Nuclear Latency and Nuclear Proliferation
First paragraph of the book chapter:
How quickly could individual governments, starting from different levels of nuclear-related expertise and technology, develop a nuclear weapon if they chose to do so? This question—which I will call the “nuclear latency” question—is both exceedingly important and poorly understood. It is important because an accurate understanding of both underlying state capabilities and the time needed to utilize such capabilities is necessary to analyze a wide set of nuclear policy issues: for example, dealing with the Iran nuclear crisis (how quickly could Tehran make a weapon from its stockpile of low–enriched uranium?); understanding the relationship between the spread of civilian nuclear power and the spread of nuclear weapons capability (will new civilian programs make breakout to military programs easier and more likely?); evaluating potential NPT reforms (what would be the effects of lengthening the ninety-day notice in the Article X withdrawal clause?); or assessing the stability of a world without nuclear weapons (could disarmed states rearm in five days, five weeks, five months, or five years?). Despite widespread discussion of these policy issues, however, a set of mirror-image analytic failures has limited our ability to make clear predictions about nuclear latency and proliferation: Political scientists working on these subjects have often failed to examine basic technical factors regarding the nuclear fuel cycle that strongly influence how quickly states can get the bomb; the more technical literature about nuclear latency has similarly often failed to examine the political factors that strongly influence the ability of a government to develop nuclear weapons.