Rome '08 Workshop

Proliferation Threats: Thinking in Today's Context 

Ambassador Robert Joseph

Former U.S. Under Secretary of State 

Ambassador Robert Joseph

Thank you very much for the opportunity to be part of this very impressive conference. I think I am unique on the panel in the sense that today I speak as a private citizen and it may be for that reason that just before we began the panel discussion, Dr. Tegnelia asked me to summarize the various talks, including Under Secretary Rood's lunch address, and to provide a foundation for a very active discussion. 

Normally, trying to summarize a series of presentations like we have had this afternoon would be mission impossible but I think that all the panelists have done such a superb job in laying out the issues concerning both the threat and the response associated with proliferation that I will be able to limit myself to five points. 


We need to think about the proliferation threats and our response to those threats in the context of the twenty-first century security environment. Three principal challenges have been emphasized in the discussions today: 

  • The first challenge is the challenge from states who are seeking weapons of mass destruction— nuclear, chemical, biological—and the means of delivering, including ballistic missiles. These include Iran and North Korea, other names, such as Syria, have been mentioned in our discussion. This is not an exhaustive list. 
  • The second challenge comes from non-state actors. There has been an emphasis on terrorists who are seeking weapons of mass destruction, not to use them as weapons of last resort as we used to think about them during the Cold War, but actually to use them as weapons of choice against civilian populations. The other side of the non-state actor challenge that has been mentioned is the supply networks and standing out in that context is A. Q. Khan. With his associates, A. Q. Khan provided non-stop shopping for not just enrichment, not just the blue prints and the centrifuges for enrichment but also the warhead design, something that I think you have all been reading about most recently in the news. 
  • The third challenge is the need to ensure that the expansion of nuclear energy is done in a way that reduces the risks of proliferation and specifically the need to discourage—we hope stop—the spread of sensitive technologies associated with enrichment and reprocessing. These challenges of course are all unrelated. I personally believe that if we fail with North Korea, if we fail with Iran, we are much more likely to have that cascade of proliferation that will stem from the expansion of nuclear energy around the globe and the access to sensitive materials in the context of nuclear terrorism will also grow. 


Each of these major proliferation challenges requires a comprehensive approach. 

For the first two, for states and non-state threats, we need to build what has been called the defense-in-depth or layered defense against the proliferation threat and this begins of course with prevention, eliminating materials, securing materials, interdicting materials to ensure that proliferant states or terrorists do not gain access to these capabilities. 

But we know that we are not going to be one hundred percent successful in prevention. We know that from our experience. So we need a second layer of defense and that second layer of defense is protection.We need to protect against the threat and here we need new capabilities again for the 21st century. We have talked a lot about missile defense in that context, not a missile defense that would threaten Russia but a missile defense that would be sized appropriately against Iran or North Korea, the type of missile defense that the United States and our allies here in Europe as well as our allies in Asia are building. 

We also have talked about some of the capabilities that we require for biological and chemical threats including better detection and medical counter-measures. We also need new capabilities for the 21st century for nuclear terrorism. Here we need to emphasize the capability to detect the movement of nuclear materials or nuclear weapons, the ability to provide for forensic capabilities that will give us the ability to attribute where those materials may have come from. All of these, I think, play into both deterrence and defense aspects of this second part of our comprehensive or layered defense. 

And the third part has been referred to as response or consequence management, a critical capability that is being addressed by the Alliance. 

As for the comprehensive approach needed for the third challenge, challenge from the spread of nuclear energy, shaping the future of nuclear energy in a way that is less likely to contribute to proliferation has been described by Ambassador Berdennikov and John Rood earlier and I will not comment any longer on that. 


In our comprehensive approach, we need to employ all of the tools of national and international power and statecraft: 

  • Diplomacy both bilateral and multilateral; 
  • The economic or financial tools that we have talked about—this runs from everything from sanctions to the disruption of proliferation transactions in the international financial market; 
  • Intelligence—Intelligence is a consistent theme that we have heard from our speakers. In the context of Intelligence, we have had some spectacular successes and I would put Libya and the unraveling of the A. Q. Khan network in that category. We have also had some in my view again as a private citizen, some spectacular failures and Iraq WMD stands out in that regard. We need to learn from these experiences—both the successes and the failures. We need to improve our ability to collect and to analyze Intelligence, and to share Intelligence in appropriate channels. We must maximize the use of Intelligence and minimize the factors that would weaken our ability to understand and act on the threat. 
  • We also need to use our scientific and technical tools: We have talked about that in terms of detection and attribution and some of the new capabilities that we need for this new century. 
  • And we also need to take into account and this has not been raised, the need for a strong, credible, safe, and reliable nuclear deterrent. Extended deterrence is a major non-proliferation tool that if undermined, could very much lead to additional proliferation in a number of regions including Northeast Asia and in the Gulf, two regions that are vitally important to all of us. 


International cooperation is key despite the prevailing caricature of the Bush administration. We have heard time and time again from these presenters about new initiatives that have been undertaken: 

  • In 2002, the Global Initiative of the G8 to provide more funding, billions of dollars more, for non-proliferation assistance programs, the non-Lugar type programs. 
  • In 2003, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an important tool mentioned by a number of speakers. 
  • In 2004, U.N. Resolution 1540, which also came from the Bush administration and was supported by Russia as well and by other states. 
  • In 2006, the U.S. and Russia got together on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. 
  • There was reference made to last year's statement of the two presidents in July, again shaping the future of nuclear energy, trying to encourage countries to forego the option of enrichment and reprocessing, forego the sensitive technologies that are associated with proliferation in exchange for a very attractive deal, in exchange for fuel assurances, in exchange for resolving some of the very difficult issues associated with the back end of the fuel cycle. It is a very innovative approach that will rely not just on the U.S. and Russia, but on all of the suppliers and the beneficiaries as well. 

 So there are a number of very important initiatives out there. 


The last point I would make is that no matter how innovative we may be, no matter how good our capabilities may be, we will not succeed without resolve, and especially the demonstration of political resolve over time. And here I would state that we need to demonstrate resolve with countries like Iran. Iran is an incredibly complex problem, but I think we know what we need to do with regard to Iran. The problem is that we have a series of very difficult choices—there is no easy choice. Every choice that is out there for dealing with Iran in an effective way entails costs but we must be willing to pay those costs. 

And finally just a note on Russia given that it has come up in discussions both yesterday and today. In my view, which I am sure we all share, we need to ensure that there is mutual respect in our relationship with Russia. We need to build on opportunities with Russia: the Global Initiative and the Nuclear Energy Initiative are two cases in point of where our interests coincide. But we also need to deal with Russia with a sense of resolve, resolve in the context of a commitment to our principles: our principles of democracy, of human rights, of national sovereignty, and of territorial integrity. We cannot move away from a principled position and enforce that position with resolve. 

Top of page | Home | ©2009 Center for Strategic Decision Research