Wednesday, June 3, 2009

DV82XL On Nuclear Proliferation I

DV82XL is another outstanding participant in the EfT Discussion Forum debate on nuclear proliferation/non-proliferation. I have already recorded Axil's views. DV82XL has taken strong exception to Axil's views.

The current round of debate began when DV82XL commented on new anti-proliferation negoruations:
Arms body breaks 12 years of deadlock on nukes
The 65-nation Conference on Disarmament broke a dozen years of deadlock Friday and opened the way to negotiate a new nuclear arms control treaty.....a top candidate for a new treaty is one to ban production of so-called "fissile materials" — highly enriched uranium and plutonium — needed to create atomic weapons
Kirk Sorensen commented:
This will be used to attempt to prevent the creation and use of U-233, thus slowing the development of LFTR, thus leading to more and bloody wars over energy.,
DV82XL responded:
Of course this is what it is all about, not just for LFTR but any of the several small reactor designs that hope to use HEU fuel, and it will probably put hobbles on reprocessing as well.

After twelve years one has to ask why suddenly this idea shows up out of nowhere, and the unfortunate truth is it looks like someone dropped this in with the objective of making life difficult for nuclear energy more than any practical insinuative to reduce nuclear weapons. I mean really most of tyhe big players have more weapons-grade PU than they know what to do with. How is this going to shrink their arsenals?
Axil commented:
]In order to entice non unclear nations to abide by these restrictions, these nations are provided nuclear fuel or even small sealed reactors at no or low cost in exchange for spent fuel or decommissioned small reactors. This is guarantied to all signatories to the non proliferation treaty by an international fuel agency that can not use access to nuclear power as leverage in political situations.
DV82XL responded
Ya right.

I mean the NPT provided for technology transfer too, and access to fuel among its litany of failed clauses, why is it going to be any different this time?

And as for an 'international fuel agency that can not use access to nuclear power as leverage in political situations' I take it you mean some organization like the IMF, which was supposed be the same thing for money. Their record as an apolitical player is well documented...not! There are several Third-World countries in penury because of the 'unbiased' attention of that agency.

The day that any international trafficking in energy is not used as diplomatic chip is not coming soon.
DV82XL argued:
Nuclear weapons are not going away, and those that own them are not going to give them up. This is a given and any realistic look at the situation yields that conclusion. Nor, at this point, is any nuclear power nation going to place their energy security in the hands of some international body that they don't control outright making the whole plan a transparent farce from the outset. As was said previously at best this is a bald attempt to deny an other nation the right to enrich or reprocess nuclear fuel and this can only have a chilling effect on the growth of nuclear energy should it be adopted. I still think this is the real purpose of this plan, because it has come out of left field at a very opportune time on the heels of the DPRK's latest test. The whole thing smells contrived.
DV82XL observed:
We have got to get rid of this simplistic idea that if this technology isn't controlled nations will be 'tempted' to make nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapons program is a unbelievably expensive undertaking ("we were eating grass" as they said in Pakistan) and no nation decides to engage in such a project lightly.

It is a misnomer to talk about nuclear weapons as “weapons” in any meaningful sense. When a country first acquires nuclear weapons it does so out of a very accurate perception that possession fundamentally changes it relationships with other powers. What nuclear weapons buy is the fact that once the country in question has nuclear weapons, it cannot be beaten - it can be defeated, that is it can be prevented from achieving certain goals or stopped from following certain courses of action - but it cannot be beaten. It will never have enemy tanks moving down the streets of its capital, it will never have its national treasures looted and its citizens forced into servitude. The enemy will be destroyed by nuclear attack first. A potential enemy knows that so will not push the situation. The effect of acquiring nuclear weapons is that the owning country has drawn a line in the sand in any conflict in which it is involved.

When 181 nations signed the 1968 NPT they thought they were taking the first step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. In short, they took the Treaty seriously. Article VI of the NPT, for instance, states: “Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measure relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international controls.”

This was the heart of the NPT. The smaller countries agreed to forgo nuclear weapons only because the nuclear powers agreed to scrap theirs and, further, disarm their conventional forces. Instead, the Big Five increased the number of warheads in their arsenals and raised their military budgets.

Finally, they have invaded non-nuclear countries such as Iraq, and Afghanistan among others. Then in 2006, former French President Jacques Chirac warned “states who would use terrorist means” risk a “measured” response, but “of a different kind,” and it was clear from the context that he meant by nuclear weapons.

As long as the great powers maintain the ability to invade countries, overthrow regimes, and bomb nations into subservience, weaker countries will inevitably try to offset those advantages. The quickest and cheapest way to do that is to develop nuclear weapons.

In simple terms nuclear weapons will not disappear until the weak need no longer fear the strong. Sanctimoniously trying to prevent small nations from doing so by what amounts to controlled market operations, is laughably infective and will only have the effect of limiting the adoption of clean nuclear energy, without making the world one wit safer.

Clearly this current idea that the processing of fissionable material could be controlled will have more of an impact on the growth of nuclear power. It will do nothing to inhibit any minor Power that feels threatened enough to build weapons.


Nuclear energy is in and of itself, not a proliferation risk. No more than a fertilizer production industry necessarily means that a nation also has artillery shell industry. The conceived need for the latter, does not depend on the existence of the former, which is in essence what is implied by this scheme under discussion.

Within that context, no thorium based alternative is going get any traction, because one is still left with the problem of enforcing controls against uranium based activities inside a sovereign country, which is the issue right now with stopping a nation from mounting a nuclear weapons program.

Ultimately, the only effective measures that can be taken are those that the Israelis have on those occasions when they wished to stop the development of nuclear weapons in a perceived enemy: military intervention. The only way any plan to stop the spread of nuclear weapons can be effective is by enforcing it by the projection of might and once that has been decided it matters little what nuclear power technology is being forbidden.

Furthermore I am saying that this move to to ban production of fissile materials is a naïve idea that is being pushed for secondary reasons, because it also implies surrendering energy security to some extranational body, which is unlikely to meet the realities of domestic realpolitik in any independent country. Therefor I am drawing the conclusion that this idea has been put forward more to inhibit the adoption of nuclear energy than prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons, which at any rate it will not.
In responce to "arcs_n_sparks" DV82XL wrote:
Why am I having a hard time getting the point across that no country has ever proceeded with a nuclear weapons program, just because it was able to? There has to be a really strong perceived need for this capability, that when present is enough to carry the task through as much international pressure as can be applied short of military.

Look at those countries that have acquired the Bomb after the US did, even England and France were under a great deal of pressure not to arm, but did so despite both being very economically and politically in debt to the US at the time, and both were rebuilding after having been damned near burnt to the ground. Much of the friction between DeGaul and the Americans was rooted in the French pursuing nuclear weapons against American pressure not to.

Israel and South Africa mounted programs because they recognized they were vulnerable to invasion, India needed a deterrent against Chinese incursions into Kashmir and to draw a line in the sand with Pakistan, who in turn looked at India to the East, Communists to the North, and Fundamentalists to the West and knew their armed forces could not successfully defend the country with conventional weapons alone. All of these States faced sanctions, that truly hurt domestically, India in particular was desperate for more nuclear energy, and found itself cut off from the world in this matter at a very critical time. Even North Korea's program is motivated more by fear than by self aggrandizement, irregardless of propaganda to the contrary.

Meanwhile countries like Canada, Japan, Germany, Brazil, South Korea could build a deliverable weapon inside a year should they want to, and Australia, and several European nations could mount programs which could do the same within five if pushed, yet they don't. Even South Africa dismantled their weapons as soon as the threat diminished. The reason is because this is a cripplingly expensive capability to acquire and maintain and no nation will do so without its back to the wall. Even the Big Five are effected by this and most of the push for nuclear arms reduction is motivated by financial pressure more than ideological.

The point here is that the pursuit of these programs, if there is a perceived need, will be carried out with or without the existence of proliferation proof reactors. A.Q. Khan did not depend on the domestic nuclear program, its two nuclear power reactors were under international safeguards during the time Khan was building Pakistan's weapon capability. Had those two power reactors been replaced with nice sealed proliferation proof nuclear batteries fueled on thorium the impact on Khan's effort would have been nil.

To recap: So far none of the countries "illegally" producing their own nuclear weapons to date have given one wit about international sanctions; none of them have leveraged their nuclear power sectors in any meaningful way; and all of them were driven by extreme geopolitical pressure in their perceived need for a N-weapon capability. As I pointed out up thread the only successful interdictions to date were by destroying the physical plants, and as far as I can see this will remain the only sure way to accomplish this end in the future. If anything proliferation proof nuclear reactors will only serve as an excuse not to monitor countries.

This whole idea that proliferation is some sort of accident waiting to happen, and that unchecked will lead to a domino effect is pure fantasy based on the overactive imaginations of Cold War strategists like Herman Kahn who were working in a vacuum. Events, real events on the ground have proven their theories short-sighted, and they should not be applied to the current situation. It is time to re-evaluate the whole foundation of proliferation risk based on historical fact rather than inductive reasoning.

DV82XL responded to an argument by "jaro":
[We could} assumes that just the availability of HEU would be an overwhelming temptation for some random Third-World nation to start fabricating N-weapons. This is just too simplistic a view of the whole issue of what motivates a country to obtain an N-weapon capability. It presumes that the nation in question is going to treat the acquisition of this capability as lightly as they would any other item of military hardware. Worse, coming from this forum, it trivializes the other technical challenges of making a reliable, deliverable, device. Much of this thinking is a product of Cold War thinking that itself was based on assumptions that events have proven to be false.

In short, no country has shown any signs of working towards making a nuclear arsenal unless they feel that their very existence is threatened, but once that determination has been made, nothing that the international community can do, short of military action can stop them from getting one.

Hand wringing inside and outside of the pronuclear power community on the issue of weapons proliferation seems to be locked in theories first put forward in the 1960's which events since that time has proven wrong. If you recall, it was assumed by those theories there would be more than a dozen new nuclear weapons States by the turn of the century - is is obviously just not so. Even if the question of suppling weapon-grade fissile material is removed, it still requires a sizable technological infrastructure and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to make a weapon. The costs of a more ambitious program aimed at producing a militarily significant number of weapons can easily run into the billions of dollars, and the idea that such a project could be carried out by surreptitiously stripping power reactors of their fuel belongs in pulp novels, not in any rational discussion of the issue.


The fact remains that despite this popular view of what will happen, and a strong belief that it would in the anti-proliferation community, the truth, born out by by examining events of the last thirty years, is that it hasn't turned out that way. That's the point I have been trying to make in this thread. Proliferation myths, like most of the nuclear mythos that grew as a consequence of a mix of ignorance, inexperience and Cold War propaganda, has been shown to be false. Continuing to expect policy to follow those falsehoods is ineffectual at best and counterproductive at worst.

However you do obliquely bring up another point. Most if not all the public concern over the acquisition of nuclear weapons by other nations is centered on the belief that they would see that the best way to deploy them would be on ICBMs or some other long-range delivery system so as to threaten the Great Powers. However, (again looking at facts on the ground) if one examines the stated or unstated (but widely understood) nuclear doctrines of the secondary nuclear States, one finds that nuclear weapons are to be deployed as tactical weapons to meet strategic ends. These weapons are meant as defensive assets, to be used against masses of armor crossing one's border, or a fleet of warships threatening one's littoral zones. While that reduces the need for complex long-range delivery systems, it does not mean stockpiling an effective, reliable deterrent is a trivial, or inexpensive undertaking.

Again I suggest in the strongest possible terms that we do not oversimplify the issue. This will only lead to the belief that there are simple solutions, and that unfortunately is just not the case. Worse, pursuing simple solutions can only have a deleterious impact on the deployment of nuclear energy to those places most desperately in need of it, without improving security in any meaningful way.

DV82XL argued that would be proliferators have rational motives:
We have to be very careful about declaring any international player's motivations irrational.

North Korea has gained much from their program in the way of concessions that they probably wouldn't have got otherwise. Since the fall of Communism in China and Russia the attitude of all the previous stakeholders has been to starve NK into submission by neglect. By embarking on the pursuit of nuclear weapons Kim Jong Il has made his nation impossible to ignore, and has basically been paid-off after every display. Off-hand one could say it is one of the more successful uses of nuclear weapons since the Americans ended the war with Japan.

Quoting, this time verbatim, from Stuart Slade's, [i]The Nuclear Game - An Essay on Nuclear Policy Making: [/i]

"...the direct effects of nuclear weapons in a nation's hands is to make that nation extremely cautious. They spend much time studying situations, working out the implications of such situations, what the likely results of certain policy options are. ...Aha, I hear you say what about the mad dictator? Its interesting to note that mad, homicidal aggressive dictators tend to turn into tame sane cautious ones as soon as they split atoms. Whatever their motivations and intents, the mechanics of how nuclear weapons work dictate that mad dictators become sane dictators very quickly. After all its not much fun dictating if one's country is a radioactive trash pile and you're one of the ashes. China, India and Pakistan are good examples. One of the best examples of this process at work is Mao Tse Tung. Throughout the 1950s he was extraordinarily bellicose and repeatedly tried to bully, cajole or trick Khruschev and his successors into initiating a nuclear exchange with the US on the grounds that world communism would rise from the ashes. Thats what Quemoy and Matsu were all about in the late 1950s. Then China got nuclear weapons. Have you noticed how reticent they are with them? Its sunk in. They can be totally destroyed; will be totally destroyed; in the event of an exchange."
Again it is overly simplistic to think that leaders like Kim Jong Il or the Ayatollahs work in a vacuum, and if one individual doesn't understand the implications of holding nuclear weapons, others do. The fact remains we have yet to see a "madman with an A-bomb" show up outside of pulp fiction, nor are we likely to.

More to come.

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