Chapter Three. Nuclear Nonproliferation via Coercion and Consensus: The Success and Limits of the RERTR Program (1978–2004)
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Chapter Three Nuclear Nonproliferation via Coercion and Consensus The Success and Limits of the RERTR Program (1978–2004) Alan J. Kuperman Although less well known than some other nonproliferation initiatives , the U.S.-based Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (rertr) Program greatly improved worldwide nuclear security at remarkably little cost, during its initial phase from 1978 to 2004. Averaging only two dozen employees and an annual budget of four million dollars,1 the program substantially reduced international civilian commerce in bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium (heu), and thereby lowered global risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. This chapter explores the factors that enabled, and constrained, the achievements of the rertr program during its first quarter century, when it was a relatively obscure and low-budget affair. Following that initial phase, in the wake of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the rertr program in 2004 was subsumed by the U.S. Department of Energy (doe) into the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (gtri), where it benefited from substantially greater funding and political support. That second phase may offer additional lessons that are worthy of a separate inquiry. One unusual feature of rertr, among nonproliferation programs, is that its foreign participants were mainly the operators of nuclear facilities, rather than representatives of national governments. Accordingly, this chapter addresses two main questions. First, why did so many of these foreign actors cooperate with the program, despite the fact that doing so imposed costs on them? Second , what determined the limits of that cooperation? In terms of the framework set out by Jeffrey Knopf in chapter 1, cooperation was shaped strongly by the interaction between U.S. leadership and the self-interest of facility operators. To identify precisely the causal mechanisms, this chapter utilizes the case study methodology of “process tracing” to investigate seven potential explanations for foreign cooperation: The RERTR Program [47] 1. Coercion—The United States threatened otherwise to impose some punishment, in the form of a financial penalty or other inconvenience regarding fuel supply or disposition. 2. Perceived costs reduced—The United States convinced foreign partners that the costs of cooperation were lower than originally perceived. 3. Norms—Despite the costs of cooperation, foreign actors internalized a norm that it was the right thing to do, thereby valuing the common interest above self-interest. 4. Side payments—The United States purchased cooperation by providing additional inducements, in the form of either financial reward or other benefit. 5. Diplomacy—Foreign governments cooperated, and compelled their private enterprises to do so, because the United States applied diplomatic pressure and the foreign governments expected that their concessions would be diffusely reciprocated over time. 6. Inherent benefit—Foreign actors cooperated because they perceived that the cost of doing so would be more than offset by some inherent benefit of cooperating, such as improving the performance of their nuclear facilities. 7. Other factors—Although the preceding six possibilities may be exhaustive, the chapter also looks for other explanations of foreign cooperation. The remainder of this chapter is organized as follows. First, it summarizes the rertr program’s rationale, objectives, achievements, and limitations. Second, it investigates the causes of cooperation and noncooperation, assessing each of the above seven hypotheses. Third, it draws lessons for promoting cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation, including but not limited to further efforts to reduce international commerce in bomb-grade uranium. RERTR OVERVIEW Starting in the 1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union exported dozens of nuclear research reactors. At the beginning, developing countries mainly received fuel of low-enriched uranium (leu) that is deemed unsuitable for nuclear weapons because it contains less than 20 percent of the fissile isotope u-235 that sustains a nuclear chain reaction. But after some technical difficulties with that fuel, the United States switched to exporting heu fuel enriched to 93 percent u-235—the same material used in U.S. nuclear weapons—to almost all of the research reactors it supplied.2 Experts typically assume that twenty-five kilograms of such heu is sufficient for a nuclear weapon. In that light, it is remarkable that in the mid-1960s, annual U.S. heu exports for research reactors approached three metric tons, enough for more than one hundred nuclear weapons each year (see figure 3.3). As late as 1978, when the rertr program was created, 141 reactors around the [48] alan j. kuperman world annually required thirteen hundred kilograms of heu from the United States, equivalent to more than fifty nuclear weapons...