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ARCHIVED: Report No. 2001/10: Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

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February 25, 2002

This paper uses open sources to examine any topic with the potential to cause threats to public or national security.


1. Mutual nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998 jolted the world back into realizing that the long-standing problem of nuclear weapons proliferation had not gone away. In the immediate post-Cold War environment, there appeared to have been an actual reversal of nuclear weapons proliferation in some respects, with the denuclearization of all former Soviet republics except Russia; the dismantlement by South Africa of its small covert arsenal of nuclear weapons; an apparent end to the nuclear weapon ambitions of Brazil and Argentina; a freeze in the observable part of North Korea's nascent nuclear weapons program; and the eradication-at least for now-of Iraq's costly nuclear weapons infrastructure. Going further back, both Taiwan and South Korea had been persuaded to curtail efforts that were underway at one time to acquire nuclear weapons, while nations as diverse as Sweden, Switzerland, Romania, and Australia failed to pursue incipient programs. In general, the number of nuclear weapon states--whether declared or not-had not grown nearly as much as predicted by some observers back in the 1960s, when it was expected that two dozen or more countries would have acquired nuclear weapons by now. However, while the numbers have not changed in the near-term, several developments-including the embryonic nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan and the uncertain future of the North Korean nuclear weapons program-could conceivably cause other states to initiate or accelerate their own such programs, as well as generally making the world-and in particular, South Asia-a more dangerous place.


2. Nuclear weapons-which can be over a million times more powerful than the same weight of conventional explosives-are considered "weapons of mass destruction" in the truest sense. In addition to killing tens or hundreds of thousands of people or more, a nuclear weapon can obliterate the entire physical infrastructure of a large city and contaminate a much larger area with radioactive fallout. Nuclear weapons have been developed both for "strategic" use against an opponent's homeland military infrastructure, economic base, and population centres; or as "tactical" weapons for battlefield use against concentrations of conventional military force such as tightly clustered naval groups, port or depot facilities, troop concentrations, or massed formations of tanks and other armoured vehicles.

3. Although nuclear weapons have been detonated on adversaries only twice-against Japan in World War II-states have continued to pursue their development for a wide range of reasons: as a deterrent to attack by others, in the hope that they will never actually be used in combat; as an instrument of diplomatic influence, where the mere threat of their use is assumed to confer certain advantages on their possessor; or purely for prestige, and recognition as a regional or global power of the first order. Some analysts credit the existence of a nuclear "balance of terror" for having prevented an outbreak of hostilities between the superpowers in the Cold War. However, most consider that the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities in general, and in particular to less stable or conflict-ridden regions of the world, would be harmful to international security by increasing the likelihood of nuclear weapons again being used in wartime; imposing heavy costs on states preparing for such an eventuality; and potentially increasing immeasurably the suffering to be incurred in future conflicts.

4. The infrastructure required to produce nuclear weapons indigenously is considerably more difficult and expensive to develop than that for either biological or chemical weapons. Obtaining sufficient amounts of fissionable material (highly-enriched uranium-HEU-or plutonium) is the greatest obstacle to a would-be proliferant. There are two basic approaches to indigenous production of such material: enriching uranium to a sufficiently high level, usually considered to be above 90 percent in the isotope U-235 (this can be done by a wide variety of methods, of which the gas centrifuge is perhaps the best known); or irradiating uranium in a nuclear reactor followed by reprocessing to separate out the plutonium. The irradiated uranium used as a source of plutonium can be obtained either by diverting spent fuel from a safeguarded reactor or producing it in a dedicated plutonium-production reactor.

5. Although successfully designing a nuclear explosive device requires individuals with expertise in metallurgy, chemistry, physics, electronics, and explosives, the required technology dates back to the 1940s, and the basic concepts of nuclear weapons have been widely known for some time. However, even straightforward methods of producing the necessary fissionable materials (assuming that such materials cannot be bought or stolen outright) require at least a modest technological infrastructure and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars. The costs of a more ambitious program aimed at producing more than a handful of weapons can easily run into the billions of dollars. Fortunately, none of the existing nuclear weapon states (with one possible exception, as we shall see) has shown any great predilection for sharing its weapons or weapons-specific, sensitive materials or technology with non-members of the nuclear weapons "club." However, although nuclear material production, weapon fabrication, and testing require specialized equipment, in many cases this equipment can be fabricated indigenously by proliferants using equipment (e.g., machine tools) that also has civilian applications ("dual-use") and therefore may be more difficult to control effectively.

6. In general, the infrastructure and experience gained from civilian nuclear research and nuclear power programs can be of substantial benefit to a nuclear weapons program. Up to a certain point in developing a civilian nuclear fuel cycle, its technology is virtually identical to that used for producing fissile materials for weapons. Moreover, the infrastructure supporting nuclear power generation and its associated fuel cycle can provide cover for elements of a weapons program, even in a state subject to the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).(1)

7. There are two main types of nuclear weapons: (1) fission devices (the original "atomic" bomb), whose energy is released through an explosive chain reaction that occurs when neutron-bombarded nuclei split and emit additional neutrons; and (2) the more advanced and potentially much more powerful fusion devices ("hydrogen" or "thermonuclear" bombs), whose energy is produced as a result of two light nuclei atoms-deuterium and/or tritium-combining to form a heavier nucleus (for which a fission device is used as a "trigger"). A fusion reaction produces about five times more energy than a fission reaction, but fusion bombs can be made to yield thousands of times the destructive force of the largest fission bomb; in fact, the former have no clear upward yield limitations. The fission bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 had a destructive force equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT (20 kilotons or kt), while fusion warheads have been tested with yields equivalent to 60 million tons of TNT (60 megatons or mt). A kind of intermediate type is the "boosted-fission" device, using a small amount of deuterium and/or tritium inside the core of a fission device to fission the surrounding material more completely, thus maintaining the same yield while greatly reducing the overall size and weight (important for warheads designed to be carried by missiles, for example).

8. The amount of fissile material required for a nuclear explosive device has been estimated by the IAEA at 8 kg of plutonium or 25 kg of highly-enriched uranium, although these amounts can be reduced significantly depending on the sophistication of the design. The two basic designs for a fission weapon are the gun-assembly, where a propellant charge propels two or more subcritical masses into a single supercritical mass inside a high-strength gun-barrel-like container, practical only with highly-enriched uranium; and the implosion technique, where a shell of chemical high-explosive surrounding the nuclear material is designed to rapidly and uniformly compress the nuclear material to form a supercritical mass. This second method can use either uranium or plutonium, and requires less nuclear material (but greater technological sophistication) than the gun-assembly type.

9. Until quite recently, only five states-the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China-had acknowledged possessing nuclear weapons. The events of May 1998 added two more countries-India and Pakistan-to that list. In addition, Israel has long been credited with a clandestine arsenal, and a number of other countries-including Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and possibly Algeria-are currently widely suspected of harbouring nuclear weapons ambitions and/or to be actively pursuing such programs. The countries of greatest concern from a proliferation standpoint today are discussed separately below.


10. India first demonstrated its nuclear-weapons capability by exploding what it termed a "peaceful nuclear device" (with a yield estimated at 5-12 kt) in May 1974. Since that time, it has been assumed to be capable of quickly assembling a limited number of weapons in a relatively short time, using plutonium from non-safeguarded reactors. According to a 1992 report, India possessed enough plutonium not subject to IAEA inspection for nearly 60 nuclear weapons at that time, or as many as 80 by 1995. In addition, it possessed two uranium enrichment facilities not subject to IAEA monitoring that could be used to produce weapons material. A 1995 source notes that "By the late 1980s, when it became clear that Pakistan could deploy several weapons, it was generally assumed that India had quietly acted to meet this challenge by preparing a readily deployable nuclear force, of perhaps several dozen weapons."

11. On 11 May 1998, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee announced that his country had conducted three underground nuclear tests at its Pokharan site. He described them as tests of "a fission device, a low-yield device, and a thermonuclear device." His principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, said afterwards that the tests had established "that India has a proven capability for a weaponized program" and would help in the design of "nuclear weapons of different yields for different applications and for different delivery systems." Two days later, India announced that it had conducted two more underground tests of a "sub-kiloton" yield intended "to generate additional data for improved computer simulation of designs and for attaining the capability to carry out sub-critical experiments, if considered necessary."

12. US officials were quoted as saying that the total yield of the first three, simultaneous explosions appeared to be 10 to 20 kilotons, and that the purpose was likely to confirm a bomb design for the 1,400-mile-range Agni missile (capable of reaching much of China). Indian officials later maintained that the tests included a 43-kt fusion device and a 15-kt fission weapon. Some US officials reportedly questioned Vajpayee's claim of a thermonuclear test, suggesting that the larger blast was probably of a boosted-fission device (if indeed it were a test of a hydrogen bomb, this would mean that the Indians were much further advanced in their nuclear-weapons research and development than previously thought). According to estimates by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, India by the end of 1998 had stockpiled sufficient weapons-grade plutonium for between 40 and 90 nuclear warheads, and was producing enough from its Dhruva reactor at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre near Mumbai to add another four weapons per year.

13. A June 2000 report by the US television network NBC, citing US military and intelligence reports and unnamed US officials, claimed that India's nuclear arsenal was far inferior to that of Pakistan. It credited India with only "about five" nuclear weapons and described its delivery capabilities as "seriously lagging," including no nuclear-capable missiles and fewer nuclear-capable aircraft than Pakistan. According to the report, "US analysts believed India had begun work on missile warhead design and warhead miniaturization only recently and would not fit nuclear warheads on its Agni missile for another ten years." The report was denounced as inaccurate by various Indian officials, one "expert" maintaining that India had possessed a "fully viable and operational nuclear warhead capability" for its Agni-II ballistic missile from the time of its testing in April 1999. He also claimed that four nuclear-armed Prithvi missiles and one nuclear-armed Agni had been deployed for retaliatory strikes during the Kargil crisis that had erupted shortly afterwards.

14. For his part, the former head of the Pakistani armed forces, Mirza Aslam Beg, was quoted in June 2001 as estimating the size of the Indian nuclear stockpile at 200 weapons. The Pentagon's latest public report on proliferation, released in January 2001, stated that "India probably has a small stockpile of nuclear weapon components and could assemble and deploy a few nuclear weapons within a few days to a week. The most likely delivery platforms are fighter-bomber aircraft."


15. Iran's Shah Pahlevi is reported to have had a small nuclear weapon RD program until his ouster in 1979. Present-day Iran is also widely believed to be seeking nuclear weapons, but to have made limited progress so far. The CIA in March 1995 stated that Iran was "aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability and, if significant foreign assistance were provided, could produce a weapon by the end of the decade." However, CIA Director R. James Woolsey was considerably less alarmist in remarks quoted in September 1994 that "We believe that Iran is 8-10 years away from building such weapons, and that help from the outside will be critical in reaching this timetable." He added in his remarks the following year that Iran was "also looking to purchase fully-fabricated nuclear weapons in order to accelerate sharply its timetable." However, April 1998 press reports that Iran had obtained four nuclear warheads from Kazakhstan several years previously lacked credibility, according to unnamed US officials.

16. A "senior [US] intelligence official" was cited in a 1997 study as maintaining that "the Iranian nuclear weapon programme suffers from poor management, a paucity of scientifically and technically trained people, and a lack of infrastructure." Nevertheless, the July 1998 Rumsfeld Commission on ballistic missiles expressed the concern that "While Iran's civil nuclear program is currently under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, it could be used as a source of sufficient fissile material to construct a small number of weapons within the next ten years if Iran were willing to violate safeguards. If Iran were to accumulate enough fissile material from foreign sources, it might be able to develop a nuclear weapon in only one to three years."

17. In December 1998, US intelligence reports were publicly cited as having revealed that two Russian nuclear research institutes were actively negotiating to sell Iran a 40-megawatt heavy-water research reactor and a uranium-conversion facility, while "Russian scientists were already assisting Iran on the production of heavy water and nuclear-grade graphite." In January 2000, it was reported that the CIA's most recent assessment "could not rule out the possibility that Iran had acquired nuclear weapon capability," given the US "inability to monitor alleged clandestine Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapon technology and nuclear materials."

18. In its January 2001 proliferation report, the Pentagon declared that Iran was "seeking fissile material and technology for weapons development through an elaborate system of military and civilian organizations," and had "an organized structure dedicated to developing nuclear weapons by trying to establish the capability to produce both plutonium and highly enriched uranium." It added that "One of Iran's primary goals is the acquisition of a heavy water-moderated, natural uranium-fueled nuclear reactor and associated facilities suitable for the production of weapons-grade plutonium." The previous October, US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn had told Congress that "Russian entities-most of them subordinate to MINATOM [the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy]...-have engaged in extensive cooperation with Iranian nuclear research centers....Much of this assistance involves technologies with direct application to the production of weapons-grade fissile materials, including research reactors, heavy-water production technology, and laser isotope separation technology for enriching uranium."

19. The CIA's September 2001 public report on proliferation highlighted Iran's pursuit of a uranium conversion facility (UCF) that "ostensibly would be used to support fuel production for the Bushehr power plant" (currently under construction), but that "could be used in any number of ways to support fissile material production needed for a nuclear weapon-specifically, production of uranium hexafluoride for use as a feedstock for uranium enrichment operations and production of uranium compounds suitable for use as fuel in a plutonium production reactor." According to the (non-governmental) Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies, "Following a strategy similar to Iraq's and Pakistan's nuclear development programs, Iran has attempted to acquire a uranium enrichment capability by purchasing centrifuge components piecemeal from Western European suppliers."


20. During the inspections of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) after the 1991 Gulf War, it was discovered that Iraq had been engaged since the early 1980s in a broad-based and massive, multi-billion dollar program to acquire nuclear weapons, in violation of its pledges under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It had simultaneously pursued multiple methods of uranium enrichment, including the electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) process, gas centrifuges, lasers, and chemical methods; and had also conducted laboratory-scale separation of plutonium. In 1995 it was learned that Iraq, after its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, had begun a crash program to divert safeguarded HEU fuel (originally supplied by France and Russia along with civil research reactors) into a nuclear weapon within six months. IAEA inspectors have estimated that Iraq, in this way, could have completed a nuclear explosive device by the end of 1991.

21. Much of Iraq's nuclear weapons infrastructure was destroyed either during the war by Allied bombing, or afterwards by UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors. On 19 September 1994, IAEA Director General Hans Blix stated that his agency had completed the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless of all known nuclear weapons-usable material, facilities, and equipment in Iraq (including all of its fissile material). Under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 687 of 3 April 1991, Iraq is now the only country forbidden to possess separated plutonium and HEU.

22. March 2001 press reporting that Iraq had successfully tested a nuclear weapon prior to the Gulf War and currently possesses a small nuclear stockpile has been discounted by official Western sources. Nevertheless, the Pentagon in January 2001 warned that Iraq "still retains sufficient skilled and experienced scientists and engineers as well as weapons design information that could allow it to restart a weapons program." It estimated that "Iraq would need five or more years and key foreign assistance to rebuild the infrastructure to enrich enough material for a nuclear weapon," but that "This period would be substantially shortened should Baghdad successfully acquire fissile material from a foreign source."

23. Expert opinion is divided on the issue of how much progress Iraq may have made on reconstituting its nuclear weapons program since the end of the Gulf War, and particularly since international inspectors were withdrawn from the country in December 1998. On the one hand, Dr. Hans Blix, former Director-General of the IAEA and appointed in January 2000 as Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC, the designated successor to UNSCOM), was quoted in mid-2000 as saying that there was "no way" that Iraq could have built up an enrichment capacity in the period since the end of inspections, a capacity that would be detectable by satellites. About the same time, former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter similarly asserted that "There has been no evidence provided of any attempt by Iraq to acquire a nuclear weapon or major related components since 1991." On the other hand, the IAEA's current director-general stated in April 2000 that, since the cessation of inspection activity in December 1998, his Agency had "not been in a position to provide any assurance of Iraq's compliance with its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 687." In February 1999, the IAEA had charged Iraq with denying its inspectors documents and material they had sought, including documentary evidence that Iraq had terminated its nuclear weapon program. It had added that it was prudent to assume that Iraq "has retained documents of its clandestine nuclear program, specimens of important components and possibly amounts of nonenriched uranium," and "retains the capability to explore, for nuclear weapons purposes, any relevant material or technology to which it may gain access in the future."

24. The CIA in February 2001 stated its belief that "Iraq has probably continued low-level theoretical RD associated with its nuclear program." Independent experts, including former Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza (who defected in 1994), have asserted that "Since the war, Iraq is suspected of having made progress on a number of bottlenecks in its weapon program," including "design work, laboratory efforts, subcomponent production, and the operation of test machines." They note that the gas centrifuge enrichment process (on which Iraq had made "extensive" progress before the war) is difficult to detect, as would be the illicit acquisition of plutonium or HEU, or small numbers of components, from abroad.


25. Israel is believed to have constructed a substantial force of nuclear weapons, using plutonium from a French-supplied research reactor (and separated in a French-supplied plant) at a site near Dimona in the Negev Desert. The site is also believed to house a small uranium enrichment facility, and Israel is known to have pursued laser enrichment and possibly gas-centrifuge technology. There is no conclusive proof that it has ever conducted a full-scale nuclear explosive test, although it is widely suspected of having done so over the South Atlantic in September 1979. According to one report, its nuclear weapons are "thought to have been developed, in part, through the testing of non-nuclear components and computer simulations-and through the acquisition of weapons design and test information from abroad" (France and the US).

26. Published estimates of the number of Israeli nuclear weapons vary considerably, from less than 100 to as many as 400 (with a combined yield of 50 megatons). The SVR in 1995 maintained that Israel was capable of manufacturing 5 to 10 nuclear weapons per year (an estimate shared by the US Federation of American Scientists (FAS)), and that it may have produced between 100 and 200 by that time. According to a 1997 American study, based on plutonium production estimates, Israel could have constructed between 64 and 112 warheads up to the end of 1994, at an annual rate of 2-4. It is also believed to be knowledgeable about sophisticated designs, including thermonuclear and boosted-fission weapons. It has reportedly produced tritium, which could have been used for the latter. In general, its nuclear armoury is assumed to be a diverse one. According to a May 2000 assessment by the FAS, "The total Israeli nuclear stockpile consists of several hundred weapons of various types, including boosted fission and enhanced radiation weapons ('neutron bombs'), as well as nuclear artillery shells." It maintains that "Following the 1973 [Arab-Israeli] war, Israel fielded at least three batteries of atomic-capable self-propelled 175mm cannons equipped with a total of no less than 108 warheads, and placed atomic land mines in the Golan Heights during the early 1980s." The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has credited Israel with "up to 100 warheads" and delivery vehicles including aircraft and its Jericho 1 (range=500 km) and Jericho 2 (range=1,500-2,000 km) ballistic missiles. In August 1999 Israel was reported to be planning to equip new German-supplied Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarines with nuclear-armed cruise missiles.


27. Although Libya is a party to the NPT, its leader Muammar Qadhafi has long been suspected of harbouring nuclear weapons ambitions (at times professing such an interest outright). Libya was reported to have attempted to purchase nuclear weapons from China in 1970, but to have been rebuffed. It currently operates a small nuclear research reactor at Tajura near Tripoli, and Qadhafi has been reported to have attempted to recruit Russian and other foreign nuclear scientists to assist in developing nuclear weapons.

28. In November 1999, the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) judged that "Libya has demonstrated a continuing interest in the acquisition of nuclear weapons but...its nuclear program has not progressed beyond the early stages of developing an independent nuclear research and fuel-cycle related capability for a nuclear weapons program." The Pentagon in January 2001 noted that, despite its efforts, "Libya has made little progress, its nuclear program lacks well-developed plans, expertise, consistent financial support, and adequate foreign suppliers." It went on to warn, however, that "In the face of these difficulties,...Libya likely will continue to try to develop a supporting 1999, Tripoli and Moscow resumed discussions on cooperation involving the Tajura reactor as well as a potential power reactor deal. Should this civil sector work come to fruition, Libya could gain opportunities to conduct nuclear weapons-related research and development." The CIA stated in February 2001 that "Libya continues to develop its nascent nuclear RD program but still requires significant foreign assistance to advance to a nuclear weapons option." It added that "The suspension of [UN-imposed] sanctions [in April 1999] has accelerated the pace of procurement efforts in Libya's drive to rejuvenate its ostensibly civilian nuclear program." However, it had characterized the program in August 2000 as "still rudimentary."

North Korea

29. North Korea, a party to the NPT, is believed to have violated that agreement by separating plutonium from spent fuel in pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. Specifically, it is believed to have obtained as much as 12 kg of plutonium from a 5 Mwe experimental reactor at its Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center, 90 km north of Pyongyang, in 1989. US intelligence was publicly cited in 1993 as estimating that there was a "better than even chance" that North Korea had used this material to manufacture one or two nuclear weapons. In an October 1994 "Agreed Framework" negotiated with the US, North Korea agreed to freeze and eventually dismantle its existing and planned gas-graphite reactors (one of which, at 50 Mwe, would have produced enough plutonium for 7-12 nuclear weapons per year) and associated spent-fuel reprocessing plant; not to reprocess a stock of spent fuel that it had unloaded earlier that year (sufficient to provide enough plutonium for four or five nuclear weapons); and (again, eventually) to comply fully with its IAEA safeguards obligations, including satisfying the IAEA that it does not have an undeclared stockpile of separated plutonium. In return, it will receive-courtesy of a "Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization" (KEDO)-two 1,000-Mwe light-water reactors (LWRs), considered more "proliferation-resistant" (in the Pentagon's words, "less easily exploited for weapons production") than the gas-graphite reactors.

30. Since 1994, albeit slowly and with occasional interruptions, the parties to the Agreed Framework have lived up to their obligations, effectively halting the production of new weapons-usable nuclear materials at designated facilities. However, as one 1995 study put it, North Korea "may be continuing work...on other aspects of its nuclear weapons program, such as designing a nuclear weapon or fabricating such weapons from materials it already possesses." US intelligence officials were reported in 1997 as believing that the North had clandestine nuclear weapon manufacturing sites that had eluded Western detection, and was capable of producing a first-generation implosion device, between 500 and 1,000 kg in mass, that would fit on a No Dong, but not a Scud, ballistic missile.

31. During 1998 the US became concerned about an underground construction project at Kumchang-ni, in northern North Korea, that was believed to be large enough to house a plutonium production reactor and/or a reprocessing plant. After lengthy and difficult negotiations, the US was permitted to inspect the facility in May 1999. According to the Pentagon's January 2001 report, "Based on the 1999 team's findings, it was concluded that the facility, as then concurrently configured, was not suited to house graphite-moderated reactors or reprocessing operations. A second visit to Kumchang-ni was conducted in May 2000, during which the team found no evidence to contradict the 1999 conclusions."

32. Nevertheless, suspicions remain about continuing North Korean nuclear weapons activity. In October 1999, the unclassified version of the "Perry Report" on US North Korea policy noted that "despite the critical achievement of a verified freeze on plutonium production at Yongbyon under the Agreed Framework, the policy review team has serious concerns about possible continuing nuclear weapons-related work in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea]." The following month, a US Congressional report charged that "There is significant evidence that undeclared nuclear weapons development activity continues, including efforts to acquire uranium enrichment technologies and recent nuclear-related high explosive tests. This means that the US cannot discount the possibility that North Korea could produce additional nuclear weapons outside of the constraints imposed by the 1994 Agreed Framework."

33. Meanwhile, North Korea remains in non-compliance with respect to its obligations under its nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA until such time as, under the terms of the Agreed Framework, it is required to account for its past activities (that is, before key nuclear components can be delivered for the two new LWRs). Work on the LWRs has been delayed beyond the time-frame envisaged in the Agreed Framework, resulting in occasional North Korean threats to scrap the arrangement and resume its former program. Early in 2001, it appeared that the incoming US administration of George W. Bush might seek to substitute coal-fired power plants for the LWRs, eliciting similar North Korean threats. Amid continuing (especially US Congressional) concern about the political precedent of appearing to reward a wayward proliferator, about reactor safety, and about the proliferation potential of even safeguarded LWRs, the future of the Agreed Framework seems somewhat less than assured.


34. Until the 1998 series of tests in South Asia, Pakistan was believed to share the same nuclear status as its neighbour and rival India-that is, albeit not having matched India's 1974 explosive test, nevertheless having the capability to assemble a relatively small number of nuclear weapons in a very short period. Unlike India, however, its nuclear weapon program so far has been based primarily on the enrichment of uranium, at an unsafeguarded plant at Kahuta, near Islamabad, using gas-centrifuge technology and components procured covertly in the West. Various US officials have been reported as stating that China supplied Pakistan with a nuclear weapon design requiring about 15 kg of HEU. Pakistan also appears to be pursuing the plutonium route (which would enable it to produce smaller warheads for missiles), building an unsafeguarded plutonium production reactor and separation plant, at Khushab and Chasma, respectively, possibly with Chinese assistance. The Khushab reactor, capable according to US experts of producing sufficient plutonium for 2-3 nuclear weapons per year, was reported to have gone critical in August 1998. The Pentagon in January 2001 stated that the reactor "will produce plutonium that could be reprocessed for weapons use at facilities under construction."

35. On 28 May 1998, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif announced that Pakistan had successfully conducted five nuclear tests at the Ras Koh range in the Chagai Hills region of its southwestern province of Baluchistan. The Pakistani press reported that the strongest of the explosions was equivalent to between 40 and 45 kt, but Indian authorities estimated it at only 10 kt (the chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission later claimed a yield of 35-36 kt for the "first round," while his Indian counterpart put it at 10-15 kt; seismologists elsewhere in the world, while declaring themselves unable to confirm the number of tests, estimated their yield at between 5 and 20 kt; US intelligence officials were reported to have suspected only two rather than five tests, and in the range of 5-10 kt). The "father" of the Pakistani program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, told the press that all five devices tested had been boosted-fission weapons using uranium 235; that the first had had a yield of 30-35 kt, and been followed by four small tactical weapons of lesser yield; and that, although none had been thermonuclear, Pakistan did have the capability of conducting a fusion test. A Pakistani government statement immediately after the tests claimed that its new Ghauri ballistic missile (range=1,500 km) was "already being capped with the nuclear warheads," but this was later denied by the Foreign Ministry.

36. Two days after the initial series, on 30 May, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary told reporters that there had been one additional test, "of a device compatible with a weapons system"-suggesting to some observers that it may have been a warhead for the Ghauri. US intelligence reportedly estimated its yield at just 1-5 kt. In the aftermath of the tests, one American analyst cited US officials to the effect that Pakistan appeared to have resumed the production of HEU that it had suspended in 1991.

37. Recent estimates of the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal have not varied greatly. A late 1999 report by the Washington-based ISIS estimated that at the end of 1998, Pakistan had 425-680 kg of weapons-grade uranium, sufficient for 22-43 weapons. In June 2000, NBC, in its story asserting Pakistani superiority over India in the nuclear sphere, cited "US military and intelligence reports" as putting the number of Pakistani weapons at between 25 and 100, up from an earlier estimate of 10-15. It added that "Pakistan possessed 30 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles as well as F-16 and Mirage aircraft that were superior to aircraft possessed by the Indian Air Force." In response, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry described the NBC report as "an extraordinary assertion in view of the fact that in comparison with a few Pakistani facilities, India has a vast nuclear program comprising dozens of nuclear installations outside international safeguards, which have been operating to produce fissile materials over decades." Mirza Aslam Beg, former head of the Pakistani armed forces, stated his belief in June 2001 that his country then had "no more than 30 nuclear weapons." The Pentagon in January 2001 would not hazard a figure, but did say that "Islamabad's nuclear weapons are probably stored in component form," and that it "probably could assemble the weapons fairly quickly and has aircraft and possibly ballistic missiles available for delivery." It added that "Pakistan has provided assurances that it will not assemble or deploy its nuclear warheads."

38. Although Pakistan has been widely credited with a more sophisticated command-and-control system than India (at least in part due to the fact that its nuclear weapons program has always been closely controlled by the military), concerns have nevertheless been expressed periodically about the security of its nuclear arsenal, given generally unsettled political conditions in the country. For example, outgoing US Central Command commander General Anthony Zinni, described as "known to be close to Pakistan's military establishment," was reported to have said in October 2000 that it was "'very possible' that religious extremists could gain custody of Pakistan's nuclear weapons." Such fears have been amplified, of course, in the wake of the 11 September 2001 events and the subsequent attacks on neighbouring Afghanistan.

Other Potential Candidates

39. Algeria raised suspicions of nuclear weapons ambitions when it was discovered in 1991 secretly building a large research reactor, with Chinese assistance (suitable for the production of plutonium), as well as possibly a fuel reprocessing plant. Algeria subsequently agreed to place the reactor under IAEA safeguards, and joined the NPT in 1995. Concerns remain, however, particularly given the present-day political instability of the country. In the late 1970s, Argentina began secretly constructing a uranium enrichment plant evidently intended for the production of nuclear weapons. However, it later agreed with rival Brazil and the IAEA to inspections of its nuclear installations; subscribed to the Latin American Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (LANFZ); and joined the NPT in 1995. Not possessing a plutonium separation (reprocessing) plant, it currently has no source of weapons-grade nuclear materials. In 1990, Brazil admitted to having pursued a nuclear weapons program over the previous decade, based on two unsafeguarded uranium enrichment facilities. It, too, has since joined the LANFZ and NPT and agreed to international inspections. Romania is reported to have had a covert nuclear weapons program under its former leader Ceausescu, based on the separation of plutonium from irradiated uranium. In 1993, South Africa revealed that it had secretly produced a total of six nuclear devices by late 1989, using a pilot-scale uranium enrichment plant at Valindaba. The following year, the IAEA confirmed South Africa's claim that it had dismantled the devices and their associated infrastructure in 1990-91, prior to its joining the NPT. South Korea is reported to have begun the development of nuclear weapons in the 1960s and 1970s, but to have halted its program under international pressure. Similarly, Taiwan twice came under suspicion of having a nuclear weapon program in the 1970s and 1980s, but is believed to have been reined in by the US. Although it has acquired a small, safeguarded research reactor from China and remains interested in nuclear technology,The Pentagon in January 2001 stated unequivocally that "Syria is not pursuing the development of nuclear weapons," adding: "Syria currently lacks the infrastructure and trained personnel to establish a nuclear weapons program."


  • While the tide of nuclear weapons proliferation has actually been reversed in some cases in recent years, several developments-including the embryonic nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan and the uncertain future of the North Korean nuclear weapons program-could conceivably cause other states to initiate or accelerate their own such programs, as well as generally making the world-and in particular, South Asia-a more dangerous place.
  • A few other states remain of concern as well. Iraq, with its demonstrated history of a large-scale program, appears determined to acquire a nuclear weapons capability at the earliest opportunity. So do Iran and Libya, albeit being considerably less advanced. Meanwhile, Israel shows no willingness to give up its substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons despite widespread criticism.
  • In the short term, despite the South Asian testing, the number of states aspiring to have nuclear weapons is unlikely to grow. However, in the medium- to longer-term, recent developments on the Subcontinent and on the Korean Peninsula, depending on how they play out in coming years, could have a serious impact on the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, in terms of both increasing the number of states contemplating the development of nuclear weapons, and increasing the risks of such weapons actually being used in combat.

Canadian Interests

40. Canada has been a particularly active participant in the nuclear non-proliferation regime, being a party to the NPT and also a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (or "London Club") and Zangger Committee, both aimed at the restriction and/or safeguarding of sensitive nuclear exports. As a major world supplier of uranium and nuclear power technology, Canada has also been closely involved in the development of nuclear safeguards through the IAEA. Thus, Canada is firmly committed to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, for the various reasons discussed above. It would also be greatly embarrassed if, as happened before (in the case of the Cirus reactor provided to India, plutonium from which was used in India's first nuclear explosion), Canadian-produced expertise, materials, or technology were again used by a state in the acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability.

41. While the lack of a conventional intercontinental delivery capability makes it unlikely that any of the above-named states of nuclear proliferation concern would target Canadian territory directly with nuclear weapons, the same may not be true of areas where Canadian troops may be serving abroad in peacekeeping or peace-enforcement missions, such as the Middle East or South Asia. Moreover, as delivery ranges increase, some of Canada's allies may be rendered vulnerable to the use of nuclear weapons against their home territories.

NOTE: For an assessment of the possible terrorist use of nuclear or radiological weapons, see the earlier CSIS publication in this series, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Terrorism (Perspectives #2000/02).

Selected Sources

David Albright et al., Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996. Oxford: Oxford University Press for SIPRI, 1997.

The Arms Control Reporter (Institute for Disarmament and Defense Studies, Cambridge, MA).

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington), Non-Proliferation Project (on-line at: Next link will take you to another Web site

Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Washington (on-line at: Next link will take you to another Web site

Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), Washington (on-line at: Next link will take you to another Web site

International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), The Military Balance 1999-2000. London, October 1999.

Rodney W. Jones et al., Tracking Nuclear Proliferation: A Guide in Maps and Charts, 1998. Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1998.

Monterey Institute of International Studies, Center for Nonproliferation Studies (on-line at: Next link will take you to another Web site

Program for Promoting Nuclear Non-Proliferation Newsbrief (quarterly publication of the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies, University of Southampton).

Russia, Foreign Intelligence Service, The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Problems Associated with Its Extension. Moscow, 1995.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions (biannually, since 1997; available at: Next link will take you to another Web site

The Weapons Proliferation Threat. Washington: March 1995.

U.S. Congress, Commission to Address the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States [Rumsfeld Commission], Executive Summary of the Report. Washington, 15 July 1998.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Technologies Underlying Weapons of Mass Destruction. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 1993.

Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Assessing the Risks. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, August 1993.

U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Proliferation: Threat and Response. Washington, January 2001 (available at Next link will take you to another Web site

U.S. Department of State, Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and Recommendations (Unclassified Report by Dr. William J. Perry, U.S. North Korea Policy Coordinator and Special Advisor to the President and the Secretary of State, Washington, DC, October 12, 1999 (available at: Next link will take you to another Web site


1. These are designed to provide timely detection of the diversion of significant quantities of nuclear fissile materials from facilities declared to be peaceful in purpose.

Perspectives is a publication of the Research, Analysis and Production Branch of CSIS. Comments concerning publications may be made to the Director General, Research, Analysis and Production Branch at the following address: Box 9732, Stn. "T", Ottawa, Ont., K1G 4G4, or by fax at 613-842-1312.