Global Nuclear Security


This program addresses the nonproliferation challenges associated with the burgeoning global renaissance of the commercial nuclear sector. Amid shifting technological, strategic, market, and legal landscapes, the nuclear weapons “have” and “have-not” states alike have struggled to extend credible commitments to separate civilian and military nuclear programs; and to provide secure, equitable, reliable, verifiable, and non-discriminatory fuel supply guarantees and spent fuel management.  This program explores the analytical foundations of these challenges, as well as identifies new ways of thinking about specific problems of assuring responsible nuclear commerce and reducing risks of cheating on international nonproliferation obligations in both the public and private sectors. The related projects seek to generate concrete recommendations in the lead up to the 2010 NPT Review Conference.  The 2008 Sam Nunn Policy Forum plays an important role by assembling leading scholars and practitioners from science, engineering, business, and policy to discuss vexing fuel supply and services “commitment problems” facing the international regime, and to advance the multilateral dialogue aimed at restoring global transparency and confidence in the NPT’s grand bargain for stemming the diffusion of nuclear weapons technology while promoting peaceful nuclear use.

Subordinated Projects

Program On Strategic Stability Evaluation (POSSE)

The purpose of POSSE is to reinvigorate inter-disciplinary, international scholarship on issues of strategic stability in a post-nuclear weapons era.  An important component of this effort entails stimulating not only new policy-relevant scholarship but nurturing dialogue among the next generation of international scholars on nuclear disarmament and risk reduction issues—with a particular focus on the United States, the Russian Federation, and the Peoples Republic of China.  The intent initially is to flesh out the requirements for “minimum deterrence” among the existing NWPS, and then to explore novel criteria for strategic stability that transcend this traditional framework to complement pursuit of an agenda for deep reductions, including possible elimination of nuclear weapons.

Correlates of Nuclear Power

Only 31 countries generate electricity for their power grids by way of nuclear reactors, and only a small subset of these nations encompasses all states with industrial-scale nuclear fuel cycle facilities (i.e. uranium conversion, uranium enrichment, and spent fuel reprocessing). In the face of an anticipated renaissance of nuclear power and ongoing debate over its projected contours, this project systematically identifies and analyzes a wide range of strategic, economic, political, technical, and cultural factors that distinguish both current and prospective nuclear power, production, and supply states. The purpose of the project is to discern state patterns of acquisition and development of specific stages of the nuclear fuel cycle in order to better understand the trajectory of resurgence and future strategic landscape of the global nuclear sector. As the modalities of the evolving commercial nuclear sector have ramifications for nonproliferation, statecraft, competition for high demand resources, enactment of credible international fuel supply arrangements, and implementation of sound spent fuel management strategies, this project will assist with providing systematic technical and strategic baselines for assessing these challenges and the tradeoffs associated with alternative courses of international and national policy action.

Nuclear Developments in the Korean Peninsula

Nuclear Fuel Cycle Assurances and Verification: From Forging Commitments to Building Trust

This project explores the strategic bargaining dimension to advancing multilateral nuclear fuel supply guarantees. Special emphasis is placed on explicating the different market, technological, and strategic challenges and opportunities confronting international nuclear fuel supply arrangements, as well as on uncovering the obstacles to extending credible international commitments and forging trust among existing suppliers, prospective suppliers, and prospective customers. This research seeks to advance analysis designed to cultivate sound practical solutions to such problems as:

  • the existence of motives for nascent nuclear power generating states to develop their own nuclear fuel cycle infrastructure;
  • the difficulty of verifying that states that do opt for their own fuel cycle will not conduct a strategic breakout of the nonproliferation regime or pursue covert parallel programs;
  • the need to reconcile the desire to limit the spread of high-risk technologies with reasonable concerns that the existing system serves to protect a global oligopoly on nuclear fuel and to keep emerging states from achieving a status as technologically top-tier states;
  • the development of an analytical framework for integrating alternative nuclear fuel supply proposals; and
  • the challenge of achieving a result in which all parties are confident that the others are making good on their commitments under the regime.

Nuclear Fuel Bank: One Year Down
(coming soon: link to International Nuclear Fuel Supply Working Group)

The 2008 Sam Nunn Forum will be followed by a one-day workshop, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, geared toward involving leading international non-proliferation specialists, business leaders, technical experts, and strategic thinkers. The purpose will be to dissect current technological, strategic, market, and political challenges/opportunities facing nuclear fuel cycle assurances and verification, and to flesh out concrete recommendations for advancing the IAEA’s agenda toward a multilateral dialogue.

Strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

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This project seeks to investigate the various national, regional, technical, and organizational perspectives on the NPT and the broader nuclear nonproliferation regime. The intention is to find areas of common ground with respect to how best to proceed with reinvigorating the nuclear nonproliferation regime in the aftermath of the dismal results of the 2005 NPT Review Conference. Where no common ground exists, we propose to produce analysis of possible means to achieve consensus on such issues as:

  • perceptions of the inherent unfairness of the regime, and the risk that these beliefs pose to the regime’s continued vitality;
  • a means by which the nuclear weapon states might achieve their commitment to make a good-faith effort to disarm, given the strategic realities being faced;
  • reducing gridlock on treaties and protocols which may support the objectives of the NPT, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMTC), or the Additional Protocols.

Summary on the 2007 Workshop entitled National, Technical, and Organizational Perspectives on the NPT System.

Limited Nuclear Weapons Free Zone – Northeast Asia (LNWFZ-NEA)

This project was initiated in 1991 as a Track II (unofficial) diplomatic effort to support cooperative security and joint denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. It was later extended to include a broader set of regional stakeholders and concerned parties. Representatives from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Argentina, Canada, Finland, France, Mongolia, the United States, and (in 2006) North Korea meet annually to discuss how a regional nuclear weapons free zone might be achieved. A draft treaty has been produced, and there are continued efforts to produce an agreement acceptable to all concerned stakeholders. The work toward a LNWFZ-NEA has been organized into three “baskets” which consist of:

  • the structure and details of the zone;
  • confidence building measures needed to achieve consensus;
  • incentives necessary to ensure continued commitment to the zone

Summary on Tokyo Plenary

Track II Nuclear Diplomacy

The Center works to advance Track II efforts on nuclear nonproliferation.

North Korea

Significant efforts have been advanced to engage the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in a dialogue about its nuclear weapons program. The Center has hosted meetings in New York and Atlanta between representatives of the DPRK mission to the United Nations, personnel from the US State Department, and key personnel from academia, think tanks, and the policymaking community.

Summary of the December 2006 visit to Atlanta