Why Do States Give Up Nuclear Arsenals?

Proliferation as Economic Bargaining

Titan II ICBM at the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona.
Why Do States Give Up Nuclear Arsenals? : Proliferation as Economic Bargaining - Kevin Kiernan


Nuclear proliferation is often seen as a one-way street. The standard realist logic concerning proliferation is that states seek nuclear weapons to counter threats to their security, based on an often-narrow calculation of costs and benefits. Reality is much more complicated. When states do disarm, they base their nuclear decisions on their own highly subjective needs. The following paper attempts to capture this interaction by expanding traditional cost-benefit analysis into a framework that incorporates subjective as well as objective variables. This framework attempts to assess the viability of competing policy options facing promoters of disarmament.


In the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy worried that within twenty years, the world would include twenty to thirty nuclear-weapons states. This prediction was not seen as unduly alarmist, as standard realist theory portrayed the decision to arm oneself as the inevitable reaction to a rival’s acquisition of weapons; “proliferation begets more proliferation.”[1] Kennedy’s fear was ultimately not realized: instead of thirty weapons states, the five-country list of the 1960s has grown to just nine. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) deserves significant credit for this development, as over fifteen countries have halted nuclear weapons programs under its framework.

However, recent events have brought renewed challenges for the NPT regime. North Korea’s nuclear test raises the possibility of NPT member states using the know-how acquired under the guise of a “peaceful” civilian reactor program to accelerate their development of nuclear weapons. North Korea has proven particularly adept at manipulating the international system to extract economic and military concessions. Meanwhile, Iran has entered into a standoff with Western powers over its professed right to enrich uranium. Iran’s Persian Gulf neighbors have taken note of these developments, leading several to declare their eventual intention to develop weapons of their own should Iran do so.

The nonproliferation regime is valuable: nuclear weapons are expensive to develop and deploy, and their ability to uniformly provide deterrence and stability is weak.[2] Fortunately, the past fifty years provide numerous examples of states voluntarily abstaining from pursuing nuclear programs, canceling active programs, and even dismantling existing stockpiles. It is time to revisit these historical examples to determine why they occurred and whether they contain lessons for future policy.

Theoretical Framework

This paper attempts to discriminate between two largely complementary hypotheses regarding nuclear armament: the structural-realist argument and the bargaining approach. The former argues that states make nuclear decisions after assessing the concrete security costs and benefits. Peter Liberman documents the inadequacies of this framework in the case of South Africa, while noting that it is nonetheless the consensus view.[3] The second hypothesis, the bargaining approach, is based on a model that casts the behavior of states in a bargaining context. This model incorporates but goes beyond the first hypothesis, adding structure and logical precision to the cost/benefit calculation by decomposing it into separate variables of “price” and “willingness to pay.” The price variable is a function of several factors, including the security and political costs inherent in retaining nuclear weapons, international pressure to renounce those weapons, and structural factors such as the nature of international regimes.[4]“Willingness to pay” is a function of the concrete benefits nations derive from nuclear ownership, as well as other subjective benefits. Examples of subjective benefits include national prestige, benefits to domestic political leaders or interest groups, and the future ability to exchange nuclear weapons for international concessions. The degree to which a state prizes self-sufficiency and freedom of action—a derivative of the nature of the regime—is presumed to greatly impact willingness to pay. States that value independence highly are arguably less likely to seek security through alliance systems or treaties.

Within this framework, I will examine the behavior of several states that have voluntarily disarmed or ceased activity on advanced weapons programs. Examples of the former are South Africa, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan; examples of the latter are Brazil and Argentina.

South Africa

South Africa’s embrace and abrupt abandonment of nuclear weapons represents one of the most idiosyncratic but potentially relevant examples of nuclear disarmament. After covertly developing a nuclear program over two decades, South Africa secretly destroyed its weapons in 1991. It then waited until 1993 to reveal both the existence and destruction of the program. The South African regime was in many ways unique: under Afrikaner leadership, the country was an international pariah that was nonetheless regarded as an extension of the West. The practice of apartheid was responsible for South Africa’s pariah status, and led the West to distance itself from and impose sanctions on the Pretoria regime. Moreover, the country faced few security threats aside from the African National Congress (ANC), but fielded a large and modern military that it used to intervene opportunistically in regional conflicts. Despite its strong military position, the Afrikaner leadership decided to arm itself with nuclear weapons, only to divest itself of them in the early 1990s.

Any discussion of the South African nuclear program must start by examining the threat environment it faced at the time of its decision to pursue a nuclear strategy. Certainly the mid-1970s was a tumultuous time in sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa occupied Namibia and was waging a war in Angola against Soviet- and Cuban-aided forces. The situation was complicated by the fact that the Soviet Union was a leading sponsor of the socialist ANC, which militantly opposed white rule in South Africa.[5] As will be shown, however, the regime’s subsequent nuclear decisions bore little obvious correlation to these conditions.

The South African government began constructing nuclear devices in the late 1960s, long before the Soviet Union started to undermine South Africa’s interests in the region.[6] During this period, the Pretoria government under Prime Minister John Vorster created the Atomic Energy Board (AEB) to research peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) to be used in the construction of harbors and underground oil-storage facilities. The military was not consulted or informed of this development, and the plan’s existence remained a closely held secret, indicating that the military did not pressure the civilian government to start a weapons program.[7] Explicitly weaponized research in Israel and India likewise began at the behest of the political leadership. The AEB never investigated the cost-effectiveness of PNEs, and finalized the design of its “Y-plant,” a uranium-enrichment facility capable of producing highly enriched uranium, in the late 1960s.[8] These factors clearly suggest that South Africa’s activities masked weapons research from the start, despite high expenses and the lack of prevailing security threats.

South African military leaders initially expressed skepticism about the bomb’s usefulness, noting that to use one against Soviet or Cuban troops in Angola would invite annihilation.[9]This assessment strongly questions the utility of the South African weapon. Even the bomb’s original design was incompatible with South Africa’s military aircraft. Nor did the South African political leadership have any real idea of how to use the bomb as a diplomatic tool: the “strategy” of the Vorster and later governments was to reveal the bomb’s existence to either the Americans or British in the event of a crisis, compelling those powers to intervene against the Soviets.[10] Discussions among South African leaders reveal that this strategy was probably intended as a bluff, and they would have capitulated rather than use the bomb.[11] However, if the South African leadership knew it could not use the weapons given the strategic situation, how could it have expected to convince foreign governments otherwise?

If the South African bomb could not be justified as a deterrent or a weapon, why was it built? Organizational politics within South Africa, along with the country’s preexisting status as an international pariah, combined to reduce the regime’s sensitivity to the costs of building a bomb. Decision-making within the Vorster government was highly informal, conducted by Vorster and an elite cadre of advisors, many of whom were scientific experts pursuing their own interests. Liberman (2001) argues that these advisors promoted the PNE program to keep nuclear scientists employed, not in response to strategic incentives.[12]

Even as the influence of experts facilitated the bomb’s development, international events also played a key role. The U.S. stopped selling highly enriched uranium to South Africa in 1978 to protest apartheid, not proliferation.[13] Sanctions by the United States and other major western powers convinced the Pretoria regime of the benefits of self-reliance.[14] This belief spurred investment in a variety of expensive or inefficient projects, including a proprietary method of refining uranium and the Fischer-Tropsch process for refining coal into liquid fuels. Both were extremely energy-intensive and wasteful processes, but they served as a hedge against the regime’s isolation. So too did the bomb, apparently. Vorster’s successor, P.W. Botha, appears to have concluded that the regime would stay isolated as long as apartheid remained the law. He therefore pressed ahead with the weaponization of South Africa’s nuclear program simply because the marginal costs of doing so were small, making the price appear acceptable. Neither he nor his successors seemed to have been able to articulate the benefits of the program, beyond some ill-defined notion that the weapon was a bargaining chip or status symbol. When asked why South Africa developed a weapon with such limited military utility, F.W. de Klerk replied, “To maintain its self-respect.”[15] Such a statement underscores the highly subjective nature of the South African leadership’s cost/benefit calculations, a feature included only in the bargaining-approach hypothesis.

South Africa’s decision to destroy its nuclear stockpile seems to have resulted from the reversal of the strategic and subjective factors that had initially helped to create that stockpile. The Pretoria regime concluded a peace agreement to the Angolan war in 1989 that guaranteed that Cuban forces would withdraw from Africa and the Soviet Union would cease funding the regime’s opponents, notably the ANC.[16] Such an end to a large, albeit peripheral, security threat to the regime was a helpful but not sufficient condition to disarmament. More significant was F.W. de Klerk’s ascension to the presidency of South Africa upon the sudden death of his predecessor in 1989. De Klerk quickly ordered the unilateral demolition of South Africa’s nuclear stockpiles upon taking office. That decision seems inconsistent with the raw security analysis of the first hypothesis. Why would a country unilaterally give up a massive strategic advantage over its neighbors? The answer is two-fold: the perceived price of maintaining the nuclear program was proving unsustainable, and de Klerk was more sensitive to international pressure than his predecessors had been, pointing to a fundamental shift in the regime’s nature.

Since the program was disclosed, many South African leaders have revealed that they viewed it as a waste of resources. The South African Defence Force (SADF) in particular seems to have felt all along that the nuclear budget was costing it access to new aircraft, which were more suitable to its actual defense needs. Further, the costs of the bomb and associated projects precluded many of de Klerk’s desired economic initiatives. However, these developments do not tell the whole story; the bomb project had been draining SADF resources for years, even in the midst of a costly campaign against Russian aircraft. The Pretoria regime had long been willing to pay the costs, both international and domestic, of developing bombs that had little military use.

Another variable, the de Klerk government’s plans to end apartheid and normalize, better explains South Africa’s disarmament. The possibility that South Africa could become a “normal” country in the eyes of the world profoundly changed the calculus of nuclear weapons. The difference was not merely semantic: South Africa stood to gain enormously from economic liberalization and engagement with the rest of the world. In the early days of the de Klerk government, South Africa began removing all likely barriers to the coming normalization: lowering tariffs and other trade restrictions, recognizing the ANC, and freeing Nelson Mandela. Through the prism of normalization, the nuclear program looked more like an embarrassing vestige of an authoritarian past than a symbol of strength. Moreover, the de Klerk regime believed there were now benefits of NPT membership: it would pave the way for technical cooperation with the West and lend credibility to the country’s liberalization measures.[17] Those considerations radically reduced the regime’s willingness to pay for nuclear weapons. When international factors effectively increased that price, the de Klerk regime moved toward disarmament.

South Africa provides a critical case study for the two aforementioned hypotheses. The first hypothesis, that nuclear decisions are based on a cost/benefit evaluation of security needs, can be rejected. The hypothesis weakly predicts disarmament following the cessation of the Angolan war, which clearly reduced the threats facing South Africa. However, South Africa never received enough concrete security benefits to impartially justify the costs of its nuclear programs. The tradeoff between bombers and nuclear weapons was acceptable to political elites because it made them feel more secure, but the weapons never enhanced the country’s physical security or even served as a deterrent. The regime’s behavior more strongly supports the bargaining hypothesis. During the regime’s nationalist period, it sought to maximize its “self-respect” at the cost of physical security, and placed an unusually high emphasis on self-sufficiency. The regime was willing to pay the costs of a nuclear program because those factors significantly inflated the perceived benefits. When the nature of the regime changed and it began to liberalize, it prioritized normalization.

Brazil and Argentina

Though neither Brazil nor Argentina developed nuclear weapons, both conducted weapons research. The two countries’ nuclear programs were linked by a mutual suspicion that drove their nuclear ambitions. Their relations exhibited the “spiral” behavior of the classic security dilemma, even without a preexisting security incentive to engage in an arms race. Argentina would not have profited from such a contest against larger, richer Brazil. Brazil would not have profited from an escalation of the potential for violence because it already enjoyed military superiority. Though both nations had benign reasons for developing the capability to enrich uranium, foreign observers and the military organizations of both countries often interpreted the presence of these research programs as evidence of weapons programs; uncertainty led to reciprocal weapons research.

Argentina’s nuclear program initially grew from a desire for energy independence. In the 1960s and 1970s, after purchasing and making operational two civilian heavy-water reactors, the government developed plans for two additional reactors, one of which was capable of producing nuclear fuel for the first two plants. Argentina’s fear of dependence on foreign sources for nuclear fuel[18] was confirmed when, in 1974, the United States declared it would no longer supply uranium to Argentina. The same nationalist sentiment prompted the government to build a spent-fuel reprocessing plant to produce plutonium and lay the groundwork for Argentina’s entry into the international fuel-export market. That facility raised serious proliferation concerns, however, as it could recycle enough fuel to build up to two nuclear weapons every year.[19] Argentina also constructed a plant to produce low-enriched uranium, but it was also capable of producing highly enriched uranium for weapons.

Brazil mirrored Argentina’s nuclear efforts, rapidly developing its nuclear capability from a nascent program in the late 1960s to a massive investment in nuclear technology in the late 1970s. Key to this effort was Brazil’s 1975 deal with Germany, which promised to provide Brazil with the technology to manage the entire nuclear fuel cycle, assuring a means to match its Argentine rival. The 1973 OPEC oil shock undermined Brazil’s confidence in the reliable importation of sufficient oil,[20] while the U.S. decision to halt exportation of nuclear fuel to Brazil further exacerbated fears of energy dependency. The ability to refine uranium would enable Brazil to build nuclear weapons, pursued in a “parallel program” shortly after the acquisition of the German technology.[21] Though badly managed and never close to achieving a nuclear bomb, the program allowed the Brazilian government to claim the capability to enrich uranium and then construct a nuclear test site deep in the Amazon rainforest, further arousing Argentine suspicions. While Argentina never seems to have begun an actual nuclear weapons program or admitted to one, it steadfastly refused to join the NPT, forego the asserted right to PNEs, or ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which established the South American nuclear-weapons-free zone.

The key factor in the two countries’ decisions to abandon their nuclear-weapons programs was their eventual political rapprochement. As in the South African case, leadership played a key role. In the mid-1980s, both countries elected civilian leaders for whom reconciliation was a priority. At the first meeting of Argentine president-elect Neves and Brazilian president Alfonsin in 1983, the two agreed that nuclear cooperation would be given special priority, even arranging for inspections of their facilities by the other country.[22] These visits enabled the governments to see that both nuclear programs were in shambles. Power reactors in both countries suffered from chronic maintenance issues, seriously undermining their reliability. The situation was so bad that the Brazilian military’s uranium-enrichment facilities could not enrich uranium. Of the Pilcaniyeu plant, a particularly blunt American official concluded in 1994, “It’s a piece of crap now, and back in 1983 it was probably an even bigger piece of crap. It will probably never produce weapons-grade material.”[23] Argentina’s programs were faring no better. Bolstered by this new knowledge, the governments’ pursuit of militarized nuclear technology was replaced by genuine cooperation. Mutual economic engagement further spurred the improvement of relations. In 1990, both countries announced they would implement full-scope IAEA safeguards, followed by the signing the Treaty of Tlatelolco and subsequent accession to the NPT.

The only obvious foreign influence was America’s suspension of nuclear-fuel shipments, which had the unintended effect of solidifying nationalist positions that encouraged self-sufficiency and pursuit of a full nuclear-fuel cycle complete with the potential for nuclear arms. Yet both Brazil and Argentina seem to have pursued weapons capability for reasons of rivalry and prestige as much as security considerations. This is indicated by their bizarrely inflammatory behavior, trumpeting their enrichment capabilities and building test sites for nonexistent weapons.[24] Such behavior is incongruous with maximizing the value of building a bomb, or minimizing international backlash.

In this case, discriminating between the two hypotheses is difficult, as both are largely supported. The first hypothesis aligns well with the two countries’ security dilemmas, and with the probability of disarmament when better communication allowed for the removal of distrust. Likewise, the second hypothesis is supported by the fact that détente was preceded by liberalizing regimes, and that many of the “benefits” derived by both parties came from theappearance of weapons development, not actual progress.

The calculations of the first hypothesis are sufficient in this case, but the second hypothesis does offer some additional explanation. While traditional cost/benefit analysis and mutual suspicion fully explain Brazil and Argentina’s entry into an arms race, the rapprochement due to newly conciliatory governments indicates that variables from the second hypothesis may help in explaining the timing of, if not the reasons for, the eventual disarmament.

The Former Soviet Union: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus

The fall of the Soviet Union was a nightmare from a proliferation standpoint. Instead of one strong, responsible power with nuclear weapons, the world was forced to deal with the four weak, potentially irresponsible powers that inherited the Soviet arsenal (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus). The worst fear—that the weapons would fall into the hands of nonstate actors—was averted due to strong international cooperation.[25] However, why did the three “born nuclear” powers of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus give up nuclear weapons that they paid nothing to get?

A clearer picture emerges as one looks more closely at the countries’ respective situations. Specifically, retaining nuclear stockpiles for the sake of deterrence would not have been cost-effective for any of the born-nuclear nations. Rather, they would have incurred massive economic, military, and political costs, which were unusually high because the weapons had not been developed in any of those countries. To retain Soviet nuclear weapons in any meaningful way would have been very difficult, given those nations’ lack of nuclear knowledge. It would have been a daunting, time-consuming challenge to overcome the permissive action links (PALs) that the Soviet military had placed on the weapons, or to put the weapons under a viable command-and-control system. Finally, all three states lacked the ability to maintain and service such weapons and their delivery platforms. Even Ukraine’s advantage of inheriting the manufacturing plant for the SS-19 missile was a far cry from mitigating the high security and political costs of keeping the weapons.[26]

Each of the CIS states derived clear benefits from the West and Russia in the wake of the USSR’s dissolution, which can be used to quantify the opportunity costs they would have incurred had they rejected disarmament. The post-Soviet states entered into a collective-security arrangement with Russia even as they severed political ties, in order to balance the reality of their strategic weakness with their new sovereignty. This system has been especially valuable to Kazakhstan, given its fears of a potentially aggressive China. Ukraine, paradoxically, was able to leverage its disarmament to distance itself from Russia: it successfully forged economic and political ties with the West, leading to talk of Ukrainian accession to the EU and NATO.

The economic rewards of disarmament are particularly striking: in 1993 alone, economic subsidies to Ukraine totaled $5 billion.[27] As Mitchell Reiss notes, “For weapons that Ukraine did not control and had not built, it received (twice) American, Russian, and British security assurances, one hundred tons of nuclear fuel, forgiveness of its multibillion-dollar oil and gas debt to Russia, and a commitment of $900 million in U.S. financial assistance.”[28] The other born-nuclear states were not as successful as Ukraine in extracting compensation for dismantling their nuclear arsenals. Belarus was eager to dismantle simply to convince Russia to withdraw military personnel from its borders.[29][0] Kazakhstan, too, was less successful because the Russian military had been secretly “rotating” the warheads on its SS-18 missiles out of Kazakhstan, leaving the Kazakhs with mainly tactical nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, President Nazarbayev managed to obtain $84 million in dismantlement assistance, $200 million in economic investment over the period 1993-1996, and the promise of a tripling of U.S. foreign aid in exchange for ratifying the NPT.[31] Moreover, these opportunity costs represent a low estimate of the true amount of security, wealth, and prestige the born-nuclear states would have foregone failing disarmament: foreign aid and investment, not captured in the above analysis, would have been considerably lower.

In addition to facing high costs and scant benefits, several other factors were responsible for the extreme reluctance of the born-nuclear CIS republics to pay the costs of a nuclear deterrent. First, the three countries’ populations shared extreme suspicion of anything nuclear. The Chernobyl nuclear plant located in northwestern Ukraine was infamous for causing the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster, which necessitated mass evacuations, caused tens of thousands of cancer deaths, and raised thyroid-cancer rates in affected areas by 1,000 percent.[32] The Chernobyl fallout contaminated only small portions of Ukraine and Russia, but 20 percent of Belarus.[33] The heavy-handed, clumsy, and unilaterally Russian cleanup exacerbated distrust of both Russia and nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan is also not exempt from this “nuclear allergy.” Between 1949 and 1991, the Soviet Union conducted nuclear tests in Kazakhstan, exploding an estimated 500 bombs in the country, 200 of which were aboveground tests. The Kazakh government estimates that hundreds of thousands of its citizens suffer from lingering radiation sickness. President Nazarbayev summed up the national feeling, declaring, “the Kazakh people have gone through hundreds of tragedies similar to that in Hiroshima.”[34] Having lived through the horrors of radiation sickness, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan were simply not interested in nuclear weapons.

Economics, geography, and the Soviet legacy undoubtedly increased the sensitivity of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus to Western pressure. Each of these nations had been under the Soviet security umbrella, but in 1991 they became independent states with no such guarantees. The old system had failed to provide either prosperity or security, and the benefits of becoming “normal” countries were obvious. Accession to the NPT was seen as a way to demonstrate their commitment to this goal. Furthermore, each felt profound strategic and economic insecurity, making it easy for Russia and the West to manipulate the strategic incentives the CIS countries faced. Ukraine and Kazakhstan were strategically the most vulnerable, respectively fearing Russian and Chinese influence, while Belarus was comparably secure and welcomed Russian involvement.[35] Ukraine particularly resented Russian encroachments on its sovereignty, such as meddling in Ukrainian politics and exploiting Ukraine’s gas dependency. Belarus and Ukraine were economically dependent on Russia, relying on Russian markets and energy, while Kazakhstan possessed ample oil and gas reserves.[36] In each case, the extreme sensitivity to foreign interests caused by strategic and economic vulnerability aided their decisions to disarm.

The case of the born-nuclear powers provides abundant explanatory data. The concrete factors accounted for by the first hypothesis provide a convincing argument for disarmament. The costs of continued armament—including strategic vulnerability, economic privation, and diplomatic isolation—were oppressively high. Retaining nuclear weapons would have invited attack, sanctions, pariah status or abandonment by their allies; giving them up meant security and economic investment. However, the subjective factors incorporated by the second hypothesis cannot be discounted. The nuclear allergy and desire to normalize following decades of Soviet rule were particularly powerful forces against nuclear weapons. Additionally, the effects of nationalism ran counter to expectations in the post-Soviet case. Largely as a means of escaping their former hegemon, popular sentiment encouraged engagement with foreign powers, especially Western ones. Although the first hypothesis cannot be rejected, as the measurable costs of retaining nuclear weapons were overwhelmingly larger than the benefits, the second hypothesis accounts for features of the young states’ behavior that the first does not. From a theoretical perspective, it is problematic that all of the variables present in the bargaining model reinforce the predictions of the traditional model. Ukrainian debates over disarmament, however, illustrate the subjective nature of costs and benefits. In Ukraine’s transparent public debate, nationalist factions consistently voiced their opposition to disarmament. This is a compelling experiment: the variables of the first hypothesis were held fixed, yet significant variation in opinion remained. Had the nationalist factions been stronger, their increased willingness to pay might have yielded a different outcome. The only significant differences between the factions were their attitudes towards the West, sentiment towards nuclear power in general, and the level of nationalism—all variables belonging to the bargaining model. The post-Soviet case therefore provides significant evidence in favor of the second hypothesis.


The examples cited in this paper confirm the explanatory power of the economic-bargaining model over the traditional model in predicting disarmament behavior. As shown by the cases of South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina, a nationalist regime that emphasizes self-sufficiency will prove less susceptible to measures that raise the “price” of nuclear weapons. In the post-Soviet case, both models predicted disarmament, but only the bargaining framework can explain the political process that resulted in disarmament.

Several clear policy recommendations naturally flow from the economic-bargaining framework. Policies intended to prevent determined states from acquiring nuclear weapons must undermine those states’ willingness to pay rather than raising the price—in this case, the price and the willingness to pay are likely to be positively correlated. Measures such as changing the nature of a regime, increasing its ability to constructively engage a rival, or changing national attitudes towards nuclear weapons can effectively accomplish this goal. Measures designed to raise the price variable may prove counterproductive, as they remove options from policy debates. In cases where nationalism is not extreme or is nullified by other factors, as in the born-nuclear republics, international pressure may suffice to prevent proliferation.

The obvious application is Iran, where the Ahmadinejad regime reacted to President Bush’s 2002 “Axis of Evil” speech and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq by accelerating efforts to enrich uranium. This falls in line with the economic-bargaining framework, and implies that convincing Iran to halt its nuclear efforts must involve reducing its desperation to pay for security. There are some encouraging signs in this regard. In December 2007, Russia delivered a shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran, hinting that future shipments would not be held hostage to U.S. demands. Second, in November 2007, Russia, Iran, and the ex-Soviet Caspian republics of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan signed an agreement pledging not to allow U.S. forces to attack any of the agreement’s signatories from the others’ territories. While problematic from the standpoint of American power, this agreement may be exactly what is needed to allay Iranian fears of American aggression without giving Iran carte blanche to commit acts of terrorism or hold the international system hostage for concessions on the nuclear issue. Time will tell, but the Caspian countries’ engagement of Iran in a regional collective-security scheme is a very promising development that may result in Iranian cooperation on the nuclear issue.


The author would like to thank Suzanne J.K. Platt for her assistance with editing this paper.

Notes & References

  1. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, quoted in Scott Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models In Search of a Bomb,” International Security, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Winter 1996-1997), pg. 5.
  2. The leading exponent of this idea is Kenneth Waltz, whose The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better (1981) argued that nuclear weapons promote stability by forcing actors to behave responsibly. Significantly, Waltz does not address the role of accidents or nonstate actors in his analysis. See: Kenneth Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better (1981), Adelphi Papers, No. 171.
  3. Peter Liberman, “The Rise and Fall of the South African Bomb,” International Security, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Autumn 2001), pp. 2-4.
  4. In this usage, “international regimes” refers to treaties, institutions, or other structures that seek to incentivize cooperation between states.
  5. Helen Purkitt and Stephen F. Burgess, South Africa’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 2005, pg. 53.
  6. Purkitt and Burgess, pg. 53.
  7. Liberman, pg. 6.
  8. Liberman, pg. 8.
  9. Liberman, pg. 14.
  10. Purkitt and Burgess, pg. 79.
  11. Liberman, pg. 14.
  12. Liberman, pg. 9.
  13. Purkitt and Burgess, pg. 49.
  14. J.E. Spence, “South Africa: The Nuclear Option,” African Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 321 (Oct. 1981), pg 8.
  15. Chris Guillebeau, “Unanswered Questions in South Africa’s Nuclear History,”International Affairs Journal at UC Davis, (May 2007),http://davisiaj.com/content/view/401/81/.
  16. Liberman, pg. 31.
  17. Liberman, pg. 40.
  18. Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain Their Nuclear Capabilities, Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington, DC, 1995, pg. 47.
  19. Reiss, pg. 47.
  20. Norman Gall, “Atoms for Brazil, Dangers for All,” Foreign Policy, No. 23 (Summer 1976), pg. 8.
  21. Federation of American Scientists Fact Sheet, Brazil’s Nuclear Weapons Program,http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/brazil/nuke/index.html.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Reiss, pg. 56.
  24. Leonard Spector, “Repentant Nuclear Proliferators,” Foreign Policy, No. 88 (Autumn 1992), pg. 14.
  25.     AnchorGary Bertsch and William Potter, Dangerous Weapons, Desperate States: Russia, Belarus, Kazakstan, and Ukraine, Routledge Publishing, New York, NY, 1999.
  26. Bertsch and Potter, pg. 199.
  27. Reiss, pg.122.
  28. Reiss, pg.129.
  29. Reiss, pg.130.
  30. Reiss, pg.136.
  31. Smith, R., “Kazakhstan Ratifies Nuclear Control Pact, Will Get U.S. Aid,” Washington Post, Dec. 14, 1994.
  32. BBC News Service, “Chernobyl’s Cancer World Record,”http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1615299.stm.
  33. Reiss, pg.130.
  34. Reiss, pg. 39.
  35. The Russian Federation and Belarus have been engaged in talks since 1996 to form a “Union State.” See GlobalSecurity.org Fact Sheet: Russia-Belarus Union State,http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/belarus/union.htm.
  36. This factor cannot be overstated. Russia was the destination for 70 percent of Belarus’s exports and sold it 90 percent of its energy.
KEVIN KIERNAN received his B.S. in physics from the University of Maryland in 2003. Before enrolling at the Bologna Center in 2006, he worked as a technical specialist for a defense firm in the Washington, DC area. He is currently an M.A. candidate at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, specializing in Strategic Studies.