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News | April 1, 2007

The Future Nuclear Landscape

By Paul Bernstein, John P. Caves, Jr., and John F. Reichart CSWMD Occasional Paper 5

In important ways, the world is at a nuclear crossroads. The complex and dynamic nuclear landscape presents us with challenges along at least four axes: regional nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, great power nuclear relations, and the security implications of increased interest in nuclear energy. These problems are interrelated in ways that the national security community does not fully understand. Strategy and policy frameworks do not address them in sufficiently integrated fashion. New conceptual thinking is required to develop a more unified understanding of and approach to managing the risks and opportunities posed by these 21st-century nuclear challenges.

Today, more than at any other time in the nuclear era, nuclear capacity and potential (knowledge, technology, and materials) are accessible to a growing number of actors with more ambitious goals. The result is a high degree of nuclear latency that challenges traditional thinking about nuclear threats. Whereas 30 or 40 years ago, only a handful of countries were assumed to know how to acquire nuclear weapons, as many as 35 or 40 nations currently are believed to be in the know, and many more could become so based on their participation in civilian nuclear energy programs.