February 7th that the issue of the British weekly The Economist published a January 30th entitled Who is Next? Nuclear proliferation is not fast, but it is scary.
According to the article, in recent years, there has been increasing interest in going beyond the NPT’s maintenance of the status quo and promoting a world that criminally considers nuclear weapons.
This is the goal of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires the parties to undertake not to manufacture, use or possess nuclear weapons, which will enter into force on January 22 this year. However, the momentum of nuclear proliferation has not stopped. Although it is not as fast as people once feared, it is likely to accelerate. The full text is excerpted as follows:
In March 1963, then-US President Kennedy deplored the failure to negotiate a nuclear-test ban treaty. “Personally, the feeling that worries me so much is that by 1970, unless we succeed, there may be 10 nuclear powers instead of four – by 1975, there will be 15 or 20.”
Kennedy was wrong. Although many countries were studying the concept of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1990s, relatively few countries took the next step and really tried to develop the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons.
In this few countries that have tried, some have stopped developing this ability due to the disintegration of the country (Yugoslavia), some have been due to domestic political changes (Brazil), some have been caused by pressure from allies (South Korea), and some have been forced by force (Iraq).
The parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) currently include five nuclear weapons countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France and Russia.
The four nuclear-weapon states other than the NPT have either never signed the treaty (India, Israel and Pakistan) or withdrew (North Korea).
Today, the reality of the nine nuclear-weapon states is far from Kennedy’s nightmare. In addition, in recent years, there has been an increasing interest in going beyond the NPT’s maintenance of the status quo and promoting a world that criminally considers nuclear weapons.
This is the goal of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires the parties to undertake not to manufacture, use or possess nuclear weapons, which will enter into force on January 22 this year.
Just think about it, they can
Although Japan was careless about following China’s pace in joining the nuclear club in the 1960s, for obvious reasons, Japan is a reason why countries should be cautious about nuclear weapons.
At the same time, Japan is the only non-nuclear-weapon state operating major uranium enrichment facilities and plutonium reprocessing facilities, both of which may produce fissile material needed to manufacture nuclear bombs.
In 2017, North Korea test-fired a number of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, which crossed over Japan and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
Richard Samuels, an expert on Japan at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that the Japanese voice discussing nuclear weapons was once “very weak” and limited to a small number of “very conservative thinkers”.
Now, Samuels and colleague Eric Herkinbotham wrote in an article: “What used to be almost taboo… (now) clearly appears in Japan’s security discourse system.”
South Korea lacks nuclear material purification and reprocessing capabilities. Compared with Japan, South Korea is at a disadvantage in developing nuclear weapons. However, South Korea is closer to North Korea and more worried.
Toby Dalton, an expert at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, an American think tank, and Ain Han of Seoul University said: “[South Korea] politicians are trying to normalize the negative perception of discussing nuclear weapons in public discourse.”
At the technical level, South Korea seeks to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, which use nuclear fuel closer to weapons-class than nuclear power plant fuel. On January 13, South Korea announced that it had tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile. No other non-nuclear-weapon state believes it necessary to have such a capability.
Mark Fitzpatrick, who was in charge of nuclear non-proliferation policy at the U.S. State Department, said that the fears caused by North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and the fact that Japan and South Korea could “manufacture nuclear weapons in about two years – or in Japan’s case, it may be shorter — make East Asia a dangerous region. .
The number one concern is in the Middle East.
However, East Asia is not the only dangerous area. George Perkovic of the Carnegie Institute for International Peace divides potential nuclear diffusers into two categories: nuclear diffusers with sufficient means but less ambitions and nuclear diffusers with greater ambitions but fewer means. East Asia belongs to the first category.
As for the second category, look at the Middle East, where insecurity is more obvious than in Asia, and the constraints created by “liberal democracy” and the coercive power of the relevant alliances are not so great.
Turkish President Erdoğan has begun to make statements inclined to possess a nuclear bomb. In September 2019, he complained to the ruling Justice and Development Party members: “Some countries have ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads… but [we are told] we can’t have them.
I can’t accept this.” Sinan Jürgen, head of the Turkish think tank Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, expressed doubts that Erdoğan would act on his own terms.
He said: “For an open economy like Turkey, the price paid for possessing nuclear weapons is too high and long-term. No government can afford this price in the condition of holding democratic elections.
Not all leaders in the region suffer from such constraints. Gregory Gauss of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University in the United States said: “In Saudi discussions, there is greater willingness to openly talk about the possibility of nuclear proliferation.” The obvious reason is Iran’s nuclear program. After Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018, Iran no longer complies with the relevant restrictions.
On January 4 this year, Iran began to purify uranium to a 20% abundance – equivalent to 90% of the work required to obtain weapons-grade nuclear materials, and began to develop uranium metal that can be used to make nuclear bomb cores nine days later.
In 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed told CBS that Saudi Arabia “does not want to get any nuclear bombs, but there is no doubt that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”.
Fitzpatrick believes that Saudi Arabia is the number one concern in the world when it comes to nuclear proliferation.
Covert operations are becoming more and more difficult.
However, nuclear proliferators also face new challenges.
Tom Contreman, who served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation from 2011 to 2017, said: “The world’s ability to know who is doing is much stronger than Saddam Hussein’s time when he sought to make related weapons, which gives more time to respond.” Non-governmental organizations regularly use “public” sources to disclose and publicize secret facilities.
Among these sources, the most striking are satellite photos, such as satellite photos used by researchers at Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the United States to discover North Korea’s missile test launch and Saudi missile plant.
In recent years, the International Atomic Energy Agency has enhanced its remote monitoring capabilities in Iran, using tamper-proof cameras and radiological detection devices to return stable data streams.
Tristan Volpe of the U.S. Naval Graduate School pointed out that more and more manufacturing technologies are expected to be remotely monitored by its creators. He envisioned a “nuclear facility Internet” in which suppliers can supervise the tasks used by the machines they sell.
All this brings people hope that the secret operation of pursuing nuclear weapons has become more difficult. But what about the open pursuit of nuclear weapons? A country’s withdrawal from the NPT will undoubtedly trigger a crisis. However, India’s experience shows that a truly weighted country can withstand such opposition from the outside world.
As Gohar Muhatzanova of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons said: “States that are very important economically and politically may expect them to be integrated into the relevant system after possessing nuclear weapons.” For example, trying to exclude South Korea, which is blatantly engaged in nuclear proliferation, from the world economy to promote its return to the NPT system will be a difficult task.
“Nuclear proliferation” may accelerate
For most countries interested in nuclear weapons, including Iran, they are more interested in adopting a “fuzzy” strategy than actually building a nuclear weapons program.
However, the simultaneous adoption of “fuzzy” strategies by multiple opponents will create an unimaginable situation that makes a series of nuclear proliferations unimaginable.
For example, an Israeli military strike on Iran may convince Iran that it is necessary to have a nuclear deterrent, which may trigger a Saudi response, which in turn may strengthen the nuclear ambitions of Ankara (Turkey) or Cairo (Egypt).
The world could have expected the diplomacy, contacts and persuasion of the United States to control these risks in the past, and the world may have expected it in the next few years.
However, the centrality of the United States is declining. As Gregory Gauss pointed out, “a…universal feeling that the United States is leaving the region” strengthens Saudi discussion of the issue of nuclear proliferation.
The risks involved in providing nuclear umbrellas are obviously increasing. Although U.S. President Biden has always been a strong advocate for arms control, his predecessor is not, and his successor is likely not.
Nuclear proliferation is not as fast as people once feared. But it hasn’t stopped, and it’s likely to accelerate.