Deputy Vice President, Nuclear Materials Security
Eric Brewer on the War in Ukraine and Nonproliferation
In an op-ed for Foreign Affairs headlined “Ukraine Won’t Ignite a Nuclear Scramble,” Deputy Vice President for NTI’s Nuclear Materials Security Program Eric Brewer writes that, “although Russia’s war [in Ukraine] has created nuclear risks, the risk that it will unleash a wave of nuclear proliferation is lower than many believe.”
Brewer and his co-authors Nicholas L. Miller and Tristan Volpe explain that there are four reasons to doubt that the war in Ukraine will spark nuclear proliferation: first, “this is not the first time a nuclear power has threatened a relatively weak state…Nor is it the first time that a country has faced an existential attack after giving up its nuclear weapons program.” Second, “getting the bomb is easier said than done.” Third, “countries with allied protection are less vulnerable to external aggression than Ukraine and therefore less likely to feel compelled to seek a nuclear deterrent.” Fourth, while Russia’s invasion has undermined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is “unlikely to prompt an exodus from the agreement.”
Although there are risks associated with the hedging behaviors of states such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia, Brewer and his co-authors write that these behaviors are motivated by a desire for greater protection and “the greater demand for U.S. security backing gives Washington more leverage to attach nonproliferation strings to whatever assurances it provides.” If handled correctly, the war in Ukraine could be an opportunity for the U.S. to strengthen its nonproliferation efforts.
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