Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime "Under Severe Strain," Warns New CFR Report

April 12, 2010

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"The international nuclear nonproliferation regime--the principal objective of which is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons--is under severe strain," warns Adjunct Senior Fellow Paul Lettow in a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Special Report.

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He writes that since North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003, it has tested two nuclear devices. Iran, while still a party to the NPT, has developed the capability to enrich uranium, and many believe is seeking to build nuclear weapons or at least attain the ability to do so. Additionally, Lettow identifies the problem of expanding nuclear energy, while preventing countries from using related technologies for military purposes. Finally, he says, the prevalence of nuclear materials only increases the likelihood that terrorist groups could acquire them through theft or a deliberate transfer from a state.

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With President Barack Obama’s Global Nuclear Security Summit taking place this week and the review conference of the NPT in May, Lettow writes that "2010 presents unprecedented challenges to America’s enduring nonproliferation objectives, and unusual opportunities to advance an agenda in light of the obvious necessity to shore up the nonproliferation regime."

Lettow proposes steps to strengthen the nonproliferation rules, detect violations, enforce compliance, and deter states that do not subscribe to nonproliferation norms from pursuing their nuclear ambitions.

In Strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime, his recommendations for the United States include

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-     Using political capital for nonproliferation regime reform. "There is a broad strategic communications and education role for the U.S. government, and the president in particular, to set out clearly the danger to all states from proliferation, and to support initiatives to strengthen the regime--as well as to engage in direct, capital-to-capital diplomacy on the subject."

-     Limiting the effects of the North Korean and Iranian nuclear regimes. "The models represented by the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs to date must be made less attractive to nonnuclear weapon states." With respect to Iran, the United States should pursue meaningful sanctions globally through the UN Security Council, if possible, and also with the European Union and other partners, "to raise the costs of Iran’s nuclear program and discourage others from following the same course."

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-     Restricting the spread of enrichment and reprocessing."The Obama administration should lead nuclear-supplying states in a global effort to adopt a criteria-based system to determine which countries could receive enrichment and reprocessing-related facilities, equipment, and technology from suppliers."

-     Improving detection of noncompliance. The United States should continue to promote universal, binding adherence to the Additional Protocol, which allows inspectors expanded access to information and sites. "It should seek expanded inspection authorities and funds for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and spur the IAEA to make full use of its existing authorities and technologies, while encouraging it to revise its outdated operational goals."

-     Establishing guidelines for determining noncompliance. "To bolster the IAEA board of governors’ ability and will to find countries in noncompliance with their nonproliferation obligations, the United States must encourage the board to set out and follow strict and objective guidelines for making that determination."

-     Strengthening enforcement. "To help promote effective and expeditious enforcement of the rules of the regime-a critical weakness in the last two decades-the United States should ask the UN Security Council to set out a generic series of punitive steps that would presumptively apply to any state in breach of its nonproliferation obligations."

-     Addressing withdrawal from the NPT. "The United States can help address the problem of withdrawal from the NPT by promoting a UN Security Council Resolution spelling out serious and automatic consequences for withdrawal from the treaty while in noncompliance, and seeking to lengthen the notice period before withdrawal."

For the full text, visit: www.cfr.org/nonproliferation_csr

Paul Lettow is a CFR adjunct senior fellow for national security studies. He served as the senior director for strategic planning and institutional reform on the National Security Council staff from 2007 to 2009, and as a senior adviser to the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs from 2006 to 2007. Lettow is the author of Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. He was a law clerk to Chief Judge Danny J. Boggs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He received an AB in history from Princeton University, a JD from Harvard Law School, and a DPhil in international relations from Oxford University.

Council Special Reports (CSRs) are concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contribute to debates on current policy dilemmas. CSRs are written by individual authors in consultation with an advisory committee. The content of the reports is the sole responsibility of the authors.

The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. Since 1922, CFR has also published Foreign Affairs, the leading journal on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.

The International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) program at the Council on Foreign Relations aims to identify the institutional requirements for effective multilateral cooperation in the twenty-first century.

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