Two Strategies to Counter Proliferation

Tasneem Jamal

Sarah Estabrooks

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2004 Volume 25 Issue 

In the past year, reports of undisclosed uranium enrichment efforts by Iran; negotiations with Libya to end its nuclear weapons developments; and the disclosure of a nuclear proliferation network headed by Pakistan’s chief nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, have indicated a trend toward horizontal proliferation. Both US President Bush and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, have responded to this series of events by outlining strategies to counter nuclear proliferation threats of all kinds.

Although both Bush and ElBaradei recommend concrete steps to address concerns about nuclear material and technological sources, their approaches to the overall proliferation threat are dramatically different. ElBaradei, Director General of the agency that enforces safeguards on the peaceful uses of nuclear materials, describes cooperative measures, a stronger role for the IAEA, and a renewed commitment to both disarmament and non-proliferation by all members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Rather than enforcing multilateral arms controls measures, the Bush initiative is based on a ‘coalition of the willing’ model that includes control and enforcement mechanisms outside the NPT regime.

In an opinion piece in the October 16, 2003 issue of The Economist, ElBaradei suggests elements of a new non-proliferation framework that would build on the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He argues that any reform of the current nuclear arms control and disarmament regime “must begin by conceiving a framework of collective security that does not rely on nuclear deterrence.” From this premise, he sets out recommendations promoting international cooperation to control nuclear materials and technologies.

Recognizing what he calls the ‘loophole’ of the NPT, ElBaradei elucidates several options to tighten controls on dual-use nuclear materials. For example, although technically permitted within the framework of the NPT, reprocessing fissile material for reactor fuel or the enriched fuel by-product of energy production is key to nuclear weapons production. The risk that a non-nuclear weapons state will divert this capacity from a civilian nuclear program to a weapons program is real, as seen in both Iraq and North Korea. To limit the proliferation threat from licit civilian nuclear programs, ElBaradei suggests three steps: restricting plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment to facilities under multinational control; employing proliferation-resistant nuclear-energy systems; and applying multinational approaches to manage and dispose of spent fuel and radioactive waste. Such controls, he argues, “would not simply add more non-proliferation controls, to limit access to weapon-useable nuclear material; they would also provide access to the benefits of nuclear technology for more people in more countries.”

ElBaradei also addresses issues related to Nuclear Weapons States, including both the production of new fissile materials, and their current stockpiles. He encourages the prompt entry into force of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, intended to ban production of fissile material for weapons use. Although its entry into force has been stalled, ElBaradei notes the Treaty’s potential as a starting point for arms reductions. In a February 2004 op-ed piece in The New York Times, ElBaradei calls for the establishment of a “clear road map for nuclear disarmament” that would address both the current arsenals and future weapons development upon entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Finally, ElBaradei highlights the essential role of the IAEA in enforcing the proscriptive counter-proliferation measures. Noting that only 20 per cent of states party to the NPT have finalized an Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards agreement, he argues that the IAEA should have broader rights to inspect nuclear facilities in all states, as provided by the Additional Protocol.

In contrast to these proposals by the Director General of the IAEA, in a speech at National Defense University in Washington DC on February 11, 2004, President Bush outlined seven initiatives to counter the threat of nuclear proliferation and the spread or use of weapons of mass destruction. Each builds on initiatives already underway to address horizontal proliferation threats, including the diversion of materials and technologies from civil to weapons programs, and clandestine sale and transfer of materials to non-nuclear weapons states.

Bush proposed that the Proliferation Security Initiative be expanded to “take direct action against proliferation networks.” First announced in May of 2003, the Proliferation Security Initiative was endorsed by Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the UK, and the US. In September this small group of states approved a series of ‘interdiction principles,’ outlining a process to “effectively interdict WMD, delivery systems and related materials to and from entities of proliferation concern.” Perceived as a series of partnerships in which allied states would work together to intercept covert exchanges of illicit weapons at sea, this mission, Bush advocated, could be broadened to target clandestine networks by any and all means. He recognized the recent additions of Canada, Norway, and Singapore as partners in this initiative.

Since the beginning of the current war in Iraq, the issue of WMD proliferation has been given prominence by the US, including in its September 2003 introduction of a relevant Security Council Resolution. While the text of the resolution has been shown only to the Permanent Five members, it presumably outlines new mechanisms to enforce counter-proliferation laws. In his February speech Bush promoted its prompt adoption.

The US is actively contributing to efforts to secure and dismantle stockpiled Russian nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and materials through the Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative and the G8 Global Partnership. While Bush recognized the need to increase support for these initiatives, it must be noted that the fiscal year 2005 Department of Defense budget request for Cooperative Threat Reduction was reduced by over $41-million from the FY2004 request.1

Like ElBaradei, Bush recognized that the NPT’s allowance for non-nuclear weapons states to develop civilian nuclear programs has been exploited and he suggested options to limit this proliferation threat. Arguing that “the world’s leading nuclear exporters should ensure that states have reliable access at reasonable cost to fuel for civilian reactors, so long as those states renounce enrichment and reprocessing,” Bush urged the Nuclear Suppliers Group to take responsibility for instituting export controls. Made up of 40 countries, the Nuclear Suppliers Group has agreed to a set of guidelines “to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices which would not hinder international trade and cooperation in the nuclear field.” However, China, India, Israel, and Pakistan – all states possessing nuclear weapons – have not agreed to the guidelines, nor have several other states with a nuclear capacity.

The remaining Bush recommendations pertain to the work of the IAEA. Bush called on states to sign and implement the Additional Protocol, thus making all nuclear facilities available for IAEA inspection. Indeed, Bush has encouraged ratification of the Additional Protocol by the US Senate, where a vote is imminent. Further, he argued that only states with the Additional Protocol in force should be permitted to import equipment for their civilian nuclear programs. To monitor safeguards and verification, Bush proposed the creation of a special IAEA committee, to be made up of “governments in good standing with the IAEA,” to ensure that states fulfill their safeguard obligations. And finally, Bush argued that no country under investigation for potential abuses should be permitted to sit on the IAEA Board of Governors, its decision-making body.

A comparison of the various proposals made by the Director General of the IAEA and the President of the United States reveals very different policy imperatives. ElBaradei gives top priority to a stronger NPT with additional multinational and cooperative measures, and insists that the framework include all states, with the aim of achieving “full parity among them under a new security structure that does not depend on nuclear weapons or nuclear deterrence” (2003). The options Bush presents rely on good faith agreements between select, primarily western, countries. The Proliferation Security Initiative and the Nuclear Suppliers Group have limited memberships, rely on non-binding guidelines, and possess debatable legitimacy as international control mechanisms. The US approach both defends the structural inequality of the NPT and expands it to include nuclear capable, western states in polarity with states of the developing world.

The Bush proposal is very clearly focused on countering horizontal proliferation threats, that is, addressing the non-proliferation side of the NPT equation. It ignores the current trend toward vertical proliferation, which is counter to the letter and spirit of Article VI – the commitment, unequivocally reaffirmed in 1995, by nuclear weapons states to take good faith steps toward nuclear disarmament. There is no reference to the disarmament obligation of the United States; indeed, Bush describes the NPT as “designed more than 30 years ago to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons beyond those states which already possess them. Under this treaty, nuclear states agreed to help non-nuclear states develop peaceful atomic energy if they renounced the pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Neither is there reference to recent moves in the US to develop new, more useable nuclear weapons.

In contrast, the ElBaradei proposal recognizes the double standard inherent in the NPT agreement: “We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security – and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use” (2004). The IAEA Director General describes a framework for addressing both horizontal and vertical proliferation, with all states playing an equal role in establishing a “concrete programme for nuclear disarmament, complete with a timetable” (2003).

The measures described by President Bush are tangible, based on agreements and mechanisms already established; however, they perpetuate the inequality of the NPT by drawing a line between nuclear haves and nuclear have-nots. The proposal reveals the hypocrisy of current US nuclear policy, in which the US seeks to strengthen its own arsenal, even advancing new weapons proposals, while campaigning against proliferation by so-called rogue states. While efforts to stop horizontal proliferation are welcome, and indeed necessary, a broader approach is required. ElBaradei’s consideration of both the non-proliferation AND disarmament elements of the NPT obligation, and his emphasis on cooperative, multinational measures, including multilateral arms control treaties, is a more balanced approach. Although still in a conceptual state, this framework is the only way to address the deeply rooted nuclear asymmetry that “breeds chronic global insecurity” (ElBaradei 2003).

  1. FY 2004 Appropriation: $450.8 million, FY 2005 Budget Request: $409 million, Change: -$41.8 million
    (9.3 %) (Council for a Livable World 2004).


Bush, George 2004, Remarks by the President on Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation, National Defense University, February 11.

Council for a Livable World 2004, FY 2005 Budget Highlights: Nonproliferation Programs and DOE weapons-related activities.

ElBaradei, Mohamed 2004, “Saving Ourselves From Self-Destruction,” The New York Times, February 12

—– 2003, “Towards a Safer World,” The Economist, October 16.

Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Proliferation Security Initiative 2003, Statement of Interdiction Principles, 4 September.


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