Obama’s policies may spur nuclear proliferation
Obama's nuclear policies are on track to make the US the Johnny Appleseed of nuclear weapons.
There are three ways in which I believe recent decisions by the Obama administration are, unintentionally, actually fostering the proliferation of nuclear weapons rather than constraining them.Skip to next paragraph
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When judging the various policies President Obama has put forth in recent weeks to move toward zero nuclear weapons, we should bear in mind the old dictum of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: In order to understand the law you have to look at it from the perspective of a bad man.
First, the president and others have proposed to enhance nonproliferation by sequestering nuclear material into one international depository. The idea is that those who need enriched uranium for peaceful means can obtain it from this facility as needed if they promise not to continue down the path of making weapons-grade material. More advanced reactor design may someday lower the proliferation risk. But that is also a ways off.
We should not look at how the current nonproliferation regime would work through the eyes of, say, the Irish. Instead, we should look at it through the eyes of the governing powers in Iran and North Korea or like regimes who are inclined to secretly pursue weapons-grade material and thus be able to make a bomb. In the world we live in, they are entirely capable of working hard to exploit the current regime or a future one in pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as it currently exists grew out of President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program in the 1950s. It actually encourages countries that obtain nuclear reactors to produce electricity to also enrich uranium. The problem is that, if a country enriches uranium up to 3 percent, which is what is suitable for a reactor to generate electricity, it has done nearly three-quarters of the work needed to move along the road to 90 percent enrichment, which is what is required to make a bomb.
Once a country reaches that higher level of enrichment, the weapons are the relatively easy part. A simple “shotgun” device like the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima is the way every state starts out in the nuclear business. Unfortunately, it is quite easy to design and construct. (That is why the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran had halted its effort to build a nuclear weapon was the single most deceptive NIE in history. It is also one of the most consequential because it gave the impression that the Iranians had halted what was most important to get to the nuclear bomb threshold – enriching uranium. But they were doing that in spades. They had possibly merely halted weapons design work.)