Thursday, August 23, 2012

Matthew Fuhrmann's "Atomic Assistance"

Matthew Fuhrmann is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Atomic Assistance: How "Atoms for Peace" Programs Cause Nuclear Insecurity, and reported the following:
Atomic Assistance is about international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Page 99 is a fitting place to sample the book. On that page, I discuss one of the most infamous cases of peaceful nuclear assistance: Canada’s export of a nuclear reactor to India in the 1950s. Canada provided this facility exclusively for peaceful purposes—but it ultimately served as the foundation for India’s nuclear weapons program (India used plutonium that was produced in the Canadian supplied reactor to conduct its first nuclear test in 1974).

In the book, I argue that this case is indicative of a broader historical trend. Peaceful nuclear assistance increases the likelihood of nuclear proliferation by providing states with dual-use technology and knowledge that collectively reduce the barriers to building the bomb. My analysis of global nuclear commerce supports this argument, showing that higher levels of atomic assistance are statistically associated a greater likelihood of proliferating.

Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, South Africa, and other countries benefited from peaceful nuclear aid before they built nuclear weapons. For example, the individual who headed South Africa’s nuclear explosives program during the 1970s was previously trained by the United States through its “Atoms for Peace” program. The United States also inadvertently augmented Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons when it exported the Tehran Research Reactor and small “hot cells” to that country in the 1960s—when Washington and Tehran were allies.

Of course, not all countries that receive nuclear energy assistance attempt to build nuclear weapons. Germany and Japan, for instance, did not actively pursue the bomb after developing large nuclear energy programs, partially with foreign help. However, on average, peaceful nuclear assistance increases the probability of nuclear proliferation—especially if the recipient country experiences an international crisis after receiving aid.

The book’s conclusions are significant given that many countries have recently expressed interest in nuclear energy as part of a movement commonly known as the “nuclear renaissance.” Enthusiasm about nuclear power has waned somewhat in the aftermath of the March 2011 nuclear accident in Japan, but many countries continue to pursue foreign nuclear assistance.

Policymakers in Washington and elsewhere should strengthen existing measures that are designed to separate the peaceful and military uses of the atom. If they fail to do so, we may find ourselves living in a world where more countries possess nuclear weapons.
Learn more about Atomic Assistance at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue