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U.S. Nuclear Policy at a Crossroads?

From Obama’s nuclear summit to newly published research, LBJ School and Strauss Center faculty continue to lead the discussion on nuclear proliferation

AUSTIN, Texas-- April 22, 2010-- Through academic channels, mainstream media, and the power of film, LBJ School faculty and affiliates of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law continue to lead the discussion on nuclear proliferation, led by Francis J. Gavin, Tom Slick Professor of International Affairs and Strauss Center Director, and Alan J. Kuperman, Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Strauss Center Senior Fellow.

 Kuperman addressed a February meeting in Washington, D.C. in advance of President Barack Obama’s 47-nation nuclear summit, and afterwards was tapped by mainstream media for his expertise as a nuclear proliferation analyst.
 
The summit’s primary goal was to prevent nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation by securing and reducing worldwide stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, a mission Kuperman dedicated himself to in 1987, while working at the non-governmental Nuclear Control Institute. Later, as legislative director to then-Congressman Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kuperman wrote a 1992 U.S. law that sharply restricted exports of bomb-grade uranium.
 
Kuperman expressed gratification at the newfound attention to his previously obscure issue. 
 
“When I first wrote about this in the Washington Post, in 1987, the United States was spending a paltry $1.3 million to reduce bomb-grade uranium commerce,” said Kuperman. “This year, President Obama requested $559 million and assembled 47 countries, making the elimination of bomb-grade uranium commerce an urgent global priority.”
 
In an article in the Vancouver Sun, Kuperman praised Canada’s recent decision to return to the United States their used HEU, sufficient for several Hiroshima-sized atom bombs. 
 
"No one thinks Canada is a proliferation risk but certainly the security at U.S. military facilities is better than it is at Chalk River," a civilian facility in Ontario, said Kuperman. "It sets a good example for other countries to do the same."
 
Dozens of reactors and medical isotope producers worldwide continue to use HEU rather than converting to safer, low-enriched uranium, which raises the specter of nuclear terrorism that Kuperman says has motivated bipartisan initiatives since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
 
“The fear that people like [Donald] Rumsfeld and [Dick] Cheney enunciated is exactly the fear that Obama has enunciated – that the greatest threat the nation faces is the confluence of nuclear weapons and terrorism,” said Kuperman in an article on Politico.com.
 
Despite the President’s successful nuclear initiatives, Kuperman still worries about Iran, the subject of his New York Times analysis in December 2009.
As he told Politico.com: “It’s great that Obama did this summit. It’s great that Obama did a new START treaty. But if he accomplishes those two things and Iran gets nuclear weapons, on net, I’m not sure we’re in a safer world.”
 
Gavin contributed to the academic discourse surrounding the issue of nuclear proliferation with research recently published in MIT Press Journals’ International Security. In his article, “Same As It Ever Was: Nuclear Alarmism, Proliferation, and the Cold War,” Gavin dispels some of the myths that perpetuate the view of “nuclear alarmism,” or the widely held belief that nuclear proliferation is the largest threat currently facing the United States.
 
“Clearly, dealing with nuclear proliferation is an important policy challenge,” said Gavin. “But the threats are often overstated and oversimplified, which could result in the creation of policies that make the world more dangerous in the long term rather than solving problems.”
 
Additionally, Gavin will take part in the Hertog Global Strategy Initiative, a research program that employs historical analysis to confront present and future problems in world politics. This summer, the twelve-week course will involve intensive independent research and collaborative writing on the critical international affairs issue of “Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of World Power.”
 
The 2010 Initiative will be taught by Gavin and Matthew Connelly, Professor of History at Columbia University, and will include three weeks of “total immersion” training in nuclear strategy and the methods of international history, followed by eight weeks conducting independent and team projects. In August, the class reconvenes and participants present their research and produce a joint report.
 
To increase public awareness and to generate discussion, Alan Kuperman, Kenneth Flamm, Dean Rusk Chair in International Affairs and Director of the Technology, Innovation and Global Security Program for the Strauss Center, and Eugene Gholz, Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar, participated in a panel discussion on April 14 after a public screening of “Countdown to Zero,” a film about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The panel also included a representative of the Global Zero advocacy campaign.
 

Related:

The Hertog Global Strategy Initiative – 2010 Topic: Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of World Power - Latest News
 
Alan Kuperman – Politico.com – Obama: No guarantee on sanctions – April 14, 2010
 
Alan Kuperman – Politico.com – As U.S. hails others, its uranium sales go on – April 14, 2010
 
Alan Kuperman – The Vancouver Sun – Canada to send spent uranium back to U.S. – April 13, 2010
 
 
Frank Gavin – L.A. Times – No need to ban the bomb – March 9, 2010

 

Frank Gavin - The World - How to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions - March 9, 2010

 
Frank Gavin – International Security – Same As It Ever Was: Nuclear Alarmism, Proliferation, and the Cold War – Winter 2009/10