Ariel E. Levite’s superb 2002 article, “Never Say Never Again: Nuclear Reversal Revisited,” provides a lucid look at how and why nations decide to reverse their nuclear programs. Here is a summary of that article....
How and why do nation-states choose nuclear reversal and nuclear hedging as an alternative to nuclear pursuit or total roll back, when responding to external and internal pressures for nuclear nonproliferation?
• "Nuclear hedging” or the protection of nuclear capability is an adopted strategy between nuclear pursuit and nuclear rollback.
• Where is the roll back focus now? Middle East, Latin America, South Asia, and East Asia; especially with the developments in India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.
Is the regime against nuclear proliferation disintegrating?
• 20 nation-states opted for nuclear reversal (tried to achieve nuclear capacity but gave it up): Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Yugoslavia. (Libya has since given up their nuclear program and Iraq is now in rollback status, thus raising the total to 22 nations-states).
• 4 nation-states achieved nuclear capability but gave it up: Belarus, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Ukraine. Former Soviet states had it because it was deployed by Russia. South Africa had it to protect Apartheid.
• Nation-states that were rumored (but never confirmed) to want nuclear capability: Finland, Greece, Spain, and Turkey.
• Nation-states with developing nuclear programs: Algeria, Iran, and North Korea.
• Current nuclear club members include: China, France, UK, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States.
• Nuclear reversal is a strategic government decision to slow down or even stop altogether a nuclear weapons program. Usually takes convincing or external/international pressure with “carrots and/or sticks”.
Reasons for nuclear reversal:
o Change of regime
o Fear of current nuclear club members
o Diplomatic assurances and measures (i.e. carrots and sticks)
o Nation-state came under protection of a nuclear club member
o Technical and economic challenges
o Making peace with former enemies
• Nuclear reversal does not mean nuclear aspirations do not exist--they could be revived. Nation-states in nuclear reversal have never shut their programs down abruptly or completely (an obvious exception is South Africa). Reversal is normally the result of pushback or unclear political-military goals. These states retain the option to restart, as the decision is not irreversible.
• Nuclear capability continues to play an active role within the Intelligence community.
o Governments use secrecy, cover-ups and misinformation around their current capability. They fear domestic or foreign political fallout by the public. They use misinformation to further their political/military needs.
o Nation-states that gave up development of nuclear capability continue to keep the information secret in case they want to restart their programs at a later time when their military posture requires it.
o The motivation for some nation-states to take an active role in nonproliferation is to prevent other nation-states (even allies) to gain more power by having nuclear weapons.
o The release of nuclear programs information often comes with the suspicion of having been manipulated.
• Nuclear restraint is when a government promises not to build certain key facilities and/or pursue critical technology necessary to achieve nuclear weapons status.
• Reasons for nuclear roll back:
o Improvement of external security posture precludes the need for nuclear weapons
o A change in the domestic regime driving a change in state security
o Systemic or state-specific incentives (i.e. new norms or laws)
• Nuclear hedging is a strategy that maintains (or keep appearances) a viable option to rapidly acquire nuclear weapons by keeping facilities and furthering technology know how on the field.
o It is buying time in the strategic sense and it can be applied during ramp up or roll back.
o This strategy provides “virtual” deterrent against other nuclear aspirants or potential aggressors.
o Sweden has maintained this option and is believed to be 3 years away from achieving capability.
o Japan is very close too as it maintains a great deal of fissile material and is in possession of required technologies but it chooses not to withdraw from NPT because of its alliance with the U.S.
• A NPT signatory can still belong to NPT while conducting nuclear activities because nuclear fuels are not banned.
• Characteristics of U.S. nonproliferation activities:
o The U.S. preserves nuclear hegemony by diminishing the appeal of nuclear weapons while improving world security.
o The U.S. willingly accepts nuclear restraint in spite of its roll back goal
o Applying global as well as regional approaches that make it difficult to attain nuclear capability
o Applying unilateral, bilateral and multilateral instruments using multiple approaches of carrots and sticks. From nuclear protection to military/economic assistance/training to sanctions and even military presence.
o Use of clandestine/SIGINT techniques to obtain information on nuclear programs and involved personnel--such as in Pakistan and South Africa.
o Use of press leaks to embarrass other governments
o Excerpting direct/indirect influence all over the world in favor of nonproliferation
• No single nuclear reversal decision was taken by external pressure. Internal domestic pressure has to converge with external pressure to provoke nuclear reversal. In each case though time was of the essence.
The U.S. has managed to keep the members of the nuclear club low by using multiple economic and political techniques (except for India and Pakistan). However, nuclear hedging provides an option to keep nuclear aspirations alive.