Research Report


Henry D. Sokolski
Bruno Tertrais Editors
Copyright Date: Jul. 1, 2013
Pages: 296
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. v-vi)

    This volume is the 16th in a series of edited volumes of contracted research the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) has published in cooperation with the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. It is the product of a joint effort between NPEC and Bruno Tertrais of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique.

    The volume features research done over the past 2 years. This work addresses the possibility of nuclear weapons and materials falling into the hands of unauthorized actors during political crises. It uses specific historical case studies as the basis from which to draw lessons for...

  2. (pp. 3-22)
    Bruno Tertrais

    The past 2 decades have seen an increase in nuclear dangers. Arsenals have been operationalized in India and Pakistan, and China seems to be augmenting its own. North Korea has crossed the nuclear threshold, and Iran seems to be on the way to do so itself. Four hitherto undisclosed—and illegal—nuclear programs were discovered: Iraq in 1991, Iran in 2002, Libya in 2003, and Syria in 2007. Pakistani and North Korean nuclear expertise and technology transfers were also uncovered. Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups showed an interest in gaining access to nuclear weapons and materials, and some attacked nuclear-related...

  3. Part I: Case Studies

    • (pp. 25-64)
      Bruno Tertrais

      The strategic literature about the risk of nuclear proliferation and of nuclear terrorism sometimes mentions a little-known episode of French colonial history: a nuclear test that took place in April 1961 while four generals mounted a coup in Algiers against the nascent Fifth Republic. The first mention of this episode in publications devoted to international security issues appears to have been a 1968 short journal article by Donald Brennan and Leonard Spector’s pioneering book, Going Nuclear (1987). To the best of this author’s knowledge, no detailed analysis of the 1961 events has ever been published.¹

      Conventional wisdom-various citations of the...

    • (pp. 65-86)
      Mark A. Stokes

      Nuclear warhead stockpile security has long been a concern of the major powers. Of particular concern is the potential theft of nuclear warheads and associated materials, or a breakdown in command and control authority over their use during periods of domestic instability. Since the inception of its program in the 1950s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has granted nuclear warheads special political significance. The value of nuclear weapons resides not only in their international deterrent/coercive significance, but also in the domestic power and political legitimacy that a faction enjoys with control over the means of mass destruction. Domestic instability in...

    • (pp. 87-144)
      Nikolai Sokov

      Had someone suggested during the Cold War that the Soviet leadership might lose control of its nuclear arsenal, such an outlandish notion would have been brushed aside in an instant. Even as the Soviet Union was sinking ever deeper into economic crisis and political turmoil in the late-1980s, one undisputable island of stability remained—the Soviet nuclear forces.

      This island could not remain immune. As the country was undergoing a complex socio-economic transition and eventually fell apart, at least three situations occurred during a relatively short period from early-1990 to mid-1992, when control over nuclear weapons could slip from the...

    • (pp. 145-188)
      Feroz Hassan Khan

      Pakistan’s independent political history has experienced dramatic changes since the death of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who died 13 months after the country gained independence from British India. Jinnah’s death led to a succession of political leaders who have been assassinated, overthrown, or exiled. Pakistan’s political history is further checkered, with the dismissals of six prime ministers in the 1950s,¹ four military coups,² and four dissolutions of the parliamentary government using presidential constitutional powers.³

      Given this history of tumultuous political changes in Pakistan and with simultaneous progress occurring in its nuclear program for the past 40 years scholars and...

  4. Part II: Lessons Learned

    • (pp. 191-204)
      Reid B. C. Pauly and Scott D. Sagan

      The case studies presented in this volume are valuable contributions to the literature on nuclear security, as they bring to light new evidence of instances when nuclear test sites, weapons in transit, and deployed weapons were threatened during times of political instability. The authors did not, of course, discover instances in which nuclear weapons were actually stolen or used by rogue officers, revolutionary mobs, or terrorists. So there is a significant puzzle about how best to interpret the “close call” incidents highlighted in these cases.

      Organizational scholars James March, Lee Sproull, and Michal Tamuz have argued:

      The most obvious learning...

    • (pp. 205-226)
      Peter D. Feaver

      The four case studies in this volume are usefully evaluated through two distinct lenses. First and foremost is the lens of theory: What do the case studies reveal about prevailing debates among theorists of nuclear proliferation, especially the optimist-pessimist debate? Second is the lens of policy: What do policymakers need to learn from the case studies?

      For the theory lens, of course, what one sees depends on who is doing the looking. Some 2 decades ago, the field was locked in a dialectic over the consequences of proliferation. I identified at least four schools:¹ Paleo-pessimists, who thought that new necular...

    • (pp. 227-252)
      Gregory F. Giles

      The views expressed herein are those of the author, not necessarily those of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) or its sponsors.

      Each of the four case studies examined in this project-the erstwhile “nuclear coup” in French Algeria in 1961, the Red Guards uprising in China in 1967, the turbulence in Pakistan since the 1977 military coup, and the slide to dissolution of the Soviet Union during 1990-91-provides a fascinating account of how centralized control over nuclear weapons was more or less imperiled by political upheaval and the lengths to which political and military institutions had to go to keep the...

    • (pp. 253-278)
      Matthew Bunn

      The case studies presented in this volume are invaluable contributions to thinking about an important aspect of the nuclear danger—the potential for loss of control as states with nuclear weapons go through periods of political turmoil and unrest.

      From Sokov, we have the alarming spectacle of military forces digging a trench in the runway with cannon fire to scare off a crowd in order to fly nuclear weapons away before armed gangs arrive and seize them. From Tertrais, we have a situation full of uncertainty over which group of generals those with control of a nuclear weapon to be...