Faith Communities on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Soka Gakkai International-USA, FAS, Abolition 2000, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA and Women’s Action for New Directions hosted a one-day conference examining the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and means for collaboration between the faith and advocacy communities on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC. Leaders from faith-based organizations, advocacy groups and government came together to examine topics such as how faith views nuclear weapons, areas for partnership and U.S. nuclear policy.

Screening and Panel Discussion of “Garwin”

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Syracuse University and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) hosted a screening of the new documentary exploring the distinguished (and controversial) career of Dr. Richard Garwin, “Garwin” on April 22, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Dr. Garwin was a principal member of the team that designed the first hydrogen bomb in 1952 and has served as an advisor to every president since Eisenhower on issues of war and peace. He has dealt with important security issues such as nuclear proliferation, arms control, missile defense, and global warming. The filmmakers traveled across the country with Dr. Garwin as he pursued these and other issues.  They have produced an eloquent testimony to Dr. Garwin’s contributions to peace and security. Following the screening, there was a panel discussion with Dr. Garwin and filmmakers Professor Richard Breyer and Mr. Anand Kamalakar.

Future Nuclear Risks and Deterrence

In his April 2009 Prague speech, President Obama stated “clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” but went on to note that, “as long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary.” Our nuclear weapons themselves are safe — meaning that one is highly unlikely to go off by accident — but how safe is nuclear deterrence — threatening to destroy civilization in an attempt to preserve peace?

An engineering discipline known as Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) has been applied successfully to improve safety in a number of other, potentially catastrophic situations. QRA uses historical data about partial excursions into the accident chain to estimate the overall risk and to highlight failure mechanisms requiring remediation.

Examples of QRA include:

  • Nuclear crisis at Fukushima: Had QRA been applied, it would have shown that the sea wall was far too low;
  • China and Japan are playing naval and aerial chicken over a small, uninhabited island chain known as the Senkakus which could lead to conflict.

Dr. Martin Hellman, FAS Senior Fellow for Nuclear Risk Analysis and Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, discussed current nuclear risks and how QRA can be used to reduce these risks at a briefing held in Washington, DC on November 4, 2013.

The Chemicals, Conflict and Challenges in Syria

With pressure from the U.S. and Russia, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013 and agreed to participate in an accelerated process to destroy the chemical weapons. While this has been received as an unexpected yet positive development, the implementation of such a process raises significant science and security issues.

The Federation of American Scientists and the Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) hosted an event on October 23, 2013 in Washington, DC which explored the science and security involved in the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118 in Syria.

Speakers examined the technical, political, and regional issues surrounding chemical weapons in Syria which included: technical solutions and expertise required to ensure accelerated destruction of chemical weapons; the regional impact of Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention; and the challenges involved in carrying out destruction in a civil war environment.

A Conversation with Nobel Laureate Dr. Jack Steinberger

On January 27, 2014, I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting with Dr. Jack Steinberger at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland. In a wide-ranging conversation, we discussed nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, particle physics, great scientific achievements, and solar thermal power plants. Here, I give a summary of the discussion with Dr. Steinberger, a Nobel physics laureate, who serves on the FAS Board of Sponsors and has been an FAS member for decades.

Dr. Steinberger shared the Nobel Prize in 1988 with Leon Lederman and Melvin Schwartz “for the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino.” Dr. Steinberger has worked at CERN since 1968. CERN is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and is an outstanding exemplar of multinational cooperation in science. Thousands of researchers from around the world have made use of CERN’s particle accelerators and detectors. Notably, in 2012, two teams of scientists at CERN found evidence for the Higgs boson, which helps explain the origin of mass for many subatomic particles. While Dr. Steinberger was not part of these teams, he helped pioneer the use of many innovative particle detection methods such as the bubble chamber in the 1950s. Soon after he arrived at CERN, he led efforts to use methods that recorded much larger samples of events of particle interactions; this was a necessary step along the way to allow discovery of elusive particles such as the Higgs boson.

In addition to his significant path-breaking contributions to physics, he has worked on issues of nuclear disarmament which are discussed in the book A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Desirable? Feasible?, (was edited by him, Bhalchandra Udgaonkar, and Joseph Rotblat). The book had recently reached its 20th anniversary when I talked to Dr. Steinberger. I had bought a copy soon after it was published in 1993, when I was a graduate student in physics and was considering a possible career in nuclear arms control. That book contains chapters by many of the major thinkers on nuclear issues including Richard Garwin, Carl Kaysen, Robert McNamara, Marvin Miller, Jack Ruina, Theodore Taylor, and several others. Some of these thinkers were or are affiliated with FAS.

While I do not intend to review the book here, let me highlight two ideas out of several insightful ones. First, the chapter by Joseph Rotblat, the long-serving head of the Pugwash Conferences, on “Societal Verification,” outlined a program for citizen reporting about attempted violations of a nuclear disarmament treaty. He believed that it was “the right and duty” for citizens to play this role. Asserting that technological verification alone is not sufficient to provide confidence that nuclear arms production is not happening, he urged that the active involvement of citizens become a central pillar of any future disarmament treaty. (Please see the article on Citizen Sensor in this issue of the PIR that explores a method of how to apply societal verification.)

The second concept that is worth highlighting is minimal deterrence. Nuclear deterrence, whether minimal or otherwise, has held back the cause of nuclear disarmament, as argued in a chapter by Dr. Steinberger, Essam Galal, and Mikhail Milstein. They point out, “Proponents of the policy of nuclear deterrence habitually proclaim its inherent stability… But the recent political changes in the Soviet Union [the authors were writing in 1993] have brought the problem of long-term stability in the control of nuclear arsenals sharply into focus. … This development demonstrates a fundamental flaw in present nuclear thinking: the premise that the world will forever be controllable by a small, static, group of powers. The world has not been, is not, and will not be static.”

Having laid bare this instability, they explain that proponents of a nuclear-weapon-free world also foresee that minimal deterrence will “encourage proliferation” because nations without nuclear weapons would argue that if minimal deterrence appears to strengthen security for the nuclear-armed nations, then why shouldn’t the non-nuclear weapon states have these weapons. After examining various levels for minimum nuclear deterrence, the authors conclude that any level poses a catastrophic risk because it would not “eliminate the nuclear threat.”

While Dr. Steinberger demurred that he has not actively researched nuclear arms control issues for almost 20 years, he is following the current nuclear political debates. He expressed concern that President Barack Obama “has said that he would lead toward nuclear disarmament but he hasn’t.” Dr. Steinberger emphasized that clinging to nuclear deterrence is “a roadblock” to disarmament and that “New START is too slow.”

On Iran, he said that if he were an Iranian nuclear scientist, he would want Iran to develop nuclear bombs given the threats that Iran faces.  He underscored that if the United States stopped threatening Iran and pushed for global nuclear disarmament, real progress can be made in halting Iran’s drive for the latent capability to make nuclear weapons. He also believes that European governments need to decide to “get rid of U.S. nuclear weapons based in Europe.”

Dr Jack Steinberger at CERN 24 Jan 2014
Dr. Steinberger at CERN, January 27, 2014

Another major interest of his is renewable energy that can provide reliable, around the clock electrical power. In particular, he has repeatedly spoken out in favor of solar thermal power. A few solar thermal plants have recently begun to show that they can generate electricity reliability even during the night or when clouds block the sun. Thus, they would provide “baseload” electricity. For example, the Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant in Fuentes de Andalucia, Spain, has an electrical power of 19.9 MW and uses a “battery” to generate power. The battery is a molten salt energy storage system that consists of a mixture of 60 percent potassium nitrate and 40 percent sodium nitrate. This mixture can retain 99 percent of the thermal energy for up to 24 hours. More than 2,000 specially designed mirrors, or “heliostats,” arrayed 360 degrees around a central tower, reflect sunlight onto the top part of the tower where the molten salt is heated up. The heated salt is then directed to a heat exchanger that turns liquid water into steam, which then spins a turbine coupled to an electrical generator.

Dr. Steinberger urges much faster accelerated development and deployment of these types of solar thermal plants because he is concerned that within the next 60 years the world will run out of relatively easy access to fossil fuels. He is not opposed to nuclear energy, but believes that the world will need greater use of true renewable energy sources.

Turning to the future of the Federation of American Scientists, Dr. Steinberger supports FAS because he values “getting scientists working together,” but he realizes that this is “hard to do” because it is difficult “to make progress in understanding issues” that involve complex politics. Many scientists can be turned off by messy politics and prefer to stick within their comfort zones of scientific research. Nonetheless, Dr. Steinberger urges FAS to get scientists to perform the research and analysis necessary to advance progress toward nuclear disarmament and to solve other challenging problems such as providing reliable renewable energy to the world.

Prospects for a Middle East Regional Safeguards Organization

Recent efforts to convene a conference on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) have stalled, reflecting the political difficulties in working towards that goal in the region. Pursuing a regional safeguards organization for nuclear energy programs in the Middle East could be an easier diplomatic and strategic alternative, given the growing energy demands by some of the countries in the region. In addition, if established, the institutions and fora for nuclear discussions could facilitate the eventual establishment of a Middle East zone free of WMDs.  For example, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) performed a crucial function in helping Argentina and Brazil verify one another’s non-nuclear weapon status and enact policies to officially renounce any interest in nuclear weapons. Given the resurgent interest in the pursuit of nuclear energy in the Middle East coupled with concerns of a nuclear-armed Iran, the phased establishment of a regional organization similar to ABACC could (1) prevent further nuclear proliferation in the region and (2) pave the way for the establishment of a Middle East zone free of WMDs.

ABACC is a relatively unknown non-proliferation success story within the foreign policy and international security expert community. Currently, this community is concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran, especially since fears abound that should Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program become fully realized, it is quite possible that a nuclear cascade in the Middle East would ensue. Important lessons learned from the creation and subsequent implementation of ABACC – notably (1) the importance of sustained dialogue, (2) confidence and trust building, and (3) political leadership/political will – could be useful to assist in the creation of a regional safeguards organization for nuclear energy programs in the Middle East.

ABACC was established under an agreement reached between Argentina and Brazil to ensure the exclusively peaceful uses of nuclear energy in 1991. It is the world’s only bi-national safeguards agency responsible for verifying that the nuclear materials existing in both countries are being used exclusively for peaceful purposes. It is vested with the power to designate inspectors, carry out and evaluate inspections, and take legal action. It is made up of an equal number of representatives from Argentina and Brazil. Today, nuclear physicists from both countries continue to conduct mutual inspections at nuclear facilities on a cross-national basis through ABACC. These inspectors render their services to ABACC only during the periods encompassed by the missions for which they are appointed. Brazilian inspectors verify the Argentine facilities, and Argentine inspectors verify the Brazilian facilities. The inspections include verification of inventories of nuclear materials, unannounced and short-notice inspections, and inspections carried out along with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is important to stress that their work is undertaken with the full support of both governments.

Skeptics may argue that ABACC might not be the best model to use as a comparison for the Middle East region for three important reasons. First, tensions are high and deep-rooted feelings of suspicion and mistrust are currently rampant in the region. Second, existing indigenous nuclear capabilities are very limited in the region. Third, within the states across the region, sustained dialogue is overshadowed by veiled threats, confidence and trust building measures are simply not an option, and due to the inherent distrust, the political will is certainly not there. However, the lessons learned from the creation and subsequent sustained success of ABACC provide a starting point for assessing a regional safeguards organization for nuclear energy programs in the Middle East.

Options for a Regional Safeguards Organization in the Middle East

No two regions in the world can be deemed geographically or culturally alike. Equally, no two regions can be expected to have identical characteristics politically, militarily, or economically. Therefore, if a mutual inspections and safeguards verification system works well in one region, there is no guarantee that it will work just as well in another region. The Middle East has more dissimilarities than similarities with the Southern Cone. In the Southern Cone, there is a shared culture, shared religion, shared history, shared interests, and in all but one country, a shared language. In the Middle East, however, there are extensive ethnic divides including: Persians, Jews, Kurds, Druze, Turkic, Azeri, Baloch, Arabs, and others. The region has seen armed conflicts amongst various groups and there are long standing divisions between Shiites and Sunnis and tensions among other religious lines. Arguably, one of the only things the people of the Middle East share with one another is the geographical location. Cultures, languages, religions, and interests in the region are as widespread and disparate as the peoples’ political beliefs.

Yet, issues such as the verification procedures and the structure of various regional nuclear non-proliferation agreements exhibit similarities. The scope of these provisions, however, is usually a reflection upon the expectations and intentions of the parties involved. In the case of ABACC, there was shared and mutual interest from both Argentina and Brazil to create a mutual inspections and safeguards verification system, which developed over time. Even though the nuclear rapprochement of both countries can be traced back to the late 1960s/early 1970s, the idea of both countries participating in bilateral inspections was unfathomable back then. It took years of sustained dialogue, trust building, creation of democracies, and, perhaps most importantly, having political leaders that shared the political will to turn these desires into actual policy. Furthermore, the willingness to promote a collaborative nuclear partnership did not come from both countries at the same time. In fact, it was Argentina that proposed a partnership; Argentina’s earliest official statement on nuclear cooperation was prepared in 1978 by the Foreign Ministry’s policy planning staff, which led to the May 1980 joint nuclear accord. Five years after the 1980 joint nuclear accord was signed – by which time, both countries had become democracies (Argentina in 1983; Brazil in 1985) – both the Argentine and Brazilian governments agreed to create the Joint Working Group on Nuclear Affairs (JWG) to discuss nuclear issues, which, by 1988, had been institutionalized as the Permanent Committee on Nuclear Affairs (PCNA). 1  The PCNA not only furthered nuclear negotiations, but also facilitated the presidential and technical nuclear installation visits – important confidence and trust building steps that led to the creation of ABACC.

It is not clear to what extent the countries in the Middle East could develop a shared and mutual interest to create a regional safeguards organization in the way that Argentina and Brazil did. The last minute cancellation of the December 2012 conference on a Middle East zone free of WMDs would indicate that neither the timing nor the political will exists at the present moment (no official reason was given for the cancellation). However, the region’s resurgent interest in the pursuit of nuclear energy in the Middle East could motivate such an arrangement. In December 2006, the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – announced their intention to explore a joint nuclear development program. 2 In November 2012, the GCC announced that its member states would set up a center to monitor nuclear radiation and to act as a platform to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and avoid radiation hazards. 3 If realized, it could form a regional organization similar to ABACC with the following three phase process: (1) the establishment of the GCC’s joint nuclear development program including the formation of an institution similar to ABACC with an inspection mandate, (2) extending the institutional arrangement in the region, and (3) bringing in the outliers: Iran and Israel.

The first phase would include the establishment of the GCC’s joint nuclear development program, which would manage the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It is not clear (a) how long it would take for such an ambition to be realized, or (b) how feasible this might be given that none of the council’s member states has a significant nuclear infrastructure. All member states lack power and research reactors, and none of the member states has all the necessary components of the nuclear fuel cycle. In addition, most of the GCC members lack trained personnel, a nuclear regulatory structure, and a record of transparency and non-proliferation credentials. 4  While the program was announced in December 2009, it remains in the early planning stages as the GCC member states commissioned a study to assess the feasibility of developing a joint nuclear energy program. IAEA officials are involved with the feasibility study and it has been reported that the GCC members would like the agency to have continued involvement in and regulation over the project. 5 

Since the commissioning of the feasibility study, some of the GCC members have made efforts to set up a nuclear infrastructure with technical help from the United States and other countries. For example, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) on nuclear energy cooperation with the United States in 2008. 6 Kuwait signed an MOU with the United States on nuclear safeguards and other non-proliferation topics in June 2010. 7 These efforts may help the GCC countries establish a nuclear infrastructure so that the joint nuclear development program can be realized.

The next phase in the process would be to extend this program to energy-hungry countries in the region, including Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen. One option might be to build joint power stations with the assistance of third parties between bordering GCC states and the energy-hungry states, like Oman and Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In the case of ABACC, Argentina and Brazil independently pursued an autonomous nuclear fuel cycle. Their first nuclear accord – the May 1980 agreement – helped to establish a common nuclear policy, which was defined as “cooperation in the use of nuclear energy” and the “development and application of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” This accord called for bilateral technical collaboration and joint ventures for the production of reactor components and fuel elements, with the aim of minimizing dependence on western supplier countries. 8 It was not, however, an arms control agreement, but a call for technical-scientific collaboration in nuclear research. Even though the agreement did not offer an inspection regime, it offered verbal assurances and some limited technical cooperation between their respective atomic energy authorities. It was through this agreement that both sides took the first tentative steps towards a preliminary mutual inspection and verification regime since it was the first of many joint nuclear cooperation agreements. As a result of the agreement, Argentina leased uranium concentrate to Brazil and sold zircalloy tubing for nuclear fuel elements. In exchange, Brazil supplied Argentina with a portion of the pressure vessel for its Atucha II nuclear power generator. Even though the agreement did not put an end to the nuclear technology race, it was the first major step towards a comprehensive nuclear regime based on proliferation restraint and mutual safeguards. The GCC countries extending their shared nuclear program resources to the energy-hungry countries in the region would therefore mark an important second phase.

The final phase would be to bring in the outliers in the region, notably Iran and Israel. This would undoubtedly be the hardest phase to conquer politically. It is no secret how the two governments publically perceive one another. However, contrary to the other Middle Eastern states, Israel and Iran are united by being the region’s only non-Arab governments although each has Arabs living in their countries. Yet, neither country share the same culture, language, history, identity, religion, or politics, so bringing them both into the regional safeguards organization for nuclear energy programs will be incredibly difficult. None of the three key lessons learned from the creation of ABACC can be applied to Iran and Israel. First, the concept of dialogue between these two states is shrouded in belligerent threats. Second, confidence and trust building measures are notably absent. Third, the political will of both countries is to continue to engage in war-mongering. Interestingly though, both countries are keen to participate in the eventual establishment of a Middle East zone free of WMDs, yet the inherent political differences across the countries in the region are creating a stumbling block. While the previous two phases are no easy feat- given the inherent lack of a significant nuclear infrastructure- if these technical barriers are overcome through the GCC’s vast amount of amalgamated financial resources, Iran and Israel may be able to set aside their political differences to participate in this regional organization.

Verification, Safeguards, and Enforcement

Having laid the groundwork for the three-phased approach in creating a regional safeguards organization for nuclear energy programs in the Middle East, it is important to address verification, safeguards, and enforcement issues. The overall set of verification provisions should enable the inspectors from the regional organization to have suitable access to carry out their job effectively during all types of inspections (i.e., ad hoc, routine, and challenge). During the first high-level technical visit of the Brazilian delegation to the Argentine unsafeguarded Pilcaniyeu pilot uranium enrichment facility in July 1987, the Brazilian delegation asked the Argentines many sensitive questions. To their surprise, the Argentines answered all their questions, showed them the entire facility, and provided information on top-secret sites. This was a very important step in confidence and trust building and accounts for ABACC’s continuing success. It is therefore important that members of a regional safeguards organization in the Middle East be fully transparent and provide regular and detailed information on the operations in their facilities.

Regarding the actual inspections themselves, in the case of ABACC, inspections are carried out by both the IAEA and ABACC (even though there is no obligation for both agencies to work together in any given inspection). The facilities and the material under safeguards are the same for both agencies. All inspections are previously coordinated by the agencies. Each one of the agencies has the right to trigger inspections (short notice and announced inspections) on its own while informing the other agency. The agencies share equipment such as cameras and counters. Even though the inspections are carried out jointly, the conclusions of the inspections are independent. Therefore, it would be expected that the regional safeguards organization in the Middle East would work in conjunction with the IAEA, similar to ABACC.

Finally, in relation to enforcement issues, the Middle East regional organization would need to have the authority and the capacity to effectively sanction the violators. In this regard, it is difficult to draw from the ABACC experience since both countries have been open and transparent with one another with no reported violations from either side. In fact, in the creation of ABACC, non-compliance was not discussed given that the two nations were embarking on confidence and trust building measures; if the issue of non-compliance were to be raised, it may have conveyed feelings of mistrust. Therefore, given the lack of trust that already exists across the countries in the Middle East, it would be pertinent to avoid discussing issues of non-compliance at an early stage and instead address them (if necessary), once effective confidence and trust building measures are in place. However, if there are issues of non-compliance that the regional organization is unable to overcome, the IAEA Board of Governors could discuss the issue with the Director General. If non-compliance persists, the issue can then be reported to the United Nations Security Council.

Benefits and Limitations for a Regional Safeguards Organization in the Middle East

There would be many benefits to consider should the creation of a regional safeguards organization for nuclear energy programs in the Middle East be realized. Equally, however, there are important limitations to consider.


The first benefit would be the development of confidence and trust building, which would be an incremental step in easing suspicions and diffusing tensions in the region. In the case of ABACC, each of the ten nuclear cooperation agreements signed by Argentina and Brazil facilitated closer nuclear cooperation and instilled greater confidence between the two nations. Earlier declarations stressed the decision to increase reciprocal technical visits and consultations; today Argentina and Brazil continue to share information on nuclear technological developments, radiological security and protection. They also called for strengthening the coordination of policy positions before international fora to defend common interests and protect the region from the risk of nuclear weapons. The high-level reciprocal presidential and technical visits to unsafeguarded and sensitive nuclear facilities and the subsequent nuclear accords played a decisive role in assuring each other and the international community that their nuclear programs were of a peaceful nature. All the presidential visits were followed by visits of specialized technical personnel, which represented another step towards nuclear transparency and subsequent trust building.

The GCC countries could adopt nuclear cooperation agreements similar to Argentina and Brazil using the same common elements. The GCC, through INFCIRC/225 (which strengthens the security of nuclear materials through physical protection measures), could promote robust nuclear physical security measures at sites in the region as a step towards confidence and trust building.

A second benefit to consider includes the Middle Eastern countries’ greater involvement in the nuclear non-proliferation regime. In the case of Argentina and Brazil, both nations were initially hostile to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime; notably after the creation of ABACC, they both became fully integrated within the non-proliferation regime by signing various non-proliferation agreements. Soon after ABACC was created, Argentina, Brazil, and ABACC signed the Quadripartite Agreement with the IAEA to establish coordination between it and ABACC on full-scope safeguards (which means safeguards on all declared nuclear facilities and materials). Their bilateral cooperation and subsequent agreement with the IAEA made it possible for Argentina and Brazil to reconsider their opposition to existing nuclear non-proliferation treaties. By the end of the decade, both countries had ratified the Tlatelolco Treaty (the South American and Caribbean Nuclear Weapon Free Zone), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and then became members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Even though Argentina always took the lead in signing these agreements first, Brazil eventually signed, indicating a willingness to continue their nuclear partnership.

Not all the countries in the Middle East are parties to various nuclear non-proliferation agreements, which is a similar situation that Argentina and Brazil found themselves in, prior to the creation of ABACC. Middle Eastern countries are all NPT signatories (with the exception of Israel), and they all have signed a full-scope safeguards agreement with the IAEA, except for Qatar. However, only a handful has either a modified Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) or an Additional Protocol (AP) in force. 9 Based on the ABACC experience, it could be argued that once a regional safeguards organization has been created in the Middle East, all parties might become further integrated into the nuclear non-proliferation regime and potentially agree to a Middle East zone free of WMDs. However, neither Argentina nor Brazil has signed the AP, which calls into question their position within the nuclear non-proliferation regime (even though ABACC inspections cover what the AP stipulates, just without the IAEA). This begs the question whether the Middle Eastern states would sign an AP if such an organization were created. One way to alleviate this concern might be to ensure that the GCC members sign an AP before its joint nuclear program is developed, which might be difficult to achieve. Third party countries helping the GCC states with their nuclear infrastructure may be able to entice/influence the GCC states to sign an AP before construction of power plants begins. Then, insofar as Phase 2 is concerned, the energy-hungry countries can only receive help if they too have signed an AP.

The final benefit to the creation of a regional safeguards organization in the Middle East would include further cooperation in other areas, notably economic, technical, and energy provision. The next phase would be for the GCC to help the energy-hungry countries acquire energy through the joint nuclear energy program discussed above. In the case of ABACC, the nuclear agreements signed between Argentina and Brazil promoted the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and encouraged joint nuclear research and development plans.


Given the inherent political problems and internal barriers within the Middle Eastern countries, it is difficult to assess the feasibility of a “neighbors watching neighbors” organization being created and even sustained in the region. One of the most obvious internal barriers is the existence of conflict, distrust, deep-rooted enmity, and overt hostility in the region. Argentina and Brazil’s relationship was previously marked by a strong rivalry since they were the two major industrial, economic, and military powers in the Southern Cone. Their individual attempt to acquire the nuclear fuel cycle was viewed as yet another competition between the two longstanding rivals. However, unlike states in the Middle East, their relationship was a competitive rivalry, and not an enmity. There was no real cause for armed conflict between the two states; instead, they were both striving for technological and indigenous superiority. However, in the Middle East there are severe regional conflicts, with some countries not recognizing the existence of other countries, and some countries threatening to destroy other countries. This climate does not make the idea of a regional safeguards organization where trust is key to its success conceivable. It would, in fact, strongly suggest otherwise.

A further limitation to consider might be the existence of more nuclear fuel cycles in the region. Currently, there are fears that should Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program become fully realized, it is quite possible that a nuclear cascade in the Middle East would ensue. However, should the phased approach outlined be conceived, the GCC members states would not need an entire nuclear fuel cycle, thereby alleviating the fear of a greater number of nuclear fuel cycles in the region. Finally, the prospects of sensitive technology transfer from countries within the regional organization (e.g., Iran to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq) would also need to be considered.


The political and technical realities of the Middle East suggest that the likelihood of creating such a regional safeguards model is far from being accomplished, at least in the immediate future. That is not to say that this issue should not be addressed. Nonetheless, discussing a regional safeguards organization in the Middle East is to be encouraged because if it is created, it could very well lead to the overall goal of creating a further WMD-free zone in the world. ABACC is an underrated success story, but importantly, it took Argentina and Brazil a few decades before ABACC could be realized. Furthermore, once both countries became democracies, the transition to a nuclear rapprochement became a lot smoother. The Middle Eastern countries should consider starting the conversation about a joint nuclear technical program to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes given that the current approach of trying to convene a conference on a Middle East zone free WMDs has failed for four decades. Furthermore, there has yet to be a new initiative offered to this persistent problem, and, as such, creativity is required, whatever the obstacles it might face.

Dr. Sara Z. Kutchesfahani is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for International Trade & Security at the University of Georgia (CITS/UGA), where she works on nuclear security culture projects. In addition, she teaches a graduate class on “Nuclear History and Security Policy” at UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs. She came to the Center from the Nuclear Engineering and Nonproliferation Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where she was the only political science research associate among a pool of 440 at the laboratory. At LANL, her work focused on nuclear non-proliferation policy-related research projects, with an emphasis on international safeguards. From LANL, she also taught a graduate distance-learning education course, titled “Nuclear Safeguards & Security Policy,” at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, a premier science and engineering research university.

She has worked on nuclear non-proliferation policy issues for most of the past decade holding research positions at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), the European Union Institute for Security Studies (Paris), and the RAND Corporation (Washington). She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from University College London. She is the author of the recently published book: Politics and the Bomb: The Role of Experts in the Creation of Cooperative Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreements (Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2013).


  1. Sara Z. Kutchesfahani, Politics and The Bomb: The Role of Experts in the Creation of Cooperative Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreements (Routledge: Taylor & Francis, 2013).
  2. International Institute for Strategic Studies, “Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran,” 2008: 11.
  3. “GCC to set up platform for peaceful nuclear energy,” Arab News, 11 November 2012, Peter Mulvany, “GCC review peaceful nuclear development,” Middle East Confidential, 12 November 2012.
  4. IISS Report, 2008: 35.
  5. Richard Weitz, “Gulf Cooperation Council Moves Forward with Nuclear Energy Plans,” WMD Insights, April 2007.
  6. In addition, in April 2008, the UAE published a white paper on its development of nuclear energy, signed a 123 Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation with the United States in May 2009, which commits the UAE to obtain nuclear fuel from “reliable and responsible” suppliers rather than pursue indigenous uranium enrichment and reprocessing. In December 2009, the UAE signed an agreement with South Korea to design, build, and help operate four civilian power plants in the UAE. UAE White Paper: “Policy of the United Arab Emirates on the Evaluation and Potential Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy,” April 2008:; UAE Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation (123 Agreement), May 21, 2009:
  7. Cooperation areas include in nuclear legislation and regulations, human resource planning and modeling, nuclear safeguards and security, radiation protection and environmental. Shane McGinley, “Kuwait signs MoU with US on nuclear safeguards,”, 24 June 2010.
  8. In this accord, CNEA and CNEN (the countries’ national atomic energy commissions) reached agreement on a wide range of joint technical projects, including research and development on experimental and power reactors, exchange of nuclear materials, uranium prospecting, and the manufacture of fuel elements.
  9. Bahrain and Lebanon have a modified SQP; Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen have the old SQP. Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Turkey, and UAE have an AP in force. For states which have only very small quantities of nuclear material, the comprehensive safeguards agreement allows them to conclude a protocol which holds in abeyance most of the operative provisions of the IAEA’s verification tools. This is the old SQP. The modified SQP reduces the number of safeguards measures held in abeyance and makes an SQP unavailable to states with existing or planned facilities. The AP complements comprehensive safeguards agreements and enables the IAEA not only to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material but also to provide assurances as to the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a State.

50 Years Later “Dr. Strangelove” Remains a Must-See Film and Humorous Reminder of Our Civilization’s Fragility

Fifty years ago on January 30th, “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb,” a seminal political-military satire and dark comedic film premiered. Based on Peter George’s novel Red Alert, the film gave us some of the most outrageously humorous and simultaneously satirical dialog in the history of the silver screen. For example, Peter Sellers as the President of the United States, “Gentleman, you cannot fight in here. This is the War Room.” Director/producer Stanley Kubrick produced a masterpiece that not only entertained viewers but turned out to be incredibly predictive about U.S.-Soviet Cold War nuclear policies, strategies, and outcomes.

The U.S. Air Force refused to cooperate with Kubrick and his production company because they felt that the premise of an accidental nuclear war being launched by a U.S. general wasn’t credible. In fact, on December 9, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur requested authorization to use atomic bombs against 26 targets in China after the People’s Liberation Army entered the Korean War. The Soviet Union had tested their first A-bomb the year before, so it is certainly possible that MacArthur’s use of such weapons could have triggered a nuclear conflict. In terms of nuclear accidents or “broken arrows” as the U.S. military refers to such events, there have been dozens of incidents including a January 17, 1966 Air Force crash involving nuclear warheads that contaminated thousands of acres in Palomares, Spain (although thankfully fail-safe switches on the damaged atomic bombs prevented any nuclear explosions). A computer generated false alert (one of countless false warnings over the years), on November 9, 1979 almost triggered nuclear Armageddon when President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was informed at 3 a.m. that 2,200 Soviet missiles were within minutes of impacting on the U.S. mainland. It turned out to be a training exercise loaded inadvertently into SAC’s early warning computer system.

Actor George C. Scott played a Strategic Air Command (SAC) general named Buck Turgidson not unlike real life Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Thomas Moorer. In 1969, Moorer proposed salvaging the war by targeting North Vietnam with two nuclear bombs – a proposal allegedly lobbied for by President Nixon’s Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger. After it is discovered that Sterling Hayden’s character, General Jack D. Ripper has on his own authority (a credible possibility until coded locks were installed on most U.S. nuclear weapons later in the 1960s and on submarine-launched nuclear missiles in the late 1990s) 1 ordered an all-out nuclear attack on Russia by his squadrons of B-52 bombers (an aircraft the United States still relies on after sixty years of deployment), General Turgidson pleads with Peter Sellers’ character President Merkin Muffley to consider, “…if on the other hand, we were to immediately launch an all-out and coordinated (nuclear) attack on all their airfields and missile bases, we’d stand a damn good chance of catching them with their pants down…I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10-20 million (Americans) killed, tops, depending on the breaks.” Ironically nuclear war advocates Colin Gray and Keith Payne literally quoted Turgidson’s casualty figures verbatim when in 1980 they advised then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan that America could fight and win such a war against the Soviet Union. 2

But Peter Sellers, who incredibly played three roles in the film, excelled as the title character Dr. Strangelove, an amalgam of NASA’s Werner von Braun, who built Nazi V-2 rockets by turning his back when SS soldiers worked thousands of Jewish conscripts to death and was part of Operation Paperclip, a group of German scientists amnestied by the United States (and the Soviet Union handpicked its own Nazi brainpower) after the war to help build Cold War weapons, Edward Teller, who worked on the hydrogen bomb, helped found Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was an Atoms for Peace enthusiast and advocated for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI- the “Star Wars” missile shield), and Herman Kahn, who worked at RAND, then founded the Hudson Institute, and wrote the seminal “thinking about the unthinkable” book On Thermonuclear War, published in 1960.

Deep in the bowels of the War Room, Dr. Strangelove responded to the Russian ambassador’s fearful notification that even if only one of the U.S. nuclear bombs struck Russia, the result would be the triggering of a doomsday machine. Sellers’ character admonished the ambassador, “But the whole point of a doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret. Why didn’t you tell the world, aye?” Coincidentally again, truth followed fiction according to David Hoffman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2009 work The Dead Hand, as in November 1984, the Soviets did indeed construct a partially automated retaliatory nuclear strike system called Perimetr and tested it. Stranger still, Colonel Valery Yarynich of the Soviet Union’s Strategic Rocket Forces pointed out to his superiors that it was irrational and inconsistent with deterrence theory for them to go out of their way to hide Perimetr’s existence from U.S. leaders. This occurred during the height of the Cold War when the United States possessed 11,000 strategic nuclear warheads to the Soviet’s 9,900. In total, including tactical and intermediate-range bombs, the United States led 20,924 to 19,774 warheads.

When General Turgidson expressed skepticism that the Russians had the brains to build such a doomsday machine, Dr. Strangelove strongly disagreed, noting that such a system was entirely feasible. “The technology required is even within the means of the smallest nuclear power. It requires only the will to do so….It is remarkably simple to [build]. When you merely wish to bury bombs, there’s no limit to the size. After that they are connected to a gigantic complex of computers.” This echoed the real life February 1955 radio broadcast of German Nobel Laureate Otto Hahn, who first split the uranium atom in the late 1930s. Hahn warned that the detonation of as few as ten cobalt bombs, each the size of a naval vessel, would cause all mankind to perish. In the early 1980s, astronomer Carl Sagan and other scientists 3 examined and subsequently built-on analyses of the last few decades via the TTAPS study. They concluded that as few as 100-200 nuclear warheads exploding within the span of a few hours could credibly trigger a nuclear winter, plunging temperatures dramatically in the northern hemisphere as tremendous nuclear firestorms block the sun’s rays, leading to wholesale starvation, exposure, and the radiation-borne deaths of billions of people worldwide. 4 

Dr. Strangelove was originally scheduled for its first screening on Friday, November 22, 1963. The assassination of President Kennedy earlier that day caused the producers to delay the film’s release date by several weeks. Time was needed to not only heal the nation’s gaping wound but to edit the film to remove some objectionable material relating to the murder of the president. Coincidental references by the hydrogen bomb-riding Slim Pickens character Major T.J. “King” Kong that the survival kits carried by each bomber crewman could help provide them a pretty good time in Dallas was redubbed to “Vegas.” A concluding sequence of a free-for-all pie fight in the War Room was edited out for stylistic reasons and also removed George C. Scott’s objectionable dialogue that, “Our commander-in-chief has been struck down in the prime of his life.” Not so coincidentally, perhaps, JFK’s murder and Nikita Khrushchev’s Politburo ouster in 1964 (the year of the film’s actual release), ended a post-Cuban Missile Crisis-Almost Armageddon (October 1962) apotheosis by both leaders to prevent another nuclear crisis. They cooperated in an earnest effort to prevent another visit to the brink of extinction by working to end the Cold War and reverse the nuclear arms race in favor of peaceful coexistence. The results of their labors cannot be underestimated—the Hot Line Agreement and the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

Today in 2014, “Dr. Strangelove,” along with other antiwar films like “Fail Safe,” “The Sum of All Fears,” “On the Beach,” “War Games,” and “Olympus Has Fallen,” remind us that all of humanity must acknowledge that nuclear war is not a blast from the past or an obsolete fear from a remote period in history. It is a real life current and future threat to our global civilization – indeed to our species’ continued existence on this planet.

But has anyone studied the actual possibilities of a nuclear Armageddon?  Aside from Dr. Strangelove’s analysis discussing a study on nuclear war made by “the Bland Corporation” (which is obviously a reference to the real-life Rand Corporation), the answer is a definitive “yes.” According to Ike Jeane’s 1996 book Forecast and Solution: Grappling with the Nuclear, the risks of large-scale nuclear war average about 1-2 percent per year, down from a high of 2-3 percent annually during the Cold War (1945-1991). But Dr. Martin Hellman of Stanford and other analysts believe that as more decades pass since the only recorded use of nuclear weapons in combat (Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945), the probability may increase to ten percent over the duration of this century. 5 

While President Barack Obama has called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, so too have past American leaders as diverse politically as Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Ralph Nader. Meanwhile thousands of nuclear warheads – 90-plus percent in the hands of America and Russia – still exist in global arsenals. Both countries continue to spend tens of billions of dollars annually to update, improve, and modernize their nuclear forces. For example, U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) have increased dramatically in accuracy from a 12 percent chance of destroying a hardened Russian missile silo to 90-98 percent effectiveness; thus giving these weapons a highly effective “kill” probability and putting pressure on Russia to launch its silo-based ballistic missiles on warning of attack. While U.S. missile “defenses” may soon include “Rods from God,” 20-30 foot long, two-foot wide tungsten cylinders fired from U.S. Air Force space-based assets, the Russians have also upgraded their aging Cold War arsenal by building dozens of new Topol-M ICBMs and Bulava SLBMs.

Substantial progress in reducing this Armageddon threat cannot be accomplished until decades-long objections by overly conservative members of Congress, the Russian Duma and both nations’ military leadership are lifted. Such multilateral, verifiable (new technologies make this relatively easy to achieve), measures include a global comprehensive nuclear test ban (laboratory sub-critical nuclear tests not excluded), and the standing down from heightened alert levels of not only Russian and American strategic and tactical nuclear weapons but those of China, France, Britain, Israel, Pakistan and India. This would transition all sides’ dangerous nuclear weapons from the physical capability of being fired in 15 minutes or less to 72 hours or longer—don’t we at least deserve three days to think about it before we destroy the world? We also need an accelerated global zero nuclear reduction agreement as well as an essential, little-mentioned but critically important move that the mainstream corporate media has rarely granted its stamp of legitimacy. This would be a unanimous United Nations demand as voiced by leaders in America and Russia, for the phase-out of all nuclear power plants, research as well as production facilities (with the exception of a handful of super-guarded medical radioisotope manufacturing and storage facilities) in the next 10-15 years.

Eliminating not just existing stocks of nuclear weapons, but also all of the 400 global nuclear power facilities is the trump card in the deck of human long-term survival. There are numerous issues including: proliferation, nuclear accidents, the long-term sequestration of tremendous amounts of deadly nuclear wastes, the economic non-competitiveness of nuclear energy, and the realization that nuclear plants are not a viable, safe or reasonable solution to global warming especially in the long term (since plutonium-239 has a half-life of an amazing duration of more than 20,000 years)! Dr. Strangelove’s circular slide rule-assisted calculation requiring humanity to survive the war by remaining in deep underground mineshaft spaces for merely a century was ergo a definite miscalculation—sorry Herr Merkwurdichliebe. 6 

Five decades later, the hauntingly humorous end title lyrics and music of “Dr. Strangelove,” accompanied by actual images of awesome Cold War-era nuclear tests, serves as a read-between-the-lines warning to the human race: “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” Nuclear weapons and nuclear power – indistinguishable in terms of the deadly threat to our species – must be eliminated now before it is too late. A penultimate but overwhelmingly appropriate edit of George C. Scott’s last line in the film is especially relevant here. “We must not allow a nuclear Armageddon!”

Additional Sources

Walter J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the U.S. Air Force, 1947- 1997, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997, p. 394.

Columbia Pictures Corporation-Sony Pictures, 40th Anniversary Edition: Dr. Strangelove.  Documentary- “Inside Dr. Strangelove,” 2004.

Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Volume 2. Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 749-751.

The Defense Monitor (Center for Defense Information), Vol. 15, No. 7, “Accidental Nuclear War: A Rising Risk?” by Michelle Flournoy, 1986.

The Defense Monitor (Center for Defense Information), Vol. 36, No. 3, “Primed and Ready- Special Report:  Nuclear Issues,” by Bruce G. Blair, May/June 2009.

Peter Janney, Mary’s Mosaic:  The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012, pp. 242-247; 261-263.

Premiere (Magazine), “The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All-Time,” April 2004, p. 58.

Carl Sagan, “The Case Against SDI,” Discover, September 1985, pp. 66-75.

H. Eric Semler, et al., The Language of Nuclear War: An Intelligent Citizen’s Dictionary. New York:  Harper & Row Publishers, 1987, p. 44.

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States. New York: Gallery Books-Simon & Schuster, 2012, pp. 272, 362, 540-42.

John Tierman, editor, Empty Promise: The Growing Case Against Star Wars. Boston:
Beacon Press, 1986, pp. 2-3.

Louis Weber, editor, Movie Trivia Mania. Beekman House-Crown Publishers, Inc., 1984   p. 21.

Jeffrey W. Mason is a nuclear weapons, arms control, outer space, and First Contact scholar, published author and scriptwriter for acclaimed PBS-TV documentaries who possesses two MA degrees—one in international security. He has worked for the Center for Defense Information (11 years) where he helped produce award-winning PBS-TV documentaries on child soldiers, the Hiroshima bombing, and “The Nuclear Threat at Home.” He worked for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the State Department, Professionals’ Coalition for Nuclear Arms Control, Congressional Research Service, Amnesty International, Clean Water Action, and the International Studies Association. 



  1. These coded locks are known as permissive action links (PALs). For a relatively recent presentation about the history and workings of PALs, see Steven M. Bellovin, “Permissive Action Links, Nuclear Weapons, and the History of Public Key Cryptography,” Department of Computer Science, Columbia University, October 21, 2005,
  2. Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne, “Victory is Possible,” Foreign Policy, Summer 1980.
  3. Richard P. Turco, Owen B. Toon, Thomas P. Ackerman, James B. Pollack, and Carl Sagan, ‘The Climatic Effects of Nuclear War,” Scientific American, Vol. 251, No. 2 (August 1984).
  4. For a more recent scientific study, see Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon, “Local Nuclear War,” Scientific American, January 2010,
  5. Dr. Hellman is also the Adjunct Senior Fellow for Nuclear Risk Analysis at FAS; please see his website
  6. Dr. Strangelove’s original native German moniker as revealed by a presidential aide to General Turgidson in the War Room.

Hedging and Strategic Stability

The concept of strategic stability emerged during the Cold War, but today it is still unclear what the term exactly means and how its different interpretations influence strategic decisions. After the late 1950s, the Cold War superpowers based many of their arguments and decisions on their own understanding of strategic stability 1 and it still seems to be a driving factor in the arms control negotiations of today. However, in absence of a common understanding of strategic stability, using this argument to explain certain decisions or threat perceptions linked to the different aspects of nuclear policy tend to create more confusion than clarity.

In the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report, 2 the Obama administration used the term strategic stability as a central concept of U.S. nuclear policy vis-à-vis Russia and China. Altogether it appeared 29 times in the report, in reference to issues mostly related to nuclear weapons capabilities. In the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship, strategic stability was associated with continued dialogue between the two states to further reduce U.S.-Russian nuclear arsenals, to limit the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategies, and to enhance transparency and confidence-building measures. At the same time, the United States pledged to sustain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal by modernizing its nuclear forces, retaining the triad, and “hedging against potential technical problems or vulnerabilities.”

On the other hand, Russia seems to use the term strategic stability in a broader context, claiming that the question of ballistic missile defense, conventional prompt global strike, and the militarization of outer space all affect strategic stability between Moscow and Washington. U.S. modernization efforts in these areas are seen as attempts to undermine the survivability of the Russian nuclear arsenal and steps to gain strategic advantage over Russia. Therefore, Moscow has been repeatedly arguing that any future arms control agreement should address all factors which affect strategic stability. 3

Although these are the issues which Russia explicitly mentions in reference to strategic stability, there is another “hidden” issue which might also have a counterproductive impact on long term stability because of its potential to undermine strategic parity (which seems to be the basis of Russian interpretation of strategic stability). 4 This issue is the non-deployed nuclear arsenal of the United States or the so-called “hedge.”

During the Cold War, both superpowers tried to deploy the majority of their nuclear weapons inventories. Reserve nuclear forces were small as a result of the continuous development and production of new nuclear weapons, which guaranteed the rapid exchange of the entire stockpile in a few years. The United States started to create a permanent reserve or hedge force in the early 1990s. The role of the hedge was twofold: first, to guarantee an up-build capability in case of a reemerging confrontation with Russia, and second, a technical insurance to secure against the potential failure of a warhead type or a delivery system. Despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union, during the first years of the 1990s, the United States was skeptical about the democratic transition of the previous Eastern Block and the commitment of the Russian Federation to arms control measures in general. Therefore, the Clinton administration’s 1994 NPR officially codified – for the first time – the concept of a hedge force against the uncertainties and the potential risks of the security environment. 5 This concept gradually lost importance as the number of deployed strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons kept shrinking on both sides and relations improved between Washington and Moscow. By the end of the 1990s, the main rationale for upholding the hedge force shifted towards the necessity of maintaining a back-up against technical failures. Although the nuclear arsenal was aging, a moratorium was declared on nuclear weapons testing, and several production facilities were closed. Therefore, it seemed imperative to retain fully functional nuclear warheads in reserve as an insurance policy. 6

While the Clinton administration’s NPR was not too explicit about what the hedge really was, both the Bush and the Obama administrations made the specific role of the hedge clearer. Although technical considerations remained important, the Bush administration’s 2001 NPR refocused U.S. hedging policy on safeguarding against geopolitical surprises. The administration tried to abandon Cold War “threat-based” force planning and implemented a “capabilities-based” force structure which was no longer focused on Russia as an imminent threat but broadened planning against a wider range of adversaries and contingencies: to assure allies, deter aggressors, dissuade competitors and defeat enemies. 7 This shift in planning meant that the force structure was designed for a post-Cold War environment with a more cooperative Russia. Therefore, the primary goal of the hedge was to provide guarantees in case this environment changed and U.S.-Russian relations significantly deteriorated.

Regardless of the main focus of the acting administration, the hedge has always served two different roles which belong to two separate institutions: the military considers the hedge a responsive force against the uncertainties of the international geopolitical environment, while the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) views the hedge as a repository to safeguard the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal. These two institutions advise the administration on the required size of the hedge. Since the end of the Cold War, both the United States and Russia considerably reduced their deployed nuclear warheads, but Washington retained many of these weapons in the hedge. By now there are more non-deployed nuclear weapons than deployed nuclear weapons in its military stockpile.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, 8 the United States has a military stockpile of 4,650 nuclear weapons, of which roughly 1,900 strategic nuclear weapons are deployed (this includes bomber weapons on bomber bases as deployed) and another approximately 200 non-strategic nuclear weapons are deployed in Europe. Altogether this leaves around 2,500 non-deployed nuclear weapons in reserve – approximately 2,200 strategic and 300 non-strategic. 9 This hedge force 10  provides the United States with a capability to increase its deployed nuclear arsenal to more than 4000 nuclear weapons within three years. 11 In the long run, this capability might feed into Russian paranoia over anything that can potentially undermine strategic parity and it could become a serious roadblock on the way toward further reductions in deployed strategic as well as non-strategic nuclear arsenals.

The Obama administration has already indicated in the 2010 NPR that it is considering reductions in the nuclear hedge. According to the document, the “non-deployed stockpile currently includes more warheads than required” and the “implementation of the Stockpile Stewardship Program and the nuclear infrastructure investments” could set the ground for “major reductions” in the hedge. However, in parallel to these significant reductions, the United States “will retain the ability to ‘upload’ some nuclear warheads as a technical hedge against any future problems with U.S. delivery systems or warheads, or as a result of a fundamental deterioration of the security environment.” In line with the 2010 NPR, the 2013 Presidential Employment Guidance also envisions reductions in the deployed strategic nuclear arsenal and reaffirms the intention to reduce the hedge as well. The Pentagon report on the guidance 12 discusses an “alternative approach to hedging” which would allow the United States to provide the necessary back-up capabilities “with fewer nuclear weapons.” This alternative approach puts the main emphasis on the technical role of the hedge, claiming that “a non-deployed hedge that is sized and ready to address these technical risks will also provide the United States the capability to upload additional weapons in response to geopolitical developments.” According to Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, this might imply that the hedge will no longer contain two categories of warheads – as there will be enough reserve warheads to protect against technical failures and potential geopolitical challenges. 13 However, at this point it is still unclear if (and when) this new approach will lead to actual force reductions in the non-deployed nuclear arsenal.

In the meantime, the United States could achieve several benefits by reducing the hedge. First, reducing the number of warheads (which require constant maintenance and periodic life extension) could save a few hundred million dollars in the federal budget. Second, it could send a positive signal to Russia about U.S. long-term intentions. In his 2013 Berlin address, President Obama indicated that his administration would seek “negotiated cuts with Russia” to reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons below the ceilings of the New START Treaty. 14 In terms of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, Moscow has already met the limits of the Treaty and seems to be reluctant to negotiate any further cuts until the 2018 New START implementation deadline or until the United States also meets the Treaty limits 15 (which – in light of the current trends – is probably not going to happen earlier than 2018). In addition, the deeper the two sides reduce their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals, the harder Russia tries to press the United States to include all other issues which affect strategic stability (especially ballistic missile defense). The United States has tried to alleviate Russian concerns over missile defense by offering some cooperative and transparency measures but Moscow insists that a legally binding treaty is necessary, which would put serious limits on the deployment of the system (a condition that is unacceptable to the United States Congress at the moment). Therefore, the future of further reductions seems to be blocked by disagreements over missile defense. But the proposed reduction of the hedge could signal U.S. willingness to reduce its strategic advantage against Russia.

Despite the potential benefits, U.S. government documents 16 have been setting up a number of preconditions for reducing the size of the hedge. Beyond “geopolitical stability,” the two most important preconditions are the establishment of a responsive infrastructure by constructing new warhead production facilities and the successful completion of the warhead modernization programs. The Department of Energy’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) proposes a so-called 3+2 warhead plan that would create three interoperable warheads for ballistic missiles and two for long-range bombers. 17 The transition to interoperable warheads could, according to the plan, permit a reduction of the number of warheads in the hedge. In light of the current budget constraints, it is still unclear if the program will start as planned and even if completed according to schedule, the gradual reduction of the technical hedge would not begin until the mid-2030s. Similar challenges will arise if the administration wishes to link the reduction of the hedge to the construction of new warhead production facilities – some of which have already been delayed due to budget considerations, and the exact dates and technical details of their future completion are still unclear.

The preconditions would mean that significant reductions in the hedge 18  are unlikely to materialize for at least another 15 years. Meanwhile, the deployed arsenal faces two scenarios in the coming decades: the number of warheads and delivery platforms could keep shrinking or arms control negotiations might fail to produce further reductions as a result of strategic inequalities (partly caused by the huge U.S. non-deployed arsenal). Under the first scenario, keeping the hedge in its current size would be illogical because a smaller deployed arsenal would require fewer replacement warheads 19 in case of technical failures, and because fewer delivery platforms would require fewer up-load warheads in case of geopolitical surprises. Maintaining the current non-deployed arsenal would not make any more sense under the second scenario either. If future arms control negotiations get stuck based on arguments over strategic parity, maintaining a large hedge force will be part of the problem, not a solution. Therefore, insisting on the “modernization precondition” and keeping the current hedge for another 15 years would not bring any benefits for the United States.

On the other hand, President Obama could use his executive power to start gradual reductions in the hedge. Although opponents in Congress have been trying to limit his flexibility in future nuclear reductions (which could happen in a non-treaty framework), current legislative language does not explicitly limit cuts in the non-deployed nuclear arsenal. After the successful vote on the New START Treaty, the Senate adopted a resolution on the treaty ratification which declares that “further arms reduction agreements obligating the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in any militarily significant manner may be made only pursuant to the treaty-making power of the President.” 20 However, if gradual cuts in the hedge would not be part of any “further arms reduction agreement” but instead implemented unilaterally, it would not be subject to a new legally binding treaty (and the necessary Senate approval which comes with it). Similarly, the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was adopted in December 2013, does not use explicit language against unilateral reductions in the hedge. 21 The NDAA only talks about preconditions to further nuclear arms reductions with Russia below the New START Treaty levels and it does not propose any limitations on cutting the non-deployed arsenal. In fact, the NDAA encourages taking into account “the full range of nuclear weapons capabilities,” especially the non-strategic arsenals – and this is exactly where reducing the United States hedge force could send a positive message and prove beneficial.

The 2013 Presidential Employment Guidance appears to move towards an alternative approach to hedging. This new strategy implies less reliance on non-deployed nuclear weapons which is a promising first step towards their reduction. However, the FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan links this reduction to the successful completion of the ongoing nuclear modernization programs, anticipating that the number of warheads in the hedge force will not change significantly in the near future. Its fate will mainly depend on congressional budget fights.

This might send a bad signal to Russia, where U.S. missile defense developments and its alleged impact on strategic stability are already a primary source of concern to the Kremlin. As a result of aging technologies and necessary retirements, Russian nuclear forces have been constantly decreasing, and despite all modernization efforts, 22 it is expected that by the early 2020s the ICBM arsenal will shrink to 220 missiles. 23 Russia already deploys 40 percent less strategic delivery systems than the United States and tries to keep the balance of deployed weapons by higher warhead loadings. This does not give Russia the ability to significantly increase the deployed number of warheads – not just because of the lower number of delivery vehicles but also because of the lack of reserve warheads comparable in number to the United States hedge force. In this regard there is an important asymmetry between Russia and the United States – while Washington keeps a hedge for technical and geopolitical challenges, Moscow maintains an active production infrastructure, which – if necessary – enables the production of hundreds of new weapons every year. It definitely has its implications for the long term (10-15 years) status of strategic parity, but certainly less impact on short term prospects.

In the meantime, the United States loads only 4-5 warheads on its SLBMs (instead of their maximum capacity of 8 warheads) and keeps downloading all of its ICBMs to a single warhead configuration. 24 Taken into account the upload potential of the delivery vehicles and the number of warheads in the hedge force, in case of a dramatic deterioration of the international security environment the United States could increase its strategic nuclear arsenal to above 4000 deployed warheads in about three years.

Whether one uses a narrow or a broader interpretation of strategic stability, these tendencies definitely work against the mere logic of strategic parity and might have a negative effect on the chances of further bilateral reductions as well. Cutting the hedge unilaterally would definitely upset Congress and it could endanger other foreign policy priorities of the United States (such as the CTBT ratification or negotiations with Iran), but it would still be worth the effort as it could also indicate good faith and contribute to the establishment of a more favorable geopolitical environment. It could signal President Obama’s serious commitment to further disarmament, send a positive message to Russian military planners and ease some of their paranoia about U.S. force structure trends.


Anna Péczeli is a Fulbright Scholar and Nuclear Research Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. Additionally, Péczeli is an adjunct fellow at the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, where she works on nuclear arms control. Péczeli earned a master’s degree in international relations from Corvinus University of Budapest, and is currently working on her doctoral dissertation, which focuses on the Obama administration’s nuclear strategy.


  1. See more on the different interpretations and the historic evolution of strategic stability in Colby EA and Gerson MS (2013) Strategic Stability: Contending Interpretations. Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press. Available at: (accessed 27 November 2013).
  2. U.S. Department of Defense (2010) Nuclear Posture Review Report. Available at: (accessed 27 November 2013).
  3. Denisov, A (2011) Russia calls for consideration of all factors threatening strategic stability – Lavrov. In: RIA Novosti. Available at: (accessed 27 November 2013).
  4. Lavrov, S (2011) Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov visits Centre for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.), meets with politicians and journalists and gives a speech on “Russia in a Multipolar World: Implications for Russia-EU-U.S.” Available at: (accessed 11 February 2014).
  5. Federation of American Scientists (1995) Nuclear Posture Review – Extract from the 1995 Annual Defense Report. Available at: (accessed 27 November 2013).
  6. Ritchie, N (2009) U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy After the Cold War – Russians, ‘rogues’ and domestic division. New York: Routledge. pp. 96-97.
  7. U.S. Department of Defense (2002) Findings of the Nuclear Posture Review – Slides. Available at: (accessed 26 January 2014).
  8. Kristensen, HM and Norris, RS (2014) U.S. nuclear forces, 2014. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Available at: (accessed 26 January 2014).
  9. Some warheads in the hedge are active (they are maintained in an operational status but non-deployed, mostly stored at a depot or at an operational base) and some of them are inactive (they are maintained in a non-operational status, they have their tritium components removed and other limited life components are not replaced until the warheads are reactivated). U.S. Department of Energy (2011) The Nuclear Matters Handbook – Order for definitive guidance in all areas related to U.S. nuclear matters. Chapter 3: U.S. Nuclear Forces. Available at: (accessed 27 November 2013).
  10. In general, the hedge force does not necessarily cover a 100 percent of the non-deployed arsenal – there are some “grey areas.” According to certain accounts, bomber weapons on bomber bases are not part of the deployed arsenal but they are definitely not part of the hedge either. Another example is the category of the so called “legacy warheads” which are not being refurbished but kept to support an undergoing Life Extension Program (LEP) and kept only until there is confidence in the LEP.
  11. Reserve warheads can be added to bombers within days or weeks, additional warheads can be uploaded to SSBNs within months but uploading again three warheads on each ICBM (which can carry three) takes more time. At each ICBM base, approximately one week is needed for the reconfiguration of a missile, therefore uploading all 450 ICBMs would require more than two years.
  12. U.S. Department of Defense (2013) Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States. Available at: (accessed 27 November 2013).
  13. Kristensen, HM (2013) Falling Short of Prague: Obama’s Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy. In: Arms Control Today. Available at: (accessed 20 June 2013).
  14. Obama, B (2013) Remarks by President Obama at the Brandenburg Gate – Berlin, Germany. Available at: (accessed 27 November 2013).
  15. Lavrov, S (2013) Russia’s Lavrov Cool on Obama Nuclear Arms Proposal. In: Rossiya 24 TV. Translated and published by: World News Connection. (accessed 20 June 2013).
  16. For example the Employment Guidance or the FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.
  17. According to a January, 2013 Nuclear Weapons Council memo and the Department of Energy’s FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, the 3+2 strategy is a 25 year-plan to rebuild the nuclear arsenal and to reduce the existing seven warhead types to five. Three of these warheads would be “interoperable,” used either on intercontinental ballistic missiles or submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and two of them would be air-delivered (a gravity bomb and a cruise missile warhead). The 3+2 plan is projected to cost over $60 billion. U.S. Department of Energy (2013) FY 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.  Available at: (accessed 27 November 2013).
  18. Regardless of the status of nuclear modernization programs, some moderate reductions will eventually occur in the hedge force. In the framework of the New START Treaty, the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons will shrink and it will facilitate some reductions in the technical hedge, as well.
  19. In general, the hedge contains one back-up warhead for each deployed warhead (and some additional warheads for example to support LEPs).
  20. U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (2011) New START Treaty Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification. Available at: (accessed 29 November 2013).
  21. One Hundred Thirteenth Congress of the United States of America (2013) National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. Available at: (accessed 21 January 2014).
  22. Russian has an ongoing modernization program, in the framework of which it has already begun to build a new heavy ICBM and a multiple-warhead Bulava SLBM.
  23. Kristensen HM and Norris RS (2013) Russian nuclear forces, 2013. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Available at: (accessed 29 November 2013).
  24. Kristensen HM and Norris RS (2014) U.S. nuclear forces, 2014. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Available at: (accessed 26 January 2014).

President’s Message: Legitimizing Iran’s Nuclear Program

CDFBe careful of self-fulfilling prophecies about the intentions for Iran’s nuclear program. Often, Western analysts view this program through the lens of realist political science theory such that Iranian leaders seek nuclear weapons to counteract threats made to overthrow their regime or to exert dominance in the Middle East. To lend support to the former argument, Iranian leaders can point to certain political leaders in the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, or other governments that desire, if not actively pursue, the downfall of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To back up the latter rationale for nuclear weapons, Iran has a strong case to make to become the dominant regional political power: it has the largest population of any of its neighbors, has a well-educated and relatively technically advanced country, and can shut off the vital flow of oil and gas from the Strait of Hormuz. If Iran did block the Strait, its leaders could view nuclear weapons as a means to protect Iran against attack from powers seeking to reopen the Strait. (Probably the best deterrent from shutting the Strait is that Iran would harm itself economically as well as others. But if Iran was subject to crippling sanctions on its oil and gas exports, it might feel compelled to shut down the Strait knowing that it is already suffering economically.) These counteracting external threats and exerting political power arguments provide support for the realist model of Iran’s desire for nuclear bombs.

But viewed through another lens, one can forecast continual hedging by Iran to have a latent nuclear weapons capability, but still keeping barriers to proliferation in place such as inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In particular, Iranian leaders have arguably gained considerable political leverage over neighbors by just having a latent capability and have maintained some legitimacy for their nuclear program by remaining part of the IAEA’s safeguards system.

If Iran crosses the threshold to make its own nuclear weapons, it could stimulate neighbors to build or acquire their own nuclear weapons. For example, Saudi leaders have dropped several hints recently that they will not stand idly by as Iran develops nuclear weapons. The speculation is that Saudi Arabia could call on Pakistan to transfer some nuclear weapons or even help Saudi Arabia develop the infrastructure to eventually make its own fissile material for such weapons. Pakistan is the alleged potential supplier state because of stories that Saudi Arabia had helped finance Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and thus, Islamabad owes Riyadh for this assistance. Moreover, Pakistan remains outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore would not have the treaty constraint as a brake on nuclear weapons transfer. Furthermore, one could imagine a possible nuclear cascade involving the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Egypt, all states that are developing or considering developing nuclear power programs. This proliferation chain reaction would likely then undermine Iran’s security and make the Middle East further prone to potential nuclear weapons use.

I would propose for the West to act optimistically and trust but verify Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes. The interim deal that was recently reached between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, France, China, United Kingdom, and the European Union) is encouraging in that it places a temporary halt on some Iranian activities such as construction of the 40 MW reactor at Arak, the further enrichment of uranium to 20 percent uranium-235 (which is about 70 percent of the work needed to reach the weapons-grade level of 90 percent uranium-235), and continued expansion of the enrichment facilities. Iran also has become more open to the IAEA’s inspections. But these are measures that can be readily reversed if the next deal cannot be negotiated within the next several months. Iran is taking these actions in order to get relief from some economic sanctions.

Without getting into the complexities of the U.S. and Iranian domestic politics as well as international political considerations, I want to outline in the remaining part of this president’s message a research agenda for engineers and scientists. I offer FAS as a platform for these technical experts to publish their analyses and communicate their findings. Specifically, FAS will create a network of experts to assess the Iranian nuclear issues, publish their work on, and convene roundtables and briefings for executive and legislative branch officials.

Let’s look at the rich research agenda, which is intended to provide Iran with access to a suite of peaceful nuclear activities while still putting limits on the latent weapons capacity of the peaceful program. By doing so, we can engender trust with Iranians, but this will hinge on adequate means to detect breakout into a nuclear weapons program.

First, consider the scale of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. It is still relatively small, only about a tenth of the capacity needed to make enough low enriched uranium for even the one commercial nuclear plant at Bushehr. Russia has a contract with Iran for ten years of fuel supply to Bushehr. If both sides can extend that agreement over the 40 or more years of the life of the plant, then Iran would not have the rationale for a large enrichment capacity based on that one nuclear plant. However, Iran has plans for a major expansion of nuclear power. Would it be cost effective for Iran to enrich its own uranium for these power plants? The short answer is no, but because of Iranian concerns about being shut out of the international enrichment market and because of Iranian pride in having achieved even a modestly sized enrichment capacity, Iranian leaders will not give up enrichment. I would suggest that a research task for technical experts is to work with Iran to develop effective multi-layer assurances for nuclear fuel. Another task is to assess what capacity of enrichment is appropriate for the existing and under construction research and isotope production reactors or for smaller power reactors. These reactors require far less enrichment capacity than a large nuclear power plant. A first order estimate is that Iran already has the right amount of enrichment capacity to fuel the current and planned for research reactors. But nuclear engineers and physicists can and should perform more detailed calculations.

One reactor under construction has posed a vexing challenge; this is the 40 MW reactor being built at Arak. The concern is that Iran has planned to use heavy water as the moderator and natural uranium as the fuel for this reactor. (Heavy water is composed of deuterium, a heavy form of hydrogen with a proton and neutron in its nucleus, rather than the more abundant “normal” hydrogen, with a proton in its nucleus, which composes the hydrogen atoms in “light” or ordinary water.) A heavy water reactor can produce more plutonium per unit of power than a light water reactor because there are more neutrons available during reactor operations to be absorbed by uranium-238 to produce plutonium-239, a fissile material. The research task is to develop reactor core designs that either use light water or use heavy water with enriched uranium. The light water reactor would have to use enriched uranium in order to operate. A heavy water reactor could also make use of enriched uranium in order to reduce the available neutrons. Another consideration for nuclear engineers who are researching how to reduce the proliferation potential of this reactor is to determine how to lower the power rating, while still providing enough power for Iran to carry out necessary isotope production services and scientific research with the reactor. The 40 MW thermal power rating implies that if operated at near full power for a year, this reactor can make one to two bombs’ worth of plutonium annually. Another research problem is to design the reactor so that it is very difficult to use in an operational mode to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Safeguards and monitoring are essential mechanisms to forestall such production but might not be adequate. Here again, research into proliferation-resistant reactor designs would shed light on this problem.

Regarding isotope production, further research and development would be useful to figure out if non-reactor alternative technologies such as particle accelerators can produce the needed isotopes at a reasonable cost. Derek Updegraff and Pierce Corden of the American Association of the Advanced of Science have been investigating alternative production methods. Science progresses faster when additional researchers investigate similar issues. Thus, this research task could bear considerable fruit if teams can develop cost effective non-reactor means to produce medical and other industrial isotopes in bulk (or whatever quantity is required). If such development is successful, Iran and other countries could retire isotope production reactors that could pose latent proliferation concerns.

Finally, I will underscore perhaps the biggest research challenge: how to ensure that the Iranian nuclear program is adequately safeguarded and monitored. One of the next important steps for Iran is to apply a more rigorous safeguards system called the Additional Protocol and for a period of time, perhaps from five to ten years, apply inspection measures that go beyond the requirements of the Additional Protocol in order to instill confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Dozens of states have ratified the Additional Protocol, which requires the IAEA to assess whether there are any undeclared nuclear material and facilities in the country being inspected. The Additional Protocol was formed in response to the finding in 1991 in Iraq that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear technicians were getting close to producing fissile material for nuclear weapons, despite the fact that Iraq was subject to regular IAEA inspections of its declared nuclear material and facilities. The undeclared facilities were often physically near declared facilities. There are concerns that given the large land area of Iran, clandestine nuclear facilities might go unnoticed by the IAEA or other means of detection and thus pose a significant risk for proliferation. The research task is to find out if there are effective means to find such clandestine facilities and to provide enough warning before Iran would be able to make enough fissile material and form it into bombs.

A key consideration of any part of this research agenda is how to cooperate with Iranian counterparts. For this plan to be acceptable and achievable, Iranian engineers, scientists, and leaders must own these concepts and believe that the plan supports their objectives to have a legitimate nuclear program that can generate electricity, produce isotopes for medical and industrial purposes, and provide other peaceful benefits including scientific research. Thus, we will need to leverage earlier and ongoing outreach to Iran by organizations such as the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advance of Science, and the Richard M. Lounsbery Foundation. Future workshops with Iranian counterparts are essential and companion studies by these counterparts would further advance the cause of legitimizing the Iranian nuclear program.

Several scientists and other technically trained experts in the United States have already been assessing aspects of this agenda as I indicated above with the mention of Updegraff and Corden’s research. Also, without meaning to slight anyone I may not know of or forget to mention, I would call out David Albright and his team at the Institute for Science and International Security, Richard Garwin of IBM, Frank von Hippel and colleagues at Princeton University, and Scott Kemp of MIT. This group is doing insightful work, but I believe that getting more engineers and scientists involved would bring more diverse ideas and more technical expertise to bear on this challenge to international security.

Engineers and scientists have a fundamental role to play in explaining the technical options to policy makers. For FAS, in particular, such work will help revitalize the organization as a true federation of scientists and engineers dedicated to devoting their talents to a more secure and safer world. FAS invites you to contact us if you have skills and knowledge you want to contribute to this proposal to help ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful.

Charles D. Ferguson, Ph.D.

President, Federation of American Scientists

A Citizen Approach to Nonproliferation

Have you ever watched a football match where thousands of attendees witness an event that the officials missed? Sometimes there is wisdom in the crowd, especially a crowd who understand the rules of the game. Officials, no matter how dedicated and hardworking they may be, cannot be everywhere or look everywhere at every moment. Indeed, sometimes just one set of eyes can call attention to what should have been obvious or would have been missed.

Consider the individual with administrative responsibilities working for an import/export company who has been told that the company works on the acquisition of farming equipment. Invoices and shipment information cross their desk for large diameter carbon fiber tubes or those made from maraging steel or high-speed electronics, potential items for a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility or nuclear weapons detonation fire sets. Maybe they are laborers in the company’s receiving facility and are responsible for uncrating and repackaging these purchases. They are witnesses to illegal activities and, if they remain uninformed, these individuals would simply go about their everyday tasks.

Shouldn’t we consider a way to reach the citizens of the world to make the world a safer place?  Shouldn’t we explore how the power of the web and crowdsourcing might have a profound impact in the area of nonproliferation? Part of the power of the web is how inexpensive it is to explore concepts and allow users to vote with their participation and support.

This article describes the concept of Citizen Sensor 1, which aims at leveraging citizens around the world to further strengthen the nonproliferation and international safeguard regime. Start by imagining a world with new and inexpensive methods of vigilance against the spread of nuclear weapons by producing as many knowledgeable citizens as possible – using the observations of crowds and attentive individuals through the power of the web.

The detection of undeclared nuclear facilities and nuclear weapons programs is unequivocally the greatest challenge facing the International Atomic Energy Agency. The common theme for all nuclear nonproliferation challenges is the exposure of people to information, but they are often unaware of the actual application or nature of their work or of the items and activities they see. Or, even if they are aware, they are not sure where to turn to or how to safely inform others. By using the web as both an education tool and a reporting platform, Citizen Sensor aims to alert them to this type of threat, instruct them on how they can help with early detection through education and vigilance and share their knowledge to try to deter those who seek to create a nuclear weapon or other weapons of mass destruction. From the proposed website: “The problem of nuclear proliferation is much like a puzzle – one piece of the puzzle may not show you much, but a collection of pieces will. By combining even seemingly innocuous pieces of information we can help deter nuclear threats and provide nuclear security for the world at large.”

Elements of the Internet-based Citizen Sensor Culture

A variety of potential elements could influence the creation of the Citizen Sensor. These include:

  • Proliferation indicator training – What are the most important signs that might indicate proliferation is happening and how do you watch for them? Citizen Sensor would educate the web-based community as a formidable mechanism for early detection of the construction of clandestine nuclear facilities and discovery of weaponization activities. The website would allow education through words and pictures.
  • “Neighborhood Watch” as a sharing platform – Post your evidence/suspicions anonymously or signed for discussion and analysis by the crowd.
  • “Amber” or “911” type alert for urgent real-time events – If nuclear or radiological material or sensitive information goes missing, mobilize people to help law enforcement find them.
  • “Suggestion” box – What are your ideas on how to improve a Citizen Sensor website?
  • Testimonials – What supporting activities can be shared with the general public in order to encourage this work?


The concept of Citizen Sensor reaches beyond its website; it would leverage information and capabilities on other websites (such as the IAEA, Google Earth, and Wikipedia) and it will develop an international culture of informed training, watchfulness, and reflection regarding proliferation, coupled with statistical and social science analysis of the information exchanges and discussions that transpire.

Citizen Sensor would include tools for education, information discovery, and anonymous reporting, and could serve as a test bed for other researchers to experiment with specific data processing and social science techniques. These include incentives for the public to participate and methods to screen for incorrect information.

Training modules on all elements of the nuclear fuel cycle, single/dual use items, and aspects of weaponization would be developed, along with search tools to allow users to discover any linkages/matches from their “found” information to be translated into written and/or visual knowledge.

citizen sensor 2

A successful Citizen Sensor website would catalyze a watchful and credible culture of citizen sensors – a worldwide community that produces potential actionable threats and concerns that those with authority and power would consider and act upon. It could be a significant deterrent to proliferators, as it targets the very human resources they count on.

As smart phones continue to grow in computational and sensor capability, new applications continue to arise.  GammaPix™ works with the camera of iPhones 2  and Android-based 3 smart phones to detect radioactivity. The app allows you to measure radioactivity levels wherever you are and determine if your local environment is safe. The app can be used for the detection of radioactivity in everyday life such as exposure on airplanes, from medical patients, or from contaminated products. GammaPix™ can also be used to detect hazards resulting from unusual events like nuclear accidents (such as Fukushima), a terrorist attack by a dirty bomb, or quietly placed and potentially dangerous radioactive sources. As this technology becomes more widespread, a way to gather, process, and post the information is needed. Educating the public on its limitations is just as important as its capabilities, and Citizen Sensor website could potentially accomplish both aspects.

If Citizen Sensor had already been operational, perhaps it could have helped during the 2013 theft in Mexico of a cobalt-60 radioactive source. The thieves apparently had not been aware of what they had stolen, but what if they had been interested in making a radiological dispersal device? Just as an Amber Alert aims to help officials find a missing child or a 911 call is used for emergencies in the United States, perhaps a Citizen Sensor alert could help find missing radioactive materials.

Through the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, the world is building a surveillance network to detect nuclear tests. According to an article in the Washington Post, “the nearly-completed International Monitoring System is proving adept at tasks its inventors never imagined. The system’s scores of listening stations continuously eavesdrop on Earth itself, offering clues about man-made and natural disasters as well as a window into some of nature’s most mysterious processes.” 4 What might thousands of people, educated observers, and radioactivity-detecting smart phones find?


Citizen Sensor must be as open as possible, without any government affiliation, by hosting through a non-governmental organization. It must be unencumbered by government policy and/or regulations.  It must be responsive to current events and actively maintain updated information. Knowledgeable developers of websites and training modules for nuclear fuel cycle facilities, proliferation indicators, and sustained funding are all key factors for any chance of success.

The effort must be international and multi-lingual with capabilities that evolve over time as experience and suggestions drive its future. Contributions can be either public posts or private messages and can be either anonymous or signed. It is certain there will be false positives, and issues and concerns that do not point to proliferation activity. Both the culture and software must be structured to minimize false positives and protect it and contributors from the ramifications of false positives. It will also act as a nexus for discovery tools at other websites offering maps, images, knowledge, and analysis tools.

The challenge that is faced is the support (financial and skills) to make this concept a reality. This includes recruiting scientific talent to populate educational modules, website creation and operators and methods to promote the Citizen Sensor and its potential to educate citizens about the nature of nuclear materials and proliferation.

Editor’s Note

If interested, please send feedback and ideas to [email protected]

Mark Schanfein joined Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in September 2008, as their Senior Nonproliferation Advisor, after a 20-year career at Los Alamos National Laboratory where, in his last role, he served as Program Manager for Nonproliferation and Security Technology. He served as a technical expert on the ground in the DPRK during the disablement activities resulting from the 6-Party Talks. Mark has eight years of experience working at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, in the Department of Safeguards where he served four years as a safeguards inspector and as Inspection Group Leader in Operations C, and four years as the Unit Head for Unattended Monitoring Systems (UMS) in Technical Support. In this position he was responsible for the installation of all IAEA unattended systems in nuclear fuel cycle facilities worldwide. 

With over 30 years of experience in international and domestic safeguards, his current focus is on conducting R&D to develop the foundation for effective international safeguards on pyroprocessing facilities and solutions to other novel safeguards challenges.

Steven Piet has worked 31 years at Idaho National Laboratory. He earned the Bachelors, Masters, and Doctor of Science degrees in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  He has 57 peer-reviewed journal articles and is author or co-author of 3 book chapters – in the fields of nuclear fuel cycles, fusion safety and technology, environmental science and decision making, and stakeholder assessment and decision making. For the nuclear fuel cycle program, he framed questions, searched for broadly acceptable and flexible solutions, promoted consensus on criteria, evaluated trade-offs, and identified R&D needs and possibilities to improve concepts; and was responsible for development of the world-leading multi-institution fuel cycle system dynamic model VISION.   For the Generation IV advanced nuclear power program, his lab-university team diagnosed public/stakeholder issues and heuristics.

He has also been a Toastmaster for almost 9 years and has attained the educational achievement level of “Distinguished Toastmaster,” which less than 1% of Toastmasters achieve. As Club President, his club achieved President’s Distinguished Status. He was recognized as Area Governor of the year (2011-2012) and Division Governor of the year (2012-2013) and now serves as District Lt Governor of Marketing.