Author Archives: eastcourse

Nuclear Security In An Unstable Age

Zoe Levornik, MENACS member and postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Stanton Nuclear Security Program, writes for The Strategic Commentator on the new and evolving challenges facing nuclear security and the global nonproliferation regime.

The last decade have seen growing concern over nuclear proliferation and nuclear safety. Most of the focus has been given to Iran and North Korea and the question of how to prevent or contain their nuclear programs. It has been an ongoing tradition of cultural bias by the West to view non-Western countries and their leaders as too irresponsible to be allowed to possess nuclear weapons while the Western powers were always looked upon as “good” responsible countries that can be trusted with nuclear weapons (The focus here is only on state actors, assuming that if non-state actors possess any kind of nuclear capability they are not planning of acting responsibly with that capability).This perception can be easily disproved by comparing the record of accidents and near accidents in both Western and non-Western nuclear states. Moreover, in the last decade the men who hold the red button in their hand even in those countries that have always been considered most trustworthy according to Western perceptions are making many of us feel uncomfortable with this particular responsibility entrusted to them.

The U.S., Russia and Israel, all have a long history of maintaining their nuclear arsenals in a responsible way (more or less) and preventing dangerous escalations during crisis. However, in the last decade we find that the leaders of these countries, the men in charge of the bomb, are more short tempered and implosive in their behavior, which makes many wonder if they will be able to prevent a crisis from escalating into a nuclear exchange. Threats of the use of nuclear weapons have been uttered (or twitted). Perhaps more substantial, there has been talk of the need, and development, of tactical nuclear weapons that could be use in a military confrontation. Which raises the question do these men understand the implication of even a small nuclear exchange? First, the risk to human life and the environmental and ecological implication of the use of nuclear weapons. Second, the normative implication of breaking the taboo on nuclear use. Moreover, do they understand the importance of the existing nonproliferation regime? Do they respect existing treaties? Do they work towards strengthening the regime? Do they set the right example for other states?

Continue reading on The Strategic Commentator.

HTRs will not help establish nuclear power in Jordan

Dr. Ali Ahmad and M. V. Ramana

MENACS member and Director of the American University of Beirut’s Energy Policy & Security Program, Dr. Ali Ahmad, co-authored this op-ed with M. V. Ramana in The Jordan Times on the challenges Jordan will face using High Temperature Reactors (HTRs) to meet its nuclear ambitions.

Chairman of Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), Khaled Toukan, has announced that the organisation is in “serious and advanced” talks with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build a 220 megawatt High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor (HTR) in the Kingdom. Viewed in light of earlier announcements by JAEC and its failure to realise any of its proposed plans since 2007, this pronouncement suggests that the Kingdom is downsizing its nuclear plans in a desperate bid to keep alive the possibility of building a nuclear plant in the country. But this effort is as misguided as prior ones and the best option is to stop investing any more effort, or money, into developing nuclear power.

Perhaps the most important earlier announcement worth recalling is from three years ago, when, amid much fanfare, Jordan signed an inter-governmental agreement with Russia to build two 1,000-megawatt reactors, at a total cost of $10 billion. The two reactors were “expected to be operational by 2022”. Reports suggested that Russia was to finance 50.1 per cent of the project and Jordan would find financing for the other half. But Jordan struggled to come up with its share.

Although there has been no official announcement to that effect, the project is likely dead. This is presumably why there is now talk of a smaller reactor.

The shift to smaller reactors could make the job of obtaining financing for the project easier because the total cost is lower. According to JAEC, the agreement for the HTR is expected to be worth $1 billion. The problem, though, is that it will also produce much less electricity. The reason that existing power reactors generally are much larger in terms of electricity generation capacity than their early prototypes is that small reactors are generally more expensive on a per unit basis and thus the electricity they produce is also costlier than electricity from larger reactors.

Continue reading on The Jordan Times.

Cyber Armageddon

Dr. Beyza Unal on the threat posed by hackers to nuclear weapon security

Senior Research Fellow, Nuclear Weapons Policy, International Security Department, Chatham House

Research by Chatham House has identified nuclear weapons as potential targets of cyberattack. How an offensive cyber-operation against nuclear weapons systems might work, and why states have not yet undertaken such an attack, are issues worth examining in detail.

A cyberattack against nuclear weapons systems would require extraordinary state-level capabilities. It would entail virtual or physical access to closed networks that could be achieved only by exploiting a range of vulnerabilities, which may be found in the supply chain, poor design, altered software and hardware, or clandestine digital routes to the critical assets.

An insider threat – someone working in a weapons complex with malicious intent − could implant malware to degrade, disrupt or destroy systems and assets. The malware could lie dormant and unnoticed in the system for months or even years, to be activated when necessary.

An offensive cyber-operation thus requires knowledge of the design of an adversary’s nuclear weapons, as well as ways to infiltrate their systems. The operation might target the command, control and communications of the weapons system, or it could target the wider nuclear enterprise, which could mean interfering with the digital systems of aircraft that launch nuclear bombs. The design of the latest US nuclear bomb, the B61-12, suggests increased reliance on GPS satellites and laser guidance to improve targeting.

By exploiting satellite, ground station or supply chain vulnerabilities, missiles could be redirected away from their target.
According to some experts, North Korea’s recent failed missile tests raise the possibility that the US has infiltrated the North Korean supply chain.

Another way in which a cyberattack might work is by targeting contractors working in operational or logistic networks. This has happened at a lower scale with conventional weapons. Chinese hackers allegedly conducted 50 successful intrusions of the command responsible for transporting US conventional weapons. Targeting the logistics networks in the nuclear field may provide vital intelligence on locations for the deployment of equipment and forces.

Cyber risks in this area highlight the need for taking a closer look at how bombers or missile platforms could be compromised. For instance, bombers with nuclear capabilities rely on data transmission and real-time information for mission-critical commands. An adversary could jam or imitate communications sent to and from ground stations, compromising the information received. This may lead decision-makers to rely on false information.

If there are ways to conduct an effective offensive operation against strategic systems then why have states  been reluctant to carry one out? There may be a number of reasons. States may have already infiltrated an adversary’s nuclear weapons systems and installed malware sleeper cells which await activation. Command-and-control systems of nuclear weapons have not been used for more than seven decades, so their readiness may be questionable. This could mean accidental launches or failure to launch when intended, both of which could have catastrophic consequences.

Nuclear weapons states with cyber-offensive capabilities might have realized that the cost of an offensive operation would outweigh potential benefits. Currently, there is no agreed body of international law on how to respond to a cyber-attack, nor what constitutes an appropriate response to an attack on nuclear weapons systems. A memorandum of understanding between Russia and the US, for instance, agreeing not to hack each other’s nuclear command and control could be a positive step, yet technically challenging as it would require continuous monitoring and technical verification.

A cyberattack on nuclear weapons systems may cause a paradigm shift in military strategy. Today’s mainstream theories argue that nuclear weapons exist for the purpose of deterrence, which relies on states not conducting a first strike for fear of the devastating retaliation. If one side is confident that the other cannot retaliate − for example because its weapons systems are compromised − then the logic of deterrence would not hold.

These are grey areas. The suspicion that nuclear weapons systems may be unreliable as a result of cyberattacks should be the basis for a reconsideration of how decision-makers react to cyber risks in times of crisis.

Cooperation, Contestation, and Historical Context: A Survey of the Middle East’s Security Architecture

Cooperation, Contestation, and Historical Context:

A Survey of the Middle East’s Security Architecture

By Nasser Bin Nasser and Jasmine Auda

March 7, 2018

Political theorists have long considered the Middle East to be the only region in the world that lacks a comprehensive regional security architecture. Europe relies on formalized mechanisms such as treaties and institutions, and countries in Asia have used diplomacy and consensus in pursuit of their regional security regimes. The countries of the Middle East, however, are often said to not even share a common set of norms or guiding principles in the realm of security.

This view is, however, incomplete. To some degree, it judges the Middle East by the wrong scale—a scale largely formed around Western security arrangements, which are not the only ways that security can be managed. This report argues that, while the Middle East may not have an institutionalized security architecture characterized by binding commitments, states in the region are nonetheless engaging in cooperative security, albeit in a way that differs drastically in form from those in other regions.

This does not mean that the Middle East is not in dire need of improvement to its security architecture. The region currently faces numerous threats to security, including concerns of instability and unpredictable outcomes. Many contemporary security threats are products of the factors that contribute to the region’s lack of formal architecture. The ongoing conflict in Syria displays the immediate need for a more robust formal security system, the diplomatic crisis with Qatar points to divergent political interests within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the instability in Yemen and the renewed insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai region further emphasize the region’s needs for greater cooperation.

To address these urgent security needs, the Middle East needs to build upon its own established traditions of cooperative security, in a way that acknowledges the region’s strengths, limitations, and differences from other regions. This report seeks to lay the groundwork for such an effort by identifying concrete factors that have contributed to the lack of a formal security architecture, such as the region’s lack of common existential threats, and examining the role that security institutions traditionally have played across the Middle East. To address contemporary security threats in the region, it is critical to first identify the factors that have contributed to this lack of formal security architecture. In identifying these factors, though, this analysis also refutes the notion that the region is somehow “exceptional” and thus incapable of building a robust security architecture. To move the conversation beyond received and incomplete notions about the Middle East—and toward solutions for the region’s security—it then expands the notion of security beyond military and political dimensions, and assesses the various social and cultural linkages between states, and their effects on regional security.

Security Architecture

The notion of security has often been referred to as being an “essentially contested concept.”1 Scholars believe that the definition of security is inherently subjective, as it means different things to different people or states. In the most rudimentary sense, however, security means alleviating threats to established values.2 Following this basic definition of security, cooperative security therefore refers to the mutual collaboration of a group of states to mitigate threats caused by a common set of identified concerns. Before proceeding further, however, it is worth briefly distinguishing between the concepts of cooperative security, collective security, and collective defense.

A Comparative Definition of Cooperative Security

Collective security refers to a group of member states that are legally obliged to protect each other from an attack by other states within that same group.3 An example of a collective security organization is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Collective defense, by contrast, refers to the commitment of member states within an organization to defend each other from external aggression.4 NATO is the foremost example of such an alliance.

Cooperative security has completely different connotations. The term was largely popularized in the years following the end of the Cold War, and it accurately captured the zeitgeist of that era—an overwhelming sense of optimism for the new world order. Carrying the spirit of that time, then, cooperative security has been identified as connoting “consultation rather than confrontation, reassurance rather than deterrence, transparency rather than secrecy, prevention rather than correction, and interdependence rather than unilateralism.”5 Thus, whereas collective security describes the process of shared legislation to ensure internal order and collective defense involves shared legislation in addition to the commitment to align against external threats, cooperative security simply suggests mutual collaboration to alleviate an internal or external threat to some shared values. To examine the Middle East’s security architecture, this assessment focuses mostly on the elements of cooperative security, not on those of collective security or collective defense.

The full article is only available on the owner’s website. You can continue reading here.

Cooperating on Nuclear Power: Regional Management of Energy Initiatives

Cooperating on Nuclear Power:

Regional Management of Energy Initiatives

By Selim Can Sazak

February 28, 2018

As the world grows thirstier for energy by the day, and climate change adds urgency to the need to find new sources of kilowatts while cutting carbon emissions, many countries have stepped up their efforts to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and diversify their energy mix. In the West, the move toward a postcarbon economy is largely associated with alternative energy sources like solar and wind.1 Nuclear energy has fallen out of favor, synonymous with catastrophe (Chernobyl) and intractable cleanups (Fukushima).2

Despite all of the anxiety around nuclear power, however, many parts of the developing world, and not a small number of energy scientists, continue to look to nuclear plants as viable and powerful ways to produce zero-carbon-­emission energy.3 And perhaps nowhere has its popularity as a clean energy option endured and grown as in the Middle East.4 Fission power uniquely responds to the region’s growing and interconnected challenges surrounding water, energy, and food—challenges that climate change and rapid urbanization are compounding. For the Gulf’s petro-monarchies, as well as for high-­population countries like Egypt, this expanding nexus of problems is especially worrisome, since their political stability partly depends on a vast and costly system of price subsidies that is increasingly unsustainable in the face of growing demand and declining hydrocarbon revenues.5 Energy-importing market economies like Turkey6 and Jordan7 are also in search of greater energy independence and new sources of economic growth. It makes for a delicate balance, with energy production at the fulcrum. Nuclear power—clean and putatively cheap in the long run—provides an alluring solution.

Yet even as the appeal of nuclear energy to the Middle East is clear, its potential spread also causes anxiety around the world and tensions between neighbors.8This is not to say that the rising nuclear ambitions in the Middle East are a charade for more sinister intentions. Empirical evidence does not support the argument that countries pursue civilian nuclear power to augment nuclear weapons programs, at least from the beginning.9 Civilian nuclear power, however, inevitably contributes to a state’s capacity to build nuclear weapons—its “nuclear latency.”10 The line between civilian and military nuclear programs is extraordinarily thin: It is relatively easy for a country with an advanced civil nuclear program to move from developing power stations to nuclear weapons. With some planning, discretion, and luck, a country can easily use the fuel and byproducts of light-water nuclear power reactors—enriched uranium and plutonium—to produce nuclear bombs. Indeed, since Britain developed its atomic bomb in 1952, all nuclear aspirants have hidden their military programs behind the mask of peaceful nuclear power, to one extent or another.11 This gives rise to a potential security dilemma: a state cannot risk not reacting to the possible increase in an adversary’s nuclear capabilities, but in reacting to it the state produces circumstances that lead to a nuclear race spiraling out of control.12 Furthermore, poorly regulated technology could fall into the hands of terrorists13 or black market traders.14 In the region’s perennially turbulent political environment, it is impossible to ponder the spread of nuclear energy and the growth of nuclear latency without also raising fears about nuclear weapon proliferation and rising insecurity.

Even aside from the security concerns, the Middle East’s nuclear journey is destined to be a bumpy one. Building a nuclear power plant is neither cheap nor easy. Even in countries that have a long history of nuclear energy development and strong institutional, regulatory, managerial, and educational systems, nuclear power projects rarely go as planned. Cost overruns are common, as are delays and cancellations. Middle Eastern countries’ social, economic, and political fragility makes nuclear energy progress in the region all the more doubtful. Moreover, the Middle East’s race for nuclear power also serves as a theater for the geopolitical competition between China, Russia, and the United States, which will certainly complicate nuclear ambitions.15

One pathway may enable the Middle East to more effectively deal with these pressing challenges, allowing interested countries to enjoy the promises of nuclear energy while ensuring security and safety and avoiding political impasse. That pathway is regional cooperation. Indeed, the spread of nuclear energy in the Middle East, while fraught, would essentially be salutary for the region’s economies, environment, and security—if the development of the sector is pursued in the right way, with concerted efforts toward mutual aims and collaboration.

Proposing cooperation in a region where many neighbors can barely coordinate basic diplomacy—when they are not actually sworn enemies—may seem quixotic. But in fact, because of the nature of the risks, challenges, and opportunities associated with nuclear power, cooperation in the development of the sector is uniquely possible and can even have positive repercussions in other vital sectors. This report argues that effective cooperation on nuclear energy in the Middle East will need to tackle multiple angles at once, some of them more indirect or less official. Formal agreements have a role, but piecemeal and highly targeted forms of collaboration will also be important, as will be the creation of both a culture of collective knowledge advancement and a community of regional experts without strong national or political affiliations. By integrating nuclear energy cooperation with other efforts, Middle Eastern countries can also help to solve other problems.

The report provides an overview of nuclear energy development in the Middle East, and then describes the various incentives driving nuclear ambitions in the region. It then identifies and discusses four specific opportunities for cooperation—foreign agricultural investment, educational mobility, scientific research cooperation, and multilateral resource management—and how they could be implemented. In conclusion, it summarizes these findings and their implications for regional and international security.

Why Is the Middle East Going Nuclear?

As noted, nuclear energy remains popular in emerging economies even though it has fallen somewhat out of favor in more developed countries. As of September 2017, fifty-six reactors were under construction in fifteen countries.16 China, the world’s fourth-largest nuclear energy producer, accounts for more than one-third of this growth, with twenty reactors under construction. Other fast-growing Asian economies like India, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan also have reactors under construction.

The full article is available on the owner’s website. You can continue reading here.

Atomic Bonds in an Age of Entropy

Atomic Bonds in an Age of Entropy: 

The Pursuit of a Nuclear Security Framework in the Middle East

By Bilal Y. Saab and Nilsu Goren

February 28, 2018

Disorder and violence in the Middle East have reached unprecedented levels that make any talk of regional security cooperation, let alone plans for it, seem less credible today than ever before. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how arms control agendas could be launched in the region at a time when four countries—Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen—are engulfed in civil war, the Saudi-Iranian regional power struggle is worsening, and violent extremist groups are sowing death and destruction across the region and beyond.

Yet it is precisely under such extremely challenging conditions that security cooperation is most needed. And because most of the security problems affecting Middle Eastern stability are regional in nature, they require regional solutions. One of the ways to break this impasse and instill some degree of trust and confidence among regional stakeholders is by proposing practical, gradual items of cooperation that avoid politics and controversy, and do not intrinsically and immediately infringe upon the sovereignty and national security of states in the region. One such issue that could encourage countries in the Middle East to act more collectively and achieve concrete, mutual benefits is radiological and nuclear security. Though most countries in the Middle East do not possess highly-enriched uranium or plutonium—materials necessary to build nuclear weapons—given the region’s intense volatility the threats associated with radioactive materials are present and real.

Enhancing nuclear security and ensuring that radiological and nuclear materials and weapons do not fall into the hands of rogue actors and terrorists are not only hugely valuable ends in themselves, but also could serve as confidence- and security-building measures in a region that lacks both security and confidence. In particular, establishing a regional code of conduct on securing radiological and nuclear materials is a meaningful and more achievable goal than other pursuits tied to traditional or hard defense and security matters.

This report first assesses the regional challenges to nuclear and radiological security within the Middle East—namely the expansion of civilian nuclear power, the nature of radioactive material, the lack of a security culture in the region, and most prominently the threat of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism. It then provides an overview of the existing successful mechanisms that regional states have developed to enhance cooperation against radiological and nuclear threats. It concludes by proposing a regional framework on security in response to such threats, one that would not only build on existing international mechanisms against these threats but also recognize and address the specific needs of the Middle East and its challenging strategic realities.

Challenges to Nuclear and Radiological Security

Major disruptions in the geostrategic balance in the Middle East drastically affect global oil prices, as the decrease of petroleum exports from Libya demonstrates.1 Factors contributing to concerns over the sustainability of energy supply include the impact of environmental issues such as climate change, high reliance on fossil fuels, the globalization of energy demand, cyber-vulnerability of critical infrastructures, and the security of energy supplies in the Persian Gulf, where 60 percent of the world’s conventional oil reserves are located.2

Several governments in the region see nuclear energy as a long-term solution to fossil-fuel dependence. Increased energy demand and the economics of nuclear power are the main drivers behind this heightened interest in nuclear energy. Another factor is climate change mitigation—states are likely to expand nuclear power generation to ensure sufficient energy production while reducing emissions. And Middle Eastern countries have stated an interest in using nuclear energy to power desalinization. From 1971 to 2014, energy use in the Middle East and North Africa grew 502 percent, and the trend continues apace today.3 In the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), energy consumption outpaces the growth of both gross domestic product and population, and such countries are expected to need 40 percent more electricity over the next five years to meet the demand.4 Emerging nuclear power countries include Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Even though these countries vary in how far their nuclear plans and infrastructure are developed, the region will likely establish several new plants in the next few decades. The Emirates’ first nuclear power plant, the Barakah, has finished construction and will begin operating in 2018.5 In Turkey, the construction of the Akkuyu power plant, to be built, owned, and operated by Russia’s Rosatom, is ongoing despite political hiccups. Jordan also signed a deal with Rosatom to build the country’s first nuclear power plant by 2023.6 Egypt’s deal with Rosatom plans to build four nuclear reactors in the next twelve years.7 Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has an ambitious plan to build sixteen reactors by 2040.8

The full article is available on its owner’s website. You can continue reading here.

Signed, Sealed but Never Delivered: Why Israel did not Receive Nixon’s Promised Nuclear Power Plants

Dr. Ori Rabinowitz

In the early 1970s, Israel was on the cusp of launching an ambitious nuclear power programme. It had technical nuclear experience and a pressing need to limit its dependency on imported oil and coal, and interest in nuclear powered water desalination. This nuclear vision enjoyed the support of the Nixon administration, which proposed in June 1974 to export reactors to both Israel and Egypt. But by the end of the decade, under the Carter administration, the plan was all but gone. What was the original US and Israeli rationale behind the reactor deal? How did this initiative relate to other developments such as the Indian nuclear explosion, the Arab oil embargo and the peace talks with Egypt? How important was the Carter administration’s policy shift in determining the outcome of the initiative? This paper will address these questions by analysing newly declassified documents from several US and Israeli archives.

You can view this article in full here.

Ali Ahmad Presents: “The Future of a Nuclear Middle East”

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies hosted on Tuesday, February 6, Dr. Ali Ahmad, Director of the Energy Policy & Security Program at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, and a member of CNS’ Middle East Next Generation of Arms Control Specialists (MENACS).

The round-table discussion, chaired by Dr. Chen Kane, CNS Director of the Middle East Nonproliferation Program, examines the economic and security factors surrounding nuclear power in the Middle East.

Dr. Ahmad began his presentation by providing the official reasoning and main factors driving the regional push for nuclear power, before moving onto an in-depth analysis on the economic feasibility of nuclear versus renewable energy. His research on this topic shows quantitatively that nuclear power is the riskiest and costliest alternative energy source for the region, especially when compared to increasingly cheaper solar, wind, and energy storage technologies, as well as the increased availability of natural gas. Other than citing the large capital and construction price tags associated with nuclear energy, Dr. Ahmad added that regional political instability, lack of indigenous capabilities, and an uncertain investment environment remain the main economic inhibitors of an efficient and financially feasible nuclear program in the Middle East.

Dr. Ahmad’s presentation then touched on the plethora of security challenges facing nuclear aspirants in the region. Most importantly for nonproliferation, the ubiquitous threat of terrorism and non-state actors hangs over any plans to build reactors in the region, as evidenced by the Houthis’ alleged missile launch targeting the UAE’s Barakah reactor. Dr. Ahmad also stressed that regime sustainability cannot be guaranteed for most nuclear aspirants in the region, raising big risks and questions for any investor or government looking to support a Middle Eastern nuclear power plan.

Donald Trump’s challenge to the taboo around nuclear weapons should worry us all

Beyza Unal

In an op-ed for the NewStatesman, MENACS nonproliferation expert Beyza Unal discusses how the Trump administration’s move to develop low-yield nuclear weapons for battlefield use could increase the danger of escalating conflict.

Unal argues ” if the US decided to follow a nuclear approach based on the speedy deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons, this could be perceived as an existential threat to Russian nuclear forces, quite possibly leading Russia to react and develop even more new systems. An escalating, spiralling arms race that held the world to ransom during the Cold War was stabilised in large part through mutual and verifiable arms control – that lesson needs to be remembered.”

The full article may be viewed on the NewStatesman here.