By Michael Krepon
Source: Arms Control Wonk.
Alex George, the much-admired Stanford University professor, wrote Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy (1993) to encourage academia to produce more policy-relevant work. This divide has become wider in subsequent years. Hard-pressed government officials rarely look to academe for help with proliferation. They usually don’t have the time or patience for theorems or quantitative analysis. Bill Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova have tried to bridge this gap. Their new two-volume set, Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century (2010) [Vol. 1 | Vol. 2], brings together academics committed to policy-relevant theories of proliferation and offers country studies. There is much that is admirable in both volumes for students, academics and, yes, practitioners. The contributing factors to proliferation are widely recognized. They include domestic drivers, economic and security concerns, as well as regime and leadership types. The academic school of realism and its various branches do not satisfactorily explain the relative paucity of proliferation cases. The most important policy-relevant conclusion from these essays is a rebuttal of the widely-held assumption of proliferation cascades. Up until now, proliferation has been a relatively rare occurrence, far below projections. The data mined by these authors suggest that, with wise policy choices, this might continue to be the case, even with the current, unsettling Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
Michael Krepon, draws our attention to publications by Potter and Mukhatzhanova, Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century”. However, the second volume, which is a compilation of case studies of the usual suspected proliferates, conspicuous for their absence are studies of Israel, India and Pakistan who crossed the nuclear threshold despite the much vaulted non-proliferation regime. Forecasting Proliferation is undoubtedly an issue very high on the priorities of policy makers and planners responsible to secure their respective countries in a nuclear environment.
The problem lies in the myriad of diverse factors that 'trigger' aspirations to generate nuclear potential for military purposes. So far published literature revolves around the imperatives of the US in particular and Western powers in general. Some of these imperatives tend to give drive to proliferation policies in the larger global community – each for specific reasons of their own. Having said that, I have reservations about Krepon’s observation - "Up until now, proliferation has been a relatively rare occurrence, far below projections.” In an analysis one carried out a decade ago, the number of Nuclear Weapon States, Virtual Nuclear Weapon States, and suspected Proliferates amounted to 38. That was 20 per cent of the existing States. By no means could that number fall into the category of ‘rare occurrences’.
Furthermore in the post NATO adventure into Libya, Krepon may want to look at a piece put out by the Voice of Russia – “Greater Middle East expects only arms” by Polina Romanova. Sep 6, 2011, quoting Fedor Lukyanov, who opines “States with regimes, against which potentially, the U.S could act can come to only one conclusion; do not abandon nuclear weapons. It is the only guarantee of being left alone. In this sense, North Korea is a good example. All the evidence shows that the U.S should have acted against Pyongyang a long time ago with the object of replacing the regime, but that has not happened because the price would be too high. North Korea has nuclear arms and a missile programme, albeit rudimentary”.