International Security Studies

Events

Book Discussion: Exporting the Bomb: Technology Transfer and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons

May 14, 2010 // 12:00pm1:30pm

This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Center's Division of International Security Studies and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was another in the ongoing Nonproliferation Forum series.

Why do states possessing nuclear weapons provide sensitive nuclear assistance to non-nuclear weapon states? Challenging the conventional wisdom that states provide such assistance in search of economic gain, Matthew Kroenig argues that these decisions are driven by a strategic calculus.

Kroenig defines sensitive nuclear assistance as state-sponsored transfers of technology critical for the construction of nuclear weapons – weapons design, weapons-grade fissile material, and fuel-cycle facilities to enrich uranium or separate plutonium. Kroenig's emphasis on the supply side of nuclear proliferation contrasts with the near-exclusive focus of the scholarly and policy literature on the demand side of nuclear proliferation.

Kroenig's analysis of the instances of sensitive nuclear assistance from 1951 to 2000 led to the conclusion that nuclear proliferation is worse for relatively powerful states than it is for relatively weak states. Primary among the concerns of major powers is the danger of being drawn into regional nuclear crises. The case study analysis also revealed that nuclear states will be more likely to provide nuclear assistance to non-nuclear weapon states with which they share a common enemy. To highlight these conclusions, Kroenig discussed two illustrative cases – one historical, French nuclear assistance to Israel (1959-1965); the other contemporary, the transfers by Pakistan's A.Q. Khan network to Iran, Libya, and North Korea (1987-2002).

From 1959 to 1965, France provided sensitive nuclear assistance to Israel, while the United States rebuffed Israeli requests for such assistance and actively intervened to prevent French-Israeli nuclear cooperation. The Kennedy administration was particularly concerned about the consequences of Israeli nuclear acquisition: a 1963 National Intelligence Estimate warned of the danger of a regional clash that could inadvertently escalate into a superpower clash. None of the factors of concern to the United States came in to play on the French side. Indeed, the French, then bogged down in Algeria, saw the benefit of an Israeli bomb in constraining the regional aspirations of Egypt's pan-Arabist leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

From 1987 to 2002, Pakistan's A.Q. Khan network provided Iran, Libya, and Pakistan with key components for uranium enrichment facilities, as well as a bomb design. Kroenig argued that Khan acted not as a "rogue scientist," but with the acquiescence and support of the Pakistani government. These transfers occurred before 9/11, a period of estrangement between Washington and Islamabad. Pakistan's nuclear assistance was then motivated by an interest in complicating U.S. strategic calculations, according to Kroenig. "By helping a band of pariah states acquire nuclear weapons," Kroenig stated, "senior Pakistani officials hoped to impose strategic costs on the United States."

As the United States attempts to enlist Russia and China in efforts to constrain the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, policymakers should be more cognizant of the strategic, not economic or institutional factors, driving sensitive nuclear assistance.

Robert S. Litwak, International Security Studies


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  • Robert S. Litwak // Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies
  • Tonya Boyce // Program Assistant, International Security Studies

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