Nuclear Power and Nuclear Proliferation (III)

In Sagan’s 2009 article, “nuclear power without nuclear proliferation”, he raises 3 key points the main concerns for future nuclear proliferation issues new states acquiring nuclear power capabilities. Generally his points that 1 states should have good governance, 2 that states must agree to regular facility checks, and 3 that states that particularly risk homegrown and outside terrorist incidents are particularly worrisome aspiring nuclear candidates, are reasonable points that most would agree with.

However, his points are not particularly convincing because they are not well developed or specific enough in how these points are substantiated. For example, in the second point, the idea of the need to get states to agree to regular facility checks in order to avoid the risk of cheating on international agreements is reasonable, but not specific in how this would reduce the risk of cheating. Certainly, his language refers to economic models of game theory that provide one possible framework for assessing how to more precisely estimate the risks and benefits (or payoffs) may be at play for a “representative” aspiring nuclear power state. The main difficulty with these models though, is getting data or numbers that can quantify and capture these risk and pay off factors that a state would realistically face as key decision variables. Additionally, even with these models, the most realistic and accurate method would be to get numbers that are specific to a particular state, as opposed to finding some numbers and found these numbers attempting to extrapolate ideas about all aspiring countries in general (the idea of a single, average, representative state). Therefore, in the end, it seems to me that Sagan’s second point is generally speaking about aspiring states in a single, average sense which I think is not realistic or accurate, let alone convincing. Additionally, he does not spell out what sort of model, logic, or framework for analysis he bases this claimed connection on.

Similarly, his 3rd point is even more unclear. He does not clearly state how or what the problem (the problematic correlation that he points to) is with respect to aspiring nuclear states. He does not fully or clearly saying how this trend or observations matter, and how specifically it should inform considerations to approve new nuclear states. Specifically, he presents data that he apparently authored through an organization, the national counterterrorism Center (NCTC), providing numbers of incidents of terrorism in the past five years for current nuclear power states, and aspiring nuclear power states. More details about how these measures were gathered and more specific explanation of what these numbers mean (for example, in context of the total population size is or other benchmark ways to make this number more comparable) would be more convincing. The table labelled “figure 3” is also confusing in its presentation and design. It does not seem to make sense to present the second set of country data as a list of current and aspiring nuclear states. To present a combined set of data grouped in this way makes comparing between current nuclear states and aspiring nuclear states confusing and difficult to do directly. Instead, it seems that he wants to point out how if aspiring states where nuclear powered, how these aspiring states would rank with the overall group. But, presenting the data in this way, and stating that aspiring states with significant terrorism risk would place high on the terrorist top 10 list, is a direction of argument that is not the most convincing. For example, how valid or meaningful this top 10 list is, or what ranking high on this list means (e.g. if level of risk, risk for whom, and what likelihood or meaning this risk would carry or present), and what this means in terms of nuclear power expansion considerations– which is what the article stated it would address generally. Of course, there is also the question of how reliable this data is, both due to how it was measured and defined by this organization, as well as how the data was collected or reported by the original sources of the data. For example, certain countries may not have accurate numbers are measures due to cover cover-up or downplaying of these issues.

I just wanted to speak to these issues in the way that the points and arguments were made because it is not precise or specific enough which is a real issue as we deal with policy considerations that have real political and economic consequences. Unfortunately, it seems that there are a lot of arguments made in this way in the literature on this topic that most of the time we (audiences in democratic countries, and especially audiences in democratic countries that already are nuclear power states) agree with and then somewhat gloss over. This weakens the quality and level of analysis that we should apply to such a consequential topic. — M.