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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Remarks > 2003

Taking Stock of the Atoms for Peace Model

Stephen G. Rademaker, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control
Remarks to the Symposium on "Atoms for Peace After 50 Years: New Challenges and Opportunities"
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California
November 13, 2003

Remarks as delivered

Good evening. I want to thank Ron Lehman for the invitation to speak to you tonight. It is a rare treat for me to escape the political and diplomatic settings where I spend most of my time to talk to an audience that takes a more academic approach to some of the same issues we wrestle with in Washington. It is always a challenge, however, to try to talk to experts about issues on which they are expert. I will do my best to keep your attention by taking stock of President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace idea in light of recent developments.

There is much to contemplate in President Eisenhower's speech. The varied agenda of this Symposium is a testament to that. As I recently reviewed the speech in preparation for this conference, I was most struck by these words:

"The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind."

In other words, nations that give up the military threat of the atom should in return be able to reap the benefits of peaceful uses of the atom. In this statement is the kernel of the idea -- the basic tradeoff, if you will -- of military for peaceful uses that became a cornerstone of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The same basic idea was subsequently incorporated into the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention.

In evaluating the Atoms for Peace model, the question before us is whether this basic tradeoff has fulfilled its promise. In particular, is it workable; that is, can we in fact draw an effective line between military and peaceful work on the atom, as well as on chemicals and biological agents? Further, is access to peaceful uses a necessary or effective incentive in the battle against WMD proliferation?

The most immediate threats to the NPT regime are well known to this audience and have been on public display for over a year now, first in North Korea, and more recently in Iran. In October 2002, North Korea admitted to a secret uranium enrichment program linked to its development of nuclear weapons. Obviously this program compounded previous North Korean violations of the NPT and other relevant international agreements.

More instructive from the perspective of the Atoms for Peace model, however, is the fact that this program was launched despite a nearly decade-long, multi-billion dollar effort by the United States and other countries under the Agreed Framework to give North Korea civilian nuclear power plants for purposes of generating electricity. Certainly, no one would claim that North Korean behavior is the norm when it comes to nuclear tradeoffs. But, if nothing else, this experience reminds us that the promise of peaceful nuclear technology -- even when the market value of that promise can be measured in the billions of dollars -- is not enough by itself to dissuade some countries from pursuing their nuclear weapons ambitions.

Iran was never promised civilian nuclear power plants essentially free of charge, but Russia has relentlessly pursued the construction of such reactors at Bushehr for much of the last decade, and Iran has been one of the largest beneficiaries of IAEA technical cooperation for peaceful purposes. Yet, to date, three reports by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency ("IAEA") have established that Iran is in violation -- in multiple instances -- of its safeguards obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). While Iran has consistently denied any program to develop nuclear weapons, the IAEA has amassed an enormous amount of evidence to the contrary that makes this assertion increasingly implausible.

On Monday, the IAEA Director General issued the Agency's most recent report on Iran's nuclear program. After extensive documentation of Iran's denials and deceptions over an eighteen-year period, and a long litany of serious violations of Iran's commitments to the IAEA, the report nonetheless concluded that "no evidence" had been found of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. I must say that the report's assertion is simply impossible to believe. This is not only the Administration's view. Thomas Cochran, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the New York Times that "it's dumbfounding that the IAEA, after saying that Iran for 18 years had a secret effort to enrich uranium and separate plutonium, would turn around and say there was no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. If that's not evidence, I don't know what is." Gary Samore, a former Clinton Administration official now with the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London told the London Telegraph that "this is unquestionably a bomb program."

In what can only be an attempt to build a capacity to develop nuclear materials for nuclear weapons, Iran has enriched uranium with both centrifuges and lasers, and produced and reprocessed plutonium. It attempted to cover its tracks by repeatedly and over many years neglecting to report its activities, and, in many instances, providing false declarations to the IAEA.

I repeat: The United States believes that the massive and covert Iranian effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities makes sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program. Iran is trying to legitimize as "peaceful and transparent" its pursuit of nuclear fuel cycle capabilities that would give it the ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. This includes uranium mining and extraction, uranium conversion and enrichment, reactor fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a heavy water reactor well-suited for plutonium production, and "management" of spent fuel -- a euphemism for reprocessing spent fuel to recover plutonium. The recent IAEA Director General's report confirms that Iran has been engaged in all of these activities over many years, and that it deliberately and repeatedly lied to the IAEA about it.

The international community now has to determine whether Iran has come clean on this program and how to react to the large number of serious violations to which Iran has admitted. If Iran takes all the steps called for in the IAEA's September 12 resolution, that would represent a major advance toward its integration into civilized society. If it is continuing to conceal its nuclear program and has again lied to the IAEA, the international community must be prepared to declare Iran in noncompliance with its IAEA safeguards obligations.

Further, unless and until it is clear that Iran is verifiably meeting its NPT obligations and has satisfied all concerns about its intentions, we will continue to urge countries to refrain from nuclear cooperation with Iran. Indeed, we have urged our friends and allies to condition any improvements in their bilateral trade relations with Iran on changes in Iran's polices in the nuclear area, as well as other areas of concern. We think it is appropriate, for example, that the European Union has conditioned progress in its Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Iran on positive movement in these areas.

The EU and Russia, among others, have increasingly come to agree with our assessment of Iran's nuclear intentions. But the international community as a whole must still come to a common position that Iran must forgo fuel cycle elements that would help Iran bring those intentions to fruition.

We can take some hope from the recent agreement between Iran and the Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany on Iran's nuclear facilities. Under that agreement Iran, has promised to fully disclose the history and extent of its nuclear program, suspend, for some unspecified period of time, its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, and sign the IAEA Additional Protocol.

We welcome Iran's decision to sign the Additional Protocol. It will oblige the Iranians to declare a wide variety of nuclear-related activities, including imports and R&D, and allow IAEA inspectors to inspect all aspects of these activities from the beginning. The Additional Protocol will provide greater knowledge to the international community and, hopefully, protect us from another Natanz-like surprise. Without the Additional Protocol, the IAEA has had insufficient authority to root out secret activities during early stages, that is, before they involved nuclear material. At one time this seemed adequate on the theory that a country cannot build a bomb without nuclear material. But the experience of the past 12 years in Iraq, North Korea and Iran has conclusively demonstrated that the IAEA's authority to intervene needs to begin earlier and be broader in scope.

In addition, we must never lose sight of the fundamental truth of all verification: the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. Time and again determined cheaters have proven capable of evading international arms inspectors. We should never forget the verdict pronounced on one such inspection effort:

Every form of deception and every obstacle baffled...the...Commission... The work of evasion became thoroughly organized. ...Under a civilian camouflage an organization was set up to safeguard weapons and equipment... Even more ingenuity was used to create machinery for future production of war material.

These words sound like a description of the recent experience of international inspectors in Iraq or one of several other countries of concern. In fact, however, this was Winston Churchill's description of what happened when Weimar Germany set out to evade arms inspections mandated under the Treaty of Versailles. Those inspections helped give rise to a false sense of complacency in Europe, with ultimately disastrous consequences. None of us should ever become complacent about this risk. We must recognize the limitations of verification systems against determined cheaters. And in the case of the NPT we must understand that even when the system works, the most the IAEA can do is sound the alarm; it is up to nations to take effective action against WMD threats.

We also must not forget that the agreement reached by the three EU Ministers with Iran reiterates Iran's right within the NPT regime to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. This is the very "right" behind which Iran has concealed a nuclear weapons program for almost two decades. Of course, neither the NPT nor the Additional Protocol prohibit the construction of nuclear facilities that could be turned to nuclear weapons related activities at a later date if Iran abrogated or withdrew from the NPT. So far, the deal has required Iran to hit the pause button in its enrichment and reprocessing activities. Not surprising, the Iranians have said that this aspect of the agreement with the EU Ministers will allow them to end their promised "suspension" of enrichment activities at an early date of their choosing.

Thus, it remains the case that under the NPT's basic tradeoff, Iran can acquire all of the capabilities it needs to produce nuclear weapons materials and then later withdraw from the Treaty and use the material in weapons. This risk will not be cured by Iran's acceptance of more rigorous inspections by the IAEA.

Let me turn for a moment to another tradeoff embodied in the NPT, one that is constantly raised by non-nuclear weapons states parties to the Treaty, that is the Article VI commitment to disarmament.

We continue to meet our obligations under this Article. The United States has dismantled over 13,000 nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. We have eliminated more than a dozen different types of warheads, and have reduced the number of nuclear weapons by about 60%, including 80% of our tactical nuclear weapons. Now, with the entry into force earlier this year of the U.S.-Russian Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions, also known as the Moscow Treaty, we will cut the number of operationally-deployed strategic nuclear warheads again, by about two-thirds to 1,700-2,200 by the year 2012. This represents the largest reduction in nuclear forces ever mandated by an arms control treaty. In two decades, we will have eliminated or decommissioned three-quarters of our strategic nuclear arsenal.

Also, the United States and Russia will dispose of more than 700 tons of excess fissi1e material so that it is no longer usable in nuclear weapons, contributing to the irreversibility of nuclear reductions. Some may debate whether this pace is fast enough, but it is not credible to argue that we are not on a steady, downward path consistent with Article VI.

Even as we significantly reduce our nuclear forces, the uncertainties of the post-Cold War security environment make it necessary for the United States to consider ways to adapt its remaining, smaller nuclear forces to changing circumstances. We need to explore weapons concepts that can help ensure that we continue to have a credible deterrent to new and emerging threats.

We understand concerns about the possibility that any U.S. Government move to develop, test, or build new or low-yield nuclear weapons would complicate non-proliferation efforts. However, even if the U.S. were to decide to move beyond merely exploring the feasibility of such weapons, concerns about the impact on proliferation, we believe, are overstated.

First, it is not at all clear that nuclear testing would be required in order to develop and build such weapons. Second, the NPT does not forbid us to modernize our nuclear forces, and in the past deployments by us of new weapons designs -- most recently the B-61 mod 11 deployed in the latter year of the Clinton Administration -- have not elicited undue concern. Third, even if we were to deploy such weapons, they would never constitute a major portion of our deterrent force.

Finally, it is fallacy to suggest that any American President would somehow be quicker to use a nuclear weapon because of a lower yield. Critics who make this claim are wrong. After more than 50 years of stewardship of nuclear weapons, the United States is fully aware of its responsibilities as a nuclear power. I am confident that the political leadership of the United States now and into the future would have the utmost appreciation and respect for the consequences of any decision on use of a nuclear weapon, and that such a decision would come to any President's desk only as a last resort on a matter of the highest concern to U.S. security.

The overall direction of U.S. policy in this regard is guided by the December 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, which calls for improving conventional precision strike capabilities and developing and deploying missile defenses. The effect of these policies is to reduce U.S. dependence on nuclear weapons for deterrence. The policies set forth in the Nuclear Posture Review and our Moscow Treaty reductions are consistent with our obligations under Article VI of the NPT.

We should have no illusions, moreover, that faster progress on implementation of Article VI would curb the appetite of some countries for nuclear weapons. It is simplistic and misleading to suggest that countries pursue nuclear weapons primarily in reaction to the nuclear policies of the United States and other legitimate nuclear weapons states. Countries bent on acquiring nuclear weapons have their own reasons.

The Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs pre-dated U.S. research programs on a robust nuclear earth penetrator and possible new low-yield nuclear weapons by many years. If the U.S. were to cancel those studies today, we could be sure that such a decision would not persuade Iran or North Korea to freeze and roll back their nuclear weapons programs.

The fact is that the balance between the three pillars of the NPT -- non-proliferation, peaceful nuclear cooperation, and disarmament -- has been dangerously out of whack due to the attitudes of too many NPT parties. The NPT's core purpose is preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. The very title of the Treaty makes that abundantly clear. And more NPT parties must begin to accord Articles I, II, and III a much higher priority if the Treaty is to continue to play a key role in global security.

In this context, I believe the debate will continue over how to properly channel the "right" of NPT Parties to peaceful nuclear cooperation. In all cases, but particularly with respect to countries that have established a record of seeking nuclear technology in violation of their safeguards agreements, we need to explore new ways of making sure that nuclear cooperation is provided in a manner that does not afford a shortcut to achieving the bomb.

My comments this evening have painted a realistic, if grim picture of the challenges posed to the NPT in light of the troubling North Korean and Iran cases before us. Nevertheless, I should point out that the nuclear non-proliferation record over the past three decades has been far better than some forecast when the NPT entered into force in 1970.

The NPT and the international pressure that members exert through it unquestionably has established a strong norm against the spread of nuclear weapons, and helped prevent, slow and redirect states from establishing nuclear weapons programs. We need to understand that the effectiveness of the NPT is only as great as its members want it to be, and for that reason there are weaknesses that some states can attempt to exploit.

I realize that my remarks probably have raised more questions than they have answered. The sensible thing for me to do at this point would be to head for the exit and let you debate these questions among yourselves, but I know Ron will not let me off so easily. So I welcome your comments and reactions. Thank you.


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