Nuclear Proliferation

Nuclear Proliferation

The current nuclear nonproliferation regime must be reinforced  to effectively address today's proliferation threats and pave the way for a world without nuclear weapons.

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."  I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

-Robert Oppenheimer, Director of the Manhattan Project

Dawn of Nuclear Era

Pierre Curie and his wife Marie Sklodowska Curie are shown in their laboratory in France in this undated photo. (AP Photo)

Discovery of nuclear energy

The discovery of nuclear energy and the vast power that can be unleashed from inside atoms came relatively recently in human history. In 1896, Henri Becquerel serendipitously discovered that an ore containing uranium emitted energetic rays. In 1898, Marie and Pierre Curie separated two elements, radium and polonium, from uranium-bearing ores and coined the term radioactive. These discoveries pointed to a potent source of energy-radioactive atoms.

In 1902, Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy were among the first scientists to speculate about unleashing vast amounts of nuclear energy. In 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper that derived the famous equation E = mc2, which showed that a small amount of matter can be turned into large amounts of energy, a core concept behind nuclear energy.

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Otto Hahn, left, and his former assistant, Austrian-born physicist Dr. Lise Meitner. (AP Photo/Sanden Sr.)

Discovery of neutron and nuclear fission

James Chadwick discovered the neutron in 1932, setting the stage for a decade of advances in atomic physics. In 1934, Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard patented the idea of the nuclear chain reaction-essentially the conceptual basis for an atomic bomb. Because he realized the implications of this discovery, he had the British Admiralty classify it.

The process of nuclear fission-the splitting of the atom-was discovered in 1938 by the German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann. It was their colleague, Lise Meitner, who had been forced to flee Nazi Germany, and her nephew Otto Frisch, however, who interpreted Hahn’s data to develop the theory of nuclear fission. The theory quickly spread among physicists in the United States and Europe, raising fears that German scientists might be on the path to acquiring an atomic bomb. Soon after, U.S. nuclear scientists refrained from openly publishing their work.

Dr. Enrico Fermi was leader of the group of scientists who succeeded in initiating the first man-made nuclear chain reaction. (AP Photo)

World War II and the Manhattan Project

In 1939, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt created the Advisory Committee on Uranium—the predecessor to the Manhattan Project—to coordinate and accelerate U.S. efforts to develop an atomic bomb. Roosevelt’s decision has been attributed to a letter from Albert Einstein, in which the physicist warned the president that the Germans might be developing a nuclear bomb.

Before the Manhattan Project was launched, most atomic research was conducted at universities and private institutes, with government funding and support from 1939. By 1941, a consensus had been reached within these circles that producing an atomic bomb was possible, and the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) was created to coordinate what would become the Manhattan Project: a massive effort to develop the bomb. Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project ultimately employed some 130,000 people across a network of thirty research sites in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Scientists and workmen rig the world’s first atomic bomb to raise it up into a 100-foot tower at the Trinity bomb test site. (AP Photo)

Testing the first nuclear bomb

The most famous Manhattan Project site was the laboratory at Los Alamos, where work on an atomic bomb began in 1943 under physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Los Alamos eventually produced two bombs: the first, nicknamed Little Boy, was a gun-type weapon using uranium-235. The other, called Fat Man, was a plutonium (Pu-239) implosion bomb. The first nuclear weapon, a plutonium implosion bomb, was tested near Los Alamos in July. Oppenheimer later said the explosion reminded him of a line from the Bhagavad-Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

An allied correspondent stands before the shell of a building that once was a movie theater in Hiroshima on September 8, 1945. (AP Photo/Stanley Troutman)

Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killing an estimated 70,000 people instantly. Almost no one within a half-mile radius of the explosion survived, and by the end of 1945 the death toll was probably higher than 100,000. The United States bombed Nagasaki three days later, on August 9. Approximately 70,000 people died within a few months from the effects of the bomb. Six days later, on August 15, Japan surrendered.

This photograph from 1945 shows the giant K-25 plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. where the uranium for the first atomic weapon was produced. (AP Photo/U.S. Department of Energy)

Acheson-Lilienthal plan to control nuclear weapons

In the wake of U.S. acquisition of the atomic bomb and the Soviet Union’s attempts to develop one, the Truman administration tried to establish an international regime to control the spread of nuclear technology and weapons. Both the United States and the Soviet Union initially endorsed a plan that would have seen the United States give up its nuclear weapons in return for UN controls on the development of atomic technology. An advisory committee, headed by Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson and Tennessee Valley Authority Chairman David Lilienthal, was tasked with outlining the U.S. position in detail. The March 1946 Acheson-Lilienthal report (the principal author of which was actually Robert Oppenheimer) called for an international atomic development authority to control and oversee peaceful nuclear research, including the mining of uranium. The report also proposed that the United States share atomic technology with the Soviet Union in return for a pledge that the Soviets would not develop nuclear weapons. Although President Truman for the most part accepted the report’s recommendations, his lead negotiator at the UN, Bernard Baruch, submitted a revised and slightly toughened plan that the Soviets rejected. This marked the end for at least a decade of serious efforts to create a comprehensive international nuclear arms control regime involving all states.

President Harry Truman, center, talks with Soviet leader Josef Stalin, left, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Potsdam Conference near Berlin, on July 17,1945. (AP Photo)

First Soviet nuclear test

Joseph Stalin had sought an atomic bomb since at least 1941. When President Harry Truman informed him in 1945 that the United States had produced "a new weapon of unusual destructive force," Stalin was not surprised: Soviet spies had infiltrated Los Alamos but nuclear progress in the USSR had been slow. Stalin warned that "monopoly ownership of the atomic bomb cannot last for long." And indeed, thanks largely to espionage against the United States and the United Kingdom, within four years of the U.S. bombings of Japan, the Soviet Union had acquired its own bomb.

The mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion billows skyward as Communist China tests its first atomic bomb. (AP Photo)

First wave of proliferation

The United Kingdom, which had participated in the Manhattan Project, built an atomic bomb in 1952. In 1960, France became the fourth nuclear weapon state after its successful test of a plutonium bomb in the Algerian desert.

Thanks in large part to French assistance, Israel is believed to have developed a nuclear weapon as early as 1967, but Israel has kept this weapons program purposefully opaque and has never overtly tested a nuclear weapon. In 1986, former Israeli technician Mordechai Vanunu was arrested for revealing details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the British press.

Between 1964 and 1967, China successfully detonated its first atomic bomb, launched a nuclear missile, and exploded a hydrogen bomb. China’s nuclear weapons program had been assisted by the Soviet Union until the Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s; the Soviet Union also provided nuclear assistance to North Korea in the 1960s.

Overall view of the International Atomic Energy Conference in Vienna’s "Konzerthaus" (Concert House) in Austria on October 1, 1957. (AP Photo)

IAEA established

In his 1953 Atoms for Peace speech to the UN General Assembly, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for the creation of an international atomic energy agency under the auspices of the UN. Governments would contribute fissile material to the agency, which "would be to devise methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind." Four years later, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established in Vienna as a forum for international cooperation on civilian nuclear research. The IAEA’s statute outlines three pillars of its work: nuclear verification and security, safety, and technology transfer. The first IAEA safeguards system was established in 1961.

Cuban refugees pray for the success of the Bay of Pigs invasion at a rally in downtown Bayfront Park in Miami, Fla., on April 19, 1961. (AP Photo)

Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 is generally regarded as the moment when the world came closest to nuclear war. The thirteen-day confrontation began with U.S. intelligence reports that the Soviet Union was installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. After a series of diplomatic moves and countermoves, including a U.S. quarantine against Cuba, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev reached a secret agreement that the Soviet missiles would be withdrawn in return for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba and the removal of U.S. warheads from Turkey at a later date. U.S. national security adviser McGeorge Bundy stressed that "having come so close to the edge, we must make it our business not to pass this way again."

Proliferation and Response

U.S. Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson, left, signs a nuclear nonproliferation treaty as Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko watches in Moscow. (AP Photo)

Nonproliferation Treaty opened for signature

Cold War brinkmanship and the development of nuclear weapons by a growing number of states led to calls for an international framework to prevent nuclear proliferation and promote disarmament. Discussions on a nonproliferation treaty began at the UN in 1959 [see UNGAR 1380(XIV)]. After multiple rounds of drafts, including several put forward by the United States and the Soviet Union, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was opened for signature in 1968. It recognized the five existing nuclear weapon states at the time: China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. All other countries were guaranteed the right to civilian nuclear technology subject to IAEA safeguards, but were prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities. This division of nuclear haves and have-nots has caused resentment among many developing countries. Nonetheless, by 1970, when the treaty entered into force, more than forty countries had ratified the NPT. However, nuclear-armed France and China did not sign until 1992, and the treaty was soon undermined by the refusal of three states to sign: India, Israel, and Pakistan. All are believed to possess nuclear weapons.

U.S. ambassador to the USSR, Malcom Tonn, left, and Andrej Alexandrov, special assistant to Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, at the Soviet Embassy for further talks about the SALT II Treaty. (AP Photo)

Arms reduction treaties between United States and Soviet Union

As Cold War tensions eased, the United States and the Soviet Union achieved some significant progress in reducing the number of operational nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles in their respective stockpiles. Bilateral talks that began in 1969 in Helsinki culminated in the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the 1979 SALT II Agreement. Together these agreements limited the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals. The terms of SALT II were carried out despite the U.S. Senate’s failure to ratify the treaty in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan six months after it was signed.

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, center, examines a piece of rock at the nuclear test site in Pokhran, southeastern India. (AP Photo)

Growth of nuclear club

From the 1950s, India had been able to acquire potentially dual-use nuclear technology under the Atoms for Peace program. India’s weapons program was likely motivated by China’s nuclear tests in the 1960s. In 1974, one of the three nonsignatories to the NPT, India conducted its first nuclear test. Although it was not known at the time, Pakistan had begun developing a nuclear weapons program in 1972, following its defeat in a war with India the year before.

South Africa also pursued a nuclear weapons program during the 1970s; some intelligence analysts believe it may have conducted a nuclear test in 1979. During the 1980s, South Africa assembled six nuclear bombs.

Brazil and Argentina also developed nuclear weapons research programs in the 1970s, but never acquired the bomb.

Seconds after the nuclear test, a sandy mound rises above the ground as India sets off its first nuclear explosion. (AP Photo)

Nuclear Suppliers Group formed

Largely in response to India’s 1974 nuclear test, the founding members of what would become the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)—the United States, Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, Canada, and Japan—met to adopt measures to prevent civilian nuclear technology transfers from facilitating proliferation. At a series of meetings from 1975 to 1978, an expanded NSG agreed on guidelines for nuclear exports, stipulating that members could only transfer nuclear technology to countries subject to IAEA safeguards. In 1977 the NSG and a similar organization, the Zangger Committee, drew up a trigger list (the Zangger list) of equipment and technology that members were prohibited from transferring to countries or facilities not under IAEA safeguards.

In 1978, under President Jimmy Carter, the United States passed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act, requiring countries to be members of the NPT to receive U.S. nuclear exports. Similar provisions requiring safeguards on a country’s entire nuclear program were adopted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 1992.

At present, the NSG has forty-six member states.

A German border policeman alongside a train loaded with six Castor nuclear waste containers during a refueling stop. (AP Photo/Axel Seidemann)

Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material opened for signature

Concerned that state agents or others could gain unauthorized access to weapons-grade fissile materials, interested parties met in the 1970s to develop an international regime to prevent such transfers. The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material provides a legal framework to ensure that nuclear materials are not diverted from legitimate civilian uses, and requires states to protect nuclear materials in international transit. In 2005, states party to the convention agreed to amend it to expand coverage to require tougher physical protection on nuclear materials in domestic use. The amendment will not enter into force until two-thirds of the states ratify it, which has not yet occurred.

Libyan leader Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qaddafi leaves his aircraft upon arrival at Tunis Airport, Tunisia. (AP Photo/Pierre Gleizes)

Nuclear transfers increase

Under cover of its civilian nuclear program, developed with French assistance, Iraq’s pursuit of nuclear weapons began in the 1970s. In June 1981, Israeli air strikes destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiraq, which was suspected of being able to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Following the attack, Saddam Hussein moved his weapons efforts underground. Experts debate how close Baghdad ever came to producing a weapon, but Western intelligence agencies were surprised at the extent of the Iraqi nuclear program when it was uncovered in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

Beginning in 1982, China began transferring nuclear know-how to developing countries including Algeria, Pakistan, and North Korea, probably contributing significantly to the latter two countries’ eventual acquisition of the bomb. Under the leadership of Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya also sought nuclear weapons throughout the 1980s, although most experts do not believe it ever came close to acquiring one. The Soviet Union, China, and Pakistan all assisted the Libyan nuclear program. U.S. intelligence agencies also had evidence of a clandestine North Korean nuclear program as early as 1985. And, unknown at the time, the proliferation network of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan began supplying nuclear technology to Iran late in the decade.

U.S. President George H. Bush speaks as President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan looks on after they signed a nonproliferation treaty at the White House. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

End of Cold War and progress on disarmament

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War, which led to rapid progress in disarmament efforts by the United States and the Soviet Union. On July 31, 1991, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) was signed by President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. START committed the United States and the Soviet Union to increasing its verification and information sharing, and reducing their nuclear arsenals to approximately 6,000 nuclear warheads and 1,600 ballistic missiles each. The reductions called for in the treaty involving the dismantlement of some 80 percent of all nuclear warheads worldwide were completed in 2001. The treaty expired in December 2009, before the United States and Russia could agree on the details of its replacement. As of early 2010, negotiations on "New START" are behind schedule, but nearing completion.

Also in 1991, the U.S. Senate passed the Nunn-Lugar bill establishing the Cooperative Threat Reduction program (CTR), which provides financial and technical assistance to states of the former Soviet Union to secure and dismantle nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles, and to employ nuclear scientists in civilian pursuits. To date, the United States has spent more than $2 billion through cooperative threat reduction-related programs.

Defense chiefs from the former Soviet Union and NATO gathered together and promised each other responsible management of their nuclear arsenals. (AP Photo/Carl Dyck)


The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought about one of the most dramatic nonproliferation successes since 1945: the agreement by states to relinquish their nuclear arsenals. In May 1992, the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine signed the Lisbon Protocol [PDF] to the START I agreement, indicating their intention to join the NPT as nonnuclear weapon states.

In the early 1990s, South Africa also announced that it had dismantled its nuclear weapons program, which President de Klerk had ordered in 1990. South Africa joined the NPT in 1991 and within three years the IAEA confirmed that its weapons program had been completely dismantled. Brazil and Argentina, which had also pursued nuclear weapons capability throughout the 1980s, jointly committed to the peaceful use of nuclear energy [see Argentina-Brazilian Declaration of Common Nuclear Policy], and in 1991 agreed to accept IAEA safeguards [Quadripartite Agreement, December 13, 1991]. Argentina joined the NPT in 1995, and Brazil joined three years later.

North and South Korea signed an agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in 1991, and North Korea agreed to IAEA inspections. However, this apparent bright spot never truly came to fruition.

A  banner unfurled by Saddam Hussein supporters at a festival in Baghdad in November 1997. (AP Photo/Jassim Mohammed)

Iraqi nuclear weapons program

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and was repelled by a U.S.-led coalition in Operation Desert Storm the following year. Although the coalition had targeted Iraq’s known nuclear facilities, Western analysts were surprised at the extent of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program when it was revealed in the aftermath of the war. In April 1991, UN Security Council Resolution 687 authorized the IAEA to oversee the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program. A UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was established to inspect Iraqi weapons facilities and oversee the dismantlement of the country’s nuclear program. In 1998, however, Iraq ended its cooperation with UNSCOM. The same year, the United States and the United Kingdom launched Operation Desert Fox to destroy Iraq’s remaining WMD facilities.

An aerial view of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas. (AP Photo/Pantex Plant, file)

Expanding the nonproliferation regime

With the nuclear posturing of the Cold War era seemingly at an end, the nonproliferation and disarmament movements gained new momentum. In 1993, long-delayed negotiations conducted through the UN Conference on Disarmament began on an international treaty to ban nuclear testing. In 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signature. The United States and more than 180 other countries have signed the CTBT, but it has not yet come into effect. The United States has adhered to a testing moratorium since 1992 and in 2010, signaled a new push to ratify the CTBT.

In July 1992, President George H. W. Bush announced that the United States would no longer produce either weapons-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium. A de facto moratorium on U.S. production of fissile material has continued since then, but progress on agreeing to an international fissile material cutoff treaty banning production of these materials has stalled.

A UN safety inspector from the IAEA checks on the extent of contamination at the nuclear facility near Baghdad. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Strengthening the IAEA

As the discovery of the secret Iraqi and North Korean weapons programs demonstrated, IAEA safeguards were clearly inadequate to prevent nuclear cheating. In the mid-1990s, the IAEA drafted a new set of more intrusive safeguards and regulations, allowing the agency’s inspectors to conduct visits to undeclared nuclear sites and demand a more comprehensive accounting of countries’ nuclear activities. As of January 2009, 115 countries had Additional Protocol agreements in force.

North Korea’s spent nuclear fuel rods are seen at the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, North Korea. (AP Photo/ Yonhap)

United States and North Korea conclude Agreed Framework

In 1992, North Korea barred IAEA inspectors from several nuclear sites, and the next year threatened to withdraw from the NPT. The United States, aware that North Korea likely already had enough fissile material to produce at least one bomb, initiated direct talks aimed at preventing a nuclear crisis. Several rounds of intensive negotiations led to the 1994 Agreed Framework, whereby North Korea agreed to freeze and dismantle its nuclear program in return for massive fuel deliveries and civilian nuclear assistance. The United States also agreed to lift sanctions against North Korea, but Congress failed to authorize this step.

U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, left, with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher at the 1995 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Conference at the United Nations. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

NPT made permanent

Another achievement for the nonproliferation movement came at the 1995 NPT Review Conference. With more than 170 countries participating in the conference, a decision was taken to extend the treaty indefinitely. In return, the five recognized nuclear weapon states agreed to take concrete steps toward disarmament.

Activists of Pakistan’s right wing religious party, Jamat-i-Islami, burn an Indian flag to protest nuclear tests conducted by India. (AP Photo/M. K. Anwar)

Nuclear standoff in South Asia

In May 1998, India conducted its first nuclear tests in twenty-four years, prompting reciprocal action by Pakistan less than three weeks later and sparking fears of a more heated regional arms race. In 1999, armed conflict broke out between India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir. Although the standoff lasted only a few weeks, many feared that nuclear war was a possibility. Others argued that the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides had actually limited the conflict.

Demonstrators urge Sen. Jesse Helms to hold hearings on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

U.S. Senate rejects CTBT

Although more than 170 countries have signed the CTBT since 1996, it cannot come into effect until all forty-four countries with civilian, military, or "threshold" nuclear capabilities have ratified it. This list includes China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and the United States, all of which have yet to ratify. The U.S. Senate rejected ratification in 1999 over concerns that the treaty would limit the U.S. ability to maintain functional modern weapons for defensive and deterrence purposes. Some opponents of the CTBT said it would effectively lead to involuntary disarmament. Many proponents argued that entry into force of the CTBT would give the United States an advantage over other nuclear-armed states because of the advanced U.S. scientific program to maintain nuclear weapons without nuclear testing.

Ratification of the CTBT was one of the commitments made by the five nuclear weapon states and the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences. At the time, some developing countries had sought to limit the NPT’s extension to twenty-five years, as a way to pressure the nuclear weapon states to move toward disarmament. In fact, the failure of the CTBT and other developments convinced many countries that none of the five nuclear weapon states was serious about dismantling its nuclear arsenal. The treaty was a subject of debate at the 2010 NPT Review Conference with no resolution.

Age of Nuclear Terrorism

Muslim militant Osama Bin Laden speaks to a selected group of reporters in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, December 24, 1998. (AP Photo/Rahimullah Yousafzai)

Terrorist attacks in United States raise specter of nuclear terrorism

Following the attacks on New York and Washington, many experts and policymakers concluded that a nuclear attack by terrorists was increasingly likely. In 1998, Osama bin Laden had declared the pursuit of WMD a religious duty for Muslims. Al-Qaeda was known to have sought nuclear and biological weapons and expertise in Afghanistan, meeting with Pakistani nuclear scientists shortly before September 11. A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate stated that al-Qaeda "will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks and would not hesitate to use them."

U.S. President George W. Bush moments before announcing that the United States would withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty on December 13, 2001. (AP Photo/Christopher Morris)

United States withdraws from Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

President Bush pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), saying that it hindered "the government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks." Russia called the decision a mistake and, in 2007, moved to suspend its implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe treaty, a decision some observers interpreted to be payback for the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM.

Behind the ABM treaty withdrawal was the Bush administration’s commitment to develop a missile defense system that would protect the United States and its allies from the threat of long-range ballistic missiles from adversarial states such as North Korea and Iran. The plan followed in the footsteps of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, which is based on the idea of hitting a bullet with a bullet, that is, using missiles (interceptors) to hit and destroy incoming ballistic missiles in midair. In September 2009, the Obama administration announced that it would replace the previous Bush plan—which focused on long-range missiles—with one focused on intercepting short- and intermediate-range weapons.

Iran's nuclear program revealed

In 2002, an exiled member of an Iranian dissident group revealed the existence of a clandestine nuclear program in Iran. The IAEA immediately demanded access to the sites, but its failure to detect the secret program throughout years of inspections marked another setback for global nonproliferation efforts. In November 2003, the IAEA reported that Iran had failed to meet its obligations under the NPT safeguards agreement, but IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei said there was no evidence that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons.

Bushehr nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran, 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) southwest of Tehran on Tuesday, March 11, 2003. 

Iraq War begins

In November 2002, amid reports that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted Iraq's nuclear weapons program, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, demanding that Iraq fully disarm and grant unrestricted access to UN weapons inspectors. Later that month, UN inspectors returned to Iraq. In his March 2003 report to the UN General Assembly, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix criticized the Iraqi regime but said that inspectors needed more time to monitor Iraqi compliance. On March 20, the United States invaded Iraq. Blix—like many others—later charged the Bush administration with exaggerating the WMD threat from Iraq.

Media surround Hans Blix, far right, chief UN weapons inspector after the first day of talks with an Iraqi delegation.

Crisis in North Korea

In December 2002, as tensions with the United States escalated, North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors and began reprocessing plutonium at its Yongbyon reactor. In January 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT. Later in 2003, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il announced that he had enough fissile material to produce up to six nuclear bombs. Several rounds of negotiations, known as the Six Party Talks (involving North Korea, the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea), produced no agreement.

North Korea's spent nuclear fuel rods are seen at the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, North Korea.

Moscow Treaty

With the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), dubbed the Moscow Treaty, the United States and Russia agreed to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces to 1,700 and 2,200 respectively by the end of 2012. Consistent with the Bush administration's preference for minimizing constraints from international treaties and maximizing flexibility, the SORT agreement includes no verifications regime, no limits on weapons kept in storage or reserve, no obligation to destroy demobilized warheads, and no provision to make armaments reductions permanent. Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "The treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want."

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a landmark treaty requiring the largest reductions ever in their nuclear arsenals.

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan asked President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for forgiveness for spreading weapons secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

A. Q. Khan network uncovered

Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, lionized in his country as the father of the Islamic bomb, had been suspected by Western intelligence agencies of trafficking in nuclear materials and know-how for several years before his network was brought down. When the October 2003 Libyan centrifuge shipment was found to have come from Khan's ring, U.S. and international pressure forced the Pakistani government to launch an investigation into Khan's activities. As new revelations about the extent and sophistication of the network emerged, experts were disturbed to find that the group had had access to advanced nuclear warhead designs. In 2004, Khan issued a public apology and admitted that he had supplied nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Former CIA head George Tenet remarked that Khan was at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden.

In December 2011, three members of the A.Q. Khan network accepted a plea deal from a Swiss court. Pardoned by former president Pervez Musharraf, Khan was released from house arrest in early 2009. However, Islamabad continues to deny U.S. officials and others the right to interrogate him.

Crates of the materials were removed from Libya in January after Col. Qaddafi's decision to end Libya's weapons of mass destruction program.

First PSI success

In October 2003, the German cargo ship BBC China was intercepted en route to Libya carrying Pakistani-designed centrifuge parts, used for uranium enrichment. The seizure was a major success for the newly created, U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, a multilateral voluntary effort aimed at preventing and interdicting illicit nuclear-related shipments. In December, following several months of secret negotiations with the Americans and the British (and likely influenced by the October interdiction), Libya announced it would give up its nuclear weapons program. The United States, the United Kingdom, and the IAEA monitored the dismantlement of the Libyan weapons program throughout 2004.

In December 2011, three members of the A.Q. Khan network accepted a plea deal from a Swiss court. Pardoned by former president Pervez Musharraf, Khan was released from house arrest in early 2009. However, Islamabad continues to deny U.S. officials and others the right to interrogate him.

Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram speaks at the United Nations. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

UN tackles nuclear terrorism

In 2004, recognizing that the NPT does little to address proliferation by nonstate actors, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1540, requiring all UN member states to implement measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Many members of the General Assembly argued that the Security Council did not have the authority to impose a binding resolution on this matter. More recently, in April 2011, the UN Security Council reaffirmed its commitment to preventing the development of WMDs through Resolution 1977. The resolution extends the 1540 Committee mandate for ten years in order to further curb the proliferation of WMDs and potential for nuclear terrorism around the world.

The Isfahan uranium conversion facility in central Iran began to operate in 2006. (AP Photo/ISNA/Kholosi)

UN response to Iranian nuclear program

In mid-2005, after claiming to have suspended uranium enrichment during negotiations with the European Union, Iran resumed uranium conversion. In September, the IAEA Board of Governors formally voted to find Iran in noncompliance with its NPT safeguards agreement, and several months later referred Iran to the Security Council. The Security Council passed Resolution 1696, demanding that Iran suspend enrichment. When it did not, the Security Council passed the first in a series of resolutions sanctioning Iran [UNSCR 1737 in December 2006; UNSCR 1747 in March 2007; UNSCR 1803 in March 2008]. The United States toughened its own sanctions against Iran in October 2007. In September 2008, a resolution again called on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, but did not enact any new sanctions. Another resolution in September 2009, UNSCR 1887, expresses grave concern about the threat of nuclear proliferation and the need for international action to prevent it, although it does not cite Iran by name.

Chi Heon-cheol, director of the Korea Earthquake Research Center discussing a possible nuclear test in North Korea at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources. (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)

North Korea tests nuclear weapon

Seismological and radioactivity detection reports revealed days after Kim Jong-Il announced North Korea’s first nuclear test, that the bomb did not work properly: in a word, it "fizzled." U.S. scientists estimate that the explosion yield was up to one kiloton, a fourth that of the Nagasaki bomb but still enough to kill people in an area of about one square mile and partially destroy a much more extended area. The event lead to unanimous UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, under Resolution 1718, and Pyongyang’s return to the Six Party table on October 31.

Six Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program resume in Beijing. (AP Photo/Frederic J. BROWN, POOL)

A leap forward in Six Party Talks

Following ramped-up U.S. diplomacy within the Six Party Talks, North Korea committed to disabling and dismantling its plutonium reactor at Yongbyon, accepting IAEA inspections, and providing a full disclosure of its nuclear program. On the other side of the bargain, Washington agreed to bilateral talks with Pyongyang and promised to work toward normalizing relationships between the two countries, including removing North Korea from the State Department’s terrorism list and the Trading with the Enemy Act. However, because of delays in the implementation of the deal, known as the February Agreement, the disabling of the Yongbyon reactor started only in the summer of 2008.

The February agreement encountered several speed bumps, including disagreements on the verifications regime, North Korea’s alleged assistance to Syria’s clandestine nuclear program, and new U.S. suspicions over a North Korean uranium enrichment capacity. Despite these concerns, on October 11, 2008, the United States followed through on its promise to remove North Korea from its terrorism list.

This undated image from video released Thursday April 24, 2008, by the Central Intelligence Agency shows an overhead view of a covert nuclear reactor built in Syria’s eastern desert. (AP Photo/CIA)

Israel bombs suspected Syrian nuclear reactor

Israeli jets destroyed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor near Dair Alzour (also referred to as al-Kibar). Although rumors about the attack had been circulating for months, U.S. intelligence agencies did not confirm the news until April 2008. At that time, they said that the facility was weeks away from being operational and that the North Koreans had helped the Syrians build it based on a model of their own Yongbyon plutonium reactor. Shortly after the bombing, Syria razed the damaged building and replaced it with another edifice, thereby complicating IAEA efforts to verify Syrian claims that the original structure was not nuclear-related. Although the agency has not found plutonium-extracting or reprocessing facilities near Dair Alzour, speculation continues that North Korea was aiding Syria. In June 2011, the IAEA voted to refer Syria to the UN Security Council for not cooperating with an investigation regarding the suspected nuclear reactor.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley addresses the media on the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate on the nuclear program of Iran. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran halted nuclear weapons program in 2003

An assessment by the U.S. intelligence community found that Iran had halted the weapons-building part of its nuclear program in 2003, contrary to what U.S. analysts had believed two years before. However, some experts stressed that it should not lead to a reassessment of Iran’s ability to "go nuclear," given that weaponization is the quickest and least challenging step in building a nuclear bomb. The analysis in the estimate has come under increasing criticism as information emerges from European intelligence services and the IAEA that Iran has not fully abandoned such research. A report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November 2011 expressed concern not only that Iran’s nuclear program had several military orientated components, but also that Iran had continued clandestine nuclear work even after 2003.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee shake hands after signing the U.S.-India Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

U.S.-India nuclear deal

After three years of diplomatic talks and political muscle flexing, the Bush administration obtained a strong bipartisan majority in the U.S. Congress (including then-Senators Barack Obama and Joseph Biden) for an agreement granting India, a nonsignatory of the NPT, access to international nuclear commerce. In exchange for fuel supplies to its civilian nuclear facilities by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, India agreed to apply Additional Protocol safeguards to the civilian part of its nuclear program. Supporters of the agreement hailed it as bringing New Delhi into the nonproliferation fold and cementing a strategic partnership between the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies. Critics argued that the deal rewarded India’s bad behavior, carving a dangerous exception in international nuclear trade regulations that seriously undermines the global nonproliferation regime, including efforts to halt Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs. Pakistan is now demanding that the United States enter into a similar nuclear agreement with Islamabad.

Founders of Global Zero held their inaugural meeting in Paris. (Sipa via AP Images)

Growing momentum for a vision of zero

On December 8, 2008, the Paris launch of Global Zero, a group of one hundred prominent leaders seeking nuclear abolition, crowned a string of public endorsements for nuclear disarmament by political heavyweights including former U.S. secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of defense William Perry, and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. In the 2008 presidential campaign, both candidates had expressed support for a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, with Barack Obama pledging "to send a clear message to the world: America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons."

Age of Disarmament

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presents Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a red button symbolizing the intention to "reset" U.S.-Russian relations on March 6, 2009. (AP Photo)

Obama administration charts new course on proliferation

In early 2009, the Obama administration laid the foundations for a markedly different approach to nuclear proliferation, specifically concerning Iran and Russia. Despite an IAEA report that stated Iran had enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb, the new Obama administration still invited Iran to participate in international talks on the future of Afghanistan. In the meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Iranian counterpart sat at the same table, although did not engage in one-on-one dialogue.

Additionally, at a security conference in Munich in February 2009, Vice President Biden said that the Obama administration was willing to "press the reset button" in U.S.-Russia relations in his first major foreign policy speech. Shortly thereafter, the media leaked a letter written by the Obama administration to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, which said that the United States would be willing to put a controversial planned missile defense system in Europe on hold in exchange for Moscow’s cooperation to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a landmark speech on nuclear weapons in Prague, Czech Republic, on April 5, 2009. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Obama calls for a world without nuclear weapons

In April 2009, President Obama laid out his vision for a new nonproliferation treaty in Prague, where he reaffirmed "America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." In doing so, he committed the United States to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. national security strategy, negotiate a new START treaty with the Russians by the end of 2009, pursue U.S. ratification of the CTBT, strengthen the NPT with increased resources and authority for international inspectors, work toward building a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation and an international fuel bank, and create a new international effort to secure vulnerable material globally within four years. The following October, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in part for his "vision of a world free of nuclear arms."

During his speech to the UN General Assembly in 2011, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a nuclear weapon-free world. Highlighting accomplishments at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit and the signing of the New START Treaty with Russia, Obama emphasized the need to seek further reductions in international nuclear weapons stockpiles and hold accountable those states that refuse to honor treaties and institutions designed to help stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

North Korea launched what it claims was a satellite that successfully entered orbit around the earth. (AP Photo/KRT TV)

North Korea setbacks

In spring 2009, North Korea attempted a satellite launch in what analysts believe was a test for a long-range missile that could reach the United States. On April 6, 2009, North Korea attempted another satellite launches, drawing condemnation and calls for UN Security Council sanctions. In response, President Obama laid out a new approach to U.S. nuclear disarmament, including plans to work with nuclear weapon states to reduce nuclear arms and undercut the nuclear black market. Undeterred, North Korea conducted a third nuclear test and fired several short-range missiles, further straining the nonproliferation regime.

On June 12, 2009, the UN Security Council unanimously demanded that North Korea cease nuclear activity and granted UN member states the authority to inspect suspicious North Korean vessels for weapons (but UN Security Council Resolution 1874 does not authorize the use of force to intercept ships). Pyonyang has since tested missiles in violation of the resolution.

Tensions continued to escalate when, on March 26, 2010, a South Korean warship sunk under suspicious circumstances in North Korean waters. In May, a South Korean investigation determined the Cheonan had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo. The United States responded by levying the toughest sanctions package yet against North Korea.

The crisis on the Korean peninsula worsened in November 2011, when North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment facility to visiting American scientists. Shortly thereafter, tensions rose even higher when North Korea attacked the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.

U.S. President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council on September 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

UN Resolution to strengthen the NPT

In his first appearance at the UN General Assembly, President Obama reiterated his vision to "stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them." His words were complimented by concrete results, including securing a commitment from Russia to consider sanctions against Iran. Some pundits suggest that Russia’s change of heart is a quid pro quo for the U.S. decision to abandon an antiballistic missile shield in Poland and Czech Republic in favor of a less intrusive defense system.

In an unprecedented display of confidence in multilateral nuclear engagement, President Obama chaired a special session of the Security Council on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament, the first time for a U.S. president to do so. The session saw the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1887, which called for strengthening of the NPT regime and enhanced security measures to prevent illicit theft and smuggling of nuclear materials by terrorist groups.

Iran’s Fars News Agency released this image, which it claims shows the launch of a medium-range missile on September 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Fars News Agency, Ali Shaigan)

Iran compromise remains elusive

On the heels of a UN Security Council resolution promoting nonproliferation, Iran revealed a covert enrichment facility in September 2009. President Obama, Prime Minister Brown, and President Sarkozy, issued a joint statement demanding that Iran cooperate with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. Negotiations among the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) seemed to make progress but domestic debate brought negotiations to a dead end.

In November, the IAEA Board of Governors demanded that Iran stop building its newly revealed plant and open it to full inspections, marking the first time that Russia and China joined the United States against Iran. With stronger sanctions looming, Iran struck a deal with Brazil and Turkey in May 2010, committing Tehran to send low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for fuel for a research reactor. The United States ultimately rejected the bargain as inadequate, and instead pushed for a fourth round of sanctions through the UN Security Council. In October 2010, the United States and the EU announced it would reopen negotiations with a stricter deal than the one Tehran rejected in 2009. Iran agreed to resume talks, but also announced that it would begin fueling its Bushehr nuclear reactor. Iran met with the EU and the P5+1 in early December 2010—the first negotiations in over a year—but no consensus emerged.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan addresses a news conference at the end of the Nuclear Security Summit on April 13, 2010. (REUTERS/Richard Clement)

Nuclear Security Summit

In April 2010, the leaders of over forty nations gathered in Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit. The summit focused on international cooperation to secure all nuclear weapons materials—a goal that President Obama hopes to achieve by 2014—and prevent nuclear terrorism. Although the summit did not yield any breakthroughs, its communiqué and work plan reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to strengthen and fully implement existing security procedures. The next Nuclear Security Summit is scheduled to take place in the Netherlands in 2014.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the media during a meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in Jerusalem March 21, 2010. (REUTERS/Jim Hollander/Pool)

Israel's nuclear program under fire

Although the secret Israeli nuclear weapons program likely dates to the 1970s, it has come under renewed scrutiny as the Middle East’s only nuclear power. While Israel has never acknowledged its nuclear program, it is believed to possess an arsenal of between seventy-five and two hundred weapons and is not a signatory of the NPT. Israel became a subject of heated discussion at the NPT Review Conference in May 2010, and the final document singled out Israel twice for its non-accession to the treaty. In September 2010, the United States prevailed in a prolonged diplomatic fight to prevent the International Atomic Energy Agency from passing a non-binding resolution calling on Israel to join the NPT. Shortly thereafter, the secretary-general of the fifty-seven-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation demanded that the UN inspect Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, 350 km (217 miles) south of Tehran, April 8, 2008. (REUTERS/Presidential official website/Handout (IRAN))

Computer worm attacks Iranian nuclear program

Stuxnet, a malicious computer program, began infiltrating and attacking industrial systems in mid-2009 but reports surfaced in September 2010 that it was designed to specifically target the Iranian nuclear program. A computer worm that quickly spread, Stuxnet targeted and destroyed nearly one-fifth of the centrifuges that enrich uranium for the country’s nuclear facilities.

In the aftermath of Stuxnet’s cyber assault—which the United States and Israel are suspected of masterminding—officials from both countries estimate that Iran’s nuclear program has been delayed by several years. As the first known case of a sophisticated computer virus attacking an industrial system, Stuxnet represents a new era in both cyberwar and covert counter-proliferation measures.

Satellite image of Yongbyon, North Korea released by DigitalGlobe on May 26, 2009. (REUTERS/DigitalGlobe/Handout)

New North Korean nuclear plant revealed

North Korea revealed a new nuclear facility to visiting American scientists in late November. The previously secret facility contained 2,000 steel-rotor centrifuges producing low-enriched uranium—a material that can be used to make nuclear weapons. Although North Korea already possesses a small nuclear arsenal, its previous nuclear weapons were made from plutonium. According to experts, centrifuges used to enrich uranium are easier to export without detection than plutonium reactor technology. Pyongyang, however, insists that the uranium enrichment plant is intended to power a light-water reactor to generate civilian nuclear technology. A January 2011 UN report assessed that North Korea likely has other secret nuclear facilities.

This still image from a Pakistan military handout video shows a Hatf IX (NASR) missile being fired during a test at an undisclosed location in Pakistan April 19, 2011. (REUTERS/Pakistan Military Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) via Reuters TV/ Handout)

Pakistani nuclear arsenal tops 100

In 2007, Pakistan was believed to have between thirty and sixty weapons; today, it has more than one hundred. Despite concerns about regional security and the stability of the Pakistani state, Islamabad has continued to produce nuclear weapons at a rate that has outpaced its neighbor and rival India. If unclassified estimates of Pakistan and other states’ nuclear arsenals are accurate, Pakistan now has the world’s fifth-largest nuclear stockpile. In addition to expanding its arsenal, Pakistan has also developed new nuclear weapons delivery systems and ramped up production of fissile material. Many believe that this is the start of a nuclear arms race in South Asia between Pakistan and India.

A report released in late 2011 also claimed that Pakistan deeply fears an attempt by the United States to seize its nuclear arsenal. The report alleged that Pakistan regularly moves parts of its nuclear arsenal around the country—sometimes even with nuclear warheads "mated" to delivery systems—within virtually unprotected vehicles along Pakistan’s roads in order to evade U.S. surveillance. The information came as surprise to many who believed Pakistan had instituted reforms to better ensure the protection of its arsenal.

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at Prague’s Ruzyne Airport on April 8, 2010. (REUTERS/David W Cerny)

"New START" Treaty enters into force

Presidents Medvedev and Obama signed the "New START" treaty in Prague in April 2010 and, upon ratification by the U.S. Senate and Russian Duma, it entered into force in February 2011. A follow-on accord to the Strategic Arms Reduction treaty (START), the treaty limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 operationally deployed nuclear weapons and extends the verification regime created in the 1991 agreement, which expired in December 2009.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talks to the media about the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty at UN Headquarters in New York (Courtesy Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

CTBT Meeting at the United Nations

September 2011 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The United States (along with China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan) is one of just a handful of states that have yet to ratify the treaty. At the 2011 UN General Assembly Meeting, world leaders urged hold-out states to approve the treaty in the interest of international strategic and environmental security. U.S. ratification is necessary to bring the CTBT into force.

Those opposed to U.S. ratification of the treaty claim that it is unverifiable and difficult to enforce, and that the threat it poses to national security outweighs the minimal benefits it confers. Proponents of ratification argue that the CTBT would establish an international norm and set an example compelling other states to comply. Public opinion in the U.S. seems to be shifting towards dependence on weapons development and testing to ensure a credible and sustained level of deterrence. Throughout his election campaign and after taking office, President Obama has maintained that enforcement of the CTBT is a crucial step for international security and has made efforts to secure Congressional ratification of the treaty. In December 2011, Indonesia’s parliament ratified the accord, raising the number of CTBT state parties to 155.

Workers examine a B53 nuclear bomb at the B&W Pantex nuclear weapons storage facility outside Amarillo, Texas. (Courtesy Reuters/ Handout)

Rising concerns over U.S. nuclear budget

Policymakers are increasingly calling for reductions to the U.S. nuclear budget in an effort to ameliorate budget deficits. Critics argue the budget is excessive and greater arms reduction would not compromise national security. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the few Republicans who supports nuclear arms reduction, has presented a plan [PDF] to reduce the nuclear budget by $79 billion over the next ten years. Other prominent supporters for nuclear reduction and eventual global disarmament include former secretaries of state James Baker and George Shultz, along with former U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman Gen. James Cartwright. In an effort to gain support from Republicans for the New START treaty with Russia at the end of 2010, the Obama administration agreed to modernize existing nuclear facilities and further develop all three parts of the nuclear triad, increasing the budget by more than $200 billion over ten years. It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the failure of the U.S. congressional supercommittee to meet its mandate will have on the U.S. nuclear budget.

Iran’s Head of Atomic Energy Organization delivers a speech during the 55th International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference at UN headquarters. (Courtesy Reuters/Herwig Prammer).

Heightened concern over Iranian nuclear program

On November 8, 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released an update to its report on Iran’s nuclear program. The report expresses "concerns regarding possible military dimensions" to Iran’s nuclear program and asserts that "these activities took place under a structured program" until the end of 2003 and may persist today. Both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad have adamantly denied the claims, responding that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful. The U.S. and European leaders have called for further sanctions against Iran and reports in Israel indicate that it is considering preemptive military attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In the weeks following the release of the report, countries—including the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland—placed new sanctions on Iran. China, however, has signaled it does not support additional sanctions. Sanctions legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in late December 2011 target the Iranian Central bank, as well as other Iranian economic interests. In response to the new round of sanctions, Iranian military officials have threatened to close shipping routes in the Strait of Hormuz, although maritime experts dispute whether Iran would carry out the threat.

IAEA meetings repeatedly discuss the nuclear aspiration of Iran, represented by Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, pictured above (REUTERS/Herwig Prammer).

Arab states signal "goodwill gesture" in advance of IAEA meetings

In a "surprise move” in the lead-up to the annual member state gathering of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Arab states decided not to submit an “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” draft proposal. Following symbolically significant (if non-binding) texts submitted in 2009 and 2010 the dropped proposal would have singled out Israel for condemnation over its assumed nuclear arsenal. This year’s restraint is described by Arab delegations as a “goodwill” gesture and was noted by the Israeli delegation as a “positive move.” One year later, Arab states are again expected to refrain from targeting Israel so as not to undermine larger efforts towards a nuclear weapons-free Middle East.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ricky Zuniga Jr. transports a 5000-pound class bomb "Bunker Buster" GBU-37 at the Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri. (REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang).

Missile accident at U.S. military facility

In November 2011, a damaged component of an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile prompted a partial evacuation and emergency response at a North Dakota Air Force base; the Air Force and Defense Department jointly decided an immediate public warning was not warranted. Though the error did not pose an imminent threat, it refocuses attention on safety concerns with nuclear weapons and their associated components. This accident also mirrors two previous incidents that call into question the safety of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The first, in 2007, occcurred when a handful of nuclear weapons and were accidently flown across the United States without the knowledge of the flight crew and left unprotected after landing for nine hours. The second, in 2008, occurred when components designated for nuclear weapons were inadvertently sent to Taiwan. Both incidents led to high level leadership change within the U.S. military and a restructuring of nuclear weapons oversight policy.

Prince Turki Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia, former director general of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, speaks on Saudi issues in Washington November 15, 2011(REUTERS/Molly Riley).

Saudi Arabia hints at acquiring nuclear weapons

In December 2011, Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal remarked that Saudi Arabia would consider developing nuclear weapons if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. Tensions between the two states are high following the foiled alleged Iranian plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC. Experts have noted that the prince, no longer an active member of government, has made similar comments before and Saudi Arabia is unlikely to actually pursue nuclear weapons. However, the threat raises concerns of a nuclear arms race in the region with Israel, which is presumed to be a nuclear power.

Andreas Mueller, Swiss federal investigating magistrate, during a news conference on the preliminary investigation of the case Friedrich Tinner in Bern December 23, 2010. (Michael Buholzer/Courtesy Reuters).

Switzerland charges three members of A.Q. Khan Network

Following a seven-year investigation, three members of the Abdul Qadeer Khan network were charged for aiding an unnamed state’s nuclear weapons program. Accepting a plea agreement, Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, are unlikely to receive jail time as evidence pertaining to the group’s alleged connection to U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will not be presented before the court. Earlier in 2007, it was reported that the U.S. government put heavy pressure on the Swiss Defense Ministry to destroy relevant evidence to the Tinner case, which slowed the progress of the trial. As a result of this plea bargain, many questions are left unanswered, including to what extent Friedrich Tinner and his sons enjoyed a relationship with the CIA. Some analysts, however, note that Friedrich openly admitted that he alerted the CIA to the A.Q. Khan network’s smuggling deals with Libya.

A.Q. Khan, the ringleader of the illicit network, confessed to smuggling sensitive nuclear technology in 2004 and was later pardoned by former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. In 2009, A.Q. Khan was freed from house arrest and rescinded his confession.

A view shows Russia’s nuclear-powered submarine Yekaterinburg at a Russian navy base in Murmansk region March 16, 2011. (Andrei Pronin/Courtesy Reuters).

Russia narrowly avoids nuclear catastrophe

In late December 2011, the Yekaterinburg, a Russian nuclear-powered submarine—allegedly carrying a complement of nuclear weapons—accidently caught fire. While Russian officials reported that no nuclear weapons were on board, a leading Russian magazine cited Russian navy sources claiming that the submarine was carrying sixteen intercontinental ballistic missiles—each equipped with four nuclear warheads—as well as two nuclear reactors. Had the submarine exploded, it could have been as devastating as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the Defense Strategic Review at the Pentagon in Washington January 5, 2012 (Courtesy REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque).

New U.S. military strategy reduces role of nukes

On January 5, 2012, President Obama unveiled a new U.S. defense strategy paper [PDF] at the Pentagon laying out, in particular, a leaner U.S. military as well as new focus on Asia. Although the new strategy commits to maintain its nuclear deterrent, it also calls for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in defense planning as well as additional cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The document was released as the U.S. military has been tasked with finding an estimated $400 billion worth of cuts to its budget, following the failure of the U.S. congressional supercommitteee to reach a deficit reduction compromise.

Some U.S. lawmakers and defense experts, however, criticized the planned reductions as both too vague and potential threats to U.S. national security.

Soon after the release of the strategy document, reports emerged that the Obama administration and the Pentagon were discussing deep cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. While ranges for potential reductions vary significantly, some would reduce the nuclear arsenal to as few as three to four hundred nuclear weapons.

An Iranian student holds a placard as she attends a demonstration, before a ceremony to form a human chain around the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF). (Courtesy REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubaz).

Iran underground enrichment facility launches operations

On January 9, 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iran had begun enriching uranium to 20 percent at a hardened mountain facility near the Iranian city of Qom. The facility, previously covered, discovered by Western intelligence sources in 2009, is subject to IAEA inspections.

The move was widely condemned by many countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States. Russia also expressed concern over Iran’s operations at the facility. A U.S. State Department spokesperson also noted, "When you enrich to 20 percent, there is no possible reason for that if you’re talking about a peaceful program . . . So it generally tends to indicate that you are enriching to a level that takes you to a different kind of nuclear program." In the past, Iran has claimed enriching the uranium to 20 percent was necessary to create isotopes for the treatment of cancer patients.

Two days later, Iran’s nuclear program came into focus again when a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a bombing in Tehran—the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist, according to some estimates, killed through violent means since 2007. While Iran accused the United States and Israel of carrying out the bombing, both countries denied involvement.

U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta delivers remarks to the troops as he visits Camp Victory in Baghdad on July 11, 2011. (Paul J. Richards/Pool/Courtesy Reuters).

Debate whether to attack Iran

As global tension regarding Iran’s nuclear program has risen, security analysts, experts, and policymakers—in Israel and the United States—are debating potential strikes on the Islamic republic. Those advocating an attack, whether specifically targeting Iranian nuclear facilities or as part of a broader strategy to induce regime change, often make the case that Iran poses an existential threat to the state of Israel and that a nuclear Iran could set off a destabilizing cascade of nuclear proliferation across the Middle East. A related debate rages over whether Israel, the United States, or both should launch initial operations as well as the best timeline for the attacks.

Opponents believe that an attack against Iran would do more harm than good, and that concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its threat to Israel are largely exaggerated. Some experts have also claimed that current strategies designed to slow Iran’s nuclear progress, such as economic sanctions, negotiations, and covert operations, will yield more success than a militaristic approach. In April 2012, former prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, and one of the country’s former domestic intelligence chiefs, Yuval Diskin, voiced opposition to a strike. That same month, Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen Benny Gantz, called Iran’s leadership "very rational people" and suggested the Iranian regime had not yet made a decision to build a nuclear weapon.

U.S. President Obama shakes hands with Pakistan’s PM Gilani during their bilateral meeting at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul

On March 26-27, 2012, the second Nuclear Security Summit, which included fifty world leaders and the heads of three major intergovernmental organizations, took place in Seoul, South Korea. The summit addressed a wide variety of issues including preventing nuclear terrorism, the ratification of crucial nonproliferation accords, and the protection of radioactive materials, among others. It concluded with the adoption of a final communiqué as well as numerous so-called "gift baskets" of countries promising new initiatives and joint-efforts to enhance nuclear security. This, for example, includes a South Korean-Vietnam effort to use global positioning technology to track the movement of radiological materials as well as an initiative inclusive of Belgium, France, South Korea, and the United States designed to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium in research reactors.

In the run-up to the meeting, it was estimated that 60 percent of the commitments (from the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010) geared toward securing vulnerable nuclear material globally by 2014 had been reached. The next global nuclear security summit is planned for 2014 and will take place in the Netherlands.

Policemen watch as protesters burn an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un during a protest against North Korea’s rocket launch near the U.S. embassy in Seoul. (Lee Jae won/Courtesy Reuters).

U.S.-North Korea compromise ends with failed missile test

The fragile compromise between the United States and North Korea struck in February 2012, whereby North Korea agreed in principle to give up nuclear and long-range missile tests in exchange for food aid from the United States, fell apart as North Korea launched a probable long-range rocket test on April 13, 2012. North Korea claimed the rocket was a weather satellite and that the launch was allegedly timed to commemorate the one hundredth birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung. The rocket exploded and fell into the sea just one minute after takeoff.

After the launch, the UN Security Council adopted a presidential statement condemning the test as well as calling for new sanctions to be placed on North Korea. The United States claimed Pyongyang had violated their February 2012 compromise and suspended new food aid designated for North Korea. The North Korean government, however, responded that it did not interpret the missile launch as a violation of the deal, and that the United States was at fault for unfairly terminating the agreement.

Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Admiral Di Paola and Russia’s Chief of Staff General Makarov address a news conference in Brussels. (Thierry Roge/Courtesy Reuters).

Top Russian official threatens military strikes against NATO missile defense system

In early May, Russia’s senior military commander, General Nikolai Makarov, warned that Russia would launch preemptive strikes against planned North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) radar installations and missile interceptor systems in Poland and Romania if the United States moved ahead with deployment plans. Specifically, the general warned, "A decision to use destructive force preemptively will be taken if the situation worsens." In December 2011, then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev also surprised many U.S. officials when he threatened to target the planned missile defense system unless NATO genuinely consulted Russia over the construction and technological parameters of the project.

While U.S. officials have repeatedly attempted to assure Russia that the missile defense system is not meant to interfere with Russia’s nuclear deterrent-but rather missile threats from states like Iran-Russian officials have consistently countered that the system will inevitably present a threat to Russian strategic interests. While Russian officials have suggested they could accept the missile defense system if it was jointly operated by NATO and Russia, NATO officials have rejected this proposal.

The second reactor under construction at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran (Raheb Homavandi/Courtesy Reuters).

Iran nuclear talks yield no results

Talks between Iran and the "P5+1"—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—in Moscow in June 2012 concluded without a significant breakthrough. Struggling under existing and impending sanctions, Iran demonstrated some willingness to limit its uranium enrichment level to 20 percent in exchange for reductions in sanctions and international recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The six powers were unwilling to concede and instead demanded Iran to "stop, shut, and ship" —including halting the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, exporting its existing supplies of such material, and closing the facility executing the high percentage enrichment—in exchange for nuclear reactor fuel and sanctions relief. Top EU representatives report deadlock over restarting talks.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has often spoken defiantly against efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program (Raheb Homavandi/Courtesy Reuters).

Renewed consensus on Iran's continued nuclear defiance

On September 12, 2012, six major countries on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China—proposed a new draft resolution critical of Iran’s nuclear defiance. The draft represents significant diplomatic progress, following months of deadlock. Russia and China have been inconsistent in backing similar Western efforts in the past; after joining in a critical IAEA resolution in November 2011, they refused to do so in June. The new resolution highlights Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions to suspend uranium enrichment and its refusal to allow IAEA inspectors into the Parchin military base. In reaching the current unity, the United States and its allies compromised on the language of the resolution—while expressing "once again its serious concern" over continued Iranian uranium enrichment in defiance of the UNSC, the draft also recognizes the "inalienable right" of countries that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. This is in recognition of Tehran’s continued insistence that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

The following day, South Africa proposed an amendment to the document, adding only five words but ones that "risked weakening" the message that Iran must open up to IAEA investigations. Regardless, if passed, the resolution cannot be enforced by the thirty-five-nation board of the IAEA.

Fereydoun Abbais, pictured here with Iran’s Revolutionary guards commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, serves as the spokesman for Iran’s nuclear affairs (Morteza Nikoubazl/Courtesy Reuters).

Iran claims explosions targeted the power supply of main nuclear enrichment plants

On September 17, Iran’s chief atomic energy official Fereydoun Abbasi revealed that separate explosions, which he attributed to sabotage, had disrupted the power supplies of the country’s two main nuclear enrichment plants, including the controversial Fordow site. In his speech given at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) general conference in Vienna, Abbasi emphasized that a "power outage is a way of damaging centrifuge machines," although he insisted that no damage had resulted in these cases. The attack on Fordow occurred the day before the IAEA arrived to inspect the facility, which Abbasi claimed suggests that “terrorists and saboteurs” may have infiltrated the agency. Western diplomats privately dismissed these allegations against the IAEA as diversionary tactics and, in an IAEA statement on September 18, the agency ignored the accusations, calling instead for renewed talks.

South Korea recently launched its own satellite in response to North Korea’s continued launching of rockets (Courtesy Reuters).

North Korea rocket launch

On December 12, North Korea successfully launched a rocket carrying a satellite into space. The debris of the rocket landed in the East China Sea near the Philippines. The launch was met with a dismayed response from Japan and South Korea who had protested North Korea’s announcements of a launch window. Besides destabilizing the region, the launch also raised questions concerning whether North Korea’s rocket technology might now allow it to launch a nuclear weapon at the United States. Following the launch, U.S. and Japanese forces made clear that any rockets launched eastwards would be shot down, while South Korea redoubled its efforts to launch its own satellite into space and successfully launched a satellite on January 30, 2013.

American and South Korean navy vessels have increased their activity in the region in response to the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. (Courtesy Reuters).

North Korea successfully conducts third nuclear test

North Korea conducted a controversial nuclear test on Monday, February 11, the country’s third since 2006. North Korean officials claimed the country has successfully miniaturized its nuclear technology, a crucial step in developing long-range missile capabilities, but details of the test remain murky.

The United States announced that Washington would push for stricter sanctions in the wake of the most recent test, which has been condemned by South Korea and Russia, among others. The United States has also pledged protection for South Korea and Japan with its nuclear umbrella. Patriot missiles have also been deployed around Tokyo in response to Pyongyang’s aggressive rhetoric. Even China, North Korea’s closest ally for decades, strongly criticized the test—Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi announced that China was “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to North Korea’s most recent provocation.

Top officials from the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and Iran take part in talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in Almaty on February 27, 2013 (Shamil Zhumatov/Courtesy Reuters).

Failure of Iranian nuclear negotiations

In late February, Iran resumed nuclear talks in the P5+1 arrangement. The meetings discussed the possible lifting of sanctions if they were followed by a scaling back of Iran’s nuclear activity. The meeting completed without a breakthrough, but another meeting was immediately scheduled for April. This meeting also ended in disappointment as no agreement was made with no further plans for future negotiations. Iran’s Foreign Ministry, however, announced that the country remains a committed signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

There are strong indications, according to SIPRI, that the nuclear powers’ nuclear stockpiles are growing rather than being reduced (Claro Cortes IV/Courtesy Reuters).

Nuclear states defying NPT—SIPRI

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s latest yearbook has suggested that all five recognized nuclear states are either deploying new nuclear weapons or delivery systems for nuclear systems or plan to do so. The report contends that these states "appear determined to retain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely." Such a development would violate the terms of the nonproliferation treaty which states that recognized nuclear states work toward disarmament.

Issue Brief

Scope of the Challenge

Nuclear weapons proliferation, whether by state or nonstate actors, poses one of the greatest threats to international security today. Iran’s apparent efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, what amounts to North Korean nuclear blackmail, and the revelation of the A.Q. Khan black market nuclear network all underscore the far-from-remote possibility that a terrorist group or a so-called rogue state will acquire weapons of mass destruction or materials for a dirty bomb.

The problem of nuclear proliferation is global, and any effective response must also be multilateral. Nine states (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are known or believed to have nuclear weapons, and more than thirty others (including Japan, Germany, and South Korea) have the technological ability to quickly acquire them. Amid volatile energy costs, the accompanying push to expand nuclear energy, growing concerns about the environmental impact of fossil fuels, and the continued diffusion of scientific and technical knowledge, access to dual-use technologies seems destined to grow.

In the background, a nascent global consensus regarding the need for substantial nuclear arms reductions, if not complete nuclear disarmament, has increasingly taken shape. In April 2009, for instance, U.S. president Barack Obama reignited global nonproliferation efforts through a landmark speech in Prague. Subsequently, in September of the same year, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously passed Resolution 1887, which called for accelerated efforts toward total nuclear disarmament. In December 2011, the number of states who have ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty increased to 157, heightening appeals to countries such as the United States, Israel, and Iran to follow suit.

Overall, the existing global nonproliferation regime is a highly developed example of international law. Yet, despite some notable successes, existing multilateral institutions have failed to prevent states such as India, Pakistan, and North Korea from "going nuclear," and seem equally ill-equipped to check Iran as well as potential threats from nonstate terrorist groups. The current framework must be updated and reinforced if it is to effectively address today’s proliferation threats, let alone pave the way for the "peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."

Strengths & Weaknesses

Overall assessment

Overall assessment: Progress but crucial tests ahead

International instruments for combating nuclear proliferation were largely successful before 1991, but are proving unable to meet today’s challenges. Although three states (India, Israel, and Pakistan) are known or believed to have acquired nuclear weapons during the Cold War, for five decades following the development of nuclear technology, only nine states have developed—and since 1945 none has used—nuclear weapons. However, arguably not a single known or suspected case of proliferation since the early 1990s—Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, or Syria—was deterred or reversed by the multilateral institutions created for this purpose. The continued advancement of Iran’s nuclear program—despite the implementation of crosscutting economic sanctions and near universal global condemnation—has elicited serious concerns from states including Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, recent nonproliferation success stories, such as Libya’s abandoning its nuclear program in 2003 and the accession of all of the Soviet successor states except Russia to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as nonnuclear weapon states, have been the result of direct government-to-government negotiations and pressure rather than action by global bodies.

In dealing with today’s proliferation challenges, international organizations work in tandem with ad hoc forums of interested parties, such as the Six Party Talks on North Korea, the P5+1 grouping on Iran, and the most recent development of biannual global nuclear security summits. But such forums have often proven inadequate to arrest the spread of nuclear technology, and states such as Iran and North Korea continue to pursue nuclear capability, if not outright weaponization. Given these trends, rising doubts about the sustainability of the nonproliferation regime are no surprise.

But nonproliferation as an international issue has recently benefited from revived attention. The United States and Russia signed a legally binding replacement agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired in December 2009. New START entered into force in February 2011. President Obama has made nuclear issues a centerpiece of his international agenda, convening a high-level Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010, dedicating serious political effort to strengthen the NPT at the NPT Review in May 2010, and building consensus in the UN Security Council and elsewhere for new economic sanctions targeting Iran. The Obama administration has also pledged to win U.S. Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense doctrine. Recently, it initiated discussions with the Pentagon about potential deep cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Yet even with these renewed efforts, major challenges and threats remain, namely with regard to Iran and North Korea.

Establishing a normative and legal framework

Establishing a normative and legal framework: Fairly comprehensive, but with significant gaps

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is the core component of the global nonproliferation regime, and establishes a comprehensive, legally binding framework based on three principles: (1) states without nuclear weapons as of 1967—a year before the treaty opened for signature—agree not to acquire them; (2) the five states known to have tested nuclear weapons as of 1967—the nuclear weapon states (NWS)—agree to not assist other states in acquiring them and to move toward eventual disarmament; and (3) the non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) are guaranteed access to civilian nuclear technology and energy development.

NNWS are subject to safeguards to ensure that materials and technology from civilian activities are not diverted to weapons programs. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the implementing body for the NPT, monitoring compliance with the treaty and assisting NNWS in developing civilian technology. Although the scope and mandate of the NPT and the IAEA are relatively broad, there is a critical gap in coverage: 189 states are party to the treaty, but three of the world’s nine nuclear powers—India, Israel, and Pakistan—have never joined, and a fourth—North Korea—withdrew in 2003. Thus, even if enforcement of the existing regime were not an issue, nearly half of the world’s nuclear-armed states are excluded from its provisions.

By design, the NPT does not address proliferation by nonstate actors. After the September 11 attacks, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 1540, a legally binding instrument requiring all UN member states to enact and enforce measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring WMD. Many states in the UN General Assembly, however, have argued that the UNSC did not have the authority to impose a binding resolution in this area. Partly as a result, some states have resisted cooperation with the 1540 Committee established to oversee implementation of the resolution. The UNSC, however, recommitted itself to 1540 in April 2011 with Resolution 1977, extending the mandate of the 1540 Committee by ten years. In addition to resistance facing the implementation of Resolution 1540, the legally binding Cnovention on Nuclear Terrorism—which defines nuclear terrorism and requires international cooperation to prevent and punish such acts—had only seventy-nine parties as of June 2012.

Moreover, two important elements of the nonproliferation regime have never come into effect, largely because of resistance by the United States and other nuclear weapon states. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996 has been signed by 183 countries but cannot enter into force until all forty-four states with significant military or civilian nuclear capacity ratify it. China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States have not yet done so. Efforts to conclude a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) to ban the production of weapons-grade material have also stalled. The United States has been criticized for blocking progress on both issues, but the Obama administration has signaled that it will move to again ask the Senate’s advice and consent on ratification of the CTBT (the body rejected the treaty in 1999) and to revive negotiations on an FMCT with verification measures.

A review of the NPT in 2010 concluded with modest success. The final outcome document recommits signatories to the principles of the treaty, provides some specific action plans for nonproliferation and disarmament, and calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons from the Middle East through the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. The need for unanimous agreement resulted in some new U.S. initiatives, such as stronger verification requirements, being eliminated from the final document.

Preventing proliferation by state actors

Preventing proliferation by state actors: Poor record compliance, continued risk of breakout

Despite the broad legal coverage of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a string of failures since the early 1990s have highlighted the ineffectiveness of existing nonproliferation instruments to deter would-be nuclear weapon states. In theory, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can refer countries that do not comply with the NPT to the UN Security Council (UNSC), which in turn can impose sanctions or other punitive measures. In practice, however, political calculations have often caused deadlock at the UNSC, enabling nuclear rogues such as Iran to defy successive, fairly weak UN sanctions resolutions with virtual impunity. The IAEA did, however, refer Syria to the UNSC in June 2011 due to an "absence of confidence that Syria’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes."

Another problem is the lack of adequate verification and enforcement mechanisms available to the IAEA, whose budget, intelligence capabilities, and technological resources fall far short of what would be needed to detect, prevent, or punish NPT violations. In 2010, the IAEA’s inspections budget was approximately $164 million. Not surprisingly, even discounting nuclear facilities the IAEA does not have access to, such as those in Iran and North Korea, nuclear materials have reached the black market from installations under IAEA safeguards, namely, from several in Pakistan. One positive step has been the adoption of IAEA Additional Protocols, which strengthen the agency’s inspections mandate and is in force in 115 countries, including all five recognized nuclear weapon states and, as of 2009, India. Nonetheless, more than half of all NPT member states—including Syria and Iran (which has ratified but not implemented the protocol)—have yet to agree to the toughened inspections regime. A review of the NPT in 2010 failed to reach consensus on U.S. efforts to make the additional protocols mandatory.

Other multilateral, informal organizations also play a role in implementing and enforcing the NPT, notably the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Made up of forty-six advanced nuclear states, the NSG prohibits the transfer of civilian nuclear materials or technology to states outside the NPT, or those that do not fully comply with IAEA safeguards. However, the NSG’s export bans are not legally binding, and members (including the United States, Russia, and China) have taken advantage of the weakness of the NSG regime to pursue civilian nuclear projects with non-NPT members.

Interdicting illicit nuclear transfers

Interdicting illicit nuclear transfers: Some progress since 2001

In addition to legal frameworks, several multilateral initiatives have been created in recent years to improve international coordination in preventing nuclear terrorism. The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), launched in 2006, seeks to coordinate international efforts to detect, investigate, and respond to proliferation by nonstate actors.

Alongside the efforts of the GICNT, many countries are developing a comprehensive detection mechanism to monitor trafficking in nuclear material and related financial transactions. The U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), established in 2003, today involves more than ninety-eight countries in developing the best practices, joint training exercises, and information-sharing activities to improve multilateral interdiction efforts.

Although often cited as a flexible approach to coordinating the international response to proliferation, PSI does not grant any legal authority for ship-boarding or interdiction beyond the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Treaty and various bilateral agreements. India and China, which do not participate in PSI, have questioned the legality of its interdictions. PSI also cannot interdict ships of nonmember states unless master consents to being boarded are allowed, such as Iran and Pakistan. Whether the 2003 interdiction of a ship supplying nuclear materials to Libya was the direct result of PSI activities, for example, is still disputed.

Analysts have also criticized the PSI for being a club of developed economies and not addressing the problem of increasing independence among a growing number of developing countries and nonstate actors from the controls enacted by the traditional supporters of the nuclear establishment. Others have pointed out that the initiative is limited by having neither an independent budget nor coordinating mechanisms, and does not provide a legal framework in which to lock in long-term, verifiable, and irreversible member state commitments. However, as a sign that progress may be forthcoming, the United and States and China jointly installed a nuclear radiation detection system at the Yangshan port in Shanghai in December 2011. Two years earlier, the U.S. Navy was also able to successfully pressure a North Korean vessel—which many suspected to be carrying illicit nuclear weapons materials destined for Myanmar—to return to port by tailing the ship in open waters.

Securing fissile material and nuclear arsenal

Securing fissile material and nuclear arsenals: Significant progress since the 1990s, but incomplete

Possibly the most successful element of the nonproliferation regime has been the effort to secure so-called loose nukes and fissile material throughout the former Soviet Union. This is critical given that some 135 nuclear facilities worldwide use highly enriched uranium (HEU) as fuel—enough HEU to create some 400 nuclear weapons. If terrorist or criminal groups were able to buy or steal even a small portion of this material, they could use it to construct [PDF] a crude nuclear weapon or dirty bomb.

The United States and Russia have led this effort since 1991. By 2011, some 92 percent of sites in the former Soviet Union with weapons-usable nuclear material had been secured. U.S.-funded efforts such as the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, Global Threat Reduction Initiative, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism have been complemented by other multilateral initiatives, such as the Group of Eight Global Partnership against the Spread of WMD, which has provided funding and technical assistance to secure nuclear facilities, repatriate fissile material to origin countries, and promote international cooperation to counter proliferation.

In late 2011, the importance of securing nuclear material came into focus again following the collapse of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya. In September 2011, ten thousand drums of uranium yellowcake were discovered in a Libyan warehouse, virtually unguarded, although a UN official claimed the material was only “slightly” radioactive and did not pose an immediate threat.

The Obama administration brought additional attention to this issue, pledging to secure all vulnerable nuclear weapons materials by 2014 and convening a high-level global nuclear security summits in 2010 and 2012. The 2010 summit yielded tangible results, with Ukraine announcing that it would get rid of all its Soviet-era highly enriched uranium, and five other countries stating intentions to convert their research reactors to run on low-enriched uranium, which is less dangerous. The next global nuclear security summit is planned for 2014 and will take place in the Netherlands.

A related concern, ranging from pioneering nuclear powers like the United States to more recent powers like Pakistan, is the security of nuclear arsenals, specifically regarding safeguarding warheads from accidents, theft, or unauthorized use.

The security of Pakistan’s arsenal is a serious concern, especially for the United States. Reports have emerged that nuclear warheads are often transported on normal roads with little to no protection. While Pakistan has always countered that its arsenal is secure, some U.S. officials have voiced concern about the possibility of one of Pakistan’s weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

Similarly, there have been repeated safety issues related to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In 2007 and 2008, two nuclear safety incidents prompted Secretary of Defense Roberts Gates to institute high-level leadership shifts within the U.S. military. In November 2011 a damaged component of an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile prompted a partial evacuation and emergency response at a U.S. Air Force base in North Dakota. In July 2012, activists broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. It would later come to light that security weaknesses had been discovered at the facility two years previously. These incidents demonstrate that ensuring the safety and security of nuclear arsenal remains a serious and important issue—even for countries with decades of experience with nuclear weapons.

Oversight of civilian nuclear programs and dual-use technologies

Oversight of civilian nuclear programs and dual-use technologies: Inadequate monitoring and verification mechanisms

Some analysts note that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which guarantees states’ rights to develop civilian nuclear technology, enables a peaceful path to proliferation through fuel cycle activities. Many of the processes used to produce civilian nuclear power can be converted to military ends. As noted, the International Atomic Energy Agency does not have the capacity to adequately monitor every nuclear site. Iran has almost certainly used its civilian program as a cover for illicit weapons activities. The challenge of monitoring and verifying NPT safeguards will likely only increase as more countries look to nuclear power to offset volatile energy prices and reduce reliance on carbon-based fuels.

In particular, several Middle Eastern countries that currently lack robust civilian nuclear programs have increasingly looked to diversify their economies through nuclear power. Other than safety risks commonly linked with the development of civilian nuclear programs, other countries may also fear that such programs will be used in the future to develop nuclear weapons. The latter concern is most commonly discussed in reference to Iran potentially developing nuclear weapons—regardless of that country’s repeated assertions that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes—and how such a development could affect regional security dynamics in the Middle East.


Disarmament: Not enough action toward nuclear disarmament by nuclear weapon states

The five recognized nuclear weapon states have committed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue in good faith nuclear disarmament and a treaty on general and complete disarmament. The NPT does not specify an end-date for achieving disarmament. Although almost everyone believes that complete disarmament or even nuclear disarmament remains a distant goal, the record of NWS on pursuing nuclear disarmament is mixed.

At the 1995 NPT Review Conference, in return for agreement from the nonnuclear weapon states to extend the treaty indefinitely, the United States and other nuclear powers reaffirmed their commitment to nuclear disarmament. But despite major cuts in the numbers of U.S. and Russian operationally deployed nuclear warheads, both countries still retain massive stockpiles that account for more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Many NNWS have repeatedly called for the NWS to make even deeper reductions in their arsenals and argued that the NWS foot-dragging is undermining the legitimacy of the NPT. This perceived failure to make progress toward disarmament has been one factor in the unwillingness of many UN members to support sanctions against Iran for NPT violations, which many developing countries see as a justifiable—even admirable—response to the hypocrisy of the nuclear weapon states. In 2010, the U.S. government revealed it had 5,113 warheads in its nuclear arsenal.

Recently, the NWS have recommitted themselves to reductions in nuclear arms, particularly in the New START Treaty and the outcome document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. There are also reports that, due to heightened fiscal pressure, the Obama administration is considering deep cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. However, specific estimates for the cuts vary, and it is unclear if reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal would be a politically viable option.

U.S. Nonproliferation Policy Issues


The United States deserves both praise and criticism for its recent policies on nonproliferation. On one hand, since the Cold War, the United States has been at the forefront of efforts to secure nuclear material and facilities worldwide, spending more than any other country through programs such as Cooperative Threat Reduction and the Proliferation Security Initiative. However, efforts to reduce and reverse the spread of nuclear weapons technology took up only a small part of the resources devoted to nuclear weapons and defense under the Bush administration. According to an independent analysis, the entire 2008 U.S. budget for programs to secure nuclear material around the world was only $250 million—less than the cost of one day of the Iraq war.

After September 11, the Bush administration led the world in creating international normative and legal frameworks to address the threat of nuclear proliferation by nonstate actors, supporting the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 and the Nuclear Terrorism Convention (which the United States signed but has not ratified). On the other hand, the administration did not support efforts to broaden constraints on states’ nuclear weapons programs, refusing, for example, to accept verification measures as part of any treaty banning the production of fissile material, and failing to push for Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratification. President Bush did call for, and achieved, a 65 percent reduction in U.S. operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration’s position on missile defense (among other issues) hampered bilateral negotiations with Russia and contributed to the failure to extend the seminal U.S.-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) before its expiration at the end of 2009. The much weaker 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) requires the countries to dismantle—not destroy—only a portion of their warheads. The United States and Russia have signed and ratified a treaty to replace START—New START—which limits both countries to 1,550 operationally deployed nuclear weapons. It entered into force in February 2011.

By contrast, President Obama laid out his vision for a new nonproliferation strategy in Prague in April 2009, where he reaffirmed "America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." In doing so, he pledged that the United States would reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. national security strategy, negotiate a new START treaty with Russia, pursue U.S. ratification of the CTBT, strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) with increased resources and authority for international inspectors, work toward building a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation and an international fuel bank, and create a new international effort to secure vulnerable material globally within four years. The April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review identifies nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation as urgent threats, necessitating a U.S. nuclear policy focused on rebuilding the nuclear nonproliferation regime through international efforts.

Despite President Obama’s shift in tone from the Bush administration, several nonproliferation issues continue to spark debate in the United States.

Deep cuts to U.S. nuclear arsenal

Should the United States pursue deep cuts in its nuclear arsenal?

No: The U.S. nuclear arsenal—already subject to significant cuts through the 2011 New START Treaty—should not be further reduced as suggested by the January 2012 policy planning document, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. First, pursuing cuts to the nuclear arsenal, possibly to as few as three hundred warheads, risks damaging perceptions of the viability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, which covers critical U.S. allies like Germany and Japan. Furthermore, the United States needs a robust nuclear arsenal to counter threats from states like North Korea and Iran, who regularly flout international accords and norms. For example, despite North Korea’s February 2012 compromise with the United States to accept a moratorium on the testing of long-range missiles and nuclear weapon in exchange for food aid, it broke the accord just two months later after attempted to test what it claimed was a satellite, but more likely was a long-range missile. It followed this effort with a successful launch of a satellite in December 2012. According to a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report, it is increasingly apparent that Iran’s nuclear program is not peaceful in nature, and that Tehran may be moving closer to developing a nuclear weapon.

The United States also needs to be mindful of threats from great power countries like Russia and China. Russia, despite acceding to the New START Treaty in 2011, still has a larger nuclear arsenal than the United States, and has even threatened to target U.S. plans for a strengthened missile defense system in Europe. In addition, reports have emerged that China’s nuclear arsenal is substantially larger than originally projected and growing. U.S. congressional representative Trent Franks claims that further reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal would encourage proliferation by countries seeking to outdo the United States, calling plans for deep cuts "reckless lunacy." Now, more than ever, the United States should avoid a major alteration of its nuclear posture and reassure its friends and allies that its deterrent capability remains robust.

Yes: Moving forward with the nuclear weapons strategy put forth in the Obama administration’s Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense document to “maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent” would strengthen national security and make U.S. defense spending more efficient. Substantial reductions to the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal is unlikely to harm U.S. national security interests given that the United States can still rely on its advanced conventional military capabilities. Additionally, a large stockpile of nuclear weapons is ill-suited to addressing current threats the United States faces from other countries.

International sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear program, for example, have escalated, increasing pressure on the Iranian regime to change course. Moreover, even if Iran did develop a nuclear weapon capability, some believe it is extremely unlikely the regime would ever use nuclear weapons due to an assured counterattack from the United States or Israel. North Korea, which resumed multilateral negotiations over its nuclear program and recently agreed to a moratorium on nuclear weapons tests, is estimated to possess only a dozen weapons. Moreover, despite fears of a new Cold War between the United States and China, nuclear weapons appear increasingly exogenous to Sino-U.S. ties—especially given the recent warming of relations between China and Taiwan. Some experts have also pointed out that the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal inadvertently encourages nuclear weapons proliferation by rogue states by placing too much value on nuclear weapons.

Nuclear disarmament

Should the international community move toward universal nuclear disarmament?

Yes: In a groundbreaking op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in January 2007, U.S. foreign policy heavyweights George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn set out the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and ways in which the United States can lead the world toward this goal. The essay argued that relying on nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes was "becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective."As preliminary steps, authors called for substantial reductions in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, elimination of short-range forward-deployed nuclear weapons, ratification of the Comprhensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), creation of an international nuclear fuel bank, and a halt to the production of fissile material (which the United States has not produced since 1988). Because calls for disarmament had previously been viewed as the purview of the Democratic party, the piece’s high-profile authorship helped shift the debate within U.S. government and other policy circles. President Obama has endorsed this perspective by calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. In addition, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has called global nuclear disarmament a “concrete possibility.”

Many who support universal global nuclear disarmament posit that a legally binding convention on nuclear weapons is the best means of achieving universal nuclear disarmament. One prominent pro-disarmament nongovernmental organization suggests that such a binding global convention could be practically implemented by all nuclear capable states by 2030.

No: Opponents of nuclear disarmament argue that it would actually encourage would-be proliferators like Iran, which would have far more to gain and less to lose by acquiring nuclear weapons. Many experts, including the authors of the Wall Street Journal piece, also believe that the U.S. nuclear umbrella has been a primary factor in preventing allies such as Japan, South Korea, and Turkey from seeking nuclear weapons, and that U.S. disarmament, in particular, could spark regional arms races elsewhere.

Critics of a convention on nuclear weapons also raise concerns of the political feasibility of reaching an agreement on such a contentious issue. Specifically, the UN organ that would be entrusted with drafting such a covenant, the UN Conference on Disarmament, operates by consensus and has historically faced serious internal divisions. Another common critique is that an international convention banning nuclear weapons would require an intrusive verification regime, which many states might be unwilling to accept. Furthermore, such a covenant could have the unintended effect of nuclear blackmail by a rogue state that covertly develops nuclear weapons. North Korea’s 2003 decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty demonstrates the risks that the international community could by agreeing to such a convention.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Should the United States ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

Yes: The Bush administration claimed to support the CTBT, which was rejected by the U.S. Senate in 1999, but did not push for ratification while in office. Proponents point out that Washington already observes a de facto moratorium on testing, and that new technology and initiatives such as the Stockpile Stewardship Program mean that the United States can retain its nuclear capabilities without testing. They add that monitoring technology would deter cheating by detecting any secret testing on a scale large enough to ensure that weapons are reliable. Supporters of the CTBT also note that President Clinton pledged to ratify the treaty in 1995, and that doing so might encourage other states, such as India and China, to do the same. President Obama has stated his support for the treaty and his intent to seek Senate ratification, putting Vice President Biden in charge of this effort.

No: Critics argue that the CTBT would limit the United States’ ability to maintain functional weapons for defensive and deterrence purposes, and could eventually lead to what has been referred to as involuntary disarmament. Opponents [PDF] also believe that the treaty would be impossible to monitor or enforce and that cheaters could use secret tests to advance their nuclear programs, possibly putting the United States at a disadvantage. Finally, they argue that only a strong U.S. nuclear deterrent and not arms control treaties, which the international community will ignore, can dissuade other states from acquiring nuclear weapons.

U.S. missile defense

Should the United States go ahead with missile defense?

Yes: Supporters say missile defense will protect the United States against nuclear-armed, adversarial states such as North Korea and, in particular Iran, where deterrence may not work because the the rationality of highlevel leaders is in doubt." Some believe this threat is likely; others, such as former undersecretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, said that even if the threat were only possible, Americans have a duty to use existing missile defense technology to protect themselves. Supporters of missile defense believe that the program will overcome most of the technological hurdles it now faces, and some note that even if the system isn’t perfect, the difficulty of overcoming the defense will be enough to deter enemies. They are also likely to point to the successful deployment of a missile defense radar system in Turkey in 2012 as well as the successful use of Iron Dome missile defense in Israel during the Gaza-Israel clashes in March 2012.

No: Opponents argue that policymakers should reallocate the considerable resources absorbed by the missile defense system to more imminent, and arguably more plausible, dangers such as terrorists smuggling improvised nuclear devices into the United States in cargo containers. A great technological leap is required, they note, to move from building a nuclear bomb (as North Korea appears to have done, and as Iran may be close to doing) and designing a reliable warhead that can be loaded onto a missile. Opponents also argue that, because the United States would be able to identify the geographical origin of an incoming missile within seconds from launch, the near certainty of a devastating U.S. retaliation guarantees a strong deterrent against any such attack. Some of these critics also dislike the sense of invulnerability that such a system would lend to the United States, which, they worry, could lead Washington to take increasingly unilateral policies in a variety of areas, potentially alienating friends and antagonizing others. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then candidate Barack Obama promised to "responsibly deploy missile defenses that would protect us and our allies," but "only when the system works." The European missile defense system being pursued by the Obama administration has fewer technical barriers than the one proposed by the Bush administration. Nonetheless, Russia has suggested it will target the missile defense systems in Europe unless it receives guarantees from the United States and NATO that the system will not threaten Russia’s strategic interests.

Modernize U.S. nuclear arsenal

Should the United States introduce new weapon components into its nuclear arsenal?

Yes: The National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency in charge of nuclear weapons within the Department of Energy, has recommended updating the U.S. nuclear arsenal to adapt it to post-Cold War scenarios and ensure its long-term dependability, leading to debates over plans to develop a reliable replacement warhead that would be easier to maintain and would not require nuclear testing. Although Congress decided not to fund the originally proposed Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program, advocates of the idea, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have argued that current methods of maintaining the nuclear stockpile will work only in the short term and that ensuring a strong nuclear deterrent is a fundamental U.S. national security interest. They note that, should the United States one day no longer be able to reproduce the materials and devices it used during the Cold War, it may find itself having to choose between letting its arsenal fade into irrelevance or resume weapons testing.

No: Opponents say that there are no technical reasons to doubt the soundness of the current stockpile maintenance system. They point to the Stockpile Stewardship Program and the Warhead Life Extension Program as evidence that confidence in the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal can be maintained without nuclear tests or the development of new nuclear weapons. Opponents also worry that the RRW may undermine the nonproliferation consensus, either because other states will believe that it adds capability to U.S. weapons or because it may eventually require nuclear testing. They believe that RRW may be prohibitively expensive, and that the current system ensures an adequate, long-term nuclear deterrent. The Obama administration’s April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review asserts that the United States will not build new nuclear warheads.

Engagement versus coercion

Should the United States do more to engage states like North Korea and Iran?

Yes: While states such as Iran and North Korea admittedly present a challenge to the international community—whether in terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or threats to regional stability—experts contend engagement should trump confrontation. Although international sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear program have recently expanded amid increasing calls for preemptive military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, Tehran remains resolute. With that said, talks are slated to begin once again in February 2013 after recent delays. Similarly, despite prolonged sanctions and international isolation, North Korea has retained its nuclear arsenal. On the other hand, proponents of engagement argue [PDF] that negotiations have yielded concrete results by checking both countries’ nuclear ambitions. Overall, supporters of engagement argue that more coercive approaches would not only preclude the United States and international community from reaching any compromise from such states, but would also unhinge regional stability and facilitate nuclear proliferation. They also argue that advocates of more hard-line strategies exaggerate the risks of nuclear proliferation by states such as Iran and North Korea, as well as underrate the value of deterrence and the mutually assured destruction to ensure stability and prevent the use of nuclear weapons.

No: Rather than squander efforts on engagement, the international community should take a harder line on intransigent states such as North Korea and Iran to halt nuclear proliferation. Time and time again, diplomatic negotiations—whether in the form of the Six Party Talks with North Korea or multilateral negotiations with Iran—have yielded little in terms of substantive results. North Korea, for instance, has continued to conduct nuclear tests and repeatedly threatened to attack South Korea, a critical U.S. ally. Iran also appears to be moving closer to achieving nuclear weapons capability, and is openly enriching uranium up to 20 percent. Either of these countries could also attempt to export technical expertise abroad, risking proliferation of sensitive missile and nuclear technology to states such as Syria or Myanmar. In general, those who favor coercive approaches argue that negotiations are little more than delaying tactics rather than genuine attempts to reach an agreement. Additionally, both North Korea and Iran can count on the support of powerful allies on the UN Security Council—Russia or China—and thus have little incentive to change course. Specifically, the United States and others should prioritize measures including suspending foreign aid (in terms of North Korea), expanding economic sanctions, launching covert espionage missions, and, as a last resort, targeted military action.

U.S. aid to Pakistan

Should the United States provide Pakistan aid to improve the security of its nuclar arsenal?

Yes: As Pakistan is a U.S. ally, consistently faces external and internal threats [PDF] from terrorists and extremists alike, and currently holds an estimated 90 to 110 nuclear warheads, it is vital that the United States provide Pakistan aid to secure its nuclear arsenal. Exemplifying the importance of helping Pakistan in this area, U.S. congressional representative Michele Bachmann has labeled Pakistan "too nuclear to fail" and has warned that suspending Pakistan’s aid would be "highly naïve." Proponents of providing Pakistan aid to secure its arsenal also note that such a policy is a relatively cheap way to prevent dangerous nonstate actors from stealing or acquiring one of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. In particular, aid set aside for improving the security of Pakistan’s arsenal has represented only a small proportion of the more than $20 billion the country has received from the United States since 2011. Additionally, the United States, as a long standing nuclear power committed to nuclear security, is uniquely equipped to provide nuclear security related assistance to Pakistan.

No: Although the United States has a critical national security interest in ensuring the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, providing the Pakistani government with aid will do little to accomplish this goal. First, Pakistan has repeatedly denied claims that its nuclear arsenal is insecure; it also recently announced training of an elite team comprising eight thousand members to guard the nuclear arsenal. Even if security gaps do exist in Pakistan, it is not clear that additional U.S. aid—on top of the tens of millions the U.S. has already provided Pakistan already to secure its arsenal—will fix the problem. There is also the risk that certain actors within Pakistan’s government could divert U.S. aid, and perhaps even to extremist elements in the country. Similarly, aid designated for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal might actually increase suspicions in the Pakistani military that U.S. intelligence agencies are spying, with potentially harmful ramifications for U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. More broadly, providing aid to Pakistan to secure its nuclear arsenal could be interpreted by some members of the international community as a "reward" to Pakistan for developing nuclear weapons—and inadvertently encourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons elsewhere.

Recent Developments

Breakthrough in Iran talks

November 2013

On November 24, 2013, the United States and the rest of the P5+1 struck the first meaningful deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program in over a decade. In return for limited and reversible sanctions relief, Iran agreed to halt its nuclear program for a period of six months. Though the agreement does not provide a long-term solution to concerns about Iranian nuclear aspirations, it lays the groundwork for further negotiations. As of January 20, 2014, the IAEA and the United States verified that Iran had fulfilled its initial commitments under the joint plan of action.

Nuclear states defying NPT

June 2013

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s latest yearbook has suggested that all five recognized nuclear states are either deploying new nuclear weapons or delivery systems for nuclear systems or plan to do so. The report contends that these states "appear determined to retain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely." Such a development would violate the terms of the nonproliferation treaty which states that recognized nuclear states work toward disarmament.

Egypt walks out of nuclear meetings

April 2013

On April 30, Egypt walked out of the Geneva preparatory meeting for the 2015 Review Conference of the State Parties to the Treaty on the NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Egyptian foreign minister for international organizations explained that the delegation’s walkout from the talks stemmed from Egypt’s frustration at a lack of progress toward a nuclear-free zone encompassing the Middle East. The creation of such a zone was not on the agenda for the current round of global nuclear talks.

Chinese pledge for nuclear-free North Korea

April 2013

During his visit to China, Secretary of State John Kerry said that China had agreed to help North Korea demobilize its nuclear arsenal by peaceful means. It is hoped that China, as North Korea’s primary trading partner and financier, has the leverage to mitigate the increasingly aggressive rhetoric from Pyongyang that has increased fears of military operations on the peninsula.

Third North Korean nuclear test

February 2013

North Korea conducted a controversial nuclear test on Monday, February 11, the country’s third since 2006. North Korean officials claimed the country has successfully miniaturized its nuclear technology, a crucial step in developing long-range missile capabilities, but details of the test remain murky.

The United States announced that Washington would push for stricter sanctions in the wake of the most recent test, which has been condemned by South Korea and Russia, among others. Even China, North Korea’s closest ally for decades, strongly criticized the test—Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi announced that China was “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to North Korea’s most recent provocation. Its subsequent threats against the United States and South Korea, combined with its scrapping of a Korean War armistice, have led to widespread condemnation from the United Nations, European Union, and other states.

U.S.-Russian disposal program ends

December 2013

In 1994, the United States and Russia struck a deal to dispose of large stockpiles of Soviet highly enriched uranium (HEU). Over twenty years, Russia converted five hundred metric tons of HEU (enough bomb-grade uranium for 20,000 warheads) into low-enriched uranium (LEU) that the United States purchased. The United States-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, commonly known as the Megatons to Megawatts program, ended with the last shipment of LEU reaching the United States on December 11, 2013.

Options for Strengthening the Nonproliferation Regime


Recent trends have brought the nuclear nonproliferation regime to a moment of grave crisis. The regime is under siege from both rogue states and nonstate actors, and its core bargain between the nuclear haves and have-nots continues to erode. Bolstering international restraints on the world’s deadliest weapons will require the United States and its international partners to adopt realistic, concrete steps to strengthen and close gaps in existing treaty regimes, institutions, and partnerships.

These recommendations reflect the views of Stewart M. Patrick, director of the program on international institutions and global governance.

Increase the IAEA budget

Increasing the IAEA budget and reforming the safeguards, security, and personnel systems

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the world's technical agency in charge of ensuring that countries maintain safeguards on their peaceful nuclear programs. Safeguards help deter a country from diverting nuclear technology and materials from peaceful to military programs. The major concern is that safeguards capabilities have not kept up with the increased use of nuclear power and the projected expansion of nuclear power to many counties. In the words of the Bush administration’s head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, "safeguards equipment is outdated and personnel preparedness declining as the agency failed to replace retiring experts with new hires."

The IAEA provides services on improving nuclear security in order to prevent nuclear and radiological materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. In 2008, the Eminent Persons Commission advised the IAEA director general that the agency needs to substantially increase its budget for safeguards and security work. Unfortunately, this financial support has not been forthcoming. The IAEA, however, needs member states to commit to place the agency on a sustainable funding path. It also needs to reform its personnel rules to allow experts to stay in one type of job for longer than seven years and for highly qualified senior personnel to stay employed beyond the mandatory retirement age of sixty-two.The recent release of an IAEA report discussing Iran’s alleged covert nuclear weapons activity presents more evidence regarding the need to ensure the funding needs of the IAEA are satisfied.

Boost efforts to get CTBT into force

Increasing national and international efforts to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force

Increasing national and international efforts to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force and boost funding to the CTBT Preparatory Commission is required in order to continue to improve the international monitoring system. The CTBT is specifically linked to the overall nonproliferation regime, and entry into force would strengthen the norm against proliferation of nuclear weapons and make it more difficult for states to have confidence that nuclear weapons would work without testing. For the CTBT to enter into force, forty-four nuclear-capable states must ratify it. If the United States ratifies, it can then apply more leverage to the remaining holdout states to do the same.

Nonratifying states include China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States. In a February 2010 speech, Vice President Biden reaffirmed U.S. commitment to ratify the treaty. The United States will need allied states to reach out and apply diplomatic pressure to holdout states to help secure entry into force. To ensure the requisite technical support for the treaty, the United States and its allies need to provide enough funding and other technical resources to the CTBT Organization (CTBTO) and Preparatory Commission. Such support will improve the global monitoring system that is designed to detect relatively low yield nuclear tests throughout the world.

New nuclear arms control treaties

Negotiating new, emboldened nuclear arms control treaties

The United States and Russia replaced the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with the New START Treaty. Successful negotiation and ratification of this agreement improved the overall condition of U.S.-Russian relations, possibly making it easier to work together on other multilateral efforts (such as ensuring the peaceful use of nuclear energy, preventing further proliferation to additional states, and implementing global best security practices on nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear materials). The New START agreement preserves many of the best elements of its predecessor, such as information exchange, predictability, and permanence in reductions, verification, and transparency. But the United States and Russia must also look ahead to deeper nuclear reductions and focus on broader issues of contention, including missile defense and advanced conventional weapons.

In the longer term, the United States and its international partners should consider the following steps:

Reform and Strengthen the NPT

Reforming and strengthening the NPT by creating automatic or binding UNSC mechanisms

Rights in the NPT come with responsibilities. Nuclear weapon states have the responsibility to ensure access to peaceful nuclear technologies, and the recipient states need to show that they can manage nuclear power safely and securely. Although Iran has cited its inalienable right under the NPT to access peaceful nuclear technologies, including dual-use enrichment technologies, it has not met its responsibility to ensure adequate safeguards on its peaceful nuclear program. It has also not provided enough transparency into suspected nuclear weapons development activities to assure the world that it is meeting its responsibility to not acquire nuclear weapons. North Korea left the NPT under the Article X supreme national interests clause, but it did so while under suspicion of developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, it never placed its nuclear program under safeguards.

Although amending the NPT is admittedly a difficult task, states should commit to strengthening the interpretation and application of the treaty’s rules. In particular, the UN Security Council should require that any state in violation of its safeguards agreement should suspend the suspect activity until the violation is resolved. The Security Council should also require any state in violation of its safeguards agreement that wants to leave the NPT to return nuclear technologies and materials obtained while a member to countries of origin. In addition, the Security Council should call for a special inspection in any country that has violated its safeguards commitment and is under suspicion of having a nuclear weapons program. Nuclear weapon states have a special responsibility to reaffirm their commitment to pursue nuclear disarmament. They need to demonstrate what concrete actions they have taken and intend to take on the disarmament front. The 2010 NPT Review Conference provided an opportunity for treaty signatories to recommit themselves to a world free of nuclear weapons; however, U.S. efforts to include language on stronger verification measures in the final document failed.

Institutionalize the PSI

Determining whether to institutionalize PSI

In his April 2009 Prague speech, President Obama advocated that the world should "come together to turn efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative...into a durable institution." The purported benefits of creating a formal institution out of PSI are still being debated. For example, turning the PSI from an informal cooperation agreement into an organization with a secretariat and a budget has the potential to increase its resource endowment and expand its reach. Institutionalizing the initiative may also help clarify commitments and increase operational transparency, making it easier to evaluate performance and measure progress. Bringing the PSI under UN aegis, some analysts have argued, could boost its international legitimacy and appeal to China, India, and Middle Eastern states, whose cooperation in policing the nuclear trade market remains important. One way to put PSI on a firmer institutional footing without folding into an explicitly formalized institution would be to strengthen its legal foundation. This would place interdiction on grounds consistent with international law.

Alliance against nuclear terrorism

Creating a global alliance against nuclear terrorism

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, while nonnuclear, renewed fears of catastrophic nuclear terrorism. In response, the United States and partner countries have revived or initiated international efforts to counter this threat. In particular, the Group of Eight (G8) countries in 2002 launched the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, in which the United States committed to spend at least $10 billion over ten years, and other partners pledged to match that sum. In 2004, the United States formed the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which was an umbrella program including several programs to secure and reduce fissile materials as well as radioactive materials. Russia is a major partner in this initiative. In 2006, Russia and the United States joined forces again when then president Bush and then Russian president Putin began the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which as of early 2010 had eighty-two countries voluntarily taking part in sharing intelligence on nuclear terrorist threats as well as pledging to work toward better security practices over nuclear and other radioactive materials.

These programs and initiatives have achieved significant results, but more committed and coordinated global efforts are needed. The challenge for the new U.S. administration is to urge countries to meet their financial and resource commitments pledged under these programs and to increase funding and personnel to ensure that President Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material can be achieved by 2014. The institutionalization of biennial global nuclear security summits—with the next summit planned for 2014 in the Netherlands—is a solid step in the right direction.

Layered nuclear fuel assurance

Developing a system of layered nuclear fuel assurance

The spread of nuclear fuel–making facilities under a single state’s control can increase the risk of diversion of peaceful nuclear technologies into weapons programs. Issuing an edict to prohibit this activity runs into the barriers of state sovereignty and the "inalienable right" to pursue peaceful nuclear programs. States have built fuel–making facilities for reasons of satisfying national pride, developing a latent weapons capability, and trying to make a profit. To take away or at least to reduce the economic rationale for these facilities, several fuel assurance programs have been proposed. Many of these proposals were studied decades ago. Concerns about proliferation in response to Iran’s nuclear program have prompted a dusting off of these proposals or a dressing up with more incentives. The important point is that the nuclear fuel market has worked effectively and there is no reason to expect it to fail in the foreseeable future especially with the expansion plans of the established nuclear fuel producers.

To further strengthen nonproliferation, it makes sense to offer a layered system of fuel assurances that would be available to any country that is in compliance with its safeguards commitments. The first layer would be the existing market in which a handful of major producers have been meeting customers’ needs. The second layer would consist of political commitments and insurance policies that would form in effect a virtual fuel bank to back up the existing market. The final layer would consist of an actual fuel bank containing sufficient fuel or low-enriched uranium that can be readily converted to fuel. Such a bank should contain at least enough fuel or enriched uranium to supply the needs of a few large power reactors over a two to three year period. Even with this layered approach, certain countries may still decide to pursue new fuel–making endeavors, but a robust layered fuel system will at least expose that these countries are doing such activities for other than economic reasons.

Conventions & Treaties



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (1970)

Prohibits the five recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS) from supplying nonnuclear weapon states (NNWS) with nuclear weapons-related material or technology. NWS pledge to disarm completely. NNWS are guaranteed access to civilian nuclear technology, and accept safeguards to ensure that nuclear technology or materials are not diverted from civilian programs. The NPT was extended indefinitely during the 1995 NPT review conference.

Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (1987)

Provides legal framework to ensure that nuclear materials are not diverted from legitimate use for peaceful purposes. Requires states to protect nuclear materials in international transit. A 2005 amendment would extend the convention’s requirements to cover civilian nuclear materials in domestic storage and transport, and criminalize sabotage against nuclear facilities. Established a framework for cooperation between states to recover stolen nuclear materials.

Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) (1991)

Required each country to reduce its nuclear arsenal to about 6,000 warheads. Was the cornerstone of the U.S.- Soviet arms control regime.

START II (1993)

Attempted to ban the placement of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles on intercontinental ballistic missiles. Also called for the United States and Russia to reduce nuclear arsenal by two-thirds below pre-START (1991) numbers.

START III (1993)

By December 31, 2007, the United States and Russia would each deploy no more than 2,000 to 2,500 strategic nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers.

International Court of Justice: Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (1996)

Declared the threat or use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal. Called on states to continue efforts toward total nuclear disarmament.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) (1996)

Bans all nuclear testing, for either civilian or military purposes.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocols (1997)

Empowers IAEA to conduct more intrusive inspections of civilian nuclear facilities, including undeclared sites, and to demand more comprehensive information about parties’ nuclear activities. Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) authorizes IAEA inspections of declared sites only.

Joint Convention on Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste (2001)

First international instrument dealing with the safe storage of radioactive waste and spent fuel. Twenty-five technical articles stipulate measures to be taken by contracting states to secure spent fuel and radioactive waste from civilian programs, including during transit, setting global standards in this area.

Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty) (2002)

Limits United States and Russia to 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed nuclear warheads by December 2012.

International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (2002)

Calls for members to limit the production, testing, and export of ballistic missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and to reduce their own stockpiles if feasible. Members are not prohibited from producing or maintaining ballistic missiles, but may not support efforts to develop missiles by states which may be developing WMD in breach of international nonproliferation treaties. Members annually exchange data on their missile programs.

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2007)

Defines and requires party states to criminalize acts of nuclear terrorism by nonstate actors; requires states to prosecute or extradite suspects in cases of nuclear terrorism; and requires states to adopt measures to protect radioactive material in accordance with recommendations from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Promotes international cooperation and information-sharing in cases pertinent to the convention.

New START Treaty (2010)

In the seven years after entry into effect, parties must reduce their respective arsenals to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads. The treaty also limits the delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons to five hundred heavy bombers and launchers and seven hundred deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and deployed heavy bombers. Treaty to remain in force for ten years.

Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) (Proposed)

Proposed ban of fissile material for all military nuclear devices. In 1993, UN General Assembly called for negotiation of a "non-discriminatory, multilateral and international effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." UN Conference on Disarmament is tasked with negotiating a cutoff treaty, but final text has never been agreed upon.

Multilateral Nuclear Fuel Bank (Proposed)

Some states and organizations have submitted proposals for the creation of a multilateral nuclear fuel bank, which would guarantee supplies of enriched uranium to all countries and thus prevent the need for states to develop their own enrichment capabilities. Most proposals envision the fuel bank under IAEA control.

International Uranium Enrichment Center (IUEC) (2010)

Guarantees supply of low-enriched uranium to member-states with the intention of preventing states from developing indigenous enrichment capacity.

Organizations & Institutions



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (1957)

Chief implementing party for NPT. Monitors civilian nuclear programs to ensure compliance with safeguards and assists in development of civilian nuclear technology. IAEA is independent of the UN, but reports annually to the UN General Assembly, and can refer cases of noncompliance to the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Nuclear Exporters Committee (Zangger Committee) (1971)

Maintains and updates trigger list of nuclear-related materials subject to export controls. Designated materials may only be exported to countries or sites complying with safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Essentially superseded by Nuclear Suppliers Program, which has a similar mandate but a broader list of controlled technologies.

Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) (1975)

Regulates transfer of nuclear-related technology and material. Maintains control list for nuclear-related exports, and prohibits such nuclear exports to countries in violation of safeguards agreements of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including countries not party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Since 2004, members can block the export of any material suspected to facilitate a nuclear weapons program, even if it is not on the control list.

UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) (1979)

Sole forum for multilateral disarmament negotiations by the international community, including on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT).

Ploughshares Fund (1981)

Supports and works with organizations "to promote the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." Provides grants for projects related reducing nuclear arms, halting nuclear proliferation, and ensuring stability in south Asia.

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (1998)

Seeks to educate and empower individuals to support a world free of nuclear weapons.




For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) (1987)

Establishes a system of export controls on ballistic missile technology that could be used to develop missile delivery systems for nuclear weapons. Guidelines prohibit rocket systems and unmanned air vehicle systems with capabilities over 300 kilometers and 500 kilograms range/payload threshold. Members are not to export technology to states that have been denied the technology by other members. Several Eastern European countries destroyed their ballistic missiles to join.

Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) (1991)

Provides funding and assistance to states to secure and dismantle nuclear (as well as chemical and biological) weapons, materials, infrastructure, and delivery systems. Since 2001, has focused increasingly on preventing terrorist access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Middle Power Initiative (2002)

Works to convince governments to support the elimination of nuclear weapons. Collaborates with "middle power" governments to encourage and educate nuclear weapon states to take action to reduce nuclear dangers and eventually eliminate their weapons.

Group of Eight (G8) Global Partnership against the Spread of WMD (2002)

Seeks to secure chemical weapons, biological research facilities, and fissile material; dismantle Russian nuclear submarines; and find jobs for scientists. G8 members pledged to raise $20 billion over ten years to assist these efforts, initially focused on Russia. Guidelines developed to standardize implementation of nonproliferation projects. Program expanded in July 2008 to address challenges in regions beyond the former Soviet Union.

Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) (2003)

Forum to share best practices, build capacity, and refine interoperability to improve participating countries’ success in interdiction efforts aimed at combating trafficking in WMD-related material. Actual interdiction efforts by states on a national level, in partnership with other participating states. Main focus is on intelligence-sharing and interdiction by land, sea, and air.

Six-Party Talks (2003-ongoing)

Negotiations aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear weapon program. Despite a breakthrough 2005 agreement whereby North Korea would abandon its nuclear program in return for aid, talks fell apart in 2006 in the wake of a North Korean nuclear test. In 2007, after resuming talks, North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities in exchange for fuel aid and diplomatic concessions. Talks have remained stalled since early 2009.

Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) (2004)

Removes and secures highly enriched uranium (HEU) and other radiological materials from facilities around the world, and converts research reactors from HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU). More than forty nuclear bombs’ worth of HEU removed and 755 radiological sites secured in more than forty countries, which contained more than 10 million curies.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) (2006)

Aims to expand and coordinate international efforts to prevent the acquisition or use of nuclear weapons or materials by terrorist groups. Seeks to improve the physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities, prevent financing of nuclear terrorism, promote information-sharing and law-enforcement cooperation, and improve investigation and response capabilities. A major aim is to develop a detection architecture to monitor trafficking in nuclear material.

International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (2006)

Promotes expansion of safe, clean nuclear technology. Major aims include developing and promoting new, proliferation-resistant technologies for nuclear energy. Advanced nuclear countries would cooperate to develop fuel reprocessing capacity to make plutonium usable for energy but not weapons. Nonnuclear states would be guaranteed fuel supplies in return for agreement to not develop civilian reprocessing capability.

P5+1 Talks with Iran (2006)

Calls for diplomatic initiatives to resolve the ’nuclear issue’ in Iran. Calls for members to convene and create negotiations on practical steps to build confidence and trust between the involved countries.

Global Zero (2008)

Developed a systematic plan to eliminate nuclear threats including proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Works to promote an end to the spread of nuclear weapons secure all nuclear materials and eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2030.

Nuclear Security Summit (2010)

Voluntary summit sought to increase support for nuclear security efforts and accelerate the process of securing vulnerable nuclear materials and ending their illicit traffic. 2010 Summit communique reaffirmed participants’ commitment to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials and to an array of international agreements, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

Nuclear Weapon–Free Zones (NWFZ) - Africa (2009)

Parties agree not to develop, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Five recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS) agree not to use or threaten use of nuclear weapons against countries in NWFZs.

Nuclear Weapon–Free Zones (NWFZ) - Central Asia (2009)

Parties agree not to develop, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Five recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS) agree not to use or threaten use of nuclear weapons against countries in NWFZs.

Nuclear Weapon–Free Zones (NWFZ) - Latin America (1969)

Parties agree not to develop, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Five recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS) agree not to use or threaten use of nuclear weapons against countries in NWFZs.

Nuclear Weapon–Free Zones (NWFZ) - Southeast Asia (1997)

Parties agree not to develop, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Five recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS) agree not to use or threaten use of nuclear weapons against countries in NWFZs.

Nuclear Weapon–Free Zones (NWFZ) - South Pacific

Parties agree not to develop, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Five recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS) agree not to use or threaten use of nuclear weapons against countries in NWFZs.


Security Council Resolutions



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

Building a Nuclear-Free World: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1887 (2009)

Broad-reaching resolution that reaffirms members’ responsibilities to build a nuclear weapon-free world, strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, and improve capabilities to detect, deter, and disrupt illicit trafficking in nuclear materials.

India and Pakistan: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1172 (1998)

Condemns nuclear tests conducted by India on May 11 and May 13, 1998, and by Pakistan on May 28 and May 30, 1998. Demands both countries refrain from further tests and halve their nuclear weapons programs. Urges India and Pakistan to enter into negotiations to prevent an escalation in disputes. Encourages UN member states to halt exports of materials that could aid India’s or Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Iran: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1929 (2010)

Citing Iran’s failure to comply with previous resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations, demands that the country halts all enrichment activities and begin cooperating with the IAEA, including providing access to nuclear facilities. Prohibits Iran from involvement in foreign commercial production of nuclear materials. Bans the sale of military equipment to Iran, including missile systems and combat aircraft. Places sanctions on groups and individuals, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1984 (2011)

Extends mandate of panel of experts [PDF] created by UNSCR 1929 until June 2012 to monitor implementation of sanctions on Iran.

Iran: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1803 (2008)

Enacts a third round of sanctions in response to Iran’s defiance of UNSCRs 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), and 1747 (2007). Extends targeted sanctions, calls for increased vigilance over transactions with Iranian banks, and expands ban on nuclear-related transfers to Iran (for example, to include certain dual-use technologies).

Iran: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1747 (2007)

Widens scope of sanctions imposed under UNSCR 1737 (2006) banning Iranian arms exports, as well as freezing assets and restricting travel of additional persons and entities engaged in nuclear proliferation activities.

Iran: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1737 (2006)

Imposes sanctions on Iran in response to its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. Prohibits UN member states from transferring sensitive nuclear-related material and equipment to Iran. Freezes assets of persons and entities supporting Iran’s nuclear-related activities.

Iran: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1696 (2006)

Demands Iran halts its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, including all research and development, within thirty days, or face the threat of punitive sanctions.

Iraq: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1762 (2002)

Concluded weapon inspectors’ mandates in Iraq, specifically the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which were searching for weapons of mass destruction. Asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to transfer remaining funds in the UNMOVIC account to the Development Fund for Iraq.

Iraq: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1441 (2002)

Determined Iraq in material breach of obligations under relevant UNSCRs, including 687 (1991), and provides Iraq final opportunity to comply with disarmament obligations.

Iraq: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1284 (1999)

Established United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to replace Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) established under UNSCR 687(1991). Mandate to verify Iraq’s compliance with earlier resolutions on programs for weapons of mass destruction. Highlighted conditions under which UNSC would consider relaxation of sanctions.

Iraq: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 687 (1991)

Required Iraq to unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of all ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers. Established United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to implement the nonnuclear provisions of the resolution, and to assist the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in conducting on-site inspection of nuclear capabilities.

North Korea: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1985 (2010)

Recalls work of previous resolutions related to North Korea and extends mandate of panel of experts created by UNSCR 1874.

North Korea: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1928 (2010)

Extends mandate of panel of experts created by UNSCR 1874 to June 2011.

North Korea: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1874 (2009)

Condemns North Korea’s nuclear tests on May 29, 2009 and demands that it suspend all tests and missile launches. It also instructs North Korea to unequivocally return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Six Party Talks, and to its commitments for a moratorium on missile launches. The resolution includes a mandatory ban on all arms exports (save small arms and light weapons).

North Korea: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1718 (2006)

Demands North Korea halt all activities related to ballistic missiles program, and imposes sanctions on nuclear and ballistic missile technology, large-scale weapons, and luxury goods in response to the October 2006 nuclear test. Requires states to implement an asset freeze and a travel ban on persons involved with North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. Calls on North Korea to return to Six Party Talks without precondition.

North Korea: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1695 (2006)

Demands, in response to North Korea’s test-firing a series of missiles on July 5, 2006, that North Korea suspend all ballistic missile-related activity and reinstate a moratorium on missile launches. Bans UN member states from transferring nuclear or missile-related technology to North Korea.

Counterterrorism: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373 (2001)

Lays out obligations by UN member states to combat international terrorism. Establishes UN Counterterrorism Committee under auspices of UN Security Council (UNSC) to monitor implementation. Voices concern over close connection between nuclear proliferation and transnational organized crime. Emphasizes need to enhance coordination at national, subregional, regional, and international levels to prevent terrorism via weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

North Korea: UN Security Council Resolution 1977 (UNSCR) 2011

Requires UN member states to prevent proliferation of spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as per UN Security Council Resolution 1540.Calls for expanded support of the 1540 Committee—the UN organ designed to help build capacity to combat the creation and proliferation of WMD.

Nonstate Actors: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 (2004)

Establishes binding obligations on all UN member states to enact, implement, and enforce legislation to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). States must criminalize proliferation, prohibit transfer of WMD-related material to nonstate actors, impose export controls, secure WMD materials, and prohibit financial or other support to nonstate actors attempting to acquire WMD. States can request assistance in implementing provisions.

Threat to Nonnuclear Weapon States: UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 255 (1968)

First resolution to address nuclear issues. Recognizes threat of a nuclear attack against nonnuclear weapon states (NNWS). Welcomes support for NNWS in event of an attack.


United States

NPT member (1968)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2009)

The United States was the first country to acquire—and the only country ever to use—nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal contained more than 31,000 nuclear warheads, but it now contains only 5,113 (not including warheads awaiting disassembly). The Pentagon declassified the actual figures for the first time in May 2010.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged U.S. support for ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); negotiating a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty; strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT); and making deeper cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. President Obama also succeeded in securing Senate approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) agreement with Russia, which entered into force in February 2011. However, the CTBT has not yet begun the Senate advice and consent process. The 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review reduced the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy.


NPT member (1970)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2007)

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited a vast nuclear stockpile. As of 2008, Russia was estimated to have about 4,100 strategic nuclear warheads, to be cut to 2,200 by 2012 under the terms of the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).

The Russian government opposed U.S. plans under the Bush administration for a missile defense system in Europe and continues to remain sensitive on this issue. In July 2009, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev reached a joint understanding to each reduce strategic warheads to below 1,700 within seven years. In April 2010, the two presidents signed a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START),  which entered into force in February 2011, requiring each country to reduce its arsenal to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads.

United Kingdom

NPT member (1968)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2004)

In 1952, the United Kingdom became the third country in the world to produce a nuclear weapon. Today, the United Kingdom possesses fewer than two hundred nuclear warheads and has recently signaled that it may be willing to make further cuts. Among nuclear weapon states, it is one of the strongest supporters of multilateral disarmament. The cost of replacing the country's sea-based Trident missile system has also been the source of great domestic debate.


NPT member (1992)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2004)

France joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a recognized nuclear weapon state in 1992. In recent years France has made cuts to its nuclear arsenal, and as of late 2008 was believed to have about three hundred warheads. France also has a significant nuclear power industry, which provides some 80 percent of its energy.


NPT member (1992)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2002)

China has been a recognized nuclear weapon state under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) since 1992. As of 2010, China is believed to have nearly 250 nuclear weapons, and is the only nuclear power currently increasing the size of its arsenal. In the past, China has assisted Pakistan's nuclear weapons development, and sold ballistic missile technology to Iran and North Korea. China adheres to a "no first-use" policy.


Not a signatory to the NPT

IAEA Additional Protocol signed (2009), but not in force

India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), although it has been a declared nuclear weapon state since 1998. Its government rejects the treaty on the basis that it favors (mostly wealthy) nuclear "haves" against (mostly developing) "have-nots." As of 2011, India was estimated to have eighty to one hundred nuclear warheads.

A controversial nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and India was finalized in 2008. As part of the deal, India signed an IAEA safeguards agreement, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group lifted a ban on members' trade in civilian nuclear materials with India.


Not a signatory to the NPT

No IAEA Additional Protocol

Pakistan's nuclear weapons program dates to the 1970s. Its first nuclear test came in response to India's in 1998. Today, Pakistan—one of three non-signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—is believed to have around one hundred nuclear warheads, the security of which many experts question given the instability of Pakistan's politics. (The United States has reportedly provided assistance to Pakistan in securing its arsenal.) Pakistan's political fragility poses a threat to the security of its nuclear arsenal. 

Even more alarming than Pakistan's nuclear weapons program was the revelation of the A.Q. Khan proliferation network. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist and the "father of the Islamic bomb," sold nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, Iran, Libya, and possibly others.


Not a signatory to the NPT

No IAEA Additional Protocol

Since the 1970s, it has been generally assumed—though never confirmed by the Israeli government—that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. Experts estimate that the Israeli nuclear arsenal contains between sixty and two hundred warheads. Israel officially maintains a policy of "nuclear ambiguity," and is one of three states that have never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty(NPT).

North Korea

North Korea has pursued nuclear weapons since the 1950s, and today is believed to have weaponized some of its plutonium.

In 2003, Pyongyang became the first country to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia proceeded to engage North Korea through the Six Party Talks. Following North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, a breakthrough in the talks was achieved when North Korea agreed to abandon its weapons programs and dismantle its reactor at Yongbyon.

But North Korea has since failed to meet key deadlines. In mid-2009, North Korea conducted a nuclear test and fired several short-range missiles. In glaring defiance of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the nuclear tests, North Korea tested eleven more missiles.

In November 2010, North Korea revealed a new nuclear facility equipped to enrich uranium—a material that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Pyongyang, however, insists that the uranium enrichment plant is intended to power a light-water reactor to generate civilian nuclear technology. A return to Six Party Talks remains elusive, especially in light of increased tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul. In 2012, North Korea concluded a new deal with the United States to halt nuclear and long-range missile testing, reportedly in exchange for promises of food aid. The compromise ended in April when North Korea launched a probable long-range rocket test that exploded and fell into the sea just one minute after takeoff.


NPT member (1970)

IAEA Additional Protocol signed (2003), but not in force

Iran's nuclear program dates to the 1950s and Tehran insists that the program is for peaceful purposes. But international concerns are growing that Iran is pursuing a secret weapons program in violation of its commitments to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty  (NPT). The UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, and since 2006 the security council has passed four rounds of sanctions against Tehran for its failure to do so.

Tensions between Iran and the international community have escalated since the failure of the P5+1 meetings (which included the UN Security Council's five permanent members—the United States, France, China, Britain, and Russia—plus Germany) in October 2009. After the IAEA board censured Iran for failing to cooperate with inspections, Tehran announced plans to build ten more nuclear sites. In May 2009, Iran tested missiles that were capable of reaching Israel, Europe, and U.S. military bases in the Middle East, which fueled fears of a regional arms race. In October 2010, the United States and the European Union invited Iran to reopen negotiations on its nuclear program. Iran accepted the offer of renewed talks, while also announcing that it would begin uranium enrichment at its Bushehr reactor. Iran met with the EU, the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain in January 2011 and with the P5+1 in June 2012 for negotiations but no agreements emerged from either discussion. Tension, however, between Iran and the West has increased, with many speculating that Israel or the United States could launch a military strike against the country in order to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon.

In November 2013, the IAEA signed a cooperation deal with Iran that will give the IAEA greater access to Iran’s nuclear sites. The deal is separate from the interim agreement negotiated by the P5+1 later that month that freezes parts of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program for a period of six months in exchange for partial relief from select economic sanctions. The P5+1 agreement is the first formal agreement negotiated between the United States and Iran in thirty-four years.


NPT member (1969)

No IAEA Additional Protocol

Syria, which has a small nuclear research program, is suspected of having pursued a clandestine weapons program with North Korean assistance. In September 2007, the Israeli air force destroyed what it claimed was a nuclear reactor in Syria. Although the Syrian government denies this, U.S. intelligence agencies have released photographs of the site showing close similarities to North Korean nuclear facilities. Reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have proven inconclusive about the purpose of the site, and Syria has refused to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol, which would allow more intrusive inspections. In 2013, Syria admitted to having chemical weapons. UN inspectors are currently in the process of supervising the destruction removal of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. 


NPT member (1969)

IAEA Additional Protocol signed (2008), but not in force

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq pursued a nuclear weapons program beginning in the 1970s. When inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) entered the country following the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq's weapons program was revealed to be far more advanced than had been believed. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, it was determined by the Iraq Survey Group that Iraq's nuclear weapons program had remained defunct after the IAEA dismantled it in the early 1990s. The current Iraqi regime has shown little interest in civilian nuclear energy, and is adhering to its commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In December 2010, the UN Security Council voted to begin lifting sanctions imposed on Iraq for pursuing weapons of mass destruction.


NPT member (1975)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2006)

Under the leadership of Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya pursued a clandestine nuclear weapons program from the 1970s, supplied in large part by the A.Q. Khan network. In 2003, largely in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the U.S.-led interception of a ship carrying nuclear-related cargo bound for Libya, Qaddafi ended Libya's nuclear weapons program. Dismantlement was overseen by U.S. and British inspectors, and in 2004 was verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as complete. An IAEA team assessed Libya as having been three to seven years away from nuclear weapons capability. Following the fall of Qaddafi's regime in October 2011, over ten thousand drums of yellowcake uranium were discovered, although it was later determined they were only "slightly radioactive".

South Africa

NPT member (1991)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2002)

During the apartheid era, South Africa manufactured several nuclear weapons. By the late 1980s, the government's desire to end its international isolation prompted it to halt and then dismantle its nuclear weapons program (and, eventually, to abandon apartheid). Its nuclear disarmament was verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and South Africa acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a nonnuclear weapon state in 1991. South Africa played a major role in promoting the indefinite extension of the NPT, as agreed in 1995. However, new concerns about the security of South Africa's fissile material were raised in 2007, when the Pelindaba nuclear facility--South Africa's largest and most secure--was broken into.


NPT member (1994)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2006)

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine found itself with the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal. In the 1994 Trilateral Agreement, the government announced its intention to transfer Ukraine's entire nuclear weapons stockpile to Russia. With U.S. assistance through the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, this process was completed in 1996. Today, Ukraine has fifteen nuclear power reactors and has committed to relinquishing its entire stockpile of highly enriched uranium by 2012.


NPT member (1994)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2007)

Kazakhstan inherited more than 1,400 nuclear warheads—then the fourth-largest nuclear arsenal in the world—from the Soviet Union when the latter collapsed in 1991. All of the warheads were transferred to Russia in the early 1990s. Kazakhstan acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a nonnuclear weapon state in 1994, and signed an Additional Protocol in 2004. Several U.S. government programs have sought to secure Kazakhstan's stocks of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. However, Kazakhstan still has thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU).


NPT member (1993)

IAEA Additional Protocol signed (2005), but not in force

As a Soviet republic, Belarus had several dozen strategic warheads and a number of tactical nuclear weapons stationed on its territory. All were repatriated to Russia in the early 1990s, and Belarus acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1993. Today, Belarus has a civilian nuclear research program, and seeks to build a civilian nuclear power plant. Belarus has signed (but not ratified) an IAEA Additional Protocol


NPT member (1995)

No IAEA Additional Protocol

Fueled by regional tensions with Brazil, Argentina pursued a nuclear weapons program under its military government in the early 1980s. The program was terminated in 1983, and Argentina acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty(NPT) in 1995 as a nonnuclear weapon state. Today, Argentina continues to use nuclear power in nonmilitary roles, and is an exporter of civilian nuclear technology .


NPT member (1998)

No IAEA Additional Protocol

Brazil actively pursued a nuclear weapons program, rivaled only by that of Argentina in Latin America. The program was established in secrecy in 1975 but ended when President Fernando Collor de Mello disclosed the covert operation in 1990. Brazil acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1998 as a nonnuclear weapon state. Today, Brazil uses nuclear technology for civilian purposes. In spring 2010, Brazil flexed its muscles as an emerging diplomatic power, negotiating (alongside Turkey) an enriched-uranium fuel swap deal with Iran, which was not accepted by the UN Security Council. Tehran had earlier agreed to a version of this deal brokered by Western countries, but later abandoned it.


NPT member (1973)

IAEA Additional Protocol (1997)

Australia engaged in nuclear weapons research and development, and hosted several nuclear tests by the British between 1952 and 1963. Australia signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, and ratified the treaty in 1973. Australia is the world's second-largest provider of uranium but has no nuclear power program and does not enrich (due to political decisions rather than a lack of technical capacity).


NPT member (1969)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2004)

Canada has a long-standing history of working with the United States and the United Kingdom on nuclear weapons research and development, of which the most notorious collaboration was the Manhattan Project (which used uranium and fluorite from Canadian mines). Canada acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1969 as a nonnuclear weapon state. It is committed to ending nuclear weapons testing and reducing nuclear arsenals. Canada maintains a nuclear power program.


NPT member (1981)

No IAEA Additional Protocol

Egypt's nuclear program was launched in 1954 and terminated following the country's defeat in the Six-Day War in 1967. Egypt signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 but delayed ratifying the treaty until 1981. Egypt has engaged in numerous multilateral initiatives, including proposing a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone and hosting the April 1996 conference on the African nuclear weapons-free zone. Egypt maintains a civilian nuclear research program and has plans to build nuclear power plants.

Germany (West)

NPT member (1975)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2004)

Germany's nuclear weapons program can be traced back to the dawn of the atomic age in the early twentieth century. Following World War II, West Germany did not engage in weapons research and development, although it hosted deployments of nuclear arsenal by the United States during the Cold War. West Germany acceded to the NPT in 1975 as a nonnuclear weapon state. However, as a member of NATO, Germany still hosts on its territory an unknown number of U.S. nuclear warheads, which are the subject of continued domestic opposition.


NPT member (1975)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2004)

Italy acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1975 as a nonnuclear weapon state. Italy is the only G8 country without a domestic nuclear energy program, which it phased out in response to the 1986 Chernobyl accident and a 1987 referendum. But the current government has expressed a willingness to revisit this decision and possibly restart a nuclear power program. Italy participates in nuclear weapon sharing.


NPT member (1976)

IAEA Additional Protocol (1999)

As a strategic military response to nuclear research in the United States, Japan was deeply engaged in nuclear weapons research and development during World War II. Similar to Germany, Japan was unable to rival the Manhattan Project. Since WWII, Japan has advocated for nonweaponization of nuclear technology, and has acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1976 as a nonnuclear weapon state.


NPT member (1969)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2000)

Norway was engaged in nuclear weapons development in the 1940s and 1950s, but gave up its aspirations shortly thereafter. Norway acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1969 as a nonnuclear weapon state and has since been a staunch advocate for multilateral cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.


NPT member (1970)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2000)

Romania had a covert nuclear weapons program in the 1980s, in direct violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which it ratified in 1970. The nuclear weapons program was dismantled after the 1989 Romanian Revolution. Today, Romania is considered free of nuclear weapons, and maintains a nuclear program for civilian purposes.

South Korea

NPT member (1975)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2004)

South Korea decided to begin a nuclear weapons program in the 1970s. Under significant pressure from the United States, South Korea abandoned this program before producing any fissile material, and signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1975. Today, South Korea maintains a civilian nuclear research program, as well as a fleet of nuclear power plants that generates nearly half of the country's electricity.


NPT member (1987)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2004)

Spain pursued a nuclear weapons program in the 1960s and 1970s under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who was reportedly fearful of losing Spain's territorial claim on parts of North Africa. Despite never developing a credible nuclear arsenal, Spain only ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1987, underlining the then-government's position on denuclearization.


NPT member (1970)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2004)

Sweden launched a nuclear weapons program in the aftermath of WWII. However, Sweden never developed weapons capacity and halted any ambitions related to nuclear weapons development with the signing of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 (ratified in 1970). Today, Sweden maintains a civilian nuclear power program.


NPT member (1977)

IAEA Additional Protocol (2005)

Switzerland had a covert nuclear weapons program dating back to 1946, which included plans for seven underground nuclear tests in 'uninhabited regions' of Switzerland. While Switzerland ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty(NPT) in 1977, it only officially dissolved the Working Committee for Nuclear Issues in 1988.


NPT member (1968)

Taiwan signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 but is believed to have continued work on its covert nuclear weapons program until 1988, when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered its activities. Taiwan has reportedly dismantled its weapons program, in part because of U.S. pressure.

Former Yugoslavia

NPT member (1970)

Yugoslavia launched a nuclear program in the late 1940s, initially as a nuclear deterrent to the Soviet Union. Under the leadership of President Tito, the program was terminated and revamped several times in the 1960s and the 1970s, until it was finally dismantled in 1987. Yugoslavia formally ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 as a nonnuclear weapon state.



Frank G. Klotz, Senior Fellow for Strategic Studies and Arms Control

Gregory D. Koblentz, Stanton Nuclear Secuirty Fellow

Sarah E. Kreps, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow

Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment

David Palkki, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow

Mira Rapp-Hooper, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow

Carla Anne Robbins, Adjunct Senior Fellow

Scott A. Snyder, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Korea Studies

Jane Vaynman, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow

Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention


Wall Street Journal: "The Nuclear Disarmament Fantasy"

(November 2007)

Wall Street Journal: "Toward a Nuclear-Free World"

(January 2008)

New York Times: "Help Russia Help Us"

(May 2008)

Council Special Report: Deterring State Sponsorship of Nuclear Terrorism

(September 2008)

World at Risk: The Report of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism

(December 2008)

Foreign Affairs: "Nuclear Disorder"

(January/February 2010)

Foreign Affairs: "The Long Road to Zero"

(January/February 2010)

Council Special Report: Toward Deeper Reductions in U.S. and Russian Nuclear Weapons

(November 2010)

International Atomic Energy Agency: 2011 in Review: Nuclear Safety Issues Take Center Stage

(February 2012)

CFR Essential Document: Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran

(February 2012)

Foreign Affairs: "Time to Attack Iran"

(January/February 2012)

Foreign Affairs: "Not Time to Attack Iran"

(March/April 2012)


CFR Interactive: Crisis Guide: Iran


CFR Interactive: Nuclear Energy Guide


Next Steps in U.S. and Russian Nuclaear Cooperation


Limits of EU’s Iranian Oil Embargo


Foreign Affairs Focus On: Iran with Vali Nasr


Climate Change and Nuclear Power-Interview with Hans-Holger Rogner



Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Addison-Wesley, second edition, 1999).

Gordon Corea, Shopping for Boms: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einhorn, and Mitchell B. Reiss, editors, The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices (Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (Palgrave Macmillan, third edition, 2003).

Robert F. Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Penguin Books, 1969).

Henry A. Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (Norton, abridged edition, 1969).

Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A.Q. Khan, and the Rise of Proliferation Networks-A Net Assessment(International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2007).

Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman, The Nuclear Express: A political history of the Bomb and its Proliferation (International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2009). (Zenith Press, 2009).

Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain Their Nuclear Capabilities (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995).

Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Simon and Schuster, 1988).

Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed (Norton, second edition, 2002).

Thomas C. Schelling and Morton H. Halperin, Strategy and Arms Control (A Pergamon-Brassey’s Classic, 1985).

Stephen I. Schwartz, editor, Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Brookings Institution Press, 1998).


James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Nuclear Threat Initiative

Global Zero

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Nonproliferation Policy Education Center