Foreign Policy Blogs

And the Din Grows Louder

The dialogue regarding the need to restrict transfers of Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) technologies just gained another participant.  In a just-released report published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, former State Department (and DOE and UNVIE) non-pro guru Fred McGoldrick focuses on multilateral approaches to accomplishing this goal.

McGoldrick, who spent much of his time at State negotiating peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements for the USG, argues that the best way to restrict the spread of these technologies is to provide incentives for countries by giving them alternatives to building domestic ENR facilities.  He also suggests that the nuclear “haves” ratchet down the rhetoric about restricting access to these technologies and instead “emphasize the rights of NPT parties to peaceful uses of nuclear energy as long as they are in compliance with their nonproliferation objectives and increase assistance to developing countries in building the infrastructure for a peaceful nuclear program.”, the so-called Article IV rights so beloved by the non-aligned movement (NAM) folks.  McGoldrick also stresses the need for action within the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), suggesting that its members agree to change its existing guidelines by adopting the “clean text” which has most recently been on the table.

For the most part, the Belfer report is a very useful addition to the ongoing dialogue on restricting the spread of ENR technologies.  However, I do have a couple of thoughts to add.

First, the report does not take into account game-changing technologies, namely, laser enrichment.  It only addresses existing enrichment technologies.  Such technologies, as has been noted in previous posts, can be quite damaging to efforts to prevent proliferation in that they would be even harder to detect in a covert facility and the very act of building them would make them tempting to a would-be proliferator.  See my previous posts, as well as the one by guest blogger Francis Slakey on this issue.

Second, it dismisses the usefulness of the “gold standard”embodied in the U.S.-UAE 123 agreement that the House Foreign Relations Committee has focused on making standard.  The report concludes that other countries would never agree to similar restrictions in their nuclear commerce.  At the present time, this is quite true.

While I agree that unilaterally using such provisions in U.S. 123 agreements will not, by themselves, staunch the flow of illicit ENR technologies, I do believe that this is a very important component in the nonproliferation toolbox. Used along with strengthened NSG guidelines, stronger fuel supply assurances, and positive incentives to countries to forgo their own ENR capabilities, as the report suggests, I do believe that codifying the UAE provision in future 123 agreements can be a useful step.  The trick, of course, would be to shame the French, Russians and ROK into doing the same.  Just because its hard, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile to do.

I understand that nuclear commerce is nuclear commerce, and business is business.  But if the governments of Russia, France and South Korea, among others, are serious about making sure a nuclear weapon is not again a) built in a country that would ever consider using it, like, say North Korea, or b) built so that it can be used as a very costly bargaining chip in extracting unconscionable concessions, like, say Iran, then the international nuclear community must put nonproliferation ahead of making a buck.  Naive as this sounds, we are not going to prevent another DPRK or Iran if we don’t get serious.

Third, the report assumes that ANY new national ENR facilities are acceptable.  I don’t agree.  The more ENR facilities that are out there, safeguarded or not, the more likely that there will be some sort of proliferation lapse.  Hence the move to restrict their spread.  Centralizing enrichment and reprocessing – such that one accepts reprocessing as a viable alternative to burying spent fuel in the ground – is a very important step in making sure such technologies remain secure.  This is why the fuel bank and attendant fuel assurances idea is an important one.

Instead of focusing on a country’s “right” to develop an indigenous program, all nations should be willing to forgo this “right” for the greater good, for preventing the proliferation of ENR technologies.  Again, I know this sounds a bit naive, but continuing to harp on one’s Article IV right to build an entire fuel cycle on your territory is not a useful way to prevent the spread of weapons-usable technologies.  Short of re-opening the NPT to muck around with the Article IV provision, which is clearly a non-starter from any perspective, there should be an “understanding” among the NAM/non-NWS that halting the spread of nuclear weapons and their attendant technologies should be paramount in their quest to develop a civilian nuclear fuel cycle.  And they should mean it by forswearing ENR technologies on their soil.

Belfer Center McGoldrick Report



Jodi Lieberman

Jodi Lieberman is a veteran of the arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety trenches, having worked at the Departments of State, Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has also served in an advisory capacity and as professional staff for several members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Jodi currently spends her time advocating for science issues and funding as the Senior Government Affairs Specialist at the American Physical Society. The views expressed in her posts are her views based on her professional experience but in way should be construed to represent those of her employer.

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