Nonproliferation & Counterproliferation

A Founding and Enduring Mission for FAS

The more that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) spread to other countries, the more likely countries will use these weapons in armed conflict or potentially lose control of them. FAS seeks to prevent the further spread of such weapons to other countries or non-state actors (see the issue area on nuclear and radiological terrorism for ways to deal with the latter threat). Many of FAS’s founding members in 1946 worked to educate the U.S. Congress about the need for appropriate controls on nuclear technologies in order to stop (at best) or limit (more practically) the proliferation of these technologies to other countries. FAS at that time called for (and won) civilian control of the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and argued for international control of technologies needed for making nuclear weapons (this was not achieved). (To separate the advocacy and regulatory aspects of nuclear power, the AEC was later split in the 1970s into two U.S. government agencies: the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)

Since 1946, FAS experts have researched methods to improve controls on technologies that can be used to make nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and have educated policymakers, the public, and the press about these methods. In general, there are two approaches to stopping or limiting the spread of WMD: nonproliferation and counter-proliferation.

Nonproliferation Methods

Nonproliferation typically involves the creation and enactment of treaties, international conventions, domestic laws, regulations, and even non-binding codes of conduct. An exemplar of this approach is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970. The NPT is one of the most universally adhered to treaties with all but four countries as members. Five of the members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are defined in the NPT as nuclear weapon states while the other almost 190 member countries are defined as non-nuclear weapon states. The former states have agreed in article VI of the treaty to pursue nuclear disarmament and a treaty on general and complete disarmament while the latter have agreed in articles II and III to not acquire nuclear explosives and to maintain proper safeguards on their peaceful nuclear programs. Article IV contains the grand bargain that the nuclear capable states will aid other states in acquiring peaceful nuclear technologies. While article IV does not explicitly mention acquisition uranium enrichment and reprocessing of plutonium, many states have often interpreted this article has providing such access. The concern is that enrichment and reprocessing can be applied to make highly enriched uranium and plutonium, the essential fissile material necessary to manufacture nuclear weapons.

FAS Project on Nonproliferation Law and Policy

FAS has recently started a new project on Nonproliferation Law and Policy, which is directed by Christopher Bidwell, an FAS senior fellow, an attorney, and a retired naval officer. This program recognizes that making WMD nonproliferation work to achieve desired ends requires a mix of technological solutions and policy choices embedded within a legal infrastructure that combines and complements both elements. Neither of these two elements can be developed in a vacuum. Both elements in fact play off each other. To help make these elements work together, FAS offers a platform where the nonproliferation science and technology communities can interact with the law and policy communities to think through nonproliferation challenges. Areas of current focus include: attribution, export controls, use of sanctions and economic leverage, infrastructure protection and verification/monitoring in support of WMD nonproliferation goals.

FAS’s Assessments of Dual-Use Nuclear Fuel Cycles and Proliferation

As mentioned, FAS since its founding has worked on understanding how to better prevent or limit the misuse of peaceful nuclear energy into weapons programs. Charles Ferguson, FAS president, has been leading FAS’s efforts in this critical area since 2010. In particular, FAS has been focusing its work on Iran and East Asia. Dr. Ferguson and Ali Vaez have written extensively on more effective safeguards and monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program. Other FAS researchers such as Chris Bidwell and Mark Jansson have recently researched and written on the Iranian nuclear issue. From 2011 to 2013, Dr. Ferguson co-chaired with L. Gordon Flake, then-executive director of the Mansfield Foundation, the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group. Dr. Ferguson has also co-led a trilateral initiative involving Japanese, South Korean, and American nuclear energy and nonproliferation experts. FAS will continue to analyze and educate on nuclear energy developments around the globe that could affect further proliferation.

Counter-proliferation Methods

While nonproliferation methods have been remarkably successful in that only a few states have developed nuclear weapons since enactment of the NPT, these methods are not sufficient. Counter-proliferation methods are designed to interdict the transfer of WMD or the materials and knowhow to make WMD, shoot down missiles armed with WMD, and even to employ military force to prevent use of WMD.

FAS Analysis on Missile Defense

For instance, FAS experts have investigated the benefits and risks of missile defense in countering threats of missiles armed with WMD. Presently, Charles Ferguson and Bruce MacDonald, an adjunct senior fellow, are examining the strategic implications of a possible Chinese development and deployment of missile defense. In recent years, FAS has sponsored analytic work on the potential effects of U.S. missile defense deployment on U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control and arms reductions. Since the 1960s, FAS leaders such as Hans Bethe, Richard Garwin, and Herbert York have testified to Congress and written extensively about missile defense to further the public debate. FAS will continue to analyze and track missile defense developments especially its technological effectiveness in shooting down missiles and its effects on arms control and international security.