Lowy Institute

It was shaping up to be a big week for the North Korean nuclear diplomacy.

The Washington Post reported today that sensitive negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang had resulted in an agreement whereby the US would provide substantial amounts of food aid in exchange for the DPRK halting its uranium enrichment program, suspending nuclear and missile testing, readmitting IAEA inspectors and resuming dialogue with South Korea. Both the food aid package and halting of uranium enrichment were to be announced this week. Another US-DPRK meeting this week was then expected to lay the groundwork for a rapid return to the Six-Party Talks.

This multi-stage diplomatic opera is unlikely to proceed as planned, as the DPRK settles into a period of mourning for its Dear Leader. But even if it did, the Six Parties would most likely have been heading for a repeat of the provocation-tension-rapprochement-negotiation cycle that has depressed disarmament and non-proliferation advocates for the past decade whenever the DPRK is mentioned.

Even now that regime succession is under way in the DPRK, the 'strategic patience' that many (including those in the US government) have exercised will not necessarily be rewarded with denuclearisation, especially if Kim Jong-Un (pictured), the youngest son and designated successor to Kim Jong-Il, holds on to the reins of power.

Why? Because nuclear weapons are deeply enmeshed in both DPRK politics and the political legacy of the Kim family. Jonathan Pollack's outstanding Adelphi paper, 'No Exit', is a potent antidote to any sure hopes of denuclearisation following Kim Jong-Un's succession.

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Pollack argues that nuclear weapons have been central to DPRK national security policy since Kim Il-Sung's rein. Kim Il-Sung left Kim Jong-Il the nuclear infrastructure to build them and now Kim Jong-Il has bequeathed a nuclear weapons capability to his son, even if their operational utility is questionable.

Nuclear weapons also offer DPRK leaders a shield against coercion from other major powers, especially the US, and military and psychological advantages over their southern neighbours. And they are an exceptionally effective negotiating tool for extracting economic concessions from the outside world, shielding the DPRK from the political risks and economic pain of deep reform and opening up. At what promises to be a time of significant uncertainty, North Korea will likely lack the bold leadership that would be necessary to relinquish nuclear weapons along with all of these advantages.

Despite this, Kim Jong-Un's ability to take command of North Korea is not a given, and may well fall short of the degree of control exercised by his father. The young heir, believed to be 27, will likely look for ways to consolidate his authority, possibly within the nuclear program.

After rumblings about a third nuclear test this year, Kim Jong-Un could see a nuclear test in the near future as a means to burnish his national security credentials. He would likely have the support of North Korea's nuclear scientists, given that further nuclear testing is necessary for the DPRK to develop a warhead small enough to fit atop its ballistic missiles and thus a reliable nuclear deterrent.

The US, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, who along with North Korea make up the Six Parties, should redouble their efforts to keep the nuclear negotiations on track. Even if a non-nuclear North Korea appears impossible, the Six-Party Talks are an important forum for creative thinking about the future of Northeast Asian security and to date North Korea has avoided provocations when busy at the negotiating table.

If Kim Il-Sung's legacy was nuclear infrastructure and Kim Jong-Il's legacy nuclear weapons, the Six Parties might yet be able to prevent Kim Jong-Un's legacy from being operational nuclear-tipped missiles, or worse.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute. 

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  • The Nuclear Threat Initiative has published a major report on reducing nuclear dangers in Europe, with an all-star cast of nuclear experts from both sides of the Atlantic providing fresh ideas on some of the most contentious issues in NATO-Russia deterrence, from nuclear posture to missile defence and tactical nuclear weapons deployments.
  • With Labor's debate on uranium sales to India hotting up, there is plenty to learn from the US experience of nuclear cooperation with India, detailed in this Congressional Research Service report.
  • If this leaves you confused as to who is involved in nuclear policy-making in the US, this chart should help untangle the agencies and lines of authority.
  • India's decision to acquire nuclear weapons, resulting in its outsider status to the NPT, is a key element of the uranium sales controversy. Why did India acquire the bomb? ANU's Andrew Kennedy persuasively argues that it first exhausted other options to ensure its national security before turning to nuclear weapons (subscription required).
  • The latest issue of International Security has two more treats for the nuclear inclined: one analysing domestic reasons why Japan won't acquire nuclear weapons and another on how to cope militarily with a collapsing North Korea (subscription required).
  • Fallout from the Iran IAEA report continues: while Republican candidates in the US one-up each other with promises of pre-emption, others appear to be imagining how to live with a nuclear Iran, drawing implicitly on the US experience with a nuclear North Korea.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute. 

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The list of strategic tensions in the China-India relationship is dismally long.

While there are elements of increasing cooperation, notably in trade and global governance (think Copenhagen), mistrust underpins the bilateral relationship. The root of that mistrust is the disputed border and China's 'all-weather friendship' with Pakistan, but other problems have emerged in recent years — India worries about China's presence in the Indian Ocean; China worries about the India's newfound warmth for the US and its role in Tibetan politics. Add to that resource and diplomatic competition, rising nationalism and poor public perceptions and things are not looking too rosy.

But in The Dangers of Denial, a new Lowy Institute paper examining the China-India nuclear relationship, Rory Medcalf and I argue that nuclear weapons are a crucial factor in determining the tenor of the relationship. India and China need to start talking to each other about nuclear stability, but this will be by no means easy.

Understanding the asymmetry in Sino-Indian relations is critical to evaluating just how dangerous the nuclear factor is. China is quite relaxed about India and sees little threat from its southern neighbour. India, on the other hand, is very concerned about the Chinese threat.

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Part of India's anxiety stems from the fact that China can strike just about any location in India's territory with a nuclear missile, while India has no such capability to hit Chinese cities. This asymmetrical deterrence anxiety has motivated India to seek longer range missiles and the ability to launch nuclear missiles from submarines. A submarine launch capability will, however, need to carry longer range missiles if it is to avoid the dangerous mission of hugging the Chinese coastline in the event of a crisis.

Uncertainties also abound in the relationship — both countries are dabbling in missile defence technology which may decrease their confidence in deterring the other. Both could also abandon their restrained nuclear postures and build bigger arsenals, changing deterrence calculations. And both appear to be using their partnership with the major strategic rival of the other — Pakistan and the US — pragmatically.

While none this bodes well for the future, China and India are not in an arms race, and there is a window of opportunity now to stabilise the nuclear dynamic before competition intensifies. But there is little basis for official talks on such sensitive matters at the moment — China will first need to stop refusing to talk to India about its nuclear weapons on the grounds that India is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, perhaps in return for some gesture from the Indian side, probably on the Indian Ocean.

Once the two powers are clear about how their nuclear weapons deter the other, clear about how to manage crises and reassured of each other's strategic intentions, they could aim for a bilateral no-first-use agreement and push for other nuclear-armed countries to adopt this restrained nuclear posture.

In this way China and India could possibly turn the dangers of denial into a norm of no-first-use.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

Photo courtesy of Sinodefence Forum.

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Just over a week ago, the giants of the nuclear power industry announced a new voluntary code of conduct that will guide their future nuclear reactor exports.

The 'Nuclear Power Plant Exporters' Principles of Conduct' took three years to negotiate, facilitated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a panel of experts and the now–adherents to the code — Areva, Russia's Atomstroyexport, Canada's Candu Energy, GE Hitachi, Korea Electric Power Co, Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Westinghouse. The Principles have not made a serious media splash, but are significant for their specificity, comprehensiveness and proactive approach to the risks posed by the industry.

Lowy Institute Deputy Director Martine Letts and I have previously advocated for the nuclear industry to be more proactive in supporting the non-proliferation regime (see our report to the Evans-Kawaguchi disarmament commission, an update of which is due to be published later this year). It remains to be seen whether this initiative will spur further industry efforts in support of the non–proliferation regime, though the signs are promising.

The fact that the Code covers more than just non–proliferation but also safety, security, environmental protection, waste and other ethical considerations, provides a framework for more integrated thinking about the corporate social responsibilities (CSR) of the nuclear industry.

It makes sense to consider all of these factors together given events such as the Fukushima accident, President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit last year, persistent concerns about the proliferation of sensitive nuclear technology and the inability of the non–proliferation regime to address non–compliance, as the Iranian, DPRK and Syrian cases illustrate.

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The Code rides on the coat–tails of a more general groundswell of support for corporate social responsibility this year, with the UN Human Rights Council, OECD and the International Finance Corporation releasing or updating guidelines. Sceptics will of course question how effective the Principles will actually be in changing the practices of the nuclear industry. Like other CSR initiatives, this will depend on how effectively governments and civil society use the Principles to monitor corporate behaviour.

It also depends on who signs on. In terms of membership, the Code ticks all the boxes for effectiveness. The companies who drafted and adopted the Principles dominate the market for reactor sales. Where they go, there is a good chance that the rest of the nuclear industry will follow, especially as a key driver for developing the Principles was a recognition that accidents and mistakes by one company are costly for the entire industry. These companies account for almost all reactor exports globally, and China's reactor export arm was also involved in the negotiations, and is seeking domestic approval to adopt the Code.

Given South Korea's recent emergence as a major reactor exporter and the export ambitions of Chinese and Indian firms, involvement of these new Asian vendors is crucial for the future of the Code. CSR principles must be fairly specific if they are to be of any use to outsiders for monitoring corporate behaviour. What sets the new Code apart from the other global CSR standard for the nuclear industry — the World Nuclear Association's Charter of Ethics (discussed here) — is its specificity. It describes not only the commitments of the industry, but the steps companies will take to implement them.

Although the new non–proliferation steps do not go far beyond what companies are obliged to do by domestic laws applicable to them, among those steps are a commitment to inform both their home country governments and other members of the Code, consult with those governments and abide by their instructions if non–proliferation concerns arise. Such commitments have not before appeared in writing, even if they occur in an ad hoc manner. Affirming closer collaboration within the industry and with governments on proliferation threats is a plus for the regime.

The Principles will no doubt be subject to the usual criticisms of CSR initiatives, that implementation differs between members and there is no enforcement mechanism, to name just two. But the reactor vendors do deserve some credit for proactively managing risks and trying to do the best by the local, national and global communities in which they do business. 

It is now up to governments and civil society, as well as the industry, to use the Principles as a starting point for a conversation about better nuclear corporate citizenship.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

Photo, of an advanced test reactor core, courtesy of the Argonne National Laboratory.

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Why is Obama's nuclear policy schizophrenic and who was Bush pointing US nuclear weapons at? Our Wednesday Lowy Lunch speaker, the Federation of American Scientists' Hans Kristensen, has the answers in his presentation on the Obama Administration's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

The implications of Obama's Nuclear Posture Review are just beginning to be felt as they filter down into the US military planning bureaucracy and its objectives meet with real-world constraints such as the US fiscal crisis and allied anxiety, especially in the Pacific. Kristensen's talk was most unusual (and fun) due to the redacted top secret US military planning documents he showed during his presentation, acquired thanks to US Freedom of Information legislation.

Listen to his full talk to hear what was peeking out from under the redactions. Below is my chat with him after the event.

You can listen here.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

Photo courtesy of the US Air Force.

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The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

Comments

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

Comments
19 of 20 This post is part of a debate on Is extended nuclear deterrence dead?

Discussions about nuclear strategy have an unfortunate tendency to insulate themselves from the broader strategic context in which nuclear weapons exist.

The Interpreter's debate on the future of extended nuclear deterrence (END) has by and large avoided that pitfall. But, I wanted to look at a simple concept — proportionality  — that dictates which military tools (conventional or nuclear) will be picked out of the extended deterrence toolbox when an ally is threatened.

The concept of proportionality is central to decision-makers' calculations to use or threaten nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons is a proportionate response if a security threat posed by an adversary is grave enough. If it is not, then conventional weapons or even diplomatic means might be used.

Although one of the central principles of the law of armed conflict, proportionality is not an objective calculation, as some — international lawyers in particular — believe. It depends entirely on how decision-makers perceive their security interests.

Even where nuclear weapons are reserved for existential threats, what may constitute such a threat, is hardly a settled (or short) list of possible events. The 2010 US Nuclear Posture Review used an even broader formulation, stating that the US would use its nuclear weapons to defend its 'vital interests'.

This is, of course, all common sense, but it does bring one of the major difficulties with END into sharp focus — it complicates calculations of proportionality.

Bringing a third party into a nuclear relationship means that it is no longer just two states who are forced to recognise each others' red lines. Allies often perceive threats differently and responding in a proportionate way for one ally may be viewed as an over- or under-reaction by the other.

It is not uncommon for an adversary to find and exploit this gap, where it can successfully compromise the security of one ally without provoking action by the other ally.

Differing perceptions of proportionality also explain the double-edged sword of entrapment and abandonment that a beneficiary of END typically fears — both involve a disproportionate response by the provider of END to the security threat.

Before we dump END, we need to think carefully about whether diverging post-Cold War threat perceptions among beneficiaries and the provider of END kill it or not.

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Where threat perceptions align as closely as they did for the US and Europe during the Cold War, END was more effective as it offered the Soviets few gaps to exploit. Fast forward to 2010, and we see the North Koreans exploiting a gap in shelling Yeonpyeong Island.

North Korea knew the attack would harm South Korea, but that a US military response would be very unlikely. While the South Korean Defence Minister initially mooted the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the Peninsula (he lost his job soon after), the US responded by sending a carrier into the Yellow Sea for military exercises. From either country's perspective, the other reacted disproportionately, just as the North Koreans would have anticipated.

If such differences emerge between provider and beneficiary that an adversary can poke holes in both the nuclear umbrella specifically and extended deterrence more broadly, how can END be anything but an abject failure, as Hyun-Wook Kim concluded? This question touches on a number of strategic dilemmas.

One of these is how we judge whether extended deterrence succeeds — is it only where the beneficiary is fully satisfied with the result, or can it succeed where the result is some sort of compromise? How does a concept such as deterrence, which requires mutual understanding, function where it involves three countries with three different perceptions of interest.

Should extended deterrence respond to 'sabre rattling' or be reserved for major threats? There are no right or wrong answers to these dilemmas, but the choice of answer determines whether one sees events like Yeonpyeong as failures, or symptomatic of the limited, imprecise but still functional nature of END.

Two brief arguments in favour of extended deterrence can be drawn out of these dilemmas, though in the Korean case they moderated rather than prevented the 'failure' (from a South Korean perspective) of extended deterrence:

First, if the alliance relationship creates an opportunity to negotiate a response that is satisfactory in both parties' opinions, bringing their calculations of proportionality closer together, then it is a plus for regional security. While the real test of this will come when the US-ROK Extended Deterrence Policy Committee has had time to work out how certain North Korean contingencies will be met, avoiding some of the more assertive options mooted in Seoul last October likely saved a fair few Korean lives.

Second, as a provider of END to multiple countries, Washington's actions are closely monitored by both allies and adversaries the world over. Maintaining its credibility to others would play no small role in its calculations of a proportionate response, giving the beneficiary of extended deterrence more clout in negotiating a response than it would otherwise have.

But two other arguments weigh in heavily against extended deterrence: First, as the Korean Peninsula situation illustrates, nuclear deterrence is usually irrelevant to crisis situations that invoke the alliance. At times, any military response at all is inappropriate, even if it would be proportionate, because of the specific risks it would create in such volatile circumstances.

Second, the likelihood of an extended deterrence failure is even higher if the provider is on an adversary's nuclear targeting list. Proportionality calculations are suddenly muddied by the desire to avoid bringing the conflict home.

Tom Mahnken and Duncan Brown seem to suggest that the US would suffer but ultimately prevail in a conflict with an adversary who could deliver nuclear weapons to US soil, an argument somewhat reminiscent of Mao's comments about China's ability to absorb a nuclear attack.

I am sceptical that a president of a democracy would take such a clinical approach to the lives of large numbers of citizens in an extended deterrence situation. Risking the blood of your citizens to protect or retaliate on behalf of your ally is an exceptionally high stakes game that is difficult to imagine today, but may well arise in the future. For example across the Taiwan Straits.

In these situations, trying to calculate a proportionate response soon reveals why END can be both a terrific success and a disastrous failure. The hard cases all depend on whether individual decision-makers are willing to let their fingers hover over the red button, and whether they think their adversary is equally willing.

Prudence dictates that we treat END as alive and well. Doing so will reduce the risk that it will ever need to be tested.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

Photo by Flickr user gravity_grave.

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Japan's post-earthquake nuclear problems have escalated, with major accidents at two or more nuclear reactors, which are the most serious since the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979 and the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

While the consequences and implications from these accidents will take weeks, months and likely years to settle and be analysed by technical and policy types alike, speculation is already rife as to what the accident will mean for the international nuclear landscape. Uranium stocks have plunged on the Australian market as Japanese authorities assess the risk of radiation contamination following damage to nuclear reactors in the country. 

Some have suggested that the accident spells the end of the so-called 'nuclear renaissance', an increase in the uptake of nuclear energy surpassing its heyday in the 1980s, forecast on the basis of the large number of governments currently interested in nuclear power programs for the first time. While industry representatives have responded that the Japanese situation is unique, this 'perfect storm' explanation is little comfort to Japanese people and unlikely to allay the concerns of people around the world, including in Australia, that remain wary of or even hostile to nuclear power.

The image of one of the most advanced nuclear nations struggling to contain a reactor meltdown could haunt public opinion and the civil nuclear industry for many years to come.

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As we write, the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plants is still on a knife edge. What we already know is that these accidents will catapult nuclear safety back to the top of the international nuclear policy agenda, and the domestic nuclear policy agendas of nuclear nations. The nuclear industry will have to fight a battle to convince the public that nuclear power is safe all over again, a battle it had appeared to be winning prior to the accident. Reactor vendors and operators may also re-visit reactor designs to make sure that reactors will withstand a situation as extreme as that in Japan.

The German Government has announced its intention to inspect its nuclear plants and other governments will no doubt follow in reviewing their safety procedures, and possibly also criteria for extending the lives of older reactors (the Fukushima Dai-ichi No.1 reactor is 40 years old). Aspiring nuclear countries may re-consider their plans, especially those which have aggressive growth policies, although Chinese authorities have already declared that they will press ahead.

The IAEA may also re-examine how well the regime of international nuclear safety and accident mechanisms and conventions function. Coincidentally, the next triennial meeting under the convention on Nuclear Safety (which regulates the safety of nuclear power reactors) will be held in April 2011

In the meantime, only time will tell whether the lessons learned from previous nuclear accidents have been heeded or have yielded sufficient improvements to limit the severity of this nuclear accident. Let's hope that other elements of the international nuclear safety architecture, such as those relating to international liability for damage caused, don't have to be tested.

Photo, by Flickr user Digital Globe, is a satellite image of Japan showing damage after an earthquake and tsunami  at the Dai Ichi Power Plant. This was taken at 11:04am local time, 3 minutes after an explosion.

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The New START arms control treaty was ratified overnight after months of wheeling and dealing on Capitol Hill over a lot more than just the substance of the treaty. The ratification will chalk up a foreign policy victory for President Obama, all the more remarkable given that Congress is in its lame duck session and will cede to Republican control in 2011 after the Democratic Party's thumping in the Congressional elections earlier this year.

The ratification of New START, considered by most arms control experts to be a common sense and uncontroversial treaty which requires neither Russia nor the US to cut their arsenals in a strategically compromising way and re-establishes bilateral verification measures, gives rise to both optimism and pessimism for Obama's two major arms control challenges in 2011. It shows that while politicking may hold up a treaty, it did not prevent enough Republican senators from voting in favour of the treaty and against their party leadership.

Presidents Obama and Medvedev at the signing of New START in April 2010. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Obama faces a much more difficult challenge in achieving ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by a Republican-controlled Senate, which he vowed to pursue 'aggressively' in his 2009 Prague speech calling for a nuclear weapon-free world. The Republican-controlled Senate rejected the treaty in 1999, for reasons of both partisan politics and genuine concerns about the security implications. Both of these obstacles must again be surmounted before the Senate will ratify the CTBT.

Obama's second major nuclear arms control challenge will be to negotiate a follow-on treaty to New START, but this time dealing with far more strategically sensitive topics such as further cuts to warhead numbers and delivery systems, reductions in tactical nuclear weapons, and (at Russian insistence) missile defence.

Pursuing this tricky agenda in 2011 would not have been possible without the ratification of New START, so let's take a break over Christmas and let President Obama and arms control advocates the world over enjoy this last minute gift for 2010.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

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Regardless of what you think about the WikiLeaks release of US diplomatic cables, its nuclear revelations have certainly delivered some surprises and occasional amusement. But I  have found them deeply concerning for the most part, particularly those recounting lapses in nuclear security and the efforts of some to take advantage of those lapses. My top five nuclear (and related) leaks are as follows:

  • An Egyptian Ambassador casually remarked that Egypt had been offered nuclear scientists, materials and weapons from the former Soviet Union, which it refused.
  • A US briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review to NATO allies last year disclosed exact numbers of US nuclear warheads, numbers that analysts are usually estimating. The US believes fewer than 1300 warheads would compromise US deterrence, and the US has 180 tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, against Russia's 3000-5000.
  • A doctor's note can be used  to smuggle uranium across the Georgian border from Armenia, although you should keep the story consistent when you cross back over, otherwise the FBI gets on your case.
  • Does Myanmar have a nuclear weapons program? Your guess is as good as that of Australian and American diplomats posted in Rangoon, but at least it’s pretty clear where the nuclear assistance is coming from. Right, North Korea?
  • A Chinese official signaled support for a reunified Korea if North Korea collapses. The cable illustrates the divides within the Chinese foreign policy community, especially given the official's harsh criticism of China's man in the Six-Party talks.

No doubt there will be more stories of nuclear smuggling and strategic bargaining emerging from WikiLeaks in 2011, underscoring the complexity and importance of nuclear diplomacy. Damaging as the leaks are in many respects, the nuclear cables show the gravity of nuclear threats worldwide and the sincerity of efforts to combat them, which might just translate into support for strengthening those efforts.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

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  • Brief talks between Iran and the P5+Germany on the Iranian nuclear program ended yesterday in Geneva without any substantive progress, though the parties agreed to meet again in Instanbul in January. The current issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is worth a look for its forum on the Iran 'quagmire'. Carnegie also has a good Q&A contextualising the discussions, including the impact of the Wikileaked cables and the state of Iranian domestic politics.
  • The IAEA Board of Governors has approved a plan for the establishment of a nuclear fuel bank under IAEA control, as proposed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The IAEA Secretariat will now settle on the access, location and structure of the fuel stock; it has released a useful Fact Sheet explaining eligibility requirements and obligations of fuel recipients.
  • There was no call for a special inspection of the site of the Syrian reactor bombed by the Israelis in 2007 from the IAEA Director-General at the Board meeting last week. This despite the persistent refusal of Syrian authorities to allow IAEA inspectors back in, and US calls (official and unofficial) for such an inspection.
  • As Areva moves closer to signing a US$9 billion nuclear deal to build reactors and supply fuel in India, with a view to making India into a nuclear export hub, we may see increased conventional arms sales from France to India, according to Charles Ferguson's finding that civil nuclear assistance and conventional arms sales go hand in hand.
  • Was President Obama's tax cut deal with congressional Republicans a quid pro quo for ratifying START?

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

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Russia announced on Wednesday that its nuclear fuel bank in Angarsk is now operational, under IAEA oversight. With enough low-enriched uranium to sustain two nuclear reactors for a year, the bank will supply nuclear fuel to countries with a good proliferation record who lose access to their regular fuel supply and make a request to the IAEA, which will then be passed on to the Russians to be fulfilled.

The international community is, however, far from agreement on whether such fuel banks are a good thing — the Angarsk arrangements were narrowly passed by the IAEA Board of Governors last November, and plans for a second repository funded by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), US, EU, Kuwait, Norway and the UAE were delayed when the Board could not agree on details of the plan. The NTI plan is likely to be put to a vote at the last meeting of the Board for this year, and NTI is confident it will be passed despite continuing opposition from Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)countries.

Time is of the essence here — as Mark Hibbs points out, the window of opportunity to pass the NTI proposal may close as political divisions in the Board are entrenched (as foreshadowed in the September meeting) and time-limited funding pledges expire. Some NAM countries staunchly oppose such fuel banks because they perceive that their rights to develop an enrichment capability for peaceful purposes under the NPT may be narrowed.

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While fuel banks in the model implemented by the Russians and proposed by NTI would do little to counter the Iranian and recently revealed North Korean enrichment programs, they start the ball rolling towards increasing multilateral control of the nuclear fuel cycle that could have a real effect on the spread of enrichment technology.

Multilateral enrichment facilities make sense from both an economic and nonproliferation perspective, and all multilateral fuel cycle initiatives, including fuel banks, are designed to reduce the energy security imperative for a country to develop its own enrichment capability. The Russian fuel bank is a welcome addition to the nonproliferation architecture, as it not only reduces the political risk of relying on the global uranium market, but also increases the burden of proof on countries developing an enrichment capability to show that it is destined for peaceful purposes.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

Photo by Flickr user Vattenfall.

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The latest round of Iran sanctions yet again appear not to have had the desired effect on Iran's nuclear conduct, with the latest IAEA Country Report criticising Iran for its persistent lack of cooperation with safeguards inspections. Iran lashed out at the IAEA after the report, made headlines with President Ahmadinejad's UN General Assembly address and held out the prospect of new talks with the EU – nothing particularly new there.

But Iran might have bigger fish to fry than Western diplomats in New York, with computers at the Bushehr power reactor infected with the Stuxnet virus. Officials are saying that there is nothing to worry about, but the suspicious are pointing the finger at Western cyber-warfare.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

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While there has been heated discussion about Australia's nuclear choices, including on this blog, debate and action on Australia's disarmament policy under the Gillard Government has been decidedly more subdued.

Nonproliferation and disarmament was hidden among a litany of international ills that Kevin Rudd urged the international community to address in his speech at the UN General Assembly over the weekend – after global finance, climate change and terrorism but before UN reform, poverty and human rights.

Yet there are signs that Rudd may be swinging into action on the nuclear front, establishing a new group of ten countries advocating disarmament and nonproliferation with his Japanese counterpart. Dubbed the Cross-Regional Group on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, this nuclear G10 includes Canada, Chile, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey as well as Japan and Australia.

The German press has rather cynically reported it as a way for Germany to burnish its credentials for election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute.

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