Spreading Temptation: Proliferation and Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreements

International Security, Vol. 34, No. 1, Summer 2009

58 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2009 Last revised: 4 May 2009

Date Written: March 9, 2009


This article argues that peaceful nuclear cooperation - the transfer of nuclear technology, materials, or know-how from one state to another for peaceful purposes - helps explain why some countries pursue and acquire nuclear weapons while others do not. In particular, countries receiving peaceful nuclear assistance are more likely to initiate nuclear weapon programs and successfully develop the bomb - especially when they are also faced with security threats. To test this argument, this article uses a new dataset of more than 2,000 bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreements (NCAs) signed between 1950 and 2000. A series of quantitative and qualitative tests provide strong empirical support. This article challenges the conventional wisdom by showing that supplier countries raise the risks of further nuclear proliferation when they assist others in developing civil nuclear programs. Further, the relationship between civilian nuclear cooperation and proliferation is surprisingly broad. Even ostensibly "innocuous" assistance such as training nuclear scientists or providing research or power reactors increases the likelihood that states will pursue nuclear weapons and ultimately acquire them. With a renaissance in nuclear power on the horizon, major suppliers like the United States should reconsider their willingness to assist other countries in developing peaceful nuclear programs.

Keywords: Nuclear proliferation, peaceful nuclear cooperation, nuclear energy, quantitative analysis

Suggested Citation

Fuhrmann, Matthew, Spreading Temptation: Proliferation and Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (March 9, 2009). International Security, Vol. 34, No. 1, Summer 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1356091

Matthew Fuhrmann (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University ( email )

College Station, TX 77843
United States

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