is not meant to imply that the Bush administration has done nothing correct in the nonproliferation field. As indicated earlier, recent administration steps seem to be evolving toward a more constructive approach toward North Korea. The administration also has moved the United States into a collaborative posture with China, the EU, and Russia on dealing with Iran’s program. These actions leave thoughtful observers to wonder whether North Korea and Iran are so much more “evil” than Libya as to justify these costly delays in rational approaches.

Also quietly but effectively, the administration continues its effort to wrap up all remaining remnants of the Khan network. It secured passage of Security Council Resolution 1540 to try and prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but it thus far has failed to devote enough time, attention, and resources to the 1540 Committee to ensure that all states not only enact export controls but effectively enforce them. In a rare departure, the administration in its first term also made available increased funding for IAEA safeguards. The much-touted Proliferation Security Initiative provides some modest benefits for what one can only hope will be rare cases when last-minute high seas interdiction of proliferation-related equipment or materials is necessary. Further, based on its overall posture at the recent first preparatory meeting for the 2010 NPT review conference, there seems to be at least a hint that the administration is beginning to understand the value of multilateral institutions.

It is to be hoped that some of these favorable straws in the wind will become U.S. policy. Elliot Richardson asserted in 1969 that the United States had a history of being lucky, but now the challenges facing us require that we be good. This administration has seriously eroded the margin for error that we once had. Rather than relying on the diminishing scope for luck, it is past time that the administration starts pursuing a policy that strengthens all the strands making up the nonproliferation regime.

This starts with a realization that the traditional tools of export controls and safeguards continue to be important. Increasing industrialization is broadening the number of possible proliferators, but it fortunately remains true that the technology for centrifuge enrichment, for example, is beyond the grasp of most countries acting alone. The effectiveness of export controls, however, is often undermined by the “ignorance excuse.” Exporting companies avoid penalties for violating export laws by asserting their ignorance of the fact that the item shipped was controlled or was destined to a proscribed location. States whose nationals evade the export laws of others to import a controlled item avoid sanctions by asserting their ignorance of the activities of their nationals.

Exporting nations must hold their companies accountable by presuming knowledge, and sanctions should be applied to any country whose nationals engage in circumvention. To have any chance of obtaining support for our compliance concerns, we must demonstrate an understanding of the concerns of others about our compliance with the NPT, and we must demonstrate consistency. Making an exception for India was always a bad idea; it now deserves a quiet burial. In short, this administration’s actions must match its rhetoric about the importance of nuclear nonproliferation.

Although our understanding of other countries’ cost-benefit analysis will necessarily remain incomplete, we can logically assume that security concerns are a primary factor in determining whether a country proliferates. If the nonproliferation regime can give countries confidence that those who could threaten their security are not acquiring nuclear weapons, they should have less interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. It is only when countries conclude that the costs of proliferating have gone down and the benefits remain or are increasing that there are increased risks of proliferation.

Will Persian Gulf states refrain, should Iran complete its drive for nuclear weapons? Will Japan continue to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella if North Korea’s weapons program continues to advance, and what of South Korea? What about the countries not presently on our radar screen that see India continuing to acquire nuclear weapons while engaging in nuclear commerce with the United States and presumably remaining a prime prospect for a permanent seat on an expanded Security Council? Finally, if the United States continues to assert that we must have nuclear weapons to deal with other WMD threats or for global prestige, why should other countries not emulate our example? We must strengthen all the strands of the nonproliferation regime and, as Chyba asserts, weigh “the long-term consequences of short-term actions, and [have] the patience to make strategic choices that are in the long-term national interest.” Nonproliferation is a cooperative effort. The United States must cooperate as well, even while asserting leadership.

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.


Ambassador Norman A. Wulf worked on nuclear nonproliferation for more than 20 years for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the Department of State, the last three of which (1999-2002) were as the president’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation. In that capacity, he led the U.S. delegation to the 2000 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference. Previously, he had negotiated the expanded safeguards contained in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 1997 Model Additional Protocol with some 50 other countries and then negotiated the U.S. version of this protocol with the IAEA.

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A Review of Atoms for Peace: A Future After Fifty Years? edited by Joseph F. Pilat

More Than Words: The Value of U.S. Non-Nuclear-Use Promises

George Bunn and Jean du Preez

Last year, for the first time, the United States voted in the UN General Assembly against a traditional resolution calling for negotiation of legally binding negative security assurances (NSAs) by nuclear-weapon states. These are promises not to use nuclear weapons against nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) states-parties that have promised not to acquire them. In the debate, the U.S. delegation explained that the United States “opposes a treaty on negative security assurances or any other binding instrument on security assurances.”[1]

U.S. military officials have long opposed explicit promises not to use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them. Prior to the current administration, however, the U.S. government had rarely been so clear in stating its opposition. This new position is contrary to U.S. national interests.

U.S. superiority in conventional weapons and the advent of precision-guided munitions means that the United States does not need to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons to achieve its military goals effectively, even against those states that possess chemical or biological weapons. Indeed, the United States needs to be prepared to use nuclear weapons only in response to an attack with nuclear weapons. Moreover, the U.S. refusal to endorse NSAs only encourages additional countries, including U.S. enemies, to acquire nuclear weapons.

Cold War Origins

A debate over NSAs began in the 1960s during the negotiation of the NPT. The nations that were being asked in the NPT to forgo pursuit of nuclear weapons wanted assurances that they would not be attacked with nuclear weapons if they gave up the option of having them. Developing countries that belong to the 115-member Nonaligned Movement (NAM) urged that the NPT contain a promise by NPT members having nuclear weapons (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States) not to use them against members that did not have them. In the United States, secret nuclear war plans probably did not target countries that did not have nuclear weapons, except perhaps for a few that had governments closely aligned with the Soviet Union or China. Nonetheless, the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed such restrictions on their use of nuclear weapons, and the U.S. delegation to the NPT negotiations was not authorized to agree to any.[2]

Following the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and the revelation that the Soviet Union had deployed nuclear weapons with its troops on Cuban soil, several Latin American countries, spearheaded by Mexico and Brazil, successfully negotiated the Latin American and Caribbean Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, known also as the Treaty of Tlatelolco. Given the U.S. strategic interest in keeping Latin America free of nuclear weapons, Washington supported the treaty. On the insistence of the Latin American governments advocating the treaty, the United States eventually ratified a protocol to the treaty committing itself “not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against contracting states,” i.e., the parties to the Latin American treaty, none of which had nuclear weapons.[3]

But, the United States, fearing a Soviet-assisted attack from the Latin American region, qualified its treaty nonuse promise by stating that it would consider an armed attack (not necessarily a nuclear attack) by a Latin American treaty party that was assisted by a nation that had nuclear weapons to be incompatible with the Latin American party’s obligations under the treaty. This implied that, in the event of such an assisted attack, the United States could use nuclear weapons to reply even if no nuclear weapons had been used by the attacker.

Although not as unqualified as some Latin Americans had desired, the U.S. promise not to use nuclear weapons against Latin American countries gave the nonaligned states in other parts of the world incentives to seek nuclear nonuse commitments from the nuclear-weapon states, as the Latin Americans had done.[4] During the NPT negotiations in the 1960s, however, the United States successfully resisted attempts by nonaligned countries to provide, in the NPT itself, a commitment not to use nuclear weapons against countries that did not have them.

In 1978 the United States took a significant step toward the demands of non-nuclear-weapon states. It pledged not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon NPT member unless attacked by such a member while that member was acting in alliance with a nation having nuclear weapons. Before the 1995 NPT review conference, which extended the life of the NPT indefinitely, U.S. officials knew that they would again be asked by those whose support they needed at the NPT extension conference to promise not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon member of the NPT. To meet this demand on acceptable terms, the United States and the four other NPT nuclear-weapon states declared to the Security Council prior to the conference that each would not use nuclear weapons against NPT non-nuclear-weapon states. The United States restated its nonuse promise:

The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon [NPT members] except in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a state towards which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon state in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state.[5]

France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, who are also permanent members of the Security Council, each made similar NSAs with a similar exception. China, the fifth permanent member, was broader in its NSA. It did not include this exception. Moreover, it included an explicit promise not to use nuclear weapons first.

Except for China, all of the permanent members of the Security Council (the P-5) said that these assurances were not legally binding promises. Later, at the 2005 NPT review conference, China urged eventual negotiation of “legally binding security assurances by nuclear-weapon states,” the goal of the General Assembly resolution to which the first paragraph of this article refers.

These P-5 NSAs were part of the quid pro quo used to gain support from non-nuclear-weapon NPT members for the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. The United States, which had initiated the effort by the P-5 to provide the promises, saw them as necessary to secure broad support for the NPT’s extension from the nonaligned NPT members. Extension required a majority vote, and nonaligned members represented 115 of the 189 NPT members.

Securing the extension of the treaty in 1995 was important for the P-5, hence their willingness to make nonuse promises to achieve its extension. These nonuse promises, however, have been weakened since 1995, except perhaps for the promise from China.

Taking Back the Promises: The Clinton and Bush Legacies

Soon after the U.S. representative made the promise of nonuse before the Security Council in 1995, the Department of Defense began urging exceptions to it. Probably as a result of this view, the Clinton administration argued that even under a nonuse commitment in a treaty such as the Latin American nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty, the United States would not be bound to refrain from a nuclear response to a chemical or biological attack from a member of the nuclear-weapon-free zone. President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense, William Perry, said publicly that “if some nation were to attack the United States with chemical weapons, then they would fear the consequences of a response with any weapon in our inventory…. We could make a devastating response without use of nuclear weapons, but we would not forswear that possibility.“[6]

In addition, NATO retained the option to use nuclear weapons first in future conflicts and, like the United States, reaffirmed its right to use nuclear weapons against a chemical or biological attack.[7] Thus, the United States and NATO refused to accept the NSAs as legally binding prohibitions on their use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon NPT members.

Toward the end of his administration, Clinton approved a modification of the B61-11 nuclear warhead for use as a “bunker buster” to attack biological or chemical weapons stored underground in hostile countries, weapons that U.S. officials believed could threaten the United States and its allies. Potential enemies, including some nonaligned countries, were suspected of digging deep underground bunkers for the purpose of sheltering biological or chemical weapons from enemy attack. The proposed bunker-buster nuclear weapons were intended to destroy these bunkers and what they contained before the biological or chemical weapons could be used in an attack on the United States or its allies.

The Bush administration further changed U.S. nuclear weapons-use policy after the terrorist attacks of 2001. The Defense Department’s December 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), parts of which were made public in early 2002, reasserted the Clinton administration’s desire for earth-penetrating nuclear weapons to destroy biological weapons stored underground by an enemy. This position assumed first use of nuclear weapons in that engagement.

In response to questions raised by this provision of the 2001 NPR, a Department of State spokesperson repeated the 1995 NSA that had been given by the United States to help gain votes for the extension of the NPT that year. He added that “the policy says that we will do whatever is necessary to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its allies, and its interests. If a weapon of mass destruction is used against the United States or its allies, we will not rule out any specific type of military response.”

In September 2002, President George W. Bush issued a White House National Security Strategy (NSS) that declared that “rogue states and terrorists” were determined to acquire biological and chemical weapons and that the United States might one day need to use nuclear weapons to deal with such an acquisition. The statement seemed to call for the use of U.S. weapons, including nuclear ones, to destroy biological or chemical weapons before either could be used.

[W]e must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends…. If the legitimacy of preemption [by the United States is to depend] on the existence of an imminent threat, [we] must adapt the concept of legitimate threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries [who] rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction—weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning…. The greater the threat, the greater the risk of inaction—and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action. To forestall such hostile attacks, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.[8]

Under this strategy, preemptive action by the United States might include the use of nuclear weapons to counter a chemical weapon attack or to destroy a potential enemy’s stocks of biological weapons before they could be used. In the December 2002 “National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction,” the Bush administration added that U.S. counterproliferation forces “must possess the full range of operational capabilities to counter the threat and use of [weapons of mass destruction] by states and terrorists against the United States, our military forces, and friends and allies.”[9]

These statements suggest that the United States reserves the right to first use of nuclear weapons to retaliate against attacks using chemical or biological weapons or to destroy enemy chemical or biological weapons stockpiles before they can be used in an attack.[10] Perhaps to implement such a strategy, the administration proposed a new nuclear warhead to Congress, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). It was supposed to be used to attack “hard and deeply buried targets,” such as underground storage sites for biological and chemical weapons. Congress cut out the funds proposed by the Bush administration for the development of RNEP in the appropriations for the Department of Energy for the fiscal years 2005 and 2006. The department did not request such funds for fiscal years 2007 or 2008.

The Bush administration in various ways has said that it is not bound to refrain from the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon NPT states-parties who attack with biological or chemical weapons. Indeed, the United States may well have contributed to the failure of the 2005 NPT review conference by refusing even to discuss NSAs there.      

If the security assurances provided by the United States to non-nuclear-weapon NPT members in 1995 appear to these members to have less value as result of the Bush administration’s statements, will this reduce the motivation of some NPT members to stay within the NPT?

The Future of Negative Security Assurances

To states without nuclear weapons not allied to states that do have them, a credible promise by the five NPT nuclear-weapon states not to use nuclear weapons against them should have value. Judging by the demands for such assurances from NAM, the largest caucus of NPT non-nuclear-weapon parties, the quest for legally binding NSAs will continue despite opposition from the United States and most of the P-5.

At the 2000 NPT review conference, these NAM states together with the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), a smaller coalition of non-nuclear-weapon nations formed in 1998 to advance nuclear disarmament, were successful in extracting a clear acknowledgement by all NPT parties, in particular the P-5, that legally binding NSAs would strengthen the nonproliferation regime. The final document of the 2000 review conference also called on the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2005 review conference to make recommendations on this issue.

Despite several concrete proposals, including a draft nonuse protocol to the NPT submitted by the NAC, the PrepCom made no such recommendations. Indeed, the final PrepCom in 2004 reported Washington’s perception that the post-September 11, 2001, security environment obviated “any justification for expanding NSAs to encompass global legally binding assurances.” The U.S. delegation reacted to the PrepCom chairman’s summary by stating emphatically, “We did not, do not, and will not agree as stated in the summary that efforts to conclude a universal, unconditional, and legally binding instrument on security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states should be pursued as a matter of priority.” This message foreshadowed Washington’s position at the 2005 conference, where it asserted that “the very real nuclear threats from NPT violators and non-state actors” eclipses the “relevance of non-use assurances.”

An acrimonious debate about security assurances was among the reasons for the failed 2005 NPT review conference. The United States refused even to discuss them seriously at this conference or at its preparatory meetings, saying:

[T]he end of the Cold War has further lessened the relevance of non-use assurances from the P-5 to the security of NPT [non-nuclear-weapon states], particularly when measured against the very real nuclear threats from NPT violators and non-state actors.… [L]egally binding assurances sought by the majority of states have no relation to contemporary threats to the NPT.[11]

Options for the Next Administration

Attempts to negotiate NSAs with the United States under the Bush administration seem impractical, but the next U.S. administration needs to take up the issue in time for the 2010 NPT review conference. As with the 1995 conference, the United States should lead a P-5 initiative prior to the 2010 conference to reaffirm political pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. To build confidence in its nuclear intentions, it should allow the conference to establish a mechanism to consider ways to provide legally binding NSAs. In this regard, a new administration could consider several options.

One option would be approval of another UN Security Council resolution going beyond the one adopted prior to the 1995 conference. Such a resolution of security assurances to NPT non-nuclear-weapon parties in full compliance with their obligations could include two key components. It could recognize that legally binding security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon NPT members in full compliance with their nonproliferation obligations would strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime and that the Security Council should consider taking action against any nation threatening to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon NPT member. Although the first of these two parts would go a long way to address the concerns of many states that the United States and the other nuclear-weapon NPT members have weakened their NSA promises, the second statement would address the security of non-nuclear-weapon NPT members not aligned with any of the P-5.

In light of  the Bush administration’s insistence that the 1995 U.S. assurances, offered essentially to gain support for the indefinite extension of the NPT and recognized by the Security Council, are not legally binding on the United States, and that these assurances do not preclude the United States from preemptory attacks upon underground hiding places for biological or chemical weapons, the solemn declarations made by the United States and other P-5 members are now regarded as of little value by these non-nuclear-weapon NPT members. Unless a post-2008 U.S. administration wins back the confidence of these nonaligned states that U.S nuclear policies are not aimed at them, any approach through the Security Council would be unappealing.

 Another step would be to offer guarantees to countries in nuclear-weapon-free zones outside of Latin America. Other existing zones include Africa, Central Asia, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia. The United States has not yet committed itself legally not to attack or threaten to attack with nuclear weapons members of these zones. This leaves many to believe that the United States is keeping the nuclear option open even for states that have, in addition to their NPT non-nuclear-weapon state obligations, declared that their own and their neighbors’ territories must be free of nuclear weapons. A main driving force behind declaring these zones free of nuclear weapons is not to be threatened by states that have them.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones play an important role in strengthening the security of states that belong to such zones, but these zones remain complementary instruments to the global nuclear nonproliferation norm: the NPT. Pending the total elimination of nuclear weapons, only the NPT provides the framework for global assurances against the threat or use of nuclear weapons. Because amendment of the NPT is almost impossible, legally binding assurances could be more effectively addressed in a separate treaty or, better yet, a protocol to the existing NPT. Honoring only those assurances given to members of existing nuclear-weapon-free zones would exclude countries not covered by these zones or by other nuclear security arrangements.

A nuclear-weapon state could also provide unilateral security assurances to a non-nuclear-weapon state. This may be feasible in a few cases, but it could also send the wrong signal. North Korea has sought such a promise from the United States. If U.S.-North Korean negotiations produce such a promise, it should of course be conditioned on North Korea’s observance of its commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons and to give up any that it now has. Such a promise, however, could send a dangerous message: the only way to extract assurances from the United States against the threat or use of nuclear weapons is to seek such weapons first. If other states, such as Iran, use similar nuclear brinkmanship, the nonproliferation regime could be blown apart.

Two other broader options could also be considered. One would be a new treaty containing promises by the P-5 not to use nuclear weapons against NPT-compliant non-nuclear-weapon members. Such a treaty has been proposed for negotiation at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD). NPT outsiders India, Israel, and Pakistan, however, are active participants at this conference and would probably not agree to be excluded from the negotiations. At the same time, many non-nuclear-weapon states would be in principle opposed to accepting NSAs from these three nuclear-armed countries. In the eyes of NPT non-nuclear-weapon members, why should nonmember states with nuclear weapons gain the benefits of a nuclear nonuse promise? In addition, negotiating such a treaty in the CD would create yet another proliferation conundrum. Would Israel, which is a CD member, acknowledge its nuclear status and, as a result, be required to offer legally binding assurances to its Arab neighbors? Will its Arab neighbors accept Israel’s status and its offer? The answer to both questions is likely to be no.

At the moment, the CD remains deadlocked over several issues, including whether to take up a Sri Lankan proposal that includes discussion of NSAs and possibly negotiation of such a treaty. The best option would probably be to negotiate a protocol to the NPT containing NSAs for all non-nuclear-weapon NPT members. The NAC submitted such a draft based on an earlier South African draft for consideration during the preparatory phase for the 2005 conference. The United States, however, categorically opposed it, and no serious negotiations on it resulted.

A protocol to the NPT has the advantage of limiting the recipients of the promise to non-nuclear-weapon NPT members and thereby providing a reward for joining and staying within the NPT. Surely, security assurances should only be available to states that have forgone the nuclear weapons option. Non-NPT states-parties and NPT states-parties aspiring to acquire or develop nuclear weapons in contravention of the treaty should not enjoy such security luxury. Security assurances granted only to non-nuclear-weapon states in full compliance with their NPT nonproliferation obligations will emphasize the basic principle that security is guaranteed by the NPT regime and not by nuclear weapons. This would strengthen the regime and confirm the validity of the NPT and its indefinite extension. Legally binding security assurances linked to the NPT would also build confidence among NPT state-parties, addressing concerns over possible scenarios in which some nuclear-weapon states may consider using these arms.


Although it is too early to predict how the 2010 review conference will approach this thorny issue and what the outcome of the negotiations will be, a significant number of NPT delegations at the first PrepCom meeting for the 2010 conference, including the NAM,[12] the NAC, and close U.S. allies made specific proposals on security assurances.

The European Union, for instance, emphasized that both “positive and negative assurances can play an important role in the NPT regime and can serve as an incentive to forgo the acquisition” of weapons of mass destruction. The EU also committed itself to promote further consideration of security assurances. Italy called for additional efforts “to explore the possibility that existing security assurances may be complemented by a multilateral legally binding instrument.”

 Canada argued that discussions of legally binding NSAs “would most logically take place in the context of the [NPT].” Canada also asked a number of pertinent questions, including whether the unilateral assurances made by the nuclear-weapon states in 1995 are still valid, given “new doctrines announced by some of them. If not, what if any assurances remain from these states?”

As a consequence of the emphasis placed on security assurances during the 2007 meeting of the PrepCom, the chairman stated in his summary of the deliberations that:

[s]tates parties noted that pending the elimination of nuclear weapons, the nuclear-weapon states should provide security assurances to the non-nuclear-weapon states that they would not use nuclear weapons against them. It was expressed that security assurances can play an important role in the NPT regime and can serve as an incentive to forgo the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. It was emphasized that the need for NSAs, a key basis for the 1995 extension decision, remained essential and should be reaffirmed. Reaffirmations were expressed of commitments under Security Council Resolution 984 (1995).[13]

Although a number of delegations reacted to other parts of the chairman’s summary complaining that it incorrectly reflected the discussions at the meeting, especially in the case of Iran, no specific reference was made to these security assurances. It seems that the U.S. delegation either decided that there were bigger fish to fry (e.g., Iran’s nuclear program) or chose simply to ignore the issue.

If the United States and other nuclear-weapon states, perhaps with the exception of China, continue to ignore the long quest by responsible states not to be threatened by P-5 nuclear arsenals, then the outcome of the 2010 conference may be in jeopardy. Another failed conference would hold very negative consequences for the future of the NPT regime, especially if such failure is once again the result in part of the insistence by the United States to retain the right to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against states not having them.

We urge the next U.S. administration to modify the adamant rejection of effective NSAs by the current administration. We believe that negotiating legally binding NSAs in the context of the NPT is the way to go.


George Bunn, the first general counsel for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, helped negotiate the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and later became U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament. Jean du Preez is director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in the Monterey Institute of International Studies.


1. See “Conclusion of Effective International Arrangements to Assure Non-nuclear-weapon States Against the Use or Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons,” UN General Assembly Resolution 61/57, October 23, 2006.

2. For a more detailed history of the 1960s-1990s negotiations concerning NSAs, see George Bunn, “Security Assurances to Non-Nuclear-Weapon States,” The Nonproliferation Review (Fall 1994), pp. 11-18.

3. Additional Protocol II to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, which was signed by Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and ratified by President Richard Nixon in 1971.

4. See Leonard Spector and Aubrie Ohide, “Negative Security Assurances: Revisiting the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Option,” Arms Control Today, April 2005, pp. 13-19.

5. See Thomas Graham and Leonor Tomero, “Obligations for Us All: NATO and Negative Security Assurances,” Disarmament Diplomacy (August 2000).

6. See Arms Control Association (ACA), “New Nuclear Policies, New Weapons, New Dangers,” Issue Brief, April 2003.

7. Graham and Tomero, “Obligations for Us All.”

8. The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002, p.14.

9. The White House, National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, December 2002. This is an unclassified version of a classified National Security Policy Document (NSPD), no. 17, issued earlier.

10. See ACA, “U.S. Nuclear Policy: ‘Negative Security Assurances,’” Fact Sheet, March 2002.

11. See statement by Stephen G. Rademaker to the 2005 NPT review conference, available at http://www.un.org/events/npt2005/statements/npt02usa.pdf.

12. Working paper submitted by Cuba on behalf of the NAM at the 2007 PrepCom meeting for the 2010 NPT review conference, NPT/CONF/.2010/PCI/WP.10.

13. See summary statement by Yukiya Amano to the 2007 PrepCom meeting for the 2010 NPT review conference, available at http://www.un.org/NPT2010.


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