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Nuclear Attribution as Deterrence

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Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 14

March 2007

Nonproliferation Review

Recently, post-explosion nuclear forensics, or nuclear attribution, has gained a new spotlight within the scientific and policymaking community working on nuclear weapons. Academics are beginning to ask whether post-explosion forensics might create a replacement for an international nonproliferation regime or at least offer a fallback option to deter states and individuals from selling nuclear materials. This paper examines current attribution technology from unclassified literature and finds the technology to be well developed but not foolproof, such that nuclear attribution currently provides little deterrent value. If current capabilities were publicized more thoroughly, and if the post-explosion process of assessing the evidence were internationalized, states and intermediate actors might be deterred more effectively. This paper also discusses the development of a nuclear fingerprint database; while useful, its impact on deterrence would be minimal.

This article is based on the author's undergraduate honors thesis, completed during 2005-2006 in CISAC's Interschool Honors Program in International Security.

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