11 March 2015
Nuclear latency and the future strategic environment
By Michael Malyshev
Since the 1946 ‘Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy’ and the closely associated Baruch Plan formulated by the United States, ‘nuclear latency’ —put simply, the potential for countries to obtain nuclear weapons capability—has been a factor threatening to undermine strategic equilibrium on the world stage. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and resulting nonproliferation regime may have allayed mid-20th century concerns about the rate of spread of nuclear weapons, but the notion of nuclear latency has by no means become obsolete.
Latent nuclear technology alone doesn’t result in nuclear proliferation—proliferation-related motivations, choices and decisions are required as well. Therefore, one useful way to analyse a country’s proliferation decision-making is through the lens of ‘technical capability + intent’.
This paper examines nuclear latency focusing on the cases of the Republic of Korea and Japan.
It then looks at what Australia should do and puts forward four key recommendations:
- If a nuclear security summit were to be scheduled for 2018, holding it in Australia would further strengthen Australia’s standing in the world as an effective advocate for the responsible use of nuclear materials.
- The Asia–Pacific Safeguards Network is a promising venue for joint efforts seeking to shape the nuclear policy vector in nuclear-latent countries in the Pacific region.
- Australia should pursue a leadership position in a diverse group of states that contribute to the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification proposed by the US in December 2014.
- Australia needs to continue its participation in annual Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative meetings. Ensuring the effectiveness of this ministerial-level group, initiated by Australia and Japan, will consolidate Australia’s nonproliferation leadership position in the region and in the non-nuclear-weapon states community as a whole