Category: Opinion

Nagasaki’s Shadows: European Citizens Facing Nuclear Weapons

The atomic cloud rises over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Wikimedia, CC BY

Article By: Benoît Pelopidas, Sciences Po – USPC and Fabrício M. Fialho, Sciences Po – USPC

As Boris Johnson entered 10 Downing Street, he was required to write the so-called “letters of last resort” – his instructions should the United Kingdom be hit by a nuclear strike. At the same time, the 1987 INF Treaty, which banned an entire category of weapons, is now officially over, and the prospects of a failure of the 2020 NPT Review Conference and the non-extension of the 2010 New START Treaty next year saturate nuclear discussions.

As legitimately preoccupying as these ongoing events are, the exclusive focus on them obscures what happened 74 years ago, perpetuating an asymmetrical memory of the atomic bombings of World War II, privileging Hiroshima. Let’s not forget that on August 9, 1945, a 21-kiloton atomic bomb levelled the Japanese city of Nagasaki. It was the third atomic explosion in the history of humankind, with more than 2,000 others to come.

Nuclear Weapons And Citizens’ Knowledge

In a context in which every nuclear-weapon state is engaged in large and long-term investments to perpetuate its nuclear arsenal for more than half a century, and citizens outside the UK have not explicitly been given choices on those policies which will impact them for generations, it is crucial to know what citizens know about nuclear-weapons policy.

This is all the more important as their consent is assumed in at least three ways:

  • Given that we still have no protection against a nuclear attack, be it deliberate or accidental, they are assumed to accept to be potential victims of nuclear harm, coming from a nuclear-armed adversary or from an accident in the nuclear arsenal in the country where they live.
  • If they are residents of nuclear weapon states, and possibly host states, they are also expected to fund nuclear weapons as taxpayers.
  • If they are citizens of nuclear weapons possessing states, their voice is implicitly mobilised in support of any nuclear strike the leader may decide to initiate.

For citizens’ consent to be meaningful as justification for a policy, it has to be informed. Is it?

We are answering this question based on an unprecedented large-scale survey of citizens’ knowledge and attitudes in nine countries of the EU and NATO: the two nuclear-weapon states (France and the UK), the five states hosting US nuclear weapons on their territory (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey) and two countries that have been vocal on nuclear weapons policy or ballistic missile defence (Sweden and Poland).

The survey took place in June 2018 and is based on a representative panel of 7,000 citizens aged 18 to 50. We asked basic questions about which countries possess nuclear weapons, how many of them there are in the world and in the respondent’s country, the effects of a nuclear-weapon explosion, and how many nuclear weapons tests have been conducted since 1945.

Hiroshima And Nagasaki

The first striking set of findings has to do with citizens’ knowledge regarding nuclear weapons, which is more limited than expected. For instance, less than two thirds of respondents knew that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the two cities hit by atomic weapons in World War II – the numbers vary from 45.7% in Belgium to 74.4% in Italy, with results below 50% in France and the Netherlands. The atomic bombings of World War II are important reference points in debates about the historical legitimacy of today’s nuclear weapons policies and in all the surveyed countries, Nagasaki is systematically less cited than Hiroshima by a significant margin.

Percentage of respondents in each country who mentioned Hiroshima, Nagasaki or both cities as the target of the atomic bombings of World War II. Elaborated by the authors.

The only good news here is that the likelihood of a correct answer increases with age, which creates a hope that respondents may learn about this later in life. However, only 25% of respondents give the adequate order of magnitude of casualties for Hiroshima and Nagasaki (150,000 to 250,000; ranging from 19.6% in France to 30.6% in Sweden) with 28% saying they don’t know, 21% significantly overestimating and 26% significantly underestimating it.

For sure, Hiroshima was the first of the two bombings and immediate casualties and land destroyed are higher. However, remembering Hiroshima as the symbol of atomic bombings and neglecting Nagasaki has fundamental implications on how one sees the meaning of and possibilities within the nuclear age for at least three reasons. First, Hiroshima is still associated with the U.S. official narrative born in 1947: those bombings resulted from planning for a lesser evil in order to save American lives that would have been lost in a ground invasion of Japan, should the war have continued. The fabrication and falsehood of this narrative have been documented by careful historical research.

The need to justify those bombings was felt the day before Nagasaki and it was then that the official rationale for the two bombings started to be crafted. It is only after Nagasaki that President Truman issued his first affirmative command: no more strikes without his explicit consent. Second, while the raid to Hiroshima has been shown to be well planned and executed, the opposite is true for the one to Nagasaki, which was originally just a secondary target and ended up being struck by a bomber heading for Kokura.

Draft version of the strike order, written on July 24, 1945, in General Groves’ papers at the US National Archives. Someone added ‘and Nagasaki’ to the list of targets. Draft of the directive by the Chief of Staff to General Spaatz in top-secret correspondence of the Manhattan Engineer District, 1942-1946, microfilm publication M1109 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1980), Roll 1, Target 6, Folder 5B. Courtesy of Alex Wellerstein

The causes of that in flight change remain debated but, even years later, the head of the Manhattan project, General Groves, was not able to understand why Nagasaki ever became the target. Even after target change, ground zero ended up being some three-quarters of a mile off target. Third, to paraphrase what Telford Taylor, the chief US prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, wrote in 1970: “The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable,” and are still debated by serious scholars, “but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki”. Whether or not Nagasaki features in the narrative of the atomic bombings of World War II shifts the historical and military discussion of the bombings from a discussion of strategic rationality, calculated decision-making and military planning and implementation to a discussion of errors, contingency, bad luck for Nagasaki and good luck for Kokura. It also considerably modifies the discussion about whether those bombings were justified.

Significant Gaps

A similar lack of knowledge is visible about the history of nuclear testing and the current situation regarding nuclear weapons.

When asked how many nuclear weapon tests have been conducted since 1945, 65% of respondents say they don’t know (from 52.5% in Poland to 78.4% in France, which means more than half in every country surveyed) and less than 2% guess the right number. Interestingly, 27.9% significantly underestimate the number of tests conducted so far, offering numbers between 0 and 1,000 – i.e. less than half of the actual number of tests – while only 2.8% massively overstate, giving an answer at least one order of magnitude too high.

Less than 22% of respondents overall (ranging from 19% in Turkey to 27% in Sweden) identify the right order of magnitude when it comes to the number of nuclear weapons in the world today. The same lack of knowledge is visible when the question is about the number of nuclear weapons in the respondents’ country. On average, 65.6% say they do not know and, if one excludes Poland and Sweden in which roughly half of the respondents do say that there are no weapons on their soil, the rate of respondents who claim not to know reaches 70.4%. Even in the UK and France, where the numbers of weapons are publicly available, only 2.9% and 1.7% of respondents approach the official figures.

Only 3.6% of respondents pick all nine nuclear weapon states (the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea) without mistakenly adding any non-nuclear state to the list. If one takes into account that the US and Russia account for 92% of the arsenal on the planet, one has to note that only 69% of respondents overall answer both (this goes up to 75% in the UK) and 44.5% of respondents wrongly list Iran as already possessing nuclear weapons (this ranges from 36.7% in France to more than 50% in Turkey and the Netherlands).

Similarly, knowledge of the effects of nuclear weapons explosions are very approximative. For instance, only 57.5% of respondents know that they create mass fires in spite of scholarship establishing that for many years. This is by far best known in the UK where 71.5% of respondents know this as opposed to 53.7% in France and 43.7% in Italy. At the same time, 21% and 33% of respondents tick “hurricanes” and “erosion”, which are not adequate answers.

November 1951 nuclear test in Nevada, with a yield of 21 kilotons. It was the first US nuclear field exercise conducted on land, with troops shown just 10km (6 miles) from ground zero. Wikipedia, CC BY

A Post-Cold War Effect?

The common assumption of universal loss of knowledge on the part of the post–Cold War, post-testing generation is not confirmed. If one compares the cohort of citizens who were teenagers at the end of the Cold War and the generation that comes after – i.e. the 43 to 50 years old and the 18 to 42 years old in 2018 – it is true that the older cohort is more likely to identify the US and Russia as nuclear weapons states (71.5% of respondents against 61.5% in France; 80 against 73% in the UK; 75 against 67% across countries) and has a better sense that nuclear weapons explosions cause radiation (82.5 against 75.5% in France; 91.5 versus 86.5% in the UK; 89 against 83% overall).

However, there is no significant difference in the awareness of the number of victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of the number of nuclear weapons in the respondent’s country or of the number of nuclear tests since 1945. Unexpectedly limited knowledge is visible across cohorts. 72% of respondents in the 43- to 50-year-old cohort stated that they do not know the number of nuclear tests that occurred in the past compared to 65.6% of the younger group (84% versus 76% in France; no differences between cohorts when the aggregate data (the nine countries combined) are considered). These figures should not be taken, however, as an indicator of the younger cohort as more knowledgeable on the occurrence of nuclear tests: among the respondents who gave a figure, more than 82% in both cohorts underestimated the number of nuclear tests ever carried and offered numbers between zero and one thousand.

It is interesting to note that, when asked about the number of nuclear weapons on the planet, the older generation is more likely to overestimate it and answer “50,000” or “100,000 or more” (5% more overall, 4.5% more in France, 10% more in the UK) which may suggest assumptions of legacy of the Cold War. In the UK, the younger cohort gets the right answer by a margin of almost 6% (23.8% vs 18.1%). Finally, the mistake which consists in mentioning Iran as a nuclear weapon state is less frequent among the post–Cold War generation (in France 34.5 versus 42%, in the UK and overall 43 versus 48%).


Those findings give rise to several reactions.

First, invoking or assuming the informed consent of citizens about nuclear weapons policy seems to be a massive overstatement given our respondents’ level of knowledge.

Second, as a prelude to better nuclear education and clearer choices for our citizens and elected officials, more research is needed on the causes and sources of citizens’ nuclear knowledge. The findings of this survey suggest avenues for further inquiry. Respondents from the UK and Sweden stand out as overall better informed than their counterparts in other countries even though an astonishingly high number of 65.7% of Swedish respondents say that no country has ever given up a nuclear weapon program even though their own country actually has. To what extent did the structures of nuclear knowledge production, legitimation and dissemination in the UK and Sweden contribute to this improvement of public knowledge? What was the impact of the Trident debate? How can we assess the possibility of a post-Cold War or post-testing generational change in knowledge and attitudes beyond the simple division in cohorts we proposed here?

Finally, we should resist the temptation to oppose citizens’ uninformed opinions and experts’ knowledge and feel relieved that the former are not deciding anything on the matter, precisely because of their ignorance.

On the one hand, such a view would be missing the well-documented flaws in expert knowledge, their frequent overconfidence, limited ability to update their established judgements in the face of contradicting new evidence and lack of accountability.

On the other hand, one cannot expect well-informed understanding about nuclear affairs from citizens and blame them for their lack of it. A priori, it seems that citizens’ factual knowledge about nuclear weapons politics and history often reflects shared biases among experts and media pundits at the present time. They are particularly visible in the striking lack of knowledge about past nuclear testing, which is absent from the public conversation, the erroneous and frequent mention of Iran as a possessor of nuclear weapons given the tendency to cover it as “imminent proliferation” since 2006, and the relative ignorance of Nagasaki as opposed to Hiroshima, which became a symbol for the nuclear bombings of World War II.

Benoît Pelopidas, Chair of excellence in security studies and founding director of the Nuclear Knowledges program, Sciences Po – USPC and Fabrício M. Fialho, Postdoctoral Researcher, Sciences Po – USPC

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A Nuclear Treaty Between Russia And The US Is Falling Apart – Can It Be Saved?

Article By: Jeffrey Fields, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Feb. 1 that the United States would withdraw from its nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.

Since the Obama administration, the U.S. has accused Russia of being in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which prohibits the U.S. and Russia from developing a certain types of ballistic and cruise missiles. A day after Pompeo’s announcement, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would also suspend its participation in the treaty.

The treaty is not dead yet. The announcements serve as the six month’s notice required by the treaty before parties can withdraw. There is still time to reconcile differences.

But I don’t think that will happen.

I worked on issues related to arms control and nuclear nonproliferation at both the State Department and Department of Defense.

Here’s why a resolution is unlikely.

Cold War Context

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union began placing missiles in strategic locations within its territory that could each carry three nuclear warheads a distance of about 2,500 miles.

These SS-20 missles were in a category of weapons called “intermediate-range ballistic missiles.” The missiles could strike almost all 29 member states of the North Atlantaic Treaty Orgnization with the exception of the U.S. and Canada.

At the time, NATO did not have a way to address the new threat through diplomacy with the Soviets. Nor did they have equivalent missiles capable of striking strategic locations in the Soviet Union from Western Europe.

The U.S. sought to reassure NATO allies and deter a nuclear Soviet attack on Western Europe. In the early 1980s, it placed the Pershing II ballistic missile, as well as other missiles in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and West Germany.

The move was designed in part to counter the Soviet missile threat, and also persuade the Soviets to negotiate to limit the number of intermediate and short-range missiles on both sides in Europe and the Soviet Union.

Terms Of The Treaty

Negotiations between the U.S. and Soviet Union began in 1979 in the late stages of the Carter administration. The aim was to limit the number of intermediate-range missiles each could deploy. The negotiations carried over into the Reagan administration with various proposals on how many missiles each side could have and where they were be allowed to be placed.

In 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev proposed eliminating all short- and intermediate-range missiles. This led to the landmark INF Treaty that banned the entire class of missiles. The treaty was signed by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev on Dec. 8, 1987.

Both sides agreed to eliminate all existing cruise and ballistic missiles that could be launched from the ground (as opposed to from the sea or sky) and had a range between roughly 300 and 3,400 miles. They also pledged to “not have such systems thereafter.”

Before the treaty’s implementation deadline in 1991, the U.S. and Russia destroyed more than 2,500 missiles covered by the treaty.

Nuclear Powers Beyond Russia

The United States first became concerned with Russian compliance with the treaty in 2014, when it alleged that Russia had tested a missile that violated the range restrictions of the treaty. Russia denied the accusation.

Meanwhile, countries such China, Iran or North Korea, are not constrained by any treaties related to developing missiles that can carry nuclear weapons. These countries have continued to develop or are considering developing such missile technology.

Russia began to fear in the mid-2000s that the treaty was constraining its military options.

Some analysts have argued the U.S. should abandon the INF Treaty for this same reason – not because of Russian noncompliance, but because it limits U.S. military options vis-à-vis China. The treaty prohibits the U.S. from putting ground-launched, short-range missiles in places like Japan. Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton is a firm proponent of this approach.

Prospects for the treaty don’t look good.

Russia has long denied being in violation of the treaty. The Trump administration is skeptical of arms control in general and has plans to continue modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Unbound by the treaty, the U.S. could develop new nuclear weapons systems in East Asia to counter Chinese military advances. The treaty’s demise seems likely. What follows depends on several variables, especially the outcome of the U.S. 2020 presidential election.

Jeffrey Fields, Associate Professor of the Practice of International Relations, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Is The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Here’s Why It’s Still Important

Article By: Ian Johnstone, Tufts University

Iran recently exceeded the limits on uranium enrichment set out in its nuclear deal with the U.S. and five other countries. Iran’s move was in response to the U.S.‘s renunciation of the same deal last May.

Possession of the uranium doesn’t put Iran much closer to developing a nuclear weapon, but it does raise troubling questions about the future of nuclear nonproliferation.

Iran’s leadership has also twice threatened to withdraw from a separate pact that limits the spread of nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If Iran does withdraw from the treaty, it will be just the second country to do so, after North Korea in 2003, whose withdrawal has never been formally accepted.

But what is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? And how serious is Iran’s threat of withdrawal?

190 Countries Have Signed

In 1961, 16 years after U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, a U.N. resolution called for a treaty to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The fear was that without such a treaty, as many as 25 countries could acquire nuclear weapons.

The U.N. resolution prompted the U.S. and the Soviet Union to prepare drafts that became the basis for negotiations.

The treaty was opened for signing in 1968 and came into force in 1970 when 46 states had ratified it, including the U.S., U.K. and USSR. Today, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has 190 parties – more than any other arms limitation treaty.

The treaty prohibits states that don’t have nuclear weapons from acquiring them. It also prohibits the five nuclear state parties from helping others to acquire them, while pledging to work toward nuclear disarmament themselves. Compliance with the treaty is verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency and enforced by the U.N. Security Council.

Five states that possess nuclear weapons have signed the treaty: the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China.

Four additional nuclear states are not parties to the treaty: India, Pakistan, Israel and – most recently – North Korea.

With the 50th anniversary of the treaty around the corner, the Iran and North Korea crises are once again raising the specter of rapid proliferation – casting into doubt the value of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As a law professor who studies multilateral approaches to peace and security, I can identify some worrying signs.

For example, last year Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman said “if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit.” He said this even though Saudi Arabia signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1988.

If Saudi Arabia joins Iran and Israel as a member of the nuclear club in the Middle East, how will Egypt, Turkey and others in the region respond?

If talks with North Korea on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula go nowhere and it is allowed to keep its current stockpile of 10-20 weapons for the indefinite future, how will Japan and South Korea react?

What’s worse: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty isn’t the only nuclear treaty on shaky ground.

President Trump announced in February 2019 that the U.S. would withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty unless Russia eliminates one category of nuclear missiles that the U.S. claims exceed the treaty limit.

And the 2010 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is due to expire in 2020. National Security Adviser John Bolton has called its extension “unlikely.”

The end of these two important treaties could undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by reinforcing a perception among nonnuclear parties that the nuclear states are not fulfilling their obligation “to pursue negotiations in good faith … on nuclear disarmament.”

Reasons For Optimism

While worry about future proliferation is certainly warranted, I’d still argue that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is alive and well.

Arguments to the contrary are based on two misconceptions.

The first is that the viability of the treaty depends primarily on fulfillment of the “grand bargain” embodied in it: that nonnuclear states agree not to acquire nuclear weapons in exchange for the nuclear states agreeing to eventually disarm and to assist other parties to develop peaceful nuclear energy. But the policies of nuclear states are not what motivates the nuclear decisions of other Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty parties. Most are motivated by regional security threats or by a conventional weapons attack by a perceived enemy.

For North Korea, going nuclear may look like the answer to perceived threats from the U.S. and South Korea. For many, however, strengthening the global norm against proliferation through nuclear abstinence is a more promising approach.

The second misconception is that the treaty is suffering from a “crisis of noncompliance.” The argument here is that the treaty didn’t stop Iraq, Libya or North Korea from starting programs or prevent Iran from building substantial nuclear capacity, so it must be useless.

Yet perfect compliance is too demanding a measure of success of any law. Our society still values laws against thievery and tax evasion even though people break them every day.

Moreover, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s record of compliance even in Iraq, Libya and North Korea is far from an unmitigated failure. The U.N. Security Council imposed a comprehensive disarmament regime on Iraq. Libya voluntarily gave up its program. North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty led to sanctions. Iran has never come within a year of being able to build a bomb.

How much of this is due to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is open to debate, but pointing to a few cases of noncompliance does not prove its irrelevance.

As I argue in my book about the power of deliberation, a better way of gauging the value of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is to ask whether it tips the scales against proliferation. Parties to the treaty will pay a price if caught cheating. They may decide the price is worth paying, but it is not cost-free. Compliance becomes the default position.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty may have been bent by recent hits, but it is not broken.

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Ian Johnstone, Dean ad interim and Professor of International Law, The Fletcher School, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Proposals To Sell Nuclear Reactors To Saudi Arabia Raise Red Flags

Saudi Arabia has many possible motives for pursuing nuclear power. TTstudio/

Article By: Chen Kane, Middlebury

According to a congressional report, a group that includes former senior U.S. government officials is lobbying to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. As an expert focusing on the Middle East and the spread of nuclear weapons, I believe these efforts raise important legal, economic and strategic concerns.

It is understandable that the Trump administration might want to support the U.S. nuclear industry, which is shrinking at home. However, the congressional report raised concerns that the group seeking to make the sale may have have sought to carry it out without going through the process required under U.S. law. Doing so could give Saudi Arabia U.S. nuclear technology without appropriate guarantees that it would not be used for nuclear weapons in the future.

A Competitive Global Market

Exporting nuclear technology is lucrative, and many U.S. policymakers have long believed that it promotes U.S. foreign policy interests. However, the international market is shrinking, and competition between suppliers is stiff.

Private U.S. nuclear companies have trouble competing against state-supported international suppliers in Russia and China. These companies offer complete construction and operation packages with attractive financing options. Russia, for example, is willing to accept spent fuel from the reactor it supplies, relieving host countries of the need to manage nuclear waste. And China can offer lower construction costs.

Saudi Arabia declared in 2011 that it planned to spend over US$80 billion to construct 16 reactors, and U.S. companies want to provide them. Many U.S. officials see the decadeslong relationships involved in a nuclear sale as an opportunity to influence Riyadh’s nuclear future and preserve U.S. influence in the Saudi kingdom.

Of the 56 new reactors under construction worldwide, 39 are in Asia. IAEA, CC BY-ND

Why Does Saudi Arabia Want Nuclear Power?

With the world’s second-largest known petroleum reserves, abundant untapped supplies of natural gas and high potential for solar energy, why is Saudi Arabia shopping for nuclear power? Some of its motives are benign, but others are worrisome.

First, nuclear energy would allow the Saudis to increase their fossil fuel exports. About one-third of the kingdom’s daily oil production is consumed domestically at subsidized prices; substituting nuclear energy domestically would free up this petroleum for export at market prices.

Saudi Arabia is also the largest producer of desalinated water in the world. Ninety percent of its drinking water is desalinated, a process that burns approximately 15 percent of the 9.8 million barrels of oil it produces daily. Nuclear power could meet some of this demand.

Saudi leaders have also expressed clear interest in establishing parity with Iran’s nuclear program. In a March 2018 interview, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned, “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

As a member in good standing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Saudi Arabia has pledged not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and is entitled to engage in peaceful nuclear trade. Such commerce could include acquiring technology to enrich uranium or separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. These systems can be used both to produce fuel for civilian nuclear reactors and to make key materials for nuclear weapons.Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., discusses his government’s concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

US Nuclear Trade Regulations

Under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, before American companies can compete to export nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia, Washington and Riyadh must conclude a nuclear cooperation agreement, and the U.S. government must submit it to Congress. Unless Congress adopts a joint resolution within 90 days disapproving the agreement, it is approved. The United States currently has 23 nuclear cooperation agreements in force, including Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt (approved in 1981), Turkey (2008) and the United Arab Emirates (2009).

The Atomic Energy Act requires countries seeking to purchase U.S. nuclear technology to make legally binding commitments that they will not use those materials and equipment for nuclear weapons, and to place them under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. It also mandates that the United States must approve any uranium enrichment or plutonium separation activities involving U.S. technologies and materials, in order to prevent countries from diverting them to weapons use.

American nuclear suppliers claim that these strict conditions and time-consuming legal requirements put them at a competitive disadvantage. But those conditions exist to prevent countries from misusing U.S. technology for nuclear weapons. I find it alarming that according to the House report, White House officials may have attempted to bypass or sidestep these conditions – potentially enriching themselves in the process.

According to the congressional report, within days of President Trump’s inauguration, senior U.S. officials were promoting an initiative to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, without either concluding a nuclear cooperation agreement and submitting it to Congress or involving key government agencies, such as the Department of Energy or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. One key advocate for this so-called “Marshall Plan” for nuclear reactors in the Middle East was then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who reportedly served as an adviser to a subsidiary of IP3, the firm that devised this plan, while he was advising Trump’s presidential campaign.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by national security adviser Michael Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner, speaks on the phone with King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud shortly after taking office, Jan. 29, 2017. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The promoters of the plan also reportedly proposed to sidestep U.S. sanctions against Russia by partnering with Russian companies – which impose less stringent restrictions on nuclear exports – to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia.

Flynn resigned soon afterward and now is cooperating with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. But IP3 access to the White House persists: According to press reports, President Trump met with representatives of U.S. industry, a meeting organized by IP3 to discuss nuclear exports to Saudi Arabia as recently as mid-February 2019.

Rules For A Saudi Nuclear Deal

Saudi leaders have scaled back their planned purchases and now only expect to build two reactors. If the Trump administration continues to pursue nuclear exports to Riyadh, I believe it should negotiate a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Kingdom as required by U.S. law, and also take extra steps to reduce nuclear proliferation risks.

This should include requiring the Saudis to adopt the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, a safeguards agreement that give the agency additional tools to verify that all nuclear materials in the kingdom are being used peacefully. The agreement should also require Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear fuel from foreign suppliers, and export the reactor spent fuel for storage abroad. These conditions would diminish justification for uranium enrichment or opportunities for plutonium reprocessing for weapons.

The United States has played a leadership role in preventing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, one of the world’s most volatile regions. There is much more at stake here than profit, and legal tools exist to ensure that nuclear exports do not add fuel to the Middle East fire.

Chen Kane, Director, Middle East Nonproliferation Program, Middlebury Institute, Middlebury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why The US Has Nuclear Weapons In Turkey – And May Try To Put The Bombs Away

A B-61 bomb, like the ones stored at the US Incirlik Airbase in Turkey. Flickr/Kelly Michals, CC BY-SA

Article By: Miles A. Pomper, Middlebury

As the Syrian crisis pits Turkish troops against former U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, Pentagon officials have been reviewing plans to remove 50 nuclear bombs stored at a U.S air base in Turkey.

A congressional directive to the Pentagon to quickly assess alternative homes for U.S. “personnel and assets” currently stationed at Incirlik Air Base is part of a broader bipartisan bill, still being debated, that proposes sanctions against Turkey. President Donald Trump has been forced to issue public reassurances that the weapons are secure.

During the Cold War, the U.S. stationed B-61 nuclear bombs in Turkey, among other NATO countries. Formally, the U.S. controlled the weapons during peacetime, but the host countries’ forces trained and equipped planes so they could drop the bombs with U.S. support in the case of war. The idea was to deter Soviet ground forces and reassure U.S. allies by making clear that the U.S. would be willing to risk nuclear war to block a Soviet invasion of a country hosting the bombs.

In addition, in the years before the U.S. developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, they presented a way for NATO to demonstrate it could act quickly to respond to a Soviet attack.

The 50 bombs still at Incirlik Air Base, in southern Turkey – and others in Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands – are the last nuclear remnants of that Cold War strategy. The U.S. began pulling nuclear bombs out of NATO countries after the Cold War ended, and since 2000 has removed 40 bombs from Turkey.

Two decades ago, the Turkish Air Force stopped equipping its planes to drop B-61s. Now the bombs at Incirlik could only be used if U.S. pilots first flew nuclear-weapon-capable planes there to load them up. The bombs were left in Turkey even after a 2016 coup attempt raised serious concerns about their safety. After that event, the U.S. Defense and Energy departments began planning how to remove them – but didn’t actually bring them back to the U.S.

How Secure Are They?

U.S. nuclear weapons are stored in hardened bunkers, protected by electronic systems and heavily armed U.S. troops. The Pentagon has recently reinforced both of those methods of defense.

The bombs themselves also require 12-digit codes to activate them, However, those protections are only strong enough to delay unauthorized use, rather than actually prevent it. If those barriers were overcome, U.S forces could disable the weapons by destroying electrical components or detonating their chemical high explosive without causing a nuclear release. In the worst case, they could blow up the weapons or the facilities at Incirlik.

Still the U.S. procedures are not designed to prevent skilled attacks or sabotage, especially from an ally. With enough time, Turkey could make use of the nuclear material – if not to detonate in an actual nuclear explosion, then to “release disastrous and deadly radiation.”

What’s Wrong With Removing Them?

Taking the weapons out of Turkey carries some physical risks. The bombs aren’t terribly heavy – roughly 700 pounds each – but moving nuclear material requires significant security. In addition, the Turkish government would have to help – or at least not stand in the way – of landing transport planes or sending cargo convoys by land or sea.

The greater risks are likely to be political. Those concerns have discouraged previous U.S. administrations from removing the bombs, even though Turkey’s defense community isn’t particularly interested in using them.

One U.S. concern is that Turkey could perceive the move as a push away from NATO. That could lead to Turkey seeking closer ties with Russia.

In addition, pulling the nuclear weapons out of Turkey could prompt requests to remove other bombs from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, where they are publicly unpopular.

A new worry just arose, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently mused whether perhaps Turkey should leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and develop its own nuclear arsenal. U.S. officials have long feared that pulling the American nuclear bombs out could encourage Ergodan to try to turn that bluster into reality.

Unintentionally, Trump’s efforts to provide reassurance may have made this challenge more difficult. The presence of B-61s in the five countries is an open secret, confirmed by independent observers. But it has nonetheless been NATO policy not to acknowledge the deployments, giving local politicians and the U.S. a shield from parliamentary and public oversight.

By publicly confirming that the weapons were in Turkey, Trump has raised the political stakes should he try to remove them, and made it more difficult for the United States and Turkey to strike a quiet deal to that effect.

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Miles A. Pomper, Senior Fellow, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Geology Reveals About North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons – And What It Obscures

Pedestrians in Tokyo pass a television screen broadcasting a report on May 4, 2019 that North Korea has fired several unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast. AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

Article By: Marshall Rogers-Martinez, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

North Korea’s leader, Chairman Kim Jong Un, clearly is in no hurry to demilitarize his country. In the wake of two historic yet unproductive summits with President Trump, Kim made a state visit in April to Moscow, where he made clear that his country will not give up its nuclear weapons without international security guarantees. North Korea also tested what appeared to be short-range missiles on April 18 and May 4.

These tests are reminders that North Korea’s military forces, particularly its nuclear arsenal, pose a serious threat to the United States and its Asian allies. This reclusive nation is a high-priority U.S. intelligence target, but there are still large uncertainties about the power of its nuclear weapons. North Korean scientists work in isolation from the rest of the world, and defectors are far and few between.

My research focuses on improving techniques for estimating the yield, or size, of underground nuclear explosions by using physics-based simulations. Science and technology give us a lot of tools for assessing the nuclear capabilities of countries like North Korea, but it’s still difficult to track and accurately measure the size and power of their nuclear arsenals. Here’s a look at some of the challenges. Experts say the US and North Korea are closer to nuclear war than many Americans believe.

A Nation In The Dark

For an isolated nation like North Korea, developing a functional nuclear weapons program is a historic feat. Just eight other sovereign states have accomplished this goal – the five declared nuclear weapons states (the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China) plus Israel, India and Pakistan.

North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons since the mid-1980s. Paradoxically, in 1985 it also joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT, under which it pledged not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. But by 2002, U.S. intelligence discovered evidence that North Korea was producing enriched uranium – a technological milestone that can yield explosive material to power nuclear weapons. In response the U.S. suspended fuel oil shipments to North Korea, which prompted the North to leave the NPT in 2003.

Then the North resumed a previously shuttered program to extract plutonium from spent uranium fuel. Plutonium-based nuclear weapons are more energy-dense than uranium-based designs, so they can be smaller and more mobile without sacrificing yield.

North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on Oct. 6, 2006. Many experts considered the test to be unsuccessful because the size of the explosion, as determined from seismograms, was relatively small. However, that conclusion was based on incomplete information. And the test still served as a powerful domestic propaganda tool and international display of might.

More Tests, More Uncertainty

Since 2006 North Korea has conducted five more nuclear tests, each one larger than the last. Scientists are still working to measure their yield accurately. This question is important, because it reveals how advanced the North Korean nuclear program is, which has implications for global security.

Estimates of the size of North Korea’s most recent test in September 2017 place it between 70 and 280 kilotons of TNT equivalent. For reference, that’s five to 20 times stronger than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. In fact, the explosion was so strong that it caused the mountain under which it was detonated to collapse by several meters.

We have a variety of tools for gaining knowledge about these events, ranging from satellite imagery to radar and seismograms. These methods give us an idea of North Korea’s capabilities, but they all have drawbacks. One difficulty common to all of them is uncertainty about geological conditions at the test site. Without a good understanding of the geology, it’s difficult to accurately model the explosions and replicate observations. It is even harder to constrain the error associated with those estimates.

Another, less understood phenomenon is the effect of fracture damage at the test site. North Korea has conducted all of its nuclear tests at the same location. Field experiments have shown that such repeat tests dampen the outgoing seismic and infrasound waves, making the explosion appear weaker than it actually is. This happens because the rock that was fractured by the first explosion is more loosely held together and acts like a giant muffler. These processes are poorly understood and contribute to even more uncertainty.

Additionally, my research and work by other scientists have shown that many types of rock enhance the production of earthquake-like seismic waves by underground explosions. The more energy from an explosion that gets converted into these earthquake-like waves, the more difficult it becomes to estimate the size of the explosion.

What Do We Know?

What U.S. officials do know is that North Korea has an active nuclear weapons program, and any such program poses an existential threat to the United States and the world at large. Intelligence experts in South Korea and nuclear scientists in the United States estimate that North Korea has between 30 and 60 nuclear weapons in reserve, with the ability to produce more in the future.

It’s still unclear how far North Korea can deliver nuclear weapons. However, their ability to produce plutonium enables them to make small, easily transportable nuclear bombs, which increase the threat.

In the face of such developments, one course of action available to the U.S. that would serve our country’s national security interests is to negotiate with North Korea in good faith, but accept nothing less than complete nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula. And any such agreement will have to be verified through disclosures and inspections to ensure that North Korea doesn’t cheat.

That’s impossible if U.S. experts don’t have an accurate accounting of what the North has achieved so far. The more that Americans negotiators know about Pyongyang’s nuclear activities to date, the better prepared they will be to set realistic terms if and when North Korea decides – as other nations have – that its future is brighter without nuclear weapons.

Marshall Rogers-Martinez, PhD Candidate, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nuclear Weapons And Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: 4 Questions Answered

United Nations Security Council members listen to Iranian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Eshagh Al-Habib, left, during a meeting on Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, Dec. 12, 2018, at UN headquarters. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Editor’s note: Iran has breached a limit on enriching uranium that was imposed in a 2015 agreement restricting its nuclear activities. Under the deal, the United States and five other world powers lifted economic sanctions they had imposed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But President Trump removed the U.S. from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

Miles Pomper, a senior fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, explains what uranium enrichment is and why it is central to both peaceful nuclear energy programs and building nuclear weapons.

1. What Is Uranium Enrichment?

Uranium can fuel nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs because some of its isotopes, or atomic forms, are fissile: Their atoms can be easily split to release energy.

Freshly mined uranium contains more than 99% of an isotope called uranium 238, which is not fissile, plus a tiny fraction of uranium 235, which is fissile. Enrichment is an industrial process to increase the proportion of U-235. It’s usually done by passing uranium gas through devices called centrifuges, which rotate at high speeds. This process sifts out U-235, which is lighter than U-238.

Commercial nuclear power plants run on low-enriched uranium fuel, which contains 3-5% U-235. Further processing can produce highly enriched uranium, which contains more than 20% U-235.Moderate and conservative Iranian leaders have been debating whether to pursue nuclear weapons since the country’s 1979 revolution.

2. How Is Enriching Uranium Connected To Making Nuclear Weapons?

The same technology is used to enrich uranium for either nuclear power or nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons typically contain uranium enriched to 80% U-235 or more, which is known as weapon-grade uranium.

Nuclear weapons can also can be powered with plutonium, but Iran would need to irradiate uranium fuel in its Arak nuclear reactor and build an additional facility to separate plutonium from the spent fuel to take that route. Currently its uranium work poses a more immediate risk.

Both nuclear power and nuclear weapons rely on nuclear chain reactions to release energy, but in different ways. A commercial nuclear power plant uses low-enriched uranium fuel and various design elements to generate a slow nuclear chain reaction that produces a constant stream of energy. In a nuclear weapon, specially designed high explosives cram together enough weapon-grade uranium or plutonium to produce an extremely fast chain reaction that generates an explosion.

Producing a nuclear weapon involves more than making highly enriched uranium or plutonium, but experts generally view this as the most time-consuming step. It’s also the stage that is most visible to outsiders, so it is an important indicator of a country’s progress.

Building K-33 at the Oak Ridge site in Tennessee enriched uranium for U.S. nuclear weapons from 1954-1985. The plant was demolished in 2012. DOE

3. How Good Is Iran At Enriching Uranium?

Iran’s work on uranium enrichment has proceeded in fits and starts, but now experts generally believe that if it exits the nuclear deal, it could make enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

These efforts began in the late 1980s, while Iran was engaged in a bloody war with Iraq. The first centrifuges and designs were provided by Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist who ran a black market network for nuclear technologies from the 1970s through the early 2000s. These machines were poor-quality, frequently secondhand models and often broke down. And the United States and Israel reportedly carried out espionage operations, including cyberattacks, to further disable Iran’s enrichment ability.

Iran continues to have technical problems in producing more advanced centrifuges. Nonetheless, it improved their performance sufficiently in the years leading up to the 2015 deal that observers widely believe Iran could produce enough material for a nuclear weapons program. The 2015 agreement deal set limits on Iran’s research and development activities to limit further progress, but Iran has been testing the legal boundaries of these restrictions.

In this photo released May 22, 2019 by his office, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks to a group of students in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei publicly chastised the country’s moderate president and foreign minister Wednesday, saying he disagreed with the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

4. How Does The Iran Deal Limit Iran’s Activities?

The agreement limits how much uranium Iran can enrich and to what level. It also specifies how much enriched uranium Iran can stockpile, how many and what types of centrifuges it can use, and what kinds of research and development activities it can conduct.

All of these limits are designed to prevent Iranian scientists from amassing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon – roughly 10 to 30 kilograms (22 to 65 pounds), depending on the device’s design and the bomb-makers’ sophistication and experience – in under a year. That delay is seen as long enough to give the international community time to respond if Iran decided to go nuclear.

The agreement also restricts Iran’s plutonium separation research, and requires it to accept International Atomic Energy Agency inspections to ensure that it is not using peaceful nuclear activities as a cover to produce weapons.

Under the agreement, restrictions on Iran’s enrichment activities were scheduled to start easing in 2026 and largely end in 2031, although international monitoring would continue after that.

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Miles A. Pomper, Senior Fellow, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The US Nuclear Arsenal: A Quick Overview

Warhead-containing nose cone of an inert Minuteman 3 missile. AP Photo/Charlie Riede

Article By: Jeffrey Fields, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

I spent many years working on nuclear nonproliferation at the Department of Defense, the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. Between 2009 and 2010, I worked with the special representative for nonproliferation at the State Department.

As the world focuses on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, this seems like a good time to ask: Is the U.S. doing anything to limit the size of its own nuclear arsenal?

Commitment To Disarming

The United States is one of five recognized nuclear weapons states – including Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom – under the 1970 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The treaty permits these states to possess nuclear weapons. Other countries signed on as non-nuclear weapons states, pledging not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for access to peaceful civilian nuclear technology like power reactors.

This was not meant to be permanent a state of affairs. An article of the treaty calls on all nuclear weapons states “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

To this end, President Barack Obama pledged to decrease the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy, committing to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Obama was the first president to talk about steps to disarmament this way.

By contrast, in December 2016, President-elect Trump tweeted that the U.S. need to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

In 2018, the Department of Defense released a review of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review. It recommends the U.S. add to its arsenal a new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile and a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile.

The recommendation struck many observers as a pivot from the Obama administration’s policies toward an increased role for nuclear weapons. They view it as the beginning of a new arms race. Others see it as necessary to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent and consistent with past administrations’ nuclear policies.

The Obama administration had also come to the conclusion that even if disarmament was an ultimate if distant goal, many of the components U.S. nuclear arsenal still needed to be maintained and updated. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that modernizing current U.S. nuclear forces would cost US$1.2 trillion over the next 20 years.

US Arsenal Over Time

The New START Treaty, signed between the U.S. and Russia in 2010, was another bilateral agreement to reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons and cap the number of deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550. That may sound like a lot, but at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. arsenal contained more than 30,000 nuclear weapons.

The New START Treaty only places a cap on deployed nuclear warheads, meaning weapons that are on delivery vehicles like ICBMs and ready to use, versus, say, warheads in storage. The stockpile, which is the total number of nuclear weapons both deployed and non-deployed, is much larger. The Obama administration first declassified the number in 2010. The number then was 5,113.

In 2017, the total number of weapons in the U.S. stockpile was reported as 3,822.

The New START Treaty also places limits on the number of vehicles used to deliver nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy. The United States maintains a so-called nuclear triad: nuclear weapons deployed on ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers like the B-2 aircraft. Since it would be difficult for an adversary to knock out all three methods of delivery, this strategy allows at least one leg of the triad to respond in the event of a devastating nuclear attack.

The U.S. nuclear arsenal today is the smallest it has been since the early days of the Cold War. Whether this makes the world safer is still a subject of intense debate.

Optimists see any reduction in the size of arsenals as a positive. Pessimists see the continued reliance on nuclear deterrence, whatever the size of states’ arsenals, as inherently dangerous. While most nuclear armed states agree that nuclear weapons are only for deterrence and thus likely never to be used in war, their devastating power will always provoke fierce debate on their utility.

Jeffrey Fields, Associate Professor of the Practice of International Relations, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Mysteriously Missing Candidates

As of this writing, we’re diving ever deeper in to one of our seemingly endless Presidential campaigns here in the United States. Thousands of journalists are following the campaigns around the country every day as each journalist tries to ask “The Big Question” that will put their career in the spotlight, thus boosting their network’s audience and ad revenue profits. It’s a madcap frenzied round the clock coverage 500 channel blab fest, with no utterance from the candidates too small to breathlessly report.

And yet, to my knowledge, no journalist has yet asked any candidate for the Presidency a question like this…

Dear candidate, if you are elected to the Presidency you may be called upon to incinerate hundreds of millions of people based on limited information and almost no warning. Are you prepared to do that?

Here in the world’s oldest democracy we are engaged in an electoral process which will select a single human being who will be given the power to, on their sole authority, destroy modern civilization in just a few minutes.

You know, a single human being, with sole authority to end the world. Maybe somebody like this for example.

And yet, we can’t be bothered to discuss this most awesome power of the Presidency, not even in a Presidential campaign. Huh? What? Seriously?

Yup, sorry, seriously. The candidates rarely if ever bring the subject of nuclear weapons up. The professional journalists don’t either. Academics and scientists are typically hopelessly distracted by a million smaller subjects. And we the American voting public consider this mysterious silence of our cultural elites, even in the middle of a heated Presidential campaign, to be completely normal. If we think about it at all. Which, um, we so rarely do.

If you’re not an American, and you find the marriage of our determined blindness and Biblical scale power to be terrifying, well, thank God there’s somebody sane out there!

What we can learn from observing this Presidential campaign is that our cultural elites, whether they be politicians, journalists, academics, scientists or others, are not capable of successfully managing nuclear weapons forever. As a group, they can’t even focus on the subject, not even in a Presidential campaign.

An even less convenient lesson is that we the average man-in-the-street citizens of the United States are also largely silent on the most awesome power of the U.S. Presidency. We will probably proudly vote for one of the candidates, even if our favorite candidate never addresses the subject of nuclear weapons even once.

What a clear eyed observation of this Presidential campaign can teach us is that human beings in general, all of us, no matter how intelligent, well educated or accomplished we may be, are simply not mature and rational enough to be in possession of civilization ending weapons.