Nuclear Proliferation

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Nuclear Proliferation

Background of the Study

The term nuclear proliferation refers to the acquisition of nuclear weapons or technologies and materials enabling the production of nuclear weapons by nations that have not possessed them previously. Horizontal proliferation refers to the spread of nuclear capabilities to new nations, whereas vertical proliferation refers to the expansion of existing nuclear arsenals. Proliferation can be quantitative (the total number of weapons possessed by a nation) or qualitative (acquisition of new types of weapons with new capabilities). Although proliferation has historically been viewed as an activity of nations, new concerns are emerging about the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons by non state actors such as terrorist groups. From a green energy perspective, nuclear proliferation is a concern to the extent that nuclear power is considered a green energy source (Goldston and Glaser, pp. 59-66). The environmental effect and sustainability of nuclear power are matters of debate, but irrespective of those debates, there remain questions concerning the links between commercial nuclear power and nuclear proliferation. The potential for facilitating proliferation can be an impediment to the adoption, expansion, and international exchange of technologies, materials, and knowledge related to commercial nuclear power.

The development of nuclear weapons by the United States during World War II and their use in 1945 produced immediate concerns about the acquisition of similar weapons by other nations. The Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon in 1949, followed by England (1952), France (1960), and China (1964). Those nations, which became the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in 1946, were the first members of the so-called nuclear club. Their status as the five authorized nuclear weapons states was formally legitimated by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT, which opened for signature in 1968 and became effective in 1970 (Sidel and Levy, pp. 1589-1594). Most of the world's nations have signed the NPT, with the exceptions of India, Israel, and Pakistan. North Korea asserts that it withdrew from the treaty in 2003. India, Pakistan, and North Korea have tested nuclear weapons, and Israel is widely believed to possess them, although it has not acknowledged doing so. South Africa is believed to have possessed nuclear weapons in the past and to have later eliminated them. Libya is believed to have made progress toward developing nuclear weapons before agreeing to give up its effort. Questions surround the suspected efforts of a number of other nations including Syria.

Under the NPT, the five authorized nuclear weapons states are entitled to keep their weapons and associated infrastructures but have pledged to work toward their eventual elimination. Despite official claims and the practical difficulties surrounding disarmament efforts, many non-nuclear-weapons states and nongovernmental organizations have been critical of the nuclear states' commitments to disarmament. In exchange for their license to possess nuclear weapons, the authorized states are expected to share nuclear technologies, materials, and knowledge with other nations when doing so does not enable proliferation. In practice, however, it is often ...
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