The Nuclear Renaissance and International Security

  • Published

The Nuclear Renaissance and International Security, edited by Adam N. Stulberg and Matthew Fuhrmann. Stanford Security Studies, 2013, 364 pp.

Nuclear Renaissance is a collection of scholarly work composed by a number of experts in the fields of nuclear power, nuclear proliferation, international relations, and international conflict. The book's editors, Adam Stulberg and Matthew Fuhrmann, worked with their contributors to compile this collection as a product of a workshop, "The Nuclear Renaissance and International Security," held at Georgia Tech in January 2010. Stulberg, Fuhrmann, and their contributors review the causes and characteristics of the so-called nuclear renaissance and then analyze the international security implications of any such renaissance.

The nuclear renaissance is the assumption that there will be an expansion of nuclear power throughout both the industrialized and the developing worlds. The current impetus for this expansion of interest is due to a variety of reasons, but it is most often attributed to a worldwide increase in energy demand, concerns related to global warming, and energy insecurity due to dependency on fossil fuel imports. The nuclear renaissance is not guaranteed. In fact, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident may have dampened it—much like the 1979 Three Mile Island and the 1986 Chernobyl accidents stunted the nuclear energy industry during the 1980s. Stulberg and Fuhrmann seem to recognize this and note in the introduction that nuclear energy's future may be one of stagnation, resurgence by current nuclear states, or global deepening and broadening of the nuclear industry (i.e., renaissance). Despite Fukushima Daiichi, the questions explored and insights provided by the contributors are still very relevant to the discussion of the nuclear industry and its relation to international security regardless of the nuclear industry's future.

The book is divided into three sections. The first covers the drivers and patterns of the nuclear energy renaissance, the second looks at effects on nuclear weapons proliferation, and the third touches on effects on international conflict.

The first section of Nuclear Renaissance is unique to the literature of nuclear power vis-à-vis international security. Often, such literature focuses on the security of nuclear waste, but more often it focuses on the use of peaceful nuclear programs to cover more opaque weapons programs by a select few nations. Nuclear Renaissance is more comprehensive and, thus, more enlightening. Its focus expands beyond the typical subjects to allow for a better understanding of nuclear power and international security. The subject matter explores the characteristics of nuclear power states and the implied meanings of those characteristics for future nuclear energy development. The book takes the reader into a conversation concerning what countries pursue nuclear power and why they explore it. And the authors illuminate the intentions of those countries that support nuclear aspirants and how such countries go about providing that support. Further, Nuclear Renaissance probes subjects that are inherently international in scope such as multilateral nuclear approaches and nuclear power's potential impact on global warming.

The second section of the book is more traditional as it focuses on proliferation; however, its subject matter, as in the first section, is also much more expansive than found in most literature. Nuclear Renaissance is free of the typical case studies and their myopic focus on Iran, North Korea, and the A. Q. Khan network. Instead, the contributors take a more compressive look at the topic. The section starts out by exploring the true effects of nuclear assistance in a potential proliferator's weapon program and how it may actually hinder a proliferator's progress. It analyzes the subject of nuclear expansion, and downplays any potential technological spread that would contribute to proliferation. The book also considers the correlation between any renaissance and nuclear trafficking but notes there are a finite number of trafficking strategies available, limiting the threat despite any possible growth in nuclear materials.

The final section, as one might expect, also explores ground that is not typically discussed in the literature covering nuclear issues. Specifically, the contributors of Nuclear Renaissance explore the relationship between the expansion of nuclear aspirants and conflict. While that is not, in itself, unique, this work looks beyond nuclear coercion, blackmail, and brinksmanship. Rather the contributors consider the impact that the simple pursuit of nuclear weapons has on international conflict. And, they link the destabilizing threat, not to the fear of an existential threat, but to the fear that the proliferating country will possess significant bargaining power over others in the future. Finally, Nuclear Renaissance explores how countries with nuclear weapon programs and countries with peaceful nuclear programs relate to conflict, indicating that the former is more likely to initiate conflict while the latter is much less likely to do so.

Despite Nuclear Renaissance's great subject matter, it does have its faults—the greatest being the contributors' heavy emphasis on statistical data. In many cases, the contributors spend extensive time describing their use of such things as logistic regression analysis; they break down in great detail their dependent and independent variables, producing numerous statistically based tables. The effect has the potential to inadvertently alienate those readers that are not necessarily statistically minded. As an example, Alexander Montgomery's "Stop Helping Me" is one of the more intriguing chapters of the book, but his extensive focus on methodology also makes it one of the most painful.

Montgomery postulates that nuclear assistance may undermine a country's nuclear weapon program by limiting the country's ability to develop the necessary tacit knowledge needed to succeed. When he finally gets into the meat of his argument, Montgomery notes that states that succeeded without assistance took less time to realize their goal than those that received assistance. Among these countries, he includes Russia, the United Kingdom, and France. Montgomery's understanding of nuclear assistance does not include their common heritage that dates back to World War II. Whether these countries acquired know-how via espionage or actual participation in the allied nuclear weapon development, it cannot be argued that their programs were assistance free. For those skeptical of statistics to begin with, such admissions raise questions about the value of the data produced by Montgomery and, possibly, the other contributors.

Overall, Nuclear Renaissance is a valuable read. Regardless of whether the world will see a nuclear renaissance, nuclear energy will be a part of our future and will impact international security. Too often, the literature focuses simply on proliferation of a few countries. This book goes beyond that limited scope to discuss a wide range of topics related to the nature of the nuclear industry and how and to whom it is likely to spread. It expands upon that information, to explain how this will impact proliferation, and finishes on a subject that is hardly ever discussed—the relation between nuclear energy development and conflict. Despite some of the faults of the book, Nuclear Renaissance will enrich the reader's understanding of nuclear energy, proliferation, and conflict in the context of international security.

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."