Today Sweden is a state often heard providing support for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. But it wasn’t always like that. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Sweden debated whether to acquire nuclear weapons or not. Many political parties were deeply split over the issue. Some claimed that it would be impossible to defend Sweden against a nuclear weapon state without a national nuclear arsenal. Since Sweden was not part of any nuclear weaponized military alliance, the only reasonable alternative in order not to fall victim to a nuclear attack, would be the development of nuclear weapons, said the proponents.
The opposition to Swedish nuclear weapons was remarkable among civil society. The Social Democratic government was split over the issue, with Foreign Minister Östen Undén a strong nuclear resister – claiming Swedish nuclear weapons would drag the country right into the middle of the war between the two super powers. The government played a waiting game in the nuclear weapon issue, until the decision not to acquire nuclear weapons came definitively with the signing of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968.
NATO nuclear weapons
Three NATO states have nuclear weapons, USA, Great Britain and France. The French nuclear weapons are not part of the NATO nuclear arsenal.
Under the NATO Nuclear Sharing Programme, the US today has 250 nuclear weapons deployed in five European NATO Member States, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Turkey. These states are in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty classified as non-nuclear weapon states but in wartime the USA might give control over the nuclear bombs to the host country, disregarding the rules of the Non Proliferation Treaty.
The NATO nuclear doctrine has hardly changed during the last decades, despite the changes in the security political situation after the end of the Cold War. Nuclear weapons are still seen as a cornerstone in the NATO strategy. At the same time it is stressed that the likelihood of their use is remote. A First Use principle is retained, which means that nuclear weapons may be used against an enemy that has not employed them. NATO has conducted a review of its nuclear policy and concluded that the deployed nuclear weapons in Europe still are necessary to protect European security.
NATO‘s non-nuclear members are to differing extents involved in the nuclear policy of the military alliance. Some states do not allow the placement of nuclear weapons at their territory in time of peace; other states have US nuclear weapons deployed at their territory to be used if needed by the US and/or its own air force. All NATO Member States except France participate in the NATO Nuclear Planning Group, where the implementation of the nuclear policy and organisation of exercises are discussed.
Nuclear weapons proliferation or non-proliferation
Since 1968, when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) established five official nuclear weapon states (the US, Russia, the UK, France and China), another few states have acquired nuclear weapons. These new possessors of nuclear weapons are called de-facto nuclear weapon states, but are not considered official nuclear weapon states under the NPT. India and Pakistan are de-facto nuclear weapon states that proved their nuclear weapon capacity by nuclear testing in 1998. North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006, announcing itself as a nuclear weapon state. Israel is yet to confirm its nuclear weapons officially, but Israeli nuclear weapons are considered a well-established fact.
As long as one state possesses nuclear weapons, other states will desire their own nuclear arsenals, and will acquire these weapons no matter what control mechanisms are put in place. What is security to one state will mean insecurity to others. The only way to tackle the problem of nuclear weapons proliferation is by acknowledging that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are two sides of the same coin. The two are inevitably interrelated, making complete disarmament of all arsenals in all nuclear weapon states the only solution to the risk of proliferation. Knowledge of nuclear weapons production and technology will obviously not disappear, but nevertheless the political threat and the international inequality that today make nuclear weapons an attractive alternative to several states can be addressed.
There are two types of proliferation: vertical and horizontal. The most widely discussed – at least among nuclear weapon states – is the horizontal spread. It means new states (or non-state actors) acquire nuclear weapons. Vertical spread means the continuous development and upgrading of nuclear arsenals within nuclear weapon states. Development of smaller, more usable battlefield nuclear weapons is one example of vertical proliferation.
Throughout the years, a number of states have been caught with far reaching clandestine nuclear weapons programmes, e.g. Libya and Iraq. Iran is one of the most debated cases recently. Iran claims its right as a member to the NPT to enrich uranium for its nuclear reactors, so called peaceful use of nuclear technology. The process of enriching nuclear power uranium and nuclear weapons uranium is, however, the same, the US, alongside other states, suspect an Iranian intention to develop nuclear weapons. A US National Intelligence Estimate released by the US stated, with a high degree of certainty, that Iran today does not have nuclear weapons, and should not have the technical capacity to develop a nuclear weapon programme until 2015 at the earliest. (1)
Iran has considered itself one of the major powers in the Middle East for centuries. This has resulted in some antagonism from neighbouring Arabic countries. Agents for democratisation in Iran during the 20th century were repeatedly let down by governments in Western Europe and the US. In later years, some groups in Iran have become hostile towards Israel. After the Islamic revolution in 1979 a large fraction if Iran’s army was dissolved and when Iran was attacked by Iraq in 1980, the country could initially not offer much resistance. The war lasted for eight years, with a high number of Iranian casualties and refugees. Iraq used large amounts of chemical weapons, which received no official reaction from the international community.
Since the early 1970′s, Iran has had a nuclear programme. In the early years, there were plans to acquire a large amount of nuclear reactors. After becoming an Islamic republic, Iran found difficulties in importing technology and fuel for their reactors, which led to the desire to run a complete nuclear fuel cycle. With the capacity of enriching uranium for nuclear power use, follows the capacity of enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. Iran could, in the future, leave the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and therefore prohibit International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of its facilities.
Different powerful groups in Iran support the development of a nuclear programme. This, however, does not necessarily indicate a plan to develop nuclear weapons. An important factor is the declaration by the religious leadership of Iran that nuclear weapons are not in line with the Holy Qur’an. Iran’s position as a threshold state that could relatively quickly produce a nuclear weapon would probably give Iran enough status. Today (April 2008), Iran has been assessed to need many years to acquire a considerable nuclear arsenal.
Nuclear North Korea
There is a great level of uncertainty surrounding the North Korean nuclear weapon programme – if they have weapons and if so, how many functioning nuclear weapons it has produced. The country has operated a reactor producing nuclear weapons grade plutonium since 1986. Independent experts claim it has produced about 43 kg (+/- 10 kg) of separated plutonium. Depending on technical knowledge and the desired yield, North Korea may have produced something between 5-10 nuclear warheads. It is uncertain if North Korea has produced nuclear warheads that actually can be delivered by a missile. (2)
North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test on 9 October 2006. The expected blast was less than one kiloton, which can be compared to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 with a blast effect of 19 kt. The test did not achieve the expected effect, yet showed that North Korea has mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and has the capacity of producing at least more primitive nuclear weapons.
North Korea was a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty but announced its withdrawal in early 2003. Only a few months later, North Korean officials revealed for the first time during a round-table talk with the US that the country had produced nuclear weapons. Further, North Korea threatened it possessed and considered exporting plutonium rods unless the US would accept bilateral negotiations with North Korea. Negotiations with North Korea – which have been ongoing for many years with long periods of standstills and cooperation problems – have been conducted under the so called SixParty Talks between North Korea, the US, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia.
The North Korean nuclear programme gives the country and its dictator attention throughout the world and works as blackmailing to get deliveries of oil and grain. Currently, in 2008, negotiations are still ongoing aiming at dismantling all facilities in North Korea that can be used to produce nuclear weapons. There are no peace negotiations. After the North Korean nuclear test in 2006, the Six Party Talks were hastily resumed. North Korea could use its limited nuclear capacity increase pressure on the rest of the world, thereby strengthening its position in negotiations for financial aid and a normalised relationship with the US. (3)
The IAEA – an international nuclear watchdog
In order to ensure that nuclear power states not all of a sudden turn their nuclear technology into nuclear weapon programmes, an international control body was established: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). One of IAEA: s main tasks are to conduct inspections of nuclear power plants and research reactors in all nuclear power states. By signing and ratifying the IAEA Safeguards Agreement and its Additional Protocol, a state allows for short-notice on site inspections. More than 145 states have joined these agreements. The IAEA is not allowed to conduct inspections in states not party to the Safeguards Agreement.
Negative and positive security assurances
In order to rid non-nuclear weapon states from the immediate threat of a nuclear attack from a nuclear weapon state, there is something called security assurances. A positive security assurance means that a nuclear weapon state pledges to come to the aid of a non-nuclear weapon state if that state is the victim of a nuclear attack. A negative security assurance is a declaration that a country will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state. Many states believe that these assurances should be codified in an unconditional, legally binding instrument. This would be a means to reducing the nuclear proliferation threat, as non-nuclear weapon states provided with a negative security assurance does not need to consider acquiring nuclear weapons for its national security. Through treaties establishing nuclear weapon free zones, many states have received these kinds of assurances, but there are states outside nuclear weapon free zones that often raise the issue of a need for security assurances.
In the last years, the issue of nuclear terrorism has gained a lot of attention in the international nuclear weapons and disarmament debate – not the least after the t9/11 attacks. The risk of terrorist groups acquiring a large enough amount of fissile materials to produce a smaller nuclear weapon can not be ruled out. After the fall of the Soviet Union, fissile material may have disappeared, and still today, complete control over the world’s stockpiles of uranium, plutonium and dismantled nuclear weapons is lacking. Large efforts are made, particularly with the help of the US, to gain total control over these stockpiles.
Terrorists wishing to produce a nuclear weapon need to get hold of highly enriched uranium (HEU). Approximately 20 kg of HEU would be enough to produce a weapon. The easiest way to acquire it involves stealing HEU from a stockpile of excess material or from a research reactor. There are at least a hundred of these reactors in the world, often with serious lack of security arrangements. On the other hand, it would be difficult for terrorists to produce a plutonium bomb, as this requires more advanced technology and competence. Obviously, the risk of a nuclear weapon state transferring a functioning nuclear device to a terrorist group remains a possibility.
A bomb based on 20 kg HEU could amount to a disaster similar to that of Hiroshima. If the bomb is detonated on the ground rather than in the air, the blast yield and the heat would be less compared to Hiroshima, while the radioactive fallout would severely increase.
Nuclear terrorism could also mean terrorist acts aimed at a nuclear power plant. Imagine the result if the terrorists manoeuvring the planes to hit the World Trade Center on 9/11 2001 would instead have hit the nearby nuclear power plants on Three Mile Island or a nuclear fuel waste storage. Large amounts of radioactive particles would have been released, and with the explosion, radioactive fallout would have been transported far from the epicentre. The consequences would have been both deaths and acute radiation sickness, and large areas contaminated with radioactive fallout for a long time.
Release of radioactive particles as a means of terrorism can be an alternative to producing a primitive nuclear device. A so-called dirty bomb consists of radioactive material and an ordinary explosive device. Release of radioactive particles doesn’t cause much visible damage and deaths as a real nuclear weapon, but psychological factors and sanitation could paralyse important functions of society and create panic among people.
New nuclear doctrines – pre-emptive strike and non-state actors
Partly as a consequence of a changing political and social climate in then world in the last years, a number of nuclear weapon states have renewed their nuclear doctrines. For years, it has been considered imperative to keep the threshold for nuclear weapons use very high. In principle, use of nuclear weapons was, during the Cold War, not considered in any other case than retaliating a nuclear attack. Many nuclear weapon states issued so called “no first use” policies, meaning the state would never be the first to use its nuclear weapons against any other actor.
Today, this is no longer the case. In March 2005, the Department of Defense posted, and then cancelled, a controversial draft revision of its doctrine for nuclear weapons operations on its website. The draft used unusually clear language regarding policies on the use of nuclear weapons in a wide variety of circumstances other than retaliation for nuclear weapons use by another state. In 2006 France launched a new nuclear doctrine, announcing that French nuclear weapons can be used against power centres in states that in any way sponsor terrorist acts aimed at French interests. Russia, too, has in a revised nuclear doctrine lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use. In January 2008, a radical manifesto was presented by five senior military officials about a new NATO. The suggested manifesto underlines preventive nuclear attack as a necessary alternative for the Western world to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons. The changing attitude to nuclear weapons use can also be seen in the development of smaller, tactical nuclear weapons for battlefield use.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission report
The positive development in the disarmament and non-proliferation field immediately following the end of the Cold War, has been followed by a far less constructive period. The threat of continued proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or the use of existing weapons by states and non-state actors, is today highly topical. At the same time, the development in recent years indicates a renewed rearmament, rather than steps to terminate states’ possession of weapons of mass destruction. To this background, on the initiative of the UN and the Foreign Minister of Sweden Anna Lind, an independent international commission was appointed: the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC).
Hans Blix was asked by the Swedish government to chair the commission and to appoint other commissioners. On 16 October 2003, Hans Blix presented a group of 14 commissioners from all over the world, with a thorough political, military and diplomatic experience of peace and disarmament work. The commission began its task in January 2004.
Under the leadership of Hans Blix, the WMDC launched its final report Weapons of Terror – Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms on 1 June 2006. The report describes the international system of non-proliferation, disarmament and arms control and includes 60 recommendations as to what the international community – governments, civil society and the business world – can and should do to meet the global challenge posed by weapons of mass destruction. The report and its recommendations have called for great attention all over the world.
1. National Intelligence Estimate: Iran – Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities (November 2007)
2. Nuclear Notebook, vol. 62, Nr. 4, s. 64-67: Norris, Robert S, Kristensen, Hans M.
3. 4. Nuclear Notebook, Vol 63, Nr. 3, s. 44-49: Norris, Robert S, Kristensen, Hans M.
Page last revised 2013-01-15