International Security Studies
Atoms for Peace Conference 2003
This conference marked the fiftieth anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. Prominent security issues of today — including serious questions about Iran’s nuclear program, the prospects of a nuclear energy renaissance with dramatic implications for global prosperity as well as proliferation, efforts to develop commercial uses for excess defense nuclear material and the dreadful prospect of nuclear and radiological terrorism — can be seen through the prism of Atoms for Peace. Was this initiative fatally flawed or the only basis for reducing nuclear dangers while enjoying the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy?
The conference brought together a distinguished group of international experts to reassess the legacy of the proposal and the nuclear nonproliferation regime elements it underlies, and to look ahead to assess the relevance of Atoms for Peace for dealing with nuclear energy, nonproliferation, arms control and terrorism issues over the next 50 years.
- James R. Schlesinger of the MITRE Board of Trustees argued that President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace speech achieved a great deal, leading to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and, by extension, to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The essential bargain of Atoms for Peace was and remains the provision of peaceful technology to modernizing states so long as they eschew nuclear weaponry. We must now modify the structure of the regime to bring deviant nations back into line and to better deal with the threat of nonstate terrorist actors acquiring nuclear weapons.
PANEL I. NONPROLIFERATION/ARMS CONTROL
- Jayantha Dhanapala of the Sri Lankan Foreign Service focused on the importance of nuclear disarmament, arguing that there are not “right hands” and “wrong hands” when it comes to nuclear weapons: they should be removed from all hands.
- Ariel Levite of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission argued that it is difficult to strike a balance between the energy requirements of the international community and the imperative of pursuing nonproliferation objectives. A fundamental tension, he argued, lies in Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace bargain, a bargain that some states are now abusing as they develop rapid breakout capabilities. Multilateral approaches will be essential in confronting this new threat.
- Choi Young-jin of South Korea’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security argued that North Korea’s current nuclear posture might not reflect a concrete, well-thought-out strategy. Rather, it may be a manifestation of North Korea’s fundamental dilemma: its need to weigh its political survival against its need for economic modernization.
- Mohamed Shaker of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs discussed the merits of establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
- Feroz Kahn, formerly of the Pakistan Army, argued that nuclear weapons are seen by many states as a victory-denying instrument, not as a war-winning instrument, and that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program was simply “reactive” with respect to India’s “gate-crashing” nuclear program.
PANEL II. NUCLEAR SECURITY/MATERIALS CONTROL
- Paul Longsworth of the US National Nuclear Security Administration argued that the global nonproliferation regime must maintain the essential bargain of Atoms for Peace while keeping in mind the new challenges posed by the proliferation of civilian enrichment processes and thus finding a way to “set the alarm bells back a bit.”
- Nils Diaz of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission discussed the US program of buying enriched uranium from Russia, downgrading it, and using it for energy generation. Despite the tradition of dividing civilian and military nuclear materials, he argued, the present efforts show that this is an artificial distinction that has outlived its usefulness.
- Laura Holgate of the Nuclear Threat Initiative argued that while the arms control regime has been relatively effective – there have been just four additional entrants to the original club of five – we need to acknowledge that in the present global environment, the broad distribution of technical expertise means that even a moderately-funded terrorist organization can, if it manages to acquire fissile material, build a nuclear weapon. Thus, we must work even more closely with the Russian Federation to secure such material.
- Oleg Bukharin of Princeton University discussed the security crisis in the former USSR’s nuclear facilities following the Soviet collapse, suggesting that despite the seriousness of the crisis, we seem to have made it through without a major loss in nuclear material. At present, the Russian federal budget is more secure because of oil exports, but any collapse in such revenues could again precipitate a nuclear security crisis.
- Michael Krepon of the Henry L. Stimson Center argued that we must step up the role of cooperative threat reduction in our nonproliferation efforts but that we must “think bigger” about the concept of cooperative threat reduction.
PANEL III. NUCLEAR ENERGY
- Atsuyuki Suzuki of the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission cited Joseph Nye’s arguments about “soft power” in suggesting that that we should establish a multinational system whereby the international community manages spent fuel and institutes safeguards. He explained that American nuclear spent fuel management programs infringe on states’ sovereignty and reflect hard-power solutions.
- Jacques Bouchard of the French Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique argued that especially when one factors in environmental cleanup costs, the cost of nuclear energy is both much less expensive and more stable than that of fossil-fuel-based production. Nuclear energy is safe, is getting safer, offers a relatively secure energy supply, and is more and more proliferation-resistant.
- Jose Goldemberg of Brazil’s Ministry of Environment argued that Atoms for Peace initially forestalled Brazilian proliferation and encouraged peaceful nuclear technology in Brazil by leading to the construction of a 5MW educational reactor after a 1955 agreement with the US under the program. He discussed the development and dismantlement of the Brazilian nuclear weapons program, explaining that sacrificing nuclear weapons programs was ultimately in the respective self-interests of Brazil and Argentina.
- Per Peterson of UC-Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering discussed recent innovations in nuclear energy technology. He specifically highlighted the economic, safety, security, and waste-management merits of nuclear reactors today and of the next-generation reactors that will be built in the near future.
- Richard Lester of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Engineering discussed the findings of an interdisciplinary MIT project on nuclear energy with a particular focus on economic competitiveness, safety, waste management, and proliferation resistance.
- Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) stressed that the United States must remain in the forefront of the development of nuclear energy technology and should share it with the developing world. He noted that considerable progress had been made in addressing proliferation concerns through the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, the Material Protection Control and Accounting Program. He expressed strong support for the U.S.-Russian program to dispose of weapons grade plutonium and called for an effort to break the impasse on liability indemnification now blocking it.
PANEL IV. ATOMS FOR PEACE AND FUTURE INITIATIVES
- Mitchell B. Reiss of the U.S. Department of State argued that despite the past successes of the nonproliferation regime, it was authored in a different era and is beginning to show its age. Thus, the United States and the international community must work to strengthen the IAEA, push for universal adoption of the Additional Protocol, and address the policy issues presented by NPT Articles IV and VI.
- Daniel Poneman of the Scowcroft Group and the Forum for International Policy argued that the NPT is critical in establishing a normative barrier to proliferation but that it does not present much of a physical barrier. Innovations in Atoms for Peace, he suggested, will have to use the marketplace as a force of national security, aligning commercial motives with security motives to achieve practical results much as the US-Russian HEU arrangement has.
- Lawrence Sheinman of the Monterey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies discussed the flaws in NPT Article IV’s failure to put any constraints on peaceful nuclear development in non-nuclear-weapons states, a failure that has helped states develop rapid breakout capabilities and then withdraw from the NPT when convenient. The bar for NPT withdrawal, he suggested, should be set as high as possible.
- Christopher Chyba of Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation argued that we want to avoid a nuclear weapons future that looks like our biological weapons future, in which biological weapons proliferation is almost inevitable and our strategy will thus have to be reactive. He specifically made the case that more comprehensive demand-side nonproliferation efforts must coexist with our existing focus on supply-side nonproliferation.
- Thomas Shea of the International Atomic Energy Agency discussed the merits of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), explaining that it offers the means to cap the inventory of fissile material available for weapons, among other benefits.
- Ronald F. Lehman II of the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reiterated the threat of horizontal proliferation but suggested that future threats may originate not simply from states and such frequently mentioned nonstate actors as terrorist organizations, but also from nonstate governmental actors like the Pakistani security service.