MacArthur President Robert Gallucci addressed “The Current Nuclear Threat” in a speech at the Hertog Global Strategy Initiative's lecture series last month at Columbia University.
Gallucci, a nuclear security expert, worked at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the multinational peacekeeping force in the Sinai Peninsula, and the United Nations Special Commission overseeing the disarmament of Iraq. He also served as chief negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994. Through grants to policy research institutions worldwide, MacArthur aims to reduce global risks from nuclear weapons, foster security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, and strengthen independent scientific advice on international security matters.
Watch the video or read the full speech as prepared below.
I had a number of different ideas about how we would spend our time this evening – that is to say, how I'd spend my part of my time. And then you can ask what you want to ask. I thought of focusing on one case, like the North Korean case, or the Pakistan case, or the Iran case, or the Iraq case, but I thought I would try something different, which is to offer a framework for how I think you might think about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
It isn't particularly political science-y, as in discipline-rigorous, but it seems to me that there were three ways of approaching proliferation, and I recollect there were three policy responses over the years.
Some of this is my own personal history. I went into government in 1974, and you’ll remember that the Indians detonated their first nuclear device then. This is not causal. I didn't cause this – [laughter]. I didn’t have anything to do with it. But the structure of my life in terms of the people around me in government seemed to follow these three approaches.
Or because I was a student of [Kenneth Walsh], I always liked using the word ‘image,’ taking on delusions of intellectual grandeur here, but still, at least three different approaches to the proliferation issue. And I want to describe those to you – so intellectually where we were and how we have thought about this over the years, and then place us now in that context. And then we can have a discussion about the now stuff, or about the historical stuff if you are interested.
Okay. The first model, the first image, the first approach to the proliferation issue seems to me, inevitably, the systemic approach. It is one that proceeds from the proposition that states will inevitably acquire nuclear weapons because the security dilemma defines the essence of the self-help system, which is the international system. States will, to protect themselves, acquire whatever weapons will help them do that for their own self-defense.
The image that this captures is one of a world, though, therefore, over time of many nuclear weapon states. And it does not seem to me an accident that when people first were rigorously thinking about the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a major threat to American security and allied security as opposed to just the Soviet threat, which had dominated our thinking from the late forties to the fifties, they began to see a world and envision a world that was essentially systemically determined. And for those who are a fan of the third image, well, you'd like this.
But beginning with John Kennedy, who famously, in the early sixties, predicted that by the seventies, in a decade or so, that there'd be 15 to 25 nuclear weapon states. Now, when he made this prediction, there were three: the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. And then, of course, in the sixties, we added France and China.
In the late sixties, the academic whose field was proliferation – he dominated – was George Quester, who, by the way, is still a professor at the University of Maryland and still writing on nuclear issues. And in the late sixties, when I was a graduate student, he predicted, again famously, that by the nineties, looking out twenty years, there would be fifty or more nuclear weapon states.
And as a graduate student, I actually made a bet with someone that it wouldn't happen. It was actually a bet about how many states would have nuclear weapons by the mid-seventies, because we could think that far in advance – that was six or seven years out. And I don't remember the details of the bet and I never got paid, but I was right.
So what I'm saying to you is that that was the imagery; that was the thinking. It was a view that this would happen as a result of the character of the international system and the nature of the security dilemma. And for evidence – and I can say we in the late sixties, because as a graduate student I was interested in this topic then – we weren't thinking so much of the most recent states, which would be, as I said, France and China, and we certainly weren't thinking of the Soviet Union, the United States, and Britain. We were thinking of other states out there.
And then, in 1974, when India in the spring detonated a nuclear explosive device and claimed it was a peaceful nuclear explosion – I don’t know if you recall, but that's what they said – this was real evidence that this image, this approach, this model was correct, because we were then politically incorrect, and we called India an underdeveloped country at that point. We don't say that anymore about countries. We call them develop-ing countries.
But India was then an underdeveloped country, and if India could detonate a nuclear explosive device, then, we said, any state could. Any state could and any state would. India wasn't particularly under threat. Oh, yes, they did have a certain China problem, but they didn't have a Pakistani problem. Pakistan had an India problem, but the asymmetry and forces went in India's favor at the conventional level.
So this was driven by something else, and what this was driven by was, we argued, an inevitable force in the international system – the character of the international system. So that's the first model and it leads to that kind of expectation about the future.
The second model, which I think informed thinking, was a lot less that proliferation would be driven by systemic inevitability and much more by capability. Those who believed proliferation was probably just as unavoidable as those who liked the first model, looked around and saw – this is in the seventies – the embrace of nuclear energy…
If you look back, you will find that the seventies was an enormous growth period, at least in declaratory policy, and actually in a fair amount of building, as well, in the United States and elsewhere. Nuclear energy was on the move. Not only was nuclear energy on the move, but a particular method of "enjoying" nuclear energy had taken hold in the United States, and I will say, therefore, internationally. And that was the embrace of the full nuclear fuel cycle. And this is very important and I'm going to now do this.
The idea here is that uranium, for the kind of reactors I'm talking about, the United States has 104 nuclear reactors, give or take, and right now we have maybe somewhere between a quarter and a third of all the nuclear reactors in the world still. Largely, they are light-water reactors, and that means neutrons are slowed down by regular water, and natural uranium will not sustain a reaction in that light-water reactor. So not only do you need to mine uranium, you then need to enrich uranium.
And after you enrich uranium and you fabricate the fuel in a fuel fabrication facility, the fuel goes into a nuclear reactor. After the fuel gets burned up, the fuel comes out of the nuclear reactor and it goes in a spent fuel storage pond, which looks to all the world like a swimming pool. Not a good place to swim, but a swimming pool, and that's where the fuel is stored. For how long? Well, at least two years. Well, or for how long? Fifty years. We still have fuel from our first reactor sitting in storage ponds.
That was not the image. This does not look like a cycle to you, does it? But you must have heard the phrase ‘fuel cycle.’ That's what was embraced. And this is very important to my argument here, because the next step, according to the nuclear engineers that not only informed the United States, but we trained... I mean, where did the engineers in India come from who did the India model? We trained them at North Carolina State. So the next step we taught everyone was a reprocessing plant or a chemical separation plant. It's called both. And in that plant, three streams come out: radioactive waste, uranium, and plutonium.
In the dreams of the nuclear engineers, plutonium and uranium are mixed together and they go into a fuel fabrication facility, and mixed oxide fuel is produced. Mixed oxide. Not just uranium oxide, which goes here, but plutonium oxide, too. The two are mixed together to form a mixed oxide and some fuel rods have mixed fuel and some have regular fuel, and they go back into the reactor to be burned. Now you see the cycle.
Now, why am I taking time to tell you all of this interesting stuff? Because if one is interested in nuclear weapons, there are two points in this fuel cycle from which one can get the material for a nuclear weapon. This is one of them – an enrichment plant. Now, as you probably know, the Iranians say they have an enrichment plant to enrich uranium for their one nuclear reactor and there are many more they see in the future. And we observe that that enrichment plant could be run to produce not just low enriched uranium (LEU), but high enriched uranium.
What are they enriched in? It's enriched in the isotope uranium-235. And uranium-235 at eighty-five, ninety percent can be used to make a nuclear weapon. So this is one of the two materials that can be used to make a nuclear weapon. The weapon we dropped on Hiroshima was a highly-enriched uranium core weapon.
The other material one could use to make a nuclear weapon is plutonium. Where does plutonium come from? It comes from separated spent fuel. It comes out of spent fuel. Plutonium does not occur in nature; it's produced in a nuclear reaction by transmutation in the reactor. It's contained and spent fuel and it sits there unless you have one of these guys. If you have one of these guys, you can get plutonium out. That's the other material to use for a nuclear weapon. And the bomb we dropped on Nagasaki was made from plutonium.
So if you remember what I was talking about before, I was talking about the capabilities-driven model. As long as we thought the world was going to be filled with nuclear energy and we thought nuclear energy was going to be dominated by the full fuel cycle, we thought countries that acquired nuclear energy would acquire a full fuel cycle -- would acquire an enrichment plant, and a reprocessing plant.
As it turned out, we later thought, "Nah, that's not a good idea. We will sell enrichment services and make money." So let's not spread around enrichment facilities, but reprocessing? Terrific. It also helps for waste management, we argued. Terrific. What about the plutonium? Well, we're going to recycle it back into the reactor. Well, what about if someone diverts it? We'll have International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to make sure they don't divert it.
So we had a theory of how this would happen, but anyone who was in the business – and I was, at that point, in the business in the mid-‘70s; by that time I was in government – anybody who had worked these issues knew you couldn't really safeguard a larger processing plant. The amount of material that would go unaccounted for could be used to make weapons. And this was essentially an invitation, as we argued for this type of a fuel cycle, for catastrophe and inevitability. So we thought, in somewhat the same way but with a different kind of argument, that nuclear energy spread would make nuclear weapons spread inevitable.
There was, of course, also the commercial incentive for the sale of reactors, for the sale of all this nuclear technology. A lot of money was going to be made by Westinghouse and General Electric by licensing their technologies abroad. One made a boiling water reactor; another made a pressurized water reactor. One went to the French. [Framotome] built the Westinghouse reactor; the Germans built the boiling water reactor with General Electric. So there was a lot of money to be made in spreading this technology and we spread this light-water reactor technology everywhere.
Technology, therefore, was not just a means, but technology was the driver in a way that in the first model, the security [dilemma] was a driver.
Okay. Image, again, would have us have nuclear weapons in an awful lot of countries. The third image, the third model, did not proceed from an assumption of any systemic inevitability or technological inevitability; it proceeded from an image of the character of states and the character of regions. The proposition was that, for internal reasons, states might want nuclear weapons, or for regional security reasons. And therefore, the approach and the responses were different.
When I was in government – and this is 1976-ish – we were thinking then about a certain set of countries…not all the countries – a certain set of countries, which we regarded as threshold. There were twelve. We were not politically correct, as I said, so we called them the Dirty Dozen (a movie with Lee Marvin). I recommend it. [Laughter.]
This group of countries – there were two in Northeast Asia: Korea and Taiwan. Korea was not North Korea, but South Korea, which had a nuclear weapons program. South Asia had India and Pakistan. The Middle East had Iran, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, and Libya. Africa had South Africa. And Latin America had Brazil and Argentina. So we saw a definite group of countries through our analysis of both the regional dynamic and the internal politics; we thought these are the threshold countries. And we focused...if you had this image when focused on these particular countries. So nuclear weapons were seen in this third image as an expression of a national identity and as necessary to meet regional needs.
Because these models, actually, are quite different in the assumptions they make about the nature of decision-making in states, they led to different policy prescriptions.
The first model led to a systemic approach. It is what was behind the idea of a nuclear nonproliferation treaty. I mean, look at this treaty: It's a deal between the non-nuclear weapon states and the five, at that point, the five nuclear weapon states, that would for all time – read the treaty – legitimize those five states as nuclear weapon states in exchange for their commitment to assist other countries in getting peaceful nuclear technology, and for their commitment ultimately to give up their nuclear weapons. A systemic approach.
This is one of the most universal treaties on the planet. It has 189 adherents, I think, at the moment, which is very nearly all the states in the world. Along with it, in 1957, the treaty was... Negotiations were in '68; entry into force was in '73. Along the same period, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, an entity that would, over time, apply safeguards under the treaty. Initially it did it through bilateral agreements called information circulars, or Insert 66; morphed after 1973, into Insert 153.
And every state that wanted to have nuclear energy was required, really, to make a successful negotiation with the IAEA for the application of safeguards to any nuclear equipment they received from another country. So the IAEA inspectors were going all over the world providing us fundamental and essential assurance that the nuclear equipment would be used to produce nuclear material exclusively for peaceful purposes – non-explosive peaceful purposes.
So this was the character: systemic; meant to be universal. Model two, the capabilities model, led us someplace entirely different. It led us to denial. If you thought technology was the problem, you really weren't going to focus, necessarily, on the systemic approach of the IAEA and of the NPT. You were looking to deny countries access to sensitive technology.
And sensitive technology was a phrase that covered, essentially, two things: the enrich-ment plant and the reprocessing plant. If you denied the enrichment plant, they didn’t get highly enriched uranium. If you denied your processing plant, they didn’t get plutonium. If they didn't get either of those, they didn't have fissile material. They couldn't make a weapon.
So, the huge effort... The gun, really, in 1976 with the creation of something called the London Group, which was six countries, and then grew into the Nuclear Suppliers Group of over 40 countries, that were dedicated to denying the transfer of sensitive technology to "sensitive regions," and it essentially meant the countries we really, really were suspicious of.
So could we transfer this technology to the Dutch? Yeah, that's okay. Do we want to transfer it to Taiwan? I don't think so. All right, so that's how that worked out. It took a while to get denial to be accepted internationally, but it essentially was, and that was at the heart of the prescription that followed from model two.
INFCE. What is INFCE? INFCE is I-N-F-C-E – International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation. INFCE was like a domestic program, NSAP, which was pursued in the United States. It was an effort to develop... Yeah, that's not quite right. It was an effort to assess and perhaps promote proliferation-resistant technologies. Proliferation resistance is like what's written on the back of your wristwatch. And they don't write waterproof; hey write water-resistant. You couldn't really have a proliferation-proof nuclear fuel cycle, but you could have resistant.
And the way you would do that is, there are many mechanisms in a fuel cycle that one can introduce that would make diversion, theft, or out and out assertion of authority over the fuel cycle – seizure – ineffective. And the idea was to develop more of these types of nuclear technologies. Not tremendously successful in my view, but it was another response that turned on the technical approach.
In the United States, the [Meiter – Myder?] Report that was done during the Ford Administration influenced strongly the thinking of President Carter. And when President Carter came into office in 1977, he froze work on the plutonium fuel cycle. So not only did he say that the United States of America would not reprocess spent fuel, he also said that our enthusiasm for something called a fast breeder reactor was going to be stilled. The fast breeder reactor is a nifty idea in concept. As some of you may have heard, it produces more fuel than it consumes. Doesn't that sound absolutely lovely?
Well, what happens is that there is a core of fissile material and then a blanket of what's called fertile material. And some of the neutrons here, instead of produce heat and energy, are used to convert the blanket into more fissile material.
So the metaphor might be, if you build a fire – if you've ever gone camping – and you take some wet wood and stack it around your little fire, after a while, you might have more fuel than you started with. Isn't that remarkable? But it meant some of the heat, instead of warming you, warmed the wood. And this is a metaphor to this. Well, Carter ended that.
The French went on with breeder development, the Japanese went on with breeder development, the Russians went on with breeder development. Nobody has been successful in the last thirty or forty years. But the idea here – and what I'm really arguing to you – is that this was another expression on manifestation of this second model. The prescription that would come out of it was, let's deal with the technology and make the technology safer.
If you were a believer in model three, and that's where my career was, largely, you focused on, in a way, much more traditional diplomacy, particularly bilateral diplomacy. I would run screaming from the room at the thought that I would be involved in multi-lateral diplomacy, and was much more comfortable dealing with a thug one on one. That's much more pleasing and something I understand from having grown up on Long Island, and it's just easier for me to cope with.
So if you look around at alliances, for example, I would say alliances, if you view them not just in terms in which they are negotiated for the security of the state, but view them as a nonproliferation mechanism, they are addressing the security of states that could build weapons for their own security.
So the countries in NATO have the nuclear umbrella. The Japanese... How long would it take the Japanese to build nuclear weapons if they decided to? I mean, seriously. Not long, right? And you know they would be good. They would be good. [Laughter.] They would be small, they'd [hum]. They'd be beautiful nuclear weapons, right? So we know this. But there is the mutual security treaty. Security is met within the context of that treaty.
The Republic of Korea – same idea. Even Taiwan. While it's not a formal treaty, we were able to persuade the Taiwanese because of our relationship with the peoples on Taiwan that nuclear weapons were not a good idea for them. So alliances were part of the policy response here.
Traditional diplomacy. When we discovered the nuclear weapons program in South Korea, we went over and visited Seoul and we had conversations. And we have done that in other countries where we have discovered...where diplomacy – sometimes very quiet diplomacy – turns out to be effective in that case.
I would say war. This is a point in the talk where I say let's give war a chance. And if we look at the Iraqi case, a case I'm very familiar with, a very robust nuclear weapons program that we uncovered after the first invasion of Iraq. And I would say that six months, a year at most, from the time we invaded Iraq in 1991, that the Iraqis would have had a workable nuclear weapon and fissile material to make it work. So we blocked that with our invasion. We are not talking about the second invasion, which is a different kind of story.
I would also say that you engage in this kind of diplomacy if you have this model of what drives proliferation, sometimes not to solve the problem for all time, but to give other mechanisms a chance.
So South Africa – South Africa, actually, was subject to a lot of pressure from the United States. We discovered the hole in the desert in the Kalahari. We discovered it with the help of the Russians who said, "Look here," and we looked there and we found them digging this hole. And we said, "What's that for?" And they said, "Security." We said, "That looks like a hole to be used to explode a nuclear device,” and they said, "No, no." It was, we later found out, but we knew that it was that, and we persuaded them not to go ahead.
And, of course, with the passage of time, the Apartheid regime disappeared, and then, ultimately, we found out that the South Africans had indeed built six nuclear weapons, and they were dismantled and the fissile material was subjected to IAEA safeguards, so you can actually reverse proliferation under this model. That's a good thing to happen.
Under this model, we have spent a lot of time in Brasilia, in Buenos Aires, trying to persuade both countries that nuclear weapons really were not a good idea for Latin Americans. And over time, both of them gave up nuclear weapons programs. Now, you don't solve this problem for all time ever, because people don't forget how to do this, but this is an issue that needs constant management, and in this third model, it means constant political-military diplomacy.
I note, parenthetically, this is not of interest unless you are a Graham Allison acolyte – and I am one, by the way – and you like to look at the processes of government, but we divided ourselves in government according to these three models. We didn't have the models then; I made up the models afterwards. But there was a group that did multilateral diplomacy that worried about the NPT, that worried about review conferences, that worried about the IAEA and all that sort of thing. They were there.
There’s another group that were essentially nuclear engineers, nuclear physicists, Department of Energy played, the laboratories played, and they were the technology people. And then there were the political military types, like myself, who had to know about the first two, but were really interested in mixing it up with individual countries and individual negotiations. So these were really three sets of bureaucrats operating differently for the same objectives.
Okay. Some observations. We do not, ladies and gentlemen, have a world of ninety nuclear weapon states right now. We have a world of nine nuclear weapon states: the original five plus four, with one state a threshold state. The original five – the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China; the four: Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea; and then the threshold state, Iran. This is after 65 years: nine states. That's the first observation.
The second is that while I like the idea of breaking this out into different models – the world, of course, doesn't work according to models – and I think each has something to contribute to a complex explanation of why things happen the way they do in the international system, so I'm not here to tell you that one model is preferable to the other. But I find the phenomenon of proliferation to be complex, motivations for states to be complex, and policy responses to have to be comparably complex to be successful.
Third, I am tempted to say policy worked. That may not be right, of course, but I like it, because this is what I did for over twenty years, so I like the idea that maybe what we did, did some good. But it is undoubtedly true that circumstances change, too, over these years, not the least of which was the chilling of enthusiasm for nuclear energy.
Not only did we have Three Mile Island, but there was Chernobyl. And we have not had a reactor start in this country since Three Mile Island. Yes, I know about nuclear renaissance, and I'm [not so] worried about that, but I think this is, because of that second image, not a trivial part of the explanation about why we are where we are at this moment.
The fourth observation is that the current situation is both difficult and dangerous.
That leads us to the current situation. To me, briefly, two situations characterize the current landscape. The first is the situation in South Asia. If you ask most people that are in this part of the security business, they will tell you that the place where it is most likely that one state would use a nuclear weapon against another state is South Asia. We have two countries with deliverable nuclear weapons – with an arsenal. So we have two arsenals. These two countries' arsenals are not enormous, though the Pakistani one is growing.
What's the significance of it not being enormous? If your model is the U.S. and the Soviet Union and you're thinking, "Wait a minute – it's good to have nuclear weapons…" – there are those who make this argument – “…they will deter each other.” If you're thinking that, think about the requirements of deterrence and think about analytically what characterized in important ways the U.S.-Soviet relationship., you will not find the important features in the Pakistan-India relationship.
One of the things you will not find, at least yet, is a secure second strike acknowledged by both sides. Now, will they eventually get there? Plausible, but right now you have, arguably, the worst of anything. You have the possibility of a disarming first strike, in one or the other or both minds, in Pakistan and India. That's very bad for stability and deterrence.
Small forces are very bad. Small vulnerable forces are even worse. Neither of these countries have submarine launch ballistic missiles yet. Neither of them have built really hardened silos yet. The delivery systems are aircraft – some missiles. Missiles have some mobility and essentially, they hide things. That's not exactly foolproof. So that's one.
Second, I would like to point something out about India and Pakistan that you may not have noticed. They are contiguous. [Laughter.] The second thing you may not have noticed – the United States and the Soviet Union essentially – not withstanding what Sarah Palin have said – are not contiguous. What I'm saying is that for all those decades of U.S.-Soviet relations, there were periphery. We had any number of conflicts with the Soviets in which people died, but not directly. There were geostrategic peripheries: Africa, Asia, elsewhere, where things could happen and never engage a vital interest of the others.
Why do we all love the Cuban missile crisis? A, because we won, but B, because that was so geographically proximate to us it was plausible that we might actually have a nuclear exchange over. What I'm saying to you is that India and Pakistan, it's very hard for them to go to war and not engage a vital interest, because they're not going to go to Australia to have the war; they're going to have it on the territory of one or the other, or both. Vital interests will immediately be engaged. That's not a good situation if you're trying to avoid those situations in which the use of nuclear weapons become politically plausible.
Third, because they're contiguous, there’s enormous time pressure in a crisis to make a quick decision. It's also exacerbated substantially by the vulnerability of one's own systems, particularly your perception of your vulnerability relative to the other side. If you have to make a decision quickly and you think you're in a – and here's the phrase – use-or-lose situation, that's bad for stability.
So all I'm trying to do here is tell you that this is not a happy situation in which you should feel confident deterrence will prevail. It is an ever-present source of conflict for these two countries that have gone to war any number of times. That would be Kashmir, of course. And that chronic source of conflict has lead to the dismemberment of one of the two states is ever-present as a possible source of a war that could escalate to the nuclear level. So South Asia.
Second, I would say there is the case of Iran. It is possible that Iran will preserve the option to build nuclear weapons, but not actually build nuclear weapons. That is a possibility. I consider it more likely that one of two other things would happen: that they will, in fact, build nuclear weapons, or that another state, which could be us, will use force to prevent them from building nuclear weapons.
That will not be an easy decision. It wouldn't be easy for the United States to watch Iran acquire nuclear weapons because of the implications for the Middle East if it does, and it certainly wouldn't be easy for the United States to use conventional strike to stop the Iranians because they’d would have to be a very protracted strike and you’d have to be planning on re-strike because of the character of our conventional capability and the character of the hardening of their facilities.
So this is not a happy situation. There is not a good ending to this that anybody I know of really predicts. And the possibility of the use of force, the provocation that these weapons would have in Iranian hands for Arabs – Iranians are, of course, not Arabs – and for the Middle East is potentially catastrophic.
The third case, of course, is North Korea. We worry about North Korea for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that over a period of time, the North Korean program could prove to be a provocation to South Korea and/or Japan, leading them to acquire nuclear weapons for a variety of reasons, not least of which being domestic political pressure to do so.
So these are hard cases. They look like model three to me – separate solutions, not systemic solutions, not particularly technically driven anymore; much more like model three problems open to model three solutions, if there are any.
Finally, my last point here is that the current situation of proliferation is, for me, not importantly defined by what I have been talking about. It is not importantly defined by the state acquisition of nuclear weapons. For me, our security in the United States and that of our allies is much more likely to be directly affected by the acquisition of a nuclear device by a terrorist group and the introduction of that device into a city – for our purposes, an American city; for your purposes, this city.
I hope to get your attention now. It is, to me, implausible – if we don't do something different – implausible that we will get away with ten or twenty years without having a nuclear weapon detonated in New York City. I say that because I do not see a defense by denial against nuclear weapons acquisition by a terrorist group. In other words, I don't see how we could defend by denial in the classic sense of denying access to our shores.
Remember, the weapon would... This podium is a nice size for first-generation improvised nuclear device. And by the way, there are two models here. One, they steal a nuclear weapon; B, they build one. I'm working on B as more likely than A. Even though A is a lot more fun for the movies, B is a lot more concern to me.
That basic device is this and the question is if you had a weapon that was as big as this podium and you were someplace in Africa or the Middle East or Southeast Asia, could you figure out a way with high confidence of getting it into the United States? Could you figure out a way? Or would you be stymied by the extraordinary security at all of our borders? The way our marinas are completely controlled by the Coast Guards so that no ship goes in and out without being searched; the way the northern border of the United States is constantly patrolled; the way nobody ever gets in the southern border.
No defense by denial. Defense by deterrence. Defense by deterrence against an enemy that values your death more than his life? I don't think so.
So the defense is to prevent this group from acquiring the fissile material. Well, what's the rub there? The rub there is that there is Pakistan, there is Russia. Neither country has a leadership that wants to transfer fissile material to a terrorist group, but we know that Pakistan, in many scenarios, will not have a grip on its fissile material. We know that Russia still is not up to our standards in securing its fissile material.
Remember, we're talking about, in the Russian case, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tons of fissile material, when the amount of material that would fit in that bottle would give you Nagasaki, and in this city would give you, at ground burst at noon-time-ish, on the order of a quarter of a million people dead – some of them promptly and some within four to six weeks. And I'm not talking about long-term radiation here.
We were stunned, as we ought to have been, by 9/11 – 3,000. And I'm talking about a quarter of a million people.
For me, we should recast the Iranian case, the North Korean case. Those cases are, to me, even though I just spoke to you in terms of proliferation – the domino effect in the region – that's not what they're really about for me. I know I don't live in New York; I live in Chicago. My daughter lives here and I like the people of New York. [Laughter.] But it's about the transfer of material.
And before you say, "Oh, no. Now you are talking about some TV show 24..." I've been in debates… What country is going to transfer? Who? Well, did you miss the story about North Korea building a plutonium production reactor in Syria? Did that one blow by you or did you notice? Do you know what a plutonium production reactor is? It's one of those reactors that is not built for energy. That's why they call it a production reactor.
We built in the United States, at Savannah River and a couple of other places reactors – not for energy purposes, but for plutonium production. Hence, the term, ‘plutonium production reactor.’ That's what the North Koreans built in Syria and we didn't catch them at it. And you're going to catch a bottle being transferred? I don't think so. I don’t think so.
And what would possess them to do it? To make money. They're hungry. I'm not now seeking sympathy for North Korea. I'm just making a point. "Please," as Dave Barry used to say, "I'm not making this up. Please check it out." The Israelis did destroy that one site, but that is, to me, proof positive.
And by the way, for all the extraordinary red-line drawing of the last administration, we did absolutely nothing after that happened. Would you like to be dependent on Syria's decision-making over the disposition of their secret plutonium production facility? Would you like to depend on Iran's? Iran, right now, supplies more conventional weapons to groups that we regard as terrorists than any other state on the planet, and they're on the edge of producing fissile material.
I take this all very seriously. And now, if this doesn't catch your attention, try my closer. We are in the midst of what many people in this country, including the President of the United States, an honorable man, and the Secretary of Energy, another honorable man, and everybody senior in this administration – many of them I have known for a long time – not all of them, but some of them – are in the midst of embracing a nuclear renaissance that may well include the use of plutonium fuels, because – because they are describing the terrorist threat as the principle threat and the material for a terrorist threat to be only highly enriched uranium.
Bomb design number one. Imagine that's a sphere. Imagine these are high explosive lenses. Imagine there is fissile material here. This makes what's called an implosion system. These explosives compress this material so that it's super-critical and you get a nuclear yield. That was the Nagasaki bomb.
This is another design. This is fissile material, and, in fact, it is HEU. Everyone in the administration who works on these issues has been taught something, which I will now teach you. There are two basic designs for a nuclear weapon. This design is the simpler of the two. This is essentially a tube. Conventional explosive at one end, detonated and fissile material goes down the tube, hits the other, and you get a super-critical mass, and you get an explosion. This was the Hiroshima device. This produced about 12,000 tons of TNT-equivalent – KT. This is the Nagasaki. It produced around 18 KT. You can only make this device with highly enriched uranium.
This device – called an golden implosion system – can be made with either plutonium or highly enriched uranium. You all with me? A terrorist, it is said, cannot make one of these – too hard. A terrorist can only make one of these. But one of these can only be made with HEU. So if we can control HEU, we've controlled the terrorist threat. And we don't have to worry about plutonium.
This is technical nonsense. It is in every book that I have ever seen about non-prolif-eration. It also is informing the thinking of the administration, as best I know. It's at least informing some thinking.
It is a great concern to me that we treat plutonium with the same respect, care, and awe that we treat highly enriched uranium. There is a blue ribbon panel established by the President of the United States, chaired by Brent Scowcroft, the former National Security Advisor, and Lee Hamilton – now with the Woodrow Wilson Center – and that panel will make its report on reprocessing plutonium by the United States, I believe, in December or January. It's very important that that report reflect concern about plutonium, and I certainly hope it does.
So what I'm telling you here – the bottom line – is that if we end up with plutonium fuels because of this kind of reason, then plutonium will be in circulation at every reactor. So think about that. Where are reactors? You don't build reactors in the country; you build them in the cities. Right? That's where you need the energy.
So wherever you have a reactor, you will have plutonium in motion. It will be in fuel. Not a good thing. Not a good thing for the United States, but certainly there will be reactors all around the world and there will be a lot of plutonium to be separated and in motion. This is a very bad idea if you're trying to control it.
There will be arguments that there are ways of reprocessing so that the plutonium stream contains some fission products and byproducts which will make it very difficult to handle if you're a terrorist, and therefore, not useful for a weapon. If you say you're interested in this, I invite you to scrutinize those arguments very carefully.
I think I should stop right here. It does look like it's seven o'clock, and I thank you for your attention.
Thank you very much. If you would like to pose questions, I invite you to step up to the microphone at the center here. I think I might abuse my position here and ask you the first question.
On the way over here, you were talking about when you became President of the MacArthur Foundation, you found that you could learn about all kinds of things besides nuclear proliferation. And the question I have is, given that the MacArthur Foundation is working in all different fields, how would you assess the challenge and the threat of nuclear proliferation relative to the other kinds of threats and challenges that we face?
And I ask that because we have a lot of students in the audience here. And when you talk to students about things that they care about, they get excited about, they get active about, they get excited about things like climate change and public health and so on, and it's a relatively self-selective group that gets interested in the challenge of nuclear proliferation. Are these students wrong? Do they have the wrong priorities? How would you assess nuclear proliferation relative to some of the other things that we should care about?
Every graduation speaker cannot resist telling the youth that's before them to follow your passions. And it's unfortunate that it's a cliché, but things become a cliché for a reason. It's almost irresistible for an old guy to say to you, "Follow your passion." I am the president of a foundation that has an incredibly broad menu of areas of work reflecting these broad values of concern for the human condition. So domestically, we’re into education K through 12, we're into community building, reduction of violence, creation and preservation of low-income housing, we’re into juvenile justice reform. I could go on and on about domestic stuff we're doing. Internationally we're into human rights and international justice, maternal mortality and other issues of human productivity and health. We are trying to advance higher education in certain selected places.
And we're interested in international security, broadly defined, including this area. I have devoted a fair amount of my career to political-military issues, national security in the United States, and international security, and I have never been bored doing that. I was always confident that the work would never get done, and I always thought that I could make a contribution, and that it was extremely important.
I could imagine now, particularly, that since I've moved to the MacArthur Foundation, being able to get comparably interested in any of the areas I just mentioned. You might wonder what the President of the MacArthur Foundation does all day. Essentially, I listen, and I get briefed. And I'm just finishing my first year, so the quality I have a tight grip on is ignorance. So I'm listening to all these experts in the Foundation who have worked these issues all their lives tell me about the issue.
And then my job is to really go out with them, the staff, to visit the grantees. We're not an operating foundation; we give money. That's what we do: we give money away to civil society, to NGOs – international organizations – that enhance our values and our interests. So it might be a group that's reducing maternal mortality in Nigeria or India. It might be a school system in New York.
Tomorrow I'll be visiting some of the grantees in the city, where we’re working on digital media and learning in one of their schools in particular. So I get to see the grantee that's working there and I also get to see the people we're trying to impact, whether it's kids in seventh grade, or whether it's women in Nigeria, or whether it's one of our conservation projects in Madagascar. And I can get pretty passionate pretty quickly about saving species all around the world – we operate on hot spots – but I feel passionately about all those issues.
This is the one that I picked, but I'm not here to tell you that it is superior in any moral or ethical way, as a lot of other things you can do. And, as I used to say as a closer when I was a dean at Georgetown and was always looking to raise money for my school – please, some of you go into financial services, because I need gifts. That part of my life is apparently over, so I'm not saying that anymore, but one can do good in a lot of different ways. Certainly, when I look at the menu of the MacArthur Foundation, I'm struck by the dozens of ways one can.
When people talk about the possibility of a military convention against Iran, one thing that is frequently brought up is the idea of Israel acting alone. Is that at all feasible? Does Israel have the military capacity to conduct, as you described, a multi-day, protracted, repeat operation in a situation where the United States was actually against it?
I think all I want to say about that is this: that whatever capability Israel has to launch a strike against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilitates, that ability and that capacity is less than what the United States has. And, to the best of my knowledge, the ability of the United States to do that is limited.
I don't mean that we couldn't really ruin their day, but I don't believe that stopping the program is a plausible outcome from even a series of strikes over a series of days. One would have to contemplate re-striking after a period of time. Iran has been aware that the program might be subject to attack and has put facilities underground. So the problem facing the United States is even more acute for Israel, and regards the Iranian program, as they say, an existential threat.
I was wondering, first, if you could offer your thoughts on evaluating the relative risk of nuclear terrorism today versus in, say, 1985, or the fall of the Soviet Union. And, second, to what do you attribute these differences in the risk level, like the changing nature of terrorism or [inaudible]?
Frankly, I was not thinking about nuclear terrorism in 1985, but it would seem to me that given the way I think about it these days, which is in terms of the availability of fissile material and of people interested in that kind of terrorism – and these are the two factors I would point to in response – there are books on my shelf, and I imagine the shelves of others in this room, that talk about terrorism and they mean something different than the terrorism we now have. It used to be said that terrorists want a lot of attention but not a lot of people dead; that if too many people die, since terrorism is a political act, it can be politically alienating, and therefore, counterproductive.
So the idea of the terribly lethal virus being spread by a terrorist or a nuclear weapon being used by a terrorist seem to be inconsistent with the idea of the objective of any terrorist group that is seeking sympathy for their cause. That style of terrorism has been overtaken by another kind of terrorism, and often with an apocalyptic view of the world. Aum Shinrikyo comes to mind in the Japanese case or Al-Qaeda in our case, where there are documents that show Al-Qaeda having made a calculation about the hundreds of thousands of American innocents who could be killed quite legitimately in light of the numbers of deaths of Muslims caused directly or indirectly by U.S. policy over the years. So there is sort of a "just cause" argument being made – and I put that phrase in heavy quotes – by some Muslims.
I don't believe this is main line or Islamic thought, and please don't think I'm making that case. What I am saying is that I think most of us who have looked at this believe that were Al-Qaeda to succeed in manufacturing or otherwise acquiring a nuclear weapon and introducing it into an American city, it would not hesitate to detonate, so the first thing that's different from 1985 is this kind of terrorism.
The second thing is –I have been talking about nuclear terrorism, not biological terrorism – I will say that in the model I'm most concerned about is our material availability and the construction of an improvised nuclear device that there is more nuclear material around these days than was around 30 or 25 years ago. So I think the threat is greater now than it was then.
Historically, what do you think were the longer-term implications for the policy of denial during the 1970s?
That's a great question, because, at the time, you might guess that some were arguing that denial would be provocative, that we would do better if we would allow access to this technology under the right circumstances, which meant international safeguards. I don't believe that to be true myself. I'm remembering how hard we fought to persuade the French, and the Germans, and the Italians not to build or contribute to the construction of enrichment or reprocessing plants in Pakistan, North Korea, South Korea, Iran, Brazil, Argentina – I could go on.
And I think the policy of denial behind an argument that there was no good economic rationale for reprocessing or enrichment... There was then, and is now, a market in enrichment, so if you are an utility in Sweden and you're looking to get some enriched uranium fuel for your reactor, you can go to Urenco in Europe, you can go to Eurodif in Europe, you can go to Russia, you can go to the United States, and maybe soon you can go to Japan.
So there is a market and you can get the best price on uranium and the best price on enrichment services. For reprocessing, the argument goes that there is no economic argument right now for reprocessing. There might be one eventually depending on the price of uranium.
What I didn't explain here is that the reason why countries might want to recover the plutonium is that plutonium is a fissile material, which means it fissions with fast or slow neutrons like uranium-235, the fissile isotope of natural uranium.
And so when you have plutonium, you can replace the uranium-235, which you would have increased in content, in proportion in the uranium for the fuel of a [inaudible] reactor with plutonium, and therefore, you would need less uranium and you wouldn't need as much in the way of enrichment services.
So there is fuel value in the plutonium, but it's very hard to make an economic case that makes sense these days until the price of uranium and enrichment services change. That's very contentious and people will disagree with that proposition.
Given in the past few years the surge and concern about climate change, and especially with the BP oil spill, and all this talk that our addiction to oil is not sustainable. I was wondering if you thought that was a real threat and, if so, is nuclear energy going to be part of the solution? And, if not, what are the other…?
I'm enough of an expert on this stuff to know I'm not an expert on this stuff, so I'll tell you what I think, but a word to the wise here. I don't believe that – at least now – you can have a serious energy policy that is sensitive to our concerns about carbon fuels and climate change that does not include nuclear energy in the mix.
You may be surprised to hear that I'm an advocate of nuclear energy. I am. I am a [death-on-wheels] to the use of plutonium fuels, but to nuclear energy, the way we have been using it in this country with what is called a once-through cycle, it stops at the pond and then maybe goes into dry storage in a cement cast – that's what we do in my neighborhood around Washington. That's what happens to the fuel. It goes into dry storage where it can stay for a couple hundred years quite happily, and that seems to me the way to go. To me, that's a good radioactive waste management solution. It doesn't require us to use Yucca Mountain. The President doesn't want to use Yucca Mountain.
And so, this all makes a lot of sense to me, and nuclear energy makes sense as part of the mix. Is it better to do other things so you don't have to have concerns attached to the use of nuclear energy and the certain risks that are different? Yes. Alternative fuels, and principally, efficiency. Increasing energy efficiency – conservation.
There's an awful lot of energy that can be saved there and I'm very enthusiastic that not only that can happen, but it will happen, not because we all turn green because we're wonderful people, but for economic reasons.
And I think we will be using less oil over time, but I think right now when we talk about a mix, for most countries nuclear energy should play a part. The French get some place between 80 and 90 percent of their electrical generating capacity from nuclear energy. That's a lot. We're around 27%, which is [trivial].
Thank you for a great talk. Regarding your model three, I don't know how many people are aware of how much energy and effort you've put into bilateral diplomacy with North Korea over a number of years. So I want to put you on the spot and put the spotlight on that part of your career.
As you reflect, do you believe the North Koreans really wanted to carry out the agreement that you negotiated – the Agreed Framework? That's the first part of the question. The second part is to what extent do you fall to diplomacy of the successor administration that you didn't serve in, for the fact that we're in this impasse today, and how do you see it playing out looking into the crystal ball? How do you see this crisis resolving itself?
Thank you for that. I am, of course, completely objective on this subject and you should trust everything I say. We never knew when we were negotiating with the North Koreans whether, a, we would get a deal, and if we did, whether they would stick to it. And in retrospect, I still don't know the answer to the second question. Obviously we got a deal called the Agreed Framework.
At some point – the deal was concluded in 1994 – between 1996-97 and 1999, it is pretty clear that the North got into a kind of arrangement with Pakistan and received from Pakistan some gas centrifuge machines. Maybe more, but what I've just said – at least that is true.
So one is tempted to say, "Well, they made the deal, but they did not abide by it." I'm not the lawyer for the North Koreans, but if I were going to say, "How could this have happened?" this might have been North Korean hedging, because they didn't get what they thought they were going to get – and they might have reasonably expected – which was a political relationship with the United States.
You may or may not remember what happened in the fall of 1994 in addition to the conclusion of the Agreed Framework. One of the things that happened is that the Democrats lost both houses of Congress, and all of a sudden, when I went up to talk about my negotiations with North Korea, instead of some fairly friendly and supportive Democratic chairs of subcommittees, there were a whole lot of people who really didn't like this deal at all and were thinking of undoing it, but were worried about the implications of that.
What I'm saying is there was no enthusiasm for the political part of deal with North Korea. The North Koreans felt that we [welched] on that. I don't think whatever [welching] we may or may not have done was material, as a [Lerner] might say. What they did in their treaty clearly was. Would they have continued to pursue this had the Gore Administration proceeded with the negotiation that was planned at the end of the Clinton Administration? Who knows.
In any case, this last part of your question, was I unhappy with the Bush Administration's treatment of North Korea in September of 2002? And the answer is yes, I was. I really thought that we could have valued the freeze we had with the North more than we did instead of taking a position that insisted that they own up to this enrichment program before we never talked to them anymore, which it made it very unlikely and inconceivable that negotiations would continue, and then the North, after we did that, they claimed that we had broken the deal and they went off on their own way as the nuclear devices produced more plutonium, and it has not been a very pleasant history ever since.
All that being said, you might notice that the President had been the President now for almost a year and a half, or so, and we have not had peace and light with [inaudible], because these are tough people to deal with.
But looking ahead, I think, as I always used to think, is a way to get into a negotiation with them that we could come out ahead in and negotiators have to think this way. You have to keep your eye on the ball on the national security, but you have to be pretty optimistic that you could pull something off.
So I think there is a deal still to be made with the North. It wouldn't be easy and they're not chomping at the bit right now, for whatever reason. So I don't regard the North Korean case as critical as some others that we confront because right now, the principal concern I have is a, transfer, and b, the domino effect. Intrinsically, I don't think the North Koreans are going anywhere with their nuclear program.
Thank you very much for your speech. Sometimes we hear the phrase, "We're fighting the last war," and models one, two, and three, have some components of that, but the issue you brought up for the non-state actors – that's today's war and tomorrow's war – you raised the issue of [inaudible], and controlling that as one of the ways to win that war, but I was wondering if there were other things that you could address of other ways to control [inaudible]?
Sure. If you get interested in this topic – I'm looking here at students – you would go back over what I said about no defense and no returns. One of the things you'd get interested in is, is it possible, in fact, to recreate some deterrence, or maybe to use a [inaudible] word – compellence. And some of us have been attracted to the idea that we might be able to find out if there is a nuclear detonation, but who did it. Not only who did it, but who provided the fissile material.
We might want to do that, because if we could do that, we could announce that we could do that and we could, in fact, issue a... Well, let's call it a threat. And it would be one that we'd have to be very careful with because this fissile material could come from places that have nuclear weapons, like Russia or Pakistan – places that we do not believe would on purpose transfer, but places that maybe have not been as rigorous as we might like in controlling that material.
Now, all of this chain of reasoning depends upon the proposition that we could, in fact, say to the world, "If you detonate a nuclear weapon on the territory of the United States or one of its allies, we will find out who did it and where the material came from." That is called attribution. It's the ability to attribute.
And you may or may not know this, but your government is working pretty hard on the problem of attribution, and I can tell you that if a nuclear weapon does go off in your city or my city, in addition to the many people that would come to help us all out, there would be some group of folks who would come probably wearing white suits like in the movies, and they would not be coming here to help you all.
They'd be coming here to collect debris, and they would scoop up that debris and they would take it back to the Department of Energy Laboratories, like Sandia or Los Alamos, and they would do an isotopic analysis to try and figure out first was the core plutonium or was it high enriched uranium, or whatever. What was the design like? And a lot of other stuff, and could we actually find out where the plutonium was produced? In which reactor? In what country? Could we figure out what the technology was used to enrich uranium? Was it centrifuge? Was it diffusion?
So there are people who are working on that capability so that we could say that. In fact, we could say now... I can say now to you that it's possible we could figure this out. That's not as powerful a statement as we might want to make over time, so one of the avenues that we are pursuing are recapturing a little bit of this deterrence.
It's really, as I say, more compellence in the case to adopt good policies, but in the case of North Korea, if North Korea believed that were they to transfer anything, we would trace it back to them and treat them as though they were the attacker, we might create a little deterrence out of this. So that's one possibility.
Thanks very much. I have a question about the horrible scenario you sketched out for us. Is the problem nuclear terrorism or is it Al-Qaeda specifically getting nuclear weapons? It seems to be that there are a lot of terrorist groups and a lot of them we don't think would have an interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, or at least if they did, detonating them in U.S. soil.
This seems to be specific to groups with a global reach that don't have much regard for their own survival, that aren't seeking specific concrete proximately obtainable political goals. Al-Qaeda is the... It seems to be that's what we're talking about. So is this a forecast, then, that would depend upon the continued success of Al-Qaeda or is this a broader issue than that? And let me just add to that: how much interest has Al-Qaeda shown in acquiring a nuclear weapon?
Okay. As they say in California, way broader. Think Oklahoma City. Suppose I told you instead of this fertilizer-based, gas-enhanced explosion that took down the Murrah Building that they had access to a nuclear device that produced [sub] [inaudible], so maybe half a KT. A KT is thousand tons of TNT equivalent, so this would be 500 tons of TNT equivalent, which would be an order of magnitude or more bigger an explosion than they had.
Do you think they wouldn't have done it? I have no reason to think they would have said, "Oh, no. Too many dead people. I only want to kill this many people." I don't get that. I get apocalyptic. The same thing with Aum Shinrikyo. Aum Shinrikyo... I don't know how much you know about these folks. This is not Al-Qaeda, but they were scouting uranium all over the world, they were well-financed, they attempted the anthrax thing – failed at it – they killed people before they hit the subway with people at a little party they went to. So clearly they wanted massive death, so I don't see this as Al-Qaeda specific.
It's just irresistible when I'm talking about this not to think about an Al-Qaeda group or a branch group because they have a particular hatred for the United States and a belief that the United States has been behind so much death and destruction in the Arab world. But by no means is it limited to Al-Qaeda in my view.
The second part of your question was: but do you we have specific knowledge that Al-Qaeda has been after nuclear weapons? The answer is absolutely yes. We have a couple of – I don't want to say funny as in hilarious – but a couple of Pakistani scientists from the nuclear program showed up with designs for a nuclear weapon in Al-Qaeda caves in Afghanistan and we got the designs. They're awful, but these were people from the nuclear program – not, clearly, from the nuclear design program, but from the nuclear program, which is quite large in Pakistan. So we know that.
We also know that Al-Qaeda has advertised – I mean this – for nuclear scientists, so they could be wanting to build a peaceful nuclear plant, but I doubt it. So I don't think there's any question about Al-Qaeda's interest in this, but I really do mean this is a terrorist issue.
When I talk about ten or twenty years, I'm just trying to get you to think about... It hasn't happened yet; maybe it won't happen, but this does not go away, and anything that we do that acerbates the problem, such as, from my perspective, use plutonium fuels, increases the likelihood. Whatever the chance is that it's going to happen this year, multiply it out over twenty years or even longer, and it becomes a very troubling phenomenon.
Thank you all very much.