Nuclear Power and Nuclear Proliferation

In their introduction to the Fall 2009 special issue of Daedalus, Steven Miller and Scott Sagan overview the challenges of avoiding proliferation in the modern world. Published just after the economy had entered recession, the piece still heralds the coming “nuclear renaissance” and warns that it could produce greater proliferation if the expansion of nuclear power takes place in non-nuclear weapons states as well as in current nuclear powers. Perhaps the recession and natural gas boom could be considered a blessing in disguise then, since it has been quite effective in blunting the expansion of nuclear power. Only those states pursuing nuclear energy more for reasons of prestige or security (Iran, North Korea, etc) have continued to do so over the last five years.

The authors believe it crucial that states wishing to acquire nuclear power have “good governance” characteristics, by which they mean indicators of political stability and low corruption. Unfortunately, most of their (optimistically large) list of states interested in nuclear energy score much lower on these indices than do today’s nuclear powers. And as they note, all violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty were undertaken by non-democratic governments. The authors also call for preserving and improving the non-proliferation regime. In addition to maintaining the system of IAEA inspections for all non-nuclear weapons states, they suggest that additional safeguards and monitoring enhancements could be put in place.

The one interesting discrepancy in the piece was that they referred to global security and US security as one and the same. Yet they also call for an end to exceptions to the NPT such as the US-India nuclear deal, ignoring the tension between the two. While it’s understandable that a publication of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences may not want to go there, I feel that it’s important to acknowledge that US strategic concerns don’t necessarily coincide with non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, and in fact historically have often diverged. What do the rest of you think? — E. S.