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Global Viewpoint

Obama’s policies may spur nuclear proliferation

Obama's nuclear policies are on track to make the US the Johnny Appleseed of nuclear weapons.

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Either by withdrawal from the NPT – and thus avoiding monitoring – or by secretly placing their facility in a mountain, Iran or like-minded regimes can process enough low-enriched uranium it needs for a weapon.

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The first Iranian bomb doesn’t have to be that sophisticated. Something that goes “boom” and sends a mushroom cloud up in the northern Iranian desert – even if it doesn’t have a decent yield-to-weight ratio, even if it would not fit into the nose cone of a Scud – would still make Iran a nuclear power.

That would change the world.

Like Iran, other countries – including Venezuela and Saudi Arabia – say they want “peaceful” nuclear power for electricity. Given their vast oil resources, that is patent nonsense. They only want a reactor in order to get into the fuel cycle – the road to highly enriched uranium and bomb material.

If we persist in sponsoring nuclear energy exports from the US as well as other countries so that nations can have the technology for today’s light-water reactors – which gets them into the fuel cycle – we will become the Johnny Appleseed of nuclear weapons.

If the US is helping spread light-water reactors and thus enriched uranium around the world in the name of peaceful atomic energy, it is creating a huge and dangerous problem.

Second, Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review, which seeks to limit the circumstances in which the US might use nuclear weapons, embodies hesitancy with respect to deterrence. Some of the allies who once could rely on the US to protect them from attack through “extended deterrence” may now doubt whether the US nuclear umbrella still covers them. If, under Obama’s new policy, an ally is attacked by biological weapons, the US is going to have to do a study to first see if whoever attacked is observing the NPT or not, since we will not now hit back with nukes if the attackers belong to the NPT and are not in violation of it.

The idea is that if the US just continually takes steps in good faith to clarify and reduce the circumstances in which we would use nuclear weapons to protect our allies, then the world may progress toward being nuclear-free. However, it seems logical that the incentives would work just the opposite way. US allies could well come to the conclusion that “these Americans are not protecting us the way they did in the cold war, so we better go ahead and get our own nukes.”

Right after the North Korean nuclear test, an anonymous Japanese official was asked if that test meant Japan would move to nuclear weapons. They do, after all, have tons of plutonium available from their nuclear energy program. “No,” he said, “we have the mutual security treaty with the United States and we trust the Americans ... but, if we decided to have a nuclear weapon it would take less than 200 days to produce it.”

As a result of the Obama administration’s new nuclear posture, some friends and allies who once felt protected under America’s nuclear umbrella are now going to start planning alternative options “just in case.”