Nuclear Nonproliferation

C

The Global Governance Report Card grades international performance in addressing today's most daunting challenges. It seeks to inspire innovative and effective responses from global and U.S. policymakers to address them.

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Subject

  • Average

    Strengthening Normative and Legal Frameworks

    Over the past four years, an overwhelming majority of United Nations (UN) member states firmly and explicitly reaffirmed the core conventions and frameworks underpinning the nuclear nonproliferation regime. At the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, 189 state parties reached a final agreement on an outcome document (something by no means guaranteed at the outset), recommitted to the goal of nuclear disarmament, and called for a major conference on a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East. In April 2011, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the 1540 Committee—a subsidiary body of the UN Security Council that monitors implementation of domestic law to prevent nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from falling in the hands of nonstate actors—for an additional ten years. Promisingly, the vast majority of UN member states submitted their mandated national reports on progress toward implementing Resolution 1540. There are 168 reporting states, and since 2008, 13 countries have submitted their first reports.

    Still, progress on other fronts looked anemic. No concrete efforts were undertaken to update the NPT, particularly in the 2010 review conference outcome document, which bodes ill for the future of the regime. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) lacked support from critical nuclear weapons states—China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States—and states with advanced nuclear capabilities. As of April 2012, 183 countries had signed the treaty, and 157 had ratified it. At the same time, a potential Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), which would ban the production of fissile material for weapons, remained blocked as Pakistan strengthened its opposition to the treaty in 2011. To break the impasse, the United States recently joined discussions with China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom to encourage progress by leveraging their collective influence.

  • Poor

    Checking State Proliferators

    Although no new nuclear weapons states emerged since 2008, several established and recent proliferators continued, in varying degrees, building their nuclear arsenals. China, for instance, remained "highly non-transparent" as it incrementally expanded the size of its nuclear forces, estimated at approximately two hundred operational weapons. India and Pakistan continued to rapidly scale up and advance their nuclear arsenals. At the same time, there was little progress toward finding comprehensive solutions to freeze or limit the efforts of prospective proliferators.

    After announcing its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003, North Korea actively pursued a nuclear weapons program by producing enough separated plutonium for several bombs and testing nuclear devices. After defying international warnings by conducting its second nuclear test in May 2009, North Korea subsequently revealed a new nuclear enrichment facility containing two thousand steel-rotor centrifuges and a light water reactor. Two months later, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that North Korea could possess an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the continental United States within five years. While there appeared to be a breakthrough in early 2012, when North Korea agreed to resume the Six Party Talks and place a moratorium on nuclear tests and uranium enrichment, glimmers of progress were short lived as North Korea nullified the tentative agreement by testing a long-range missile in April 2012. Finally, North Korea conducted a successful ballistic missile test in December 2012. As of December 2012, negotiations between the United States and China to revive the Six Party Talks were ongoing.

    Iran also failed to address concerns regarding its suspected nuclear weapons program, which it continued to assert is peaceful in nature. In a November 2011 report [PDF], the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) compiled all existing intelligence supporting the possibility of "undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations." The United States and Europe imposed a sweeping new sanctions regime in 2012 targeting Iran's oil, trade, and banking sectors, which appeared to cripple the Iranian economy and its currency but did not compel Tehran to make substantive changes in its policy. There were also several rounds of nuclear talks—most recently in Moscow in June 2012—but no breakthrough. Iran remained intransigent, and a potential agreement to pave the way for IAEA inspections of all nuclear facilities was elusive.

  • Average

    Interdicting Illicit Nuclear Transfers

    Although interdiction efforts were not explicitly prioritized over the past four years, there were some normative and practical achievements. Cooperation among national and international law enforcement and intelligence agencies remained paramount in stopping nuclear transfers. The UN Security Council extended the mandate of the 1540 Committee, and a new bilateral agreement between the United States and China to install a nuclear radiation detection system at a port in Shanghai was a positive development that could be expanded elsewhere. Finally, the Obama administration reaffirmed its commitment to the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), originally established under the George W. Bush administration, by creating a new program allowing countries to share best practices and other tools for interdiction efforts. The PSI received credit for some successful interdiction operations related to weapons of mass destruction. In June 2011, for example, the U.S. Navy intercepted a North Korean cargo ship—which was flagged in Belize, a PSI member—suspecting that it was transporting ballistic missiles to Myanmar.

  • Good

    Securing Fissile Material

    Efforts to secure vulnerable fissile material gained steam on several fronts. In April 2009, President Obama announced the goal of securing all global nuclear material within four years, which the UN Security Council endorsed in Resolution 1887. His ambitious announcement catalyzed states to reengage and take steps to secure, and in some cases reduce, fissile material.

    In an effort to meet this objective, heads of state convened for two nuclear security summits in 2010 and 2012 that yielded positive and tangible results. At the first summit, each country endorsed the initiative proposed by President Obama, and twenty-nine states also made commitments to improve their nuclear security practices. By the second summit, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated that 90 percent of the commitments were completed and six countries [PDF], including important actors like Chile, Libya, Taiwan, and Turkey, eliminated [PDF] their highly enriched uranium (HEU) reserves entirely. Still, some experts criticized the second summit for failing to streamline the existing web of nonproliferation efforts and to secure binding commitments.

    Meanwhile, the longstanding bilateral cooperation between the United States and Russia to reduce their fissile material stockpiles—the largest in the world—continued to make remarkable progress. By September 2010, Russia blended down four hundred out of five hundred metric tons [PDF] of weapons-grade HEU. Due to the collective reductions by the United States and Russia, the global stockpiles of HEU decreased between 2008 [PDF] and 2012 [PDF]. However, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and perhaps Israel—all four classified among the least secure nuclear weapons states by the Nuclear Threat Initiative Security Index—continued to produce weapons-grade fissile material.

    Finally, even the most secure nuclear facilities remained vulnerable. In July 2012, activists broke into the perimeter of one of the "most sensitive" HEU U.S. nuclear facilities, widely regarded as the gold standard of nuclear security. Earlier this year, members of Greenpeace also bypassed security to enter a nuclear power plant in France, while South Africa suffered its second security breach in five years.

  • Poor

    Oversight of Civil Nuclear Programs

    The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) guarantees the right to "develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination," which some experts argue enables a path to proliferation through fuel cycle activities. In the past, acquisition of fissile material production technology opened a back door to proliferation in North Korea and perhaps Iran.

    States increasingly adopted the Additional Protocol, which strengthens the inspection mandate of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through enhanced safeguards and verification measures. Specifically, the number of states party to the Additional Protocol increased by nearly 25 percent in four years. Despite this improvement, a review of the NPT in 2010 failed to make the Additional Protocol mandatory, as more than half of NPT member states have yet to endorse its toughened inspections regime. And while Iran signed the Additional Protocol in 2003, it never fully implemented the agreement, leaving much of its nuclear operations opaque to IAEA inspectors.

    In addition, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bolstered its guidelines on enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) transfers in July 2011, and explicitly banned transfers to states that neither signed the NPT nor the Additional Protocol. However, its guidelines are not legally binding, and members like the United States, Russia, and China engaged with states outside the NPT on civilian nuclear projects.

  • Average

    Disarmament

    Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) commits state parties to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures" leading to eventual nuclear disarmament. In this context, New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) marked a concrete movement toward nuclear reductions. This legally-binding treaty limited the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads—or a 30 percent reduction from the limits in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. Within a year after New START entered into force, the United States completed between 25 and 40 percent of the agreed-upon reductions. To be sure, Russia built up its arsenal rather than drawing it down. Regardless, ratification of the treaty ensured the continuity of verified arms reduction and constrained future growth.

    During the 2010 NPT review, nuclear weapons states reaffirmed Article VI, pledged to report on their progress in 2014, and committed [PDF] to convene a conference to establish a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East in December 2012. In particular, discussions of a NWFZ in the Middle East were aimed at pressuring Israel to give up (or at least disclose) its nuclear program. India and Pakistan also increased the size of their nuclear arsenals, raising concerns of a nuclear arms race in South Asia and of a terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons or materials. China also continued to build up its arsenal.

    More positively, Global Zero, a grassroots advocacy, outreach, and media campaign, continued to raise awareness for disarmament issues by suggesting that disarmament could enhance—rather than reduce—international security. Comprising more than three hundred political, military, business, and religious leaders, the movement epitomized the increasingly active role of civil society in the global nonproliferation regime. In February 2010, Global Zero released an action plan [PDF] to achieve the goal of nuclear disarmament within two decades. Since that time, however, international disarmament expectations waned and the movement lost momentum.

Leader

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International Atomic Energy Agency

Gold Star

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Nuclear Suppliers Group

Most Improved

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United States

laggard

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Pakistan

Truant

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Israel

India

Detention

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Iran

North Korea

Class Evaluation

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) consistently displayed strong leadership over the past four years. It earned the trust of member states and upheld its high standards of independence, integrity, and confidentiality. For this reason, more states each year requested [PDF] IAEA advisory assistance and evaluation services—improving nuclear security and safety around the world. At the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, the IAEA contributed vital expertise and agreed to expand its role [PDF].

The IAEA also played a critical role in applying sustained pressure on Iran. In November 2011, for example, the IAEA expanded upon previous reports regarding Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program by including an explicit annex that catalogued existing evidence [PDF] of efforts to weaponize nuclear technology. This report played a significant role in motivating the European Union and other states to enact strong and comprehensive sanctions against Iran.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)—an organization with no legally-binding constraints—revised its guidelines on nuclear enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology transfers in June 2011. After seven years of negotiations, the guidelines were strengthened from asking member states to "exercise restraint" to explicitly prohibiting exports to states that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Additional Protocol. These negotiations were fraught with difficulties from the outset—with the United States attempting to exempt India from these standards—but were eventually completed, leading to more robust trade restraints on nuclear material.

Over the past four years, the United States elevated the importance of nuclear security and took concrete steps to increase transparency and enhance global cooperation toward its goal of nuclear disarmament. The successful ratification of New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010 paved the way for a significant reduction in strategic nuclear warheads, of which some 25 percent already occurred. Furthermore, the United States spearheaded a series of nuclear summits and took the unprecedented step of disclosing information on its nuclear warhead stockpiles in 2010, with the goal of ultimately incentivizing other nuclear weapons states to do the same.

During the same period, little progress was made toward freezing or rolling back North Korea's plutonium or uranium enrichment programs; indeed, Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test in 2009, unveiled a centrifuge plant in 2010, began construction of a light-water nuclear reactor, and tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching the west coast of the United States in December 2012. Meanwhile, Iran continued to cooperate intermittently with IAEA inspections, but an agreement to "stop, shut, and ship"—permanently shut down a uranium enrichment facility and export its stockpile in exchange for foreign supplies of fuel for a nuclear reactor—remained elusive.

Israel retained its nuclear opacity—whereby it did not acknowledge its arsenal of an estimated 75 to 200 nuclear warheads [PDF]—and hindered movement on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (NWFZ) by failing to ratify the NPT and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India also remained a NPT outlier, as its nuclear weapons arsenal grew from between sixty and seventy in 2008 to between eighty and one hundred warheads in 2011. Its regional rival, Pakistan, which was also no closer to ratifying the NPT, continued to obstruct movement on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) negotiations, designed to stop the creation of new fissile material, while building its nuclear arsenal. Startling reports also emerged regarding the lack of safeguards for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

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Introduction

Global cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation yielded mixed results. From 2008 to 2012, no new nuclear powers emerged, and the number of nuclear weapons worldwide decreased by nearly 25 percent from roughly twenty-five thousand to nineteen thousand. And while the global stockpile of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) declined, India, Pakistan, and possibly Israel—none of which are party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—continued to produce plutonium. North Korea's nuclear weapons program remained active, and Iran was in the final stages of building a nuclear enrichment site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continued to play an indispensable role in the nonproliferation regime by assisting states to improve nuclear security and safety while maintaining high standards of accountability and confidentiality. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) also strengthened its guidelines on nuclear enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) transfers by explicitly prohibiting rather than advising against exports to states that are not party to the NPT.

The United States stepped up its leadership of global nuclear nonproliferation by spearheading biannual nuclear security summits, taking concrete steps to secure and eliminate fissile material, and ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. While this treaty alone did not lead to a slowdown in proliferation, it was a necessary and long overdue step toward maintaining support for the NPT among nonnuclear weapons states to prevent new states from beginning nuclear programs. Several issues remained unaddressed, however, including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Normatively, the successful conclusion of the 2010 NPT Review Conference—which resulted in a recommitment by the P5 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to pursue disarmament—marked a critical juncture for the sustainability of the nonproliferation regime. In terms of interdiction of illicit nuclear transfers, the extension of the 1540 Committee as well as sustained law enforcement cooperation and sharing of best practices were positive developments. Efforts to secure fissile material advanced as states pledged to safeguard vulnerable material, and eight states including Mexico, Chile, Turkey, and Taiwan eliminated residual HEU stockpiles.

However, efforts to enforce the NPT pledges and UN Security Council resolution mandates by Iran stalled, and North Korea carried out another nuclear weapons test amid heightening international suspicions of an extensive and sophisticated uranium enrichment infrastructure. Several nuclear weapons states—notably China, Pakistan, and India—steadily increased their arsenals. Moreover, oversight of civil nuclear programs was patchy due to a lack of consensus for making the IAEA Additional Protocol—designed to strengthen safeguards—mandatory.

This review identifies two major areas for improvement. First, there should be a dedicated long-term goal to update the NPT to mitigate the spread of nuclear weapons and fissile material and prevent a backdoor to proliferation. Second, nuclear weapons states should make cuts to their nuclear arsenals to the minimum credible deterrent in order to mitigate the risk of nuclear technology falling into the hands of terrorists, and decrease the likelihood that states will use tactical or strategic nuclear weapons. Over the long term, such reductions could form the basis of a more concerted multilateral effort toward disarmament.

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Background

From states determined to develop a nuclear weapon to the threat of inadequately-secured fissile material stockpiles falling into the hands of nonstate actors, nuclear proliferation poses one of the greatest challenges to international security. Because of such risks, there is a global consensus on the need to better secure, monitor, and reduce nuclear arms.

In 1970, the NPT entered into force guaranteeing state parties the right to civilian nuclear technology, prohibiting countries that did not possess nuclear weapons from pursuing weaponization, and requiring safeguard arrangements with the IAEA. It also committed nuclear weapons states that signed the NPT to negotiations in "good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race, and on general and complete disarmament." Despite this watershed treaty, proliferation continued, albeit less rapidly than widely expected at the time. A number of European powers with existing nuclear weapons programs, such as Sweden and Switzerland, voluntarily gave up their programs and ratified the NPT. South Africa manufactured nuclear weapons during the 1970s and 1980s, but became the first country to dismantle them voluntarily and signed the NPT as a nonnuclear weapons state in 1991. Brazil and Argentina also abandoned their nuclear programs and acceded to the NPT in the 1990s.

On the other hand, by 2006, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea had developed nuclear weapons, joining the five declared nuclear powers (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China). During the 1980s and 1990s, Iraq pursued a clandestine uranium enrichment program, while Libya took initial steps toward purchasing centrifuges—but later shut down the program. More recently, Iran unveiled its long-term pursuit of uranium enrichment capabilities in 2002—in violation of its NPT safeguards agreement. Approximately forty other states have the indigenous technological capacity to build a nuclear weapon but have refrained from doing so. Finally, the possibility remains that a terrorist group might acquire sufficient fissile material to construct a nuclear device or steal a functioning nuclear warhead. In light of these challenges, state parties of the NPT endeavor to prevent, check, and roll back proliferation. Despite some progress, the overall record is one of missed opportunities from nuclear and nonnuclear weapons states alike.

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Class Evaluation

The IAEA consistently displayed strong leadership over the past four years. It earned the trust of member states and upheld its high standards of independence, integrity, and confidentiality. For this reason, more states each year requested [PDF] IAEA advisory assistance and evaluation services—improving nuclear security and safety around the world. At the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, the IAEA contributed vital expertise and agreed to expand its role [PDF]. The IAEA also played a critical role in applying sustained pressure on Iran. In November 2011, for example, the IAEA expanded upon previous reports regarding Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program by including an explicit annex that catalogued existing evidence [PDF] of efforts to weaponize nuclear technology. This report played a significant role in motivating the European Union and other states to enact strong and comprehensive sanctions against Iran.

Meanwhile, the NSG—an organization with no legally-binding constraints—revised its guidelines on nuclear ENR transfers in June 2011. After seven years of negotiations, the guidelines were strengthened from asking member states to "exercise restraint" to explicitly prohibiting exports to states that have not signed the NPT or the Additional Protocol. These negotiations were fraught with difficulties from the outset—with the United States attempting to exempt India from these standards—but were eventually completed, leading to more robust trade restraints on nuclear material.

Over the past four years, the United States elevated the importance of nuclear security and took concrete steps to increase transparency and enhance global cooperation toward its goal of nuclear disarmament. The successful ratification of New START in 2010 paved the way for a significant reduction in strategic nuclear warheads, of which some 25 percent already occurred. Furthermore, the United States spearheaded a series of nuclear summits and took the unprecedented step of disclosing information on its nuclear warhead stockpiles in 2010, with the goal of ultimately incentivizing other nuclear weapons states to do the same.

During the same period, little progress was made toward freezing or rolling back North Korea's plutonium or uranium enrichment programs; indeed, Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test in 2009, unveiled a centrifuge plant in 2010, began construction of a light-water nuclear reactor, and tested a ballistic missile that could reach the west coast of the United States in December 2012. Meanwhile, Iran continued to cooperate intermittently with IAEA inspections, but an agreement to "stop, shut, and ship"—permanently shut down a uranium enrichment facility and export its stockpile in exchange for foreign supplies of fuel for a nuclear reactor—remained elusive.

Israel retained its nuclear opacity—whereby it did not acknowledge its arsenal of an estimated 75 to 200 nuclear warheads [PDF]—and hindered movement on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (NWFZ) by failing to ratify the NPT and CTBT. India also remained a NPT outlier, as its nuclear weapons arsenal grew from between sixty and seventy in 2008 to between eighty and one hundred warheads in 2011. Its regional rival, Pakistan, which was also no closer to ratifying the NPT, continued to obstruct movement on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) negotiations, designed to stop the creation of new fissile material, while building its nuclear arsenal. Startling reports also emerged regarding the lack of safeguards for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

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U.S. Performance & Leadership

B

Over the past four years, the United States spearheaded new global nonproliferation coalitions, committed to reductions of its nuclear arsenal, maintained its moratorium on nuclear testing, and increased efforts to prevent trafficking of weapons of mass destruction.

In April 2010, the United States convened the first international nuclear security summit, which underscored the imperative of protecting vulnerable nuclear materials and incentivized leaders to deliver on their commitments. Shortly thereafter, the United States disclosed the size of its nuclear arsenal for the first time and ratified New START. This bilateral treaty committed the United States and Russia to each reduce the number of deployed warheads to 1,550, deployed and nondeployed launchers and heavy bombers to 800, and deployed ballistic missiles and heavy bombers to 700 by 2018. In early 2011, both countries renewed onsite inspections, data exchanges, and notifications regarding strategic systems and facilities. The United States moved faster than required to comply with New START. By March 2012, it decreased its deployed warheads by 25 percent, launchers and heavy bombers by 26 percent, and deployed ballistic missiles and heavy bombers by nearly 40 percent. The United States also mobilized a robust global sanctions coalition targeting Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Nevertheless, the United States lagged behind expectations in some important areas. Although the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review vowed to "reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in international affairs," the United States retained its nuclear triad and developed programs to modernize all of its land-, sea-, and air-based systems, including one to overhaul the B-61 nuclear bombs for $10 billion. Furthermore, despite characterizing the CTBT as "one of our highest priorities," the treaty remained stalled in the Senate.

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Strengthening Normative and Legal Frameworks

Average

Over the past four years, an overwhelming majority of United Nations (UN) member states firmly and explicitly reaffirmed the core conventions and frameworks underpinning the nuclear nonproliferation regime. At the 2010 NPT review conference, 189 state parties reached a final agreement on an outcome document (something by no means guaranteed at the outset), recommitted to the goal of nuclear disarmament, and called for a major conference on a NWFZ in the Middle East. In April 2011, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the 1540 Committee—a subsidiary body of the UN Security Council that monitors implementation of domestic law to prevent nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from falling in the hands of nonstate actors—for an additional ten years. Promisingly, the vast majority of UN member states submitted their mandated national reports on progress toward implementing Resolution 1540. There are 168 reporting states, and since 2008, 13 countries have submitted their first reports.

Still, progress on other fronts looked anemic. No concrete efforts were undertaken to update the NPT, particularly in the 2010 review conference outcome document, which bodes ill for the future of the regime. The CTBT lacked support from critical nuclear weapons states—China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States—and states with advanced nuclear capabilities. As of April 2012, 183 countries had signed the treaty, and 157 had ratified it. At the same time, a potential FMCT, which would ban the production of fissile material for weapons, remained blocked as Pakistan strengthened its opposition to the treaty in 2011. To break the impasse, the United States recently joined discussions with China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom to encourage progress by leveraging their collective influence.

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Checking State Proliferators

Poor

Although no new nuclear weapons states emerged since 2008, several established and recent proliferators continued, in varying degrees, building their nuclear arsenals. China, for instance, remained "highly non-transparent" as it incrementally expanded the size of its nuclear forces, estimated at approximately two hundred operational weapons. India and Pakistan continued to rapidly scale up and advance their nuclear arsenals. At the same time, there was little progress toward finding comprehensive solutions to freeze or limit the efforts of prospective proliferators.

After announcing its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003, North Korea actively pursued a nuclear weapons program by producing enough separated plutonium for several bombs and testing nuclear devices. After defying international warnings by conducting its second nuclear test in May 2009, North Korea subsequently revealed a new nuclear enrichment facility containing two thousand steel-rotor centrifuges and a light water reactor. Two months later, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that North Korea could possess an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the continental United States within five years. While there appeared to be a breakthrough in early 2012, when North Korea agreed to resume the Six Party Talks and place a moratorium on nuclear tests and uranium enrichment, glimmers of progress were short lived as North Korea nullified the tentative agreement by testing a long-range missile in April 2012. Finally, North Korea conducted a successful ballistic missile test in December 2012. As of December 2012, negotiations between the United States and China to revive the Six Party Talks were ongoing.

Iran also failed to address concerns regarding its suspected nuclear weapons program, which it continued to assert is peaceful in nature. In a November 2011 report [PDF], the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) compiled all existing intelligence supporting the possibility of "undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations." The United States and Europe imposed a sweeping new sanctions regime in 2012 targeting Iran's oil, trade, and banking sectors, which appeared to cripple the Iranian economy and its currency but did not compel Tehran to make substantive changes in its policy. There were also several rounds of nuclear talks—most recently in Moscow in June 2012—but no breakthrough. Iran remained intransigent, and a potential agreement to pave the way for IAEA inspections of all nuclear facilities was elusive.

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Interdicting Illicit Nuclear Transfers

Average

Although interdiction efforts were not explicitly prioritized over the past four years, there were some normative and practical achievements. Cooperation among national and international law enforcement and intelligence agencies remained paramount in stopping nuclear transfers. The UN Security Council extended the mandate of the 1540 Committee, and a new bilateral agreement between the United States and China to install a nuclear radiation detection system at a port in Shanghai was a positive development that could be expanded elsewhere. Finally, the Obama administration reaffirmed its commitment to the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), originally established under the George W. Bush administration, by creating a new program allowing countries to share best practices and other tools for interdiction efforts. The PSI received credit for some successful interdiction operations related to weapons of mass destruction. In June 2011, for example, the U.S. Navy intercepted a North Korean cargo ship—which was flagged in Belize, a PSI member—suspecting that it was transporting ballistic missiles to Myanmar.

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Securing Fissile Material

Good

Efforts to secure vulnerable fissile material gained steam on several fronts. In April 2009, President Obama announced the goal of securing all global nuclear material within four years, which the UN Security Council endorsed in Resolution 1887. His ambitious announcement catalyzed states to reengage and take steps to secure, and in some cases reduce, fissile material.

In an effort to meet this objective, heads of state convened for two nuclear security summits in 2010 and 2012 that yielded positive and tangible results. At the first summit, each country endorsed the initiative proposed by President Obama, and twenty-nine states also made commitments to improve their nuclear security practices. By the second summit, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated that 90 percent of the commitments were completed and six countries [PDF], including important actors like Chile, Libya, Taiwan, and Turkey, eliminated [PDF] their HEU reserves entirely. Still, some experts criticized the second summit for failing to streamline the existing web of nonproliferation efforts and to secure binding commitments.

Meanwhile, the longstanding bilateral cooperation between the United States and Russia to reduce their fissile material stockpiles—the largest in the world—continued to make remarkable progress. By September 2010, Russia blended down four hundred out of five hundred metric tons [PDF] of weapons-grade HEU. Due to the collective reductions by the United States and Russia, the global stockpiles of HEU decreased between 2008 [PDF] and 2012 [PDF]. However, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and perhaps Israel—all four classified among the least secure nuclear weapons states by the Nuclear Threat Initiative Security Index—continued to produce weapons-grade fissile material.

Finally, even the most secure nuclear facilities remained vulnerable. In July 2012, activists broke into the perimeter of one of the "most sensitive" HEU U.S. nuclear facilities, widely regarded as the gold standard of nuclear security. Earlier this year, members of Greenpeace also bypassed security to enter a nuclear power plant in France, while South Africa suffered its second security breach in five years.

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Oversight of Civil Nuclear Programs

Poor

The NPT guarantees the right to "develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination," which some experts argue enables a path to proliferation through fuel cycle activities. In the past, acquisition of fissile material production technology opened a back door to proliferation in North Korea and perhaps Iran.

States increasingly adopted the Additional Protocol, which strengthens the inspection mandate of the IAEA through enhanced safeguards and verification measures. Specifically, the number of states party to the Additional Protocol increased by nearly 25 percent in four years. Despite this improvement, a review of the NPT in 2010 failed to make the Additional Protocol mandatory, as more than half of NPT member states have yet to endorse its toughened inspections regime. And while Iran signed the Additional Protocol in 2003, it never fully implemented the agreement, leaving much of its nuclear operations opaque to IAEA inspectors.

In addition, the NSG bolstered its guidelines on ENR transfers in July 2011, and explicitly banned transfers to states that neither signed the NPT nor the Additional Protocol. However, its guidelines are not legally binding, and members like the United States, Russia, and China engaged with states outside the NPT on civilian nuclear projects.

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Disarmament

Average

Article VI of the NPT commits state parties to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures" leading to eventual nuclear disarmament. In this context, New START marked a concrete movement toward nuclear reductions. This legally-binding treaty limited the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads—or a 30 percent reduction from the limits in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. Within a year after New START entered into force, the United States completed between 25 and 40 percent of the agreed-upon reductions. To be sure, Russia built up its arsenal rather than drawing it down. Regardless, ratification of the treaty ensured the continuity of verified arms reduction and constrained future growth.

During the 2010 NPT review, nuclear weapons states reaffirmed Article VI, pledged to report on their progress in 2014, and committed [PDF] to convene a conference to establish a NWFZ in the Middle East in December 2012. In particular, discussions of a NWFZ in the Middle East were aimed at pressuring Israel to give up (or at least disclose) its nuclear program. India and Pakistan also increased the size of their nuclear arsenals, raising concerns of a nuclear arms race in South Asia and of a terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons or materials. China also continued to build up its arsenal.

More positively, Global Zero, a grassroots advocacy, outreach, and media campaign, continued to raise awareness for disarmament issues by suggesting that disarmament could enhance—rather than reduce—international security. Comprising more than three hundred political, military, business, and religious leaders, the movement epitomized the increasingly active role of civil society in the global nonproliferation regime. In February 2010, Global Zero released an action plan [PDF] to achieve the goal of nuclear disarmament within two decades. Since that time, however, international disarmament expectations waned and the movement lost momentum.

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Areas for Improvement

  • Multilateral efforts should be strengthened to prevent the vertical and horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons to state actors. In particular, North Korea and Iran expose the inherent challenges faced by the IAEA and the NPT, as well as the imperative to reconfigure major nonproliferation accords. Indeed, the overarching problem may be rooted in NPT itself by allowing states to develop nuclear fuel cycle capabilities for peaceful purposes but having no facility to redress and punish states that fail to abide by it. Although amending or updating the NPT—for instance, to make it more difficult or unlawful to abandon the accord—would be a herculean challenge, it should remain a long-term aspiration.

  • Nuclear weapons states should make cuts to their nuclear arsenals to the minimum credible deterrent in order to prevent nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands, and decrease the probability of a tactical or strategic nuclear strike. Ultimately, such reductions could underpin a broader multilateral effort toward disarmament. Without these reductions, there is little motivation for other states to decelerate or forego production of nuclear weapons.

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