Nuclear Issues

125 Items

A missile on display during a military parade in Moscow's Red Square in 2016.

Wikimedia Commons

Report Chapter - American Academy of Arts & Sciences

The Rise and Decline of Global Nuclear Order?

| April 2021

The first half century of the nuclear age witnessed the gradual construction of a global nuclear order designed to mitigate nuclear dangers, inhibit arms racing, and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states. Spurred by the experiences, the dangers, the crises, the near misses, and the frightening risks on display in the early years of the Cold War, sustained efforts were made, in McGeorge Bundy’s vivid phrase, “to cap the volcano.” The time had arrived, Bundy wrote in 1969, for the two great nuclear superpowers “to limit their extravagant contest in strategic weapons,” a contest that had “led the two greatest powers of our generation into an arms race totally unprecedented in size and danger.” In the subsequent twenty-five years after Bundy’s appeal, an increasingly elaborate and institutionalized arms control process produced, with many ups and downs, a detailed web of constraints on the nuclear behavior of the superpowers. The articulated goal was to stabilize the superpower nuclear balance by reinforcing mutual deterrence. The vast nuclear arsenals of the superpowers, however, were not the only source of nuclear danger. In a world in which the number of states armed with nuclear weapons was slowly growing and many additional states had interest in acquiring such weapons or the technology to produce them, there was reason, as Albert Wohlstetter warned in 1961, to be “concerned with the enormous instabilities and dangers of a world with many nuclear powers.” Such a world—“life in a nuclear armed crowd”—Wohlstetter wrote in a later famous study, was widely believed to be “vastly more dangerous than today’s world.” The desire to prevent this unattractive world led to the negotiation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, and to the subsequent development of an associated regime intended to create legal and technical barriers to the spread of nuclear weapons. Thus, in reaction to the major perceived dangers of the nuclear age, there emerged what Lawrence Freedman calls the “twin pillars” of the global nuclear order: mutual stability in the major nuclear rivalry and nonproliferation to inhibit or prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states.

Sensors and fencing at Japan's Integrated Support Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Security.

Dean Calma/IAEA

Paper - American Nuclear Policy Initiative

The Trump Administration on Preventing Nuclear Terrorism

| May 2020

An act of nuclear terrorism anywhere in the world would be a humanitarian, economic, and political catastrophe. This is why reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism has been a priority for every US president for more than two decades. The most effective strategy for reducing this risk is to keep weapons-usable nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists by strengthening security at nuclear facilities around the globe. While the Trump administration continues to move forward with this mission, it has decreased the US focus on the most effective strategies for accomplishing it. Greater resources and political attention to international initiatives are needed to ensure that nuclear terrorism risks continue to decline. This paper reviews the key factors impacting nuclear terrorism risks and analyzes how much progress the Trump administration has made reducing that risk.

A satellite view of Shigatse, Tibet, home to the PLA’s 6th Border Defense Regiment, near the China-India border.

Maxar Technologies / CNES Airbus via Google, used with permission

Report - Managing the Atom Project, Belfer Center

The Strategic Postures of China and India: A Visual Guide

| March 2020

Fueled by aggressive rhetoric from both capitals, Indian and Chinese ground forces engaged in a standoff between June and August 2017. The Doklam crisis, as it became known, stimulated introspection among officials and experts in both states about the future of their relationship. Politically, both strategic communities largely concluded that the peaceful resolution of border disputes is now less likely, forecasting more rivalry than cooperation. Militarily, Indian discussions on the strength of its military position against China in their disputed ground frontier areas have converged on the view that China holds the conventional and nuclear edge over India in this domain.

Based on our analysis of data on the location and capabilities of Indian and Chinese strategic forces and related military units, we conclude that this assessment of the balance of forces may be mistaken and a poor guide for Indian security and procurement policies. We recommend that instead of investing in new nuclear weapons platforms that our analysis suggests are not likely to be required to deter China, New Delhi should improve the survivability of its existing forces and fill the gap in global arms control leadership with an initiative on restraint and transparency.

The nuclear archive warehouse outside Tehran (Satellite image via Google).

Satellite image via Google

Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The Iran Nuclear Archive: Impressions and Implications

In mid-January, a team of scholars from the Belfer Center’s Intelligence and Managing the Atom Projects traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel to examine samples of, and receive briefings on, an archive of documents related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The large cache includes some 55,000 pages of documents and a further 55,000 files on CDs that included photos and videos. A clandestine Israeli intelligence operation spirited the materials out of Iran in early 2018.

The documents that the Belfer group were shown confirm that senior Iranian officials had decided in the late 1990s to actually manufacture nuclear weapons and carry out an underground nuclear test; that Iran’s program to do so made more technical progress than had previously been understood; and that Iran had help from quite a number of foreign scientists, and access to several foreign nuclear weapon designs. The archive also leaves open a wide range of questions, including what plan, if any, Iran has had with respect to nuclear weapons in the nearly 16 years since Iran’s government ordered a halt to most of the program in late 2003. 

This brief report summarizes the group’s conclusions about what the archive reveals about Iran’s program and questions that remain open.

A member of the Czech Army takes part in an anti-terrorism drill at the Temelin nuclear power plant near the town of Tyn nad Vltavou, Czech Republic, April 11, 2017.

REUTERS/David W. Cerny

Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Revitalizing Nuclear Security in an Era of Uncertainty

| January 2019

Nuclear security around the world has improved dramatically over the last three decades—which demonstrates that with focused leadership, major progress is possible. But important weaknesses remain, and the evolution of the threat remains unpredictable. The danger that terrorists could get and use a nuclear bomb, or sabotage a major nuclear facility, or spread dangerous radioactive material in a “dirty bomb,” remains too high. The United States and countries around the world need to join together and provide the leadership and resources needed to put global nuclear security on a sustained path of continuous improvement, in the never-ending search for excellence in performance.

Paper - Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy

Stabilizing Sino-Indian Security Relations: Managing the Strategic Rivalry After Doklam

| June 21, 2018

The paper provides a detailed analysis of the contemporary Sino-Indian conventional ground and nuclear force balances and carefully reconstructs how mutual developments in these areas are perceived by both New Delhi and Beijing.

Report - International Panel on Fissile Materials

China’s Fissile Material Production and Stockpile

| January 2018

China began producing highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium for nuclear weapons in the 1960s and is believed to have halted production the 1980s. Despite the passage of thirty years there has been no official policy declaration in this regard. This report uses newly available public information from Chinese sources to provide an improved reconstruction of the history of China’s production of HEU and plutonium for nuclear weapons. This allows improved estimates of the amount of HEU and plutonium China has produced and of its current stockpiles.

Paper - Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Interpreting the Bomb: Ownership and Deterrence in Ukraine's Nuclear Discourse

| December 2017

Nuclear deterrence thinking has become so entrenched in U.S. academic and policy circles that it only seems natural that other states regard nuclear weapons in the same terms. Yet is it necessarily so? In this working paper, Polina Sinovets and Mariana Budjeryn examine the case of Ukraine to understand how its leaders interpreted the value of the nuclear weapons deployed on Ukrainian territory in 1990–1994.

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Paper - Institute of Nuclear Materials Management

Steps for Rebuilding U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation

| July 2017

Cooperation between U.S. and Russian nuclear scientists and engineers represents an important opportunity for rebuilding U.S.-Russian relations. The United States and Russia possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, the world’s largest stocks of weapons-usable nuclear material, and the world’s largest nuclear complexes, giving them a special responsibility for nuclear security and preventing nuclear terrorism.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Security Science, July 2015

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Discussion Paper - Managing the Atom Project, Belfer Center

When Did (and Didn’t) States Proliferate?

| June 2017

In this Project on Managing the Atom Discussion Paper, Philipp C. Bleek chronicles nuclear weapons proliferation choices throughout the nuclear age. Since the late 1930s and early 1940s, some thirty-one countries are known to have at least explored the possibility of establishing a nuclear weapons program. Seventeen of those countries launched weapons programs, and ten acquired deliverable nuclear weapons.