Implications of Nuclear Proliferation

Author/Editor: Daniel M. O’Shei, Colonel, U.S. Army

Publisher/Sponsor: Foreign Service Institute, Eighteenth Senior Seminar of Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy Study

Supplier: –

Report Date: June 1976

Document Number: –

Classification: –

Nautilus Filing Number: 769

Box Number: 25


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This case study is taken from a Senior Seminar in Foreign Policy that was released to the Nautilus Institute under the US Freedom of Information Act. Other papers from this series will be released shortly.

The Indian nuclear test in 1974 arguably set off the second round of nuclear proliferation. The first was by the United States, the former Soviet Union and China in the two decades that followed World War II. In the sixties, the great and medium powers realized that nuclear proliferation was a potential threat to the status quo of the international state system and created the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and related institutions such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. This case study, released to the Nautilus Institute under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), reviewed the proliferation problem after the Indian test and concluded: the “nuclear club is now open for membership”.

Aside from contextual and now-dated analysis, the author’s analysis is striking because it bears on the Iraq war and the risks currently being discussed in using military force to terminate nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. O’Shei argued that counterforce attacks would likely be futile and, if the attacked proliferator had nuclear weapons, would entail possible nuclear riposte against the United States.

States O’Shei:

“The dangers of a partially successful pre-emptive strike against a nuclear armed state need not be belabored. The possibilities for hiding objects the size of a nuclear device are only limited by the imagination of the players. No matter how proficient the intelligence activities that would proceed a counterforce raid, total coverage could not be expected.” [page 11]

“The military sanctions discussed above, and others that have circulated from time to time, have one outstanding characteristic in common from the perspective of the United States policy formulation, simply that they are not feasible. That is not to say that if applied in a given scenario they would necessarily fail. If that were so there would be no justification for discussing them at all. The point is that Americans like their wars to be defensive or eschatological, preferably both.” [page 12]

“There are lines which a new nuclear power had better not cross such as use against United States personnel, close allies, large population centers anywhere, or perhaps even employment in the Western Hemisphere, but, as a general proposition, the mere development of weapons, and perhaps their limited use, can probably be undertaken without fear or direct United States military intervention. Until such time as the question of nuclear proliferation is regarded by the American people as a survival issue or as evil incarnate, and there is no measurable trend in either direction, United States leadership should not rely on the military approach.” [page 12]

This report was released to the Nautilus Institute under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).