A Secure World

From the Foundation's 1994 Annual Report

In 1994 the shapes and locations of nuclear danger continued to shift. The international community struggled to adapt existing institutions of control and nonproliferation to the new circumstances, but a dearth of shared leadership and political will became apparent. Governments demonstrated reluctance to act boldly to reduce the centrality of nuclear weapons in national security policies, as new threats emerged in the complex dynamics of post-Soviet Eurasia, the Middle East, South Asia and Northeast Asia. At the same time, media coverage of nuclear policy issues became sparer and financial resources dedicated to enabling nongovernmental organizations to analyze and recommend solutions to new challenges became fewer. In short, as the nuclear danger grew more complex and imminent, efforts to stem it grew more modest.

North Korea posed the gravest threat. By 1994 North Korea had the potential and apparent will to produce several nuclear weapons per year in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. These weapons could then directly threaten South Korea and Japan, and could also be exported to North Korea's trade partners in hostile Middle East states such as Iran and Syria. Even the threat of such proliferation could cause other countries to reconsider their nonproliferation commitments, potentially triggering destabilizing shock waves around the world.

The international community, particularly the United States, struggled throughout 1994 to determine the wisest way to redress the North Korean threat. Each option posed serious pitfalls. Military attack against North Korea would trigger a wider and immensely costly war without guaranteeing that the desired nuclear weapon materials would be found or destroyed. Sanctions could also trigger war, and were not widely enough supported by Japan, South Korea and China to portend success. A diplomatic solution including positive incentives to the North could encourage other hostile states similarly to threaten the international community in hope of being "bought off." The safest and most widely approved approach was ultimately chosen, and in October 1994 the United States and North Korea reached an agreement whereby North Korea would abandon work on plutonium production and separation facilities and eventually allow international inspections of suspect sites in return for the international community's construction of two light water nuclear reactors, fuel oil, and steps toward normalization of relations. The ultimate resolution of this crisis will take years, but it has already shown that in nuclear nonproliferation policy, "no simple solutions ... are feasible, no feasible solutions ... are simple, and no solutions at all ... are applicable across the board."

1994 also brought more alarming signs of a new nuclear threat: the smuggling of weapon-usable material from the former Soviet Union. From the beginning of the nuclear age, policy-makers and analysts took for granted that states would retain tight control over their weapons and attendant materials and scientific and technical personnel. No one anticipated the possibility that a nuclear-weapon-state would dissolve and leave the fate of dangerous materials and people to the vagaries of black market forces. Yet this is precisely the threat confronting the world today. In December 1994 Czech police seized 6.6 pounds of highly-enriched uranium presumably smuggled from Russia. Earlier, Germany on four different occasions seized plutonium and highly-enriched uranium of suspected Russian origin. In March 1994 Russian agents seized six pounds of stolen highly-enriched uranium.

At the official level, too, events in Russia turned grimmer in 1994. Historically, Russia had maintained a doctrine of using nuclear weapons only on a second-strike basis, in response to a nuclear attack by an adversary. By 1994, however, Russia's conventional military power had declined so drastically that the Russian military establishment announced a new doctrine. Like NATO, Russia now declares that it must prepare to use nuclear weapons first in the face of a large conventional military assault. This new doctrine increases the perceived value of nuclear weapons at a time when the rest of the world hopes that these weapons can be devalued and gradually eliminated.

But Russia was not the only state that failed to devalue nuclear weapons in the aftermath of the Cold War. In September 1994 the United States Department of Defense announced after a major nuclear policy review that the U.S. would essentially retain its Cold War nuclear posture. The U.S. continues to follow a doctrine of first-use of nuclear weapons despite the fact that no other country or foreseeable coalition of countries could defeat American conventional forces in war. Moreover, the Clinton Administration refused to pursue further reductions in U.S. (and Russian) nuclear forces, beyond the level of 3,500 long-range nuclear weapons which both countries would retain following implementation of the START II Treaty signed by Presidents Bush and Yeltsin in January 1993.

In other regions, too, the danger of nuclear proliferation and instability grew in 1994. India conducted several tests of its short-range Prithvi missile which is capable of carrying nuclear weapons. For its part, Pakistan did little to address Indian concerns over the Pakistani nuclear program and the country's support for insurgents in the disputed territory of Kashmir. In August 1994 the leader of Pakistan's opposition traveled to Kashmir and provocatively proclaimed that his country "possesses atomic bomb" which it would use if necessary to keep India at bay in Kashmir. Eschewing opportunities to dissipate nuclear proliferation pressures in South Asia and to facilitate negotiation of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, China conducted another nuclear weapon test in October 1994.

This brief survey of nuclear developments in 1994 indicates how far humanity must still move to protect itself against the unique dangers posed by nuclear weaponry. It calls to mind the trenchant observation of David Lilienthal, the first Chairman of the American Atomic Energy Commission and one of the architects of the world's earliest attempt to end the threat of proliferation. "The center of our problem is not weapons but the purposes of the men behind them -- their motives and grievances, the desperation of their leaders because of internal pressures, the poverty of racial hysteria, or the grievances of their people -- in short, the whole bundle of human emotional combustibles which cause war." Mindful of this, the Foundation and its grantees strive to identify and promote more lasting measures to eliminate the risk of devastation posed by nuclear weapons and materials.

War is not the only context in which nuclear technology and fissile materials threaten humankind. As David Lilienthal also recognized, the peaceful uses of atomic power are difficult to separate from military uses. Facilities that produce and separate plutonium are latent bomb factories, even if they were created to produce electricity or conduct research. Similarly, facilities that enrich uranium give their owners the capability to produce nuclear weapons as well as reactor fuel.

The Foundation has recognized that the danger of nuclear weapon proliferation cannot be contained or eliminated as long as nuclear power programs proliferate around the world using materials and technologies which can produce nuclear weapons. This does not mean that nuclear power should be considered untenable per se; rather it means that humankind must develop and use less risky methods of generating electricity from atomic nuclei. Most obviously, the production and use of plutonium as fuel must be gradually phased out, recognizing the inherent weapon risks posed by this material and the economic advantages of non-plutonium-based fuels. In 1994 the Foundation began focusing grants specifically on projects to eliminate stockpiles of plutonium and programs that would expand the production and use of this material.

Beyond plutonium, there are other inherent dangers in the nuclear enterprise. Governments and societies must ensure that terrorists or other hostile actors cannot obtain radiological weapons or threaten populations by attacking nuclear installations. In addition, no nation has implemented procedures to dispose of nuclear waste permanently, safely and securely. Nuclear waste remains a large unanswered problem demanding constructive attention not just by governments but also by nongovernmental organizations. The Foundation is now developing initiatives to help address this matter.

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