The Way Forward: Nuclear Renaissance and International Peace and Security

Photo of Jungmun Beach, Jeju, ROK by Charles D. Ferguson.

Read the Conference Paper.

Listen to the FAS Podcast: A Conversation With An Expert, featuring my trip to South Korea.

From December 2nd to 3rd, I participated in the 9th Republic of Korea-United Nations annual Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues. This year’s conference took place at Jeju, South Korea, which is an island off the southern coast of the Republic of Korea’s mainland . While Jeju is famous for its resorts and is thus a favorite vacation destination for Koreans, it is equally as renowned for hosting bilateral and multinational meetings to discuss security issues. Longtime participants in these meetings refer to the “Jeju process.”

This year’s conference coincided with increased military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The week prior to the conference, the North Korean military had fired artillery at Yeonpyeong Island, which is near the border between North and South Korea. This attack killed two South Korean Marines and two civilians and injured several other people. With this tense backdrop, having the conference at a resort felt kind of surreal. But the recent attack was an immediate reminder of the seriousness of the conference’s agenda continuing the international dialogue about nuclear energy and nuclear nonproliferation.

While South Korea is moving forward rapidly with construction of more peaceful nuclear power reactors, its government is expressing interest in perhaps venturing into uranium enrichment for making low enriched uranium nuclear fuel and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to recycle plutonium and other fissionable materials in nuclear fuel. Enrichment and reprocessing, however are dual-use because these technologies can also be used to make fissile material for nuclear weapons. Thus, the challenge is to determine how to continue to make use of peaceful nuclear power without increasing nuclear proliferation.

The conference was not for attribution, so I am not allowed to mention specific speakers’ comments. I will say that the session I chaired on the first day about the potential for a nuclear energy renaissance and the potential security risks was very lively and stimulated considerable questions and debate. Some analysts question whether nuclear energy is financially viable; others raised concern about the further spread of enrichment and reprocessing without adequate safeguards. On the other hand, another analyst highlighted that political intentions matter and that security alliances play a major role in curbing desires for nuclear weapons. So, the increased use of enrichment and reprocessing may not trigger further production of nuclear weapons in more countries.

Here I provide a link to the paper I presented on my views on civil society’s perspective on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons policy.

0 thoughts on “The Way Forward: Nuclear Renaissance and International Peace and Security

  1. Right at this second, thank G-d, there are whole teams of people watching North Korea’s every move. Blessings to them. The DPRK military personnel are trying to manipulate international conditions in their favour. Do not underestimate the power of nationalism even in a starving population. Stalin was able to rouse and prepare the peasants quite easily with a bit of Eisensteinian “Alexander Nevsky” propaganda years before Barbarossa. The NK watchers should be trying to gauge the public mood of the North. They DPRK leadership clique have misinterpreted the will and intelligence of their southern neighbours on many occasions however. Sometimes restraint is the hallmark of true strength. The South Koreans are incredibly resourceful, pragmatic and hard working. They have been dealing with brother next door for sixty years. The attack on the warship was highly significant however.
    There is a way to effect change in the North. China has a big part to play. If the North Korean leaders feel they have no way out things may escalate. The “Us versus Them” dynamic is ingratiated into the populace. Many North Koreans did fight valiantly against the Japanese in the 1930’s and 40’s and such pride must be factored in to all deliberations. They do watch the geo-political landscape and try and calibrate their decisions hence. Unfortunately their instruments and methodology are in need of repair. (I wonder what their Axis-of-Evil Twin Iran thinks about this attack on an ally of the USA ?)A desperate man should not be painted into a corner. The psychology of the North is complex. Groupthink can be changed if an understanding of the power and focus dynamics is attained. In this interconnected world things can change pretty quickly. More attention must be paid to the Peninsula and a long-term game plan worked out for all the players. The current situation is unsustainable. Great crisis can lead to great opportunity.

    North Korea has some very smart engineers. Abdul Qadir Khan and his underlings met with many of them. Do not underestimate the North Koreans. In WWII many British and Australians thought the Japanese were inferior, slanty eyed Asian peasants with no fighting skill or strategic nous whatsoever. Blind love of a leader and empire can induce super-dangerous fanaticism. An autonomous population is far less likely to be swayed by a malevolent dictator. On a “Degree of Autonomy” rating the North Korean population would be at the bottom of the global ladder. The place makes Cuba look like a free-speech paradise. If a war breaks out on the Peninsula the carnage on both “sides” will be horrific. Sth.Korea and its allies will win, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory. Everything must be done to avoid a conflict, but if push comes to shove and the North launches artillery attacks a military response will be absolutely justified. One must stand up to people that want to hurt you.

    Naiive isolationism will not work in 2011. I resolved this question ten years ago. The level of interconnectedness of the world today is self-evident. How would you solve the pirate problem off Somalia ? How about air-traffic control ? Natural disasters like the tsunami and early warning systems ? Trade ? Terrorism which is not national ? Refugees ? etc, etc. This topic is fit for another place. We should stay on topic, or else these threads end up looking like a dog’s breakfast. If the Peninsula blows up the whole world will be affected, mark my words…
    That border is incredibly tense. I remember reading about the 1976 Axe Murder Incident. The soldiers there are under enormous stress. One of my favourite Korean movies, out of eight I have seen, is “The Guard Post”. The border problem is etched very deeply on the psyche of population. (My favourite movie from that land is 2003’s “Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring”. Absolutely beautiful ! Even the memory of the film gives me hope for the Peninsula.)
    The Peninsula will be reunited in the coming years and decades. The Korean War was a complete waste of time and energy. A proud and ancient culture was besieged by competing geo-political game players and the result was a disastrous split. The mindset of the North Koreans is interesting. Many Koreans from the North fought valiantly against the invading Japanese circa WWII. In an interesting footnote, last year the North played the South in a World Cup qualifier. At the end of the game all the players shook hands. The look on their faces was one of quiet hope and friendliness layered with years of distrust. Like two brothers who have been estranged from each other due to outside forces and repeated trauma. The land is destined to be united eventually.

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