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Living with the Bomb

Gary Samore


The Proliferation Scenario

The Year is 2015...

Since the end of the Bush administration in 2008 efforts to disarm North Korea have failed. Despite the February 2007 six-party agreement, which shut down North Korea’s plutonium production facilities, Pyongyang has refused to take additional steps to disable North Korea’s nuclear facilities or to relinquish its existing stocks of fissile materials and weapons. North Korea is now thought to be capable of delivering a first generation nuclear warhead on its Nodong intermediate range missile. Experts estimate that North Korea has produced enough plutonium for around two dozen nuclear weapons and is nearing completion of a 50-megawatt reactor, which is theoretically capable of producing annually enough plutonium for nearly a dozen nuclear weapons. North Korea also continues to develop its long-range Taepodong missile, which will eventually be able to threaten targets in the United States.

In the Middle East, efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons have also collapsed. After the UN Security Council failed to impose serious sanctions, Israel took matters into its own hands, bombing key Iranian nuclear facilities in January 2009, in the final days of the Bush administration. In response, Tehran withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and evicted International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, citing Iran’s need to develop an "independent" defense capability and vowing to rebuild its nuclear program without international monitoring. In the last few years, rumors and intelligence reports indicate that Iran has rebuilt its enrichment facilities at a secret, undisclosed location and has begun to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons. For its part, Tehran has announced that "it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East." Tehran has also continued to develop its Shahab-3 intermediate range missile and has launched a new program to build a "peaceful" space launch vehicle.

Assuming this gloomy scenario—that both North Korea and Iran are nuclear-armed states by 2015—consider the following questions:

1. To curb the further spread of nuclear weapons beyond North Korea and Iran, what might an effective global regime outside the NPT framework look like?

2. How might North Korean and Iranian nuclear capabilities impact the nuclear weapons programs, policies, and doctrines of Asia’s nuclear weapon states (Russia, China, India, and Pakistan) and the United States?

3. How might these states (i.e., the Asian nuclear powers and the United States) respond to reduce the threat...

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