Nuclear Sub Proliferation and the NPT Loophole

Two of my colleagues at “CNS”: recently wrote an excellent and nuanced “piece in _WMD Insights_”: dissecting the politics of Brazil’s quest for a nuclear-powered submarine, which, they conclude is

bq. fueled by the prestige associated with mastering nuclear technology, a desire to win a permanent seat at the UN Security Council with the five NPT nuclear weapons states, a potential arms race with Venezuela, and the hopes of attaining regional leadership.

Apart from the indigenous efforts by the Brazilian Navy at mastering enrichment, Brazil has reportedly sought various forms of cooperation with France, Russia, and Argentina on the nuclear submarine project. The piece notably highlights that some French circles have voiced concerns about the proliferation potential of cooperation with Brazil, specifically,

bq. “the danger of nuclear propulsion technology being diverted toward a nuclear weapons program.”

Brazil’s insistence on getting a nuclear-powered submarine by all means necessary as well as pending acquisition of a nuclear boat by “India”: raise questions about a lack of international norms in this area, because the language in the “Nonproliferation Treaty”: does not explicitly prohibit the transfer of complete nuclear submarines, naval propulsion reactor technology, or even highly enriched uranium (HEU) naval fuel. James Clay Moltz wrote in a 1998 issue of “_The Nonproliferation Review_”: on the need to close the said loophole, created during the NPT negotiations in the 1960s:

bq. “What was intended as a commercial loophole in the NPT is now beginning to be exploited for explicitly military purposes. This situation poses the threat of a new global arms race in nuclear submarines—ironically, with the sanction of the NPT. To understand the scale of this potential threat, it is worth keeping in mind that the number of nuclear reactors outside of safeguards on submarines in the weapon states is equal to the total number of all civilian power reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Allowing the spread of NPRs for military purposes to other states could undermine the IAEA’s role in global nonproliferation efforts and begin a dangerous trend towards leaving control of these materials up to chance.”

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