I had the good fortune to talk with Professor Sharon Squassoni in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Her research at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy includes reducing risks from nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, particularly those related to nuclear material and fuel cycle facilities.
Squassoni was previously Director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and was a senior scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She has held senior positions at the State Department, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Congressional Research Service, where she advised Congress on weapons of mass destruction.
I wanted to hear what she thought about the latest actions surrounding Iran, how that fits into the geopolitical history of the region and what the future might hold, especially for nuclear.
(Note: To better understand the discussion it’s probably good to get some history on Iran, a brief which I posted on Friday, January 16th)
JC Good afternoon, Professor! It’s a pleasure to speak with you today.
SS Good to be here, Jim!Today In: Business
JC Out of the 195 countries in the world today, how many countries have nuclear weapons? How many more are close to having them?
SS Nine countries have nuclear weapons but many more have some of the building blocks to develop them. The dual-use nature of the technology — fissile material can be used for nuclear power reactor fuel or for bombs — means we have to be eternally vigilant to ensure that more countries don’t develop nuclear weapons. Fortunately, we’ve had a treaty since 1970 that basically grandfathers the first five countries with nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia (then Soviet Union), United Kingdom, France and China — because they tested nuclear weapons before negotiators sat down to write the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Some say these are “legitimate” nuclear weapon states, but the treaty commits them to eventually disarm. Still, four countries developed nuclear weapons outside the NPT— Israel, India, Pakistan and South Africa. South Africa dismantled its stockpile of 6 weapons in the early 1990s and then joined the treaty.
The ninth state to develop nuclear weapons is North Korea and it is the only one to develop nuclear weapons after it joined the NPT (it withdrew from the treaty in 2003). Perhaps what’s more interesting are the states that have had nuclear weapons programs but renounced them (Argentina, Brazil, Sweden, South Korea). And, as I mentioned earlier, some countries can make the fissile material that can be used in nuclear weapons or for nuclear reactor fuel. Of these, Iran is the most troubling because Iran concealed its activities for decades.