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Student Urges Action on Nuclear Sub Proliferation

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

nate_sans_r-lNate Sans ’14 thinks the U.S. Navy should redesign its nuclear submarines. And his opinion earned an impressive audience last month when an essay he wrote was published in the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.” While interning this summer at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Sans won the Bulletin’s monthly contest for young people called “Voices of Tomorrow.”

“I think what they’re trying to do is figure out what people my age are thinking about,” said Sans. ”I can’t tell you how many times I heard at CNS that the perspective of younger people is particularly important to them. They came into the business in the cold war, and the perspective of someone who didn’t grow up during the cold war is valuable to them.”

A political science major with a minor in Russian, Sans argued in his essay that the kind of technology used in American nuclear submarines, which use highly enriched uranium, could offer countries like Iran a “back door” route to building nuclear weapons. He notes that a loophole in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows military nuclear reactors like those on submarines to bypass guidelines that civilian reactors must follow.

“What I was pushing at was, let’s reconsider this: maybe the priority of nonproliferation could supersede the priority of having the best submarines. Maybe we can still have a satisfactory submarine and also do work on this nonproliferation priority.”

Sans, who has a strong interest in national security and international studies, happened on the topic while doing research for CNS. ”They were really good about offering us free rein on what we wanted to work on,” he said. “They had a bunch of projects and we could pick and choose based on what we thought was interesting.”

Sans landed the CNS internship as a result of his semester at the Monterey Institute of International Studies last spring. He happened to ask his Russian politics professor for suggestions about internships the day before the CNS deadline. She suggested he hurry up and apply.

He says the Monterey experience was an ideal complement to his Middlebury studies, in part because of the diversity of his classmates, many of whom had worked in fields he cares about. He also says he left Monterey with a better understanding of how foreign policy happens in the massive U.S. government bureaucracy. “You get a good understanding of who the players are and what they do, which helped me figure out what interested me and narrowed my focus.

Jon Wolfsthal, deputy director of CNS, says an experience like this can really pay off for students. “The summer fellowship provided Nate a chance to shine and to share his passion and expertise with his peers, many from other top schools,” said Wolfsthal. “His writing and participation were terrific and we’d welcome more Middlebury students for the fellowship and course work in the future.”

As far as submarines are concerned, Sans says he’s always been fascinated with them, but he’s not about to become a submariner. He’s more interested in the nonproliferation policy implications and how they’ll play out politically. ”Any sort of contribution I made to the debate was that the administration could do more.”

Nuclear or Not

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

At a time when nuclear issues are both topical and highly debated in our daily news, Middlebury was fortunate enough to host two days of lectures and discussions by three experts in the field—who also happen to be our colleagues from Monterey Institute of International Studies. On March 21, Bill Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, who together co-edited the 2010 book Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century, spoke to a crowded room in Robert A. Jones ’59 House. Potter, the director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at Monterey Institute, and Mukhatzhanova, his research associate, discussed 12 nations that might develop nuclear weaponry over the coming decade.

Iran topped their list of Middle East countries that could “go nuclear” along with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. Serbia and Ukraine are potential builders of nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe, as well as the Pacific Rim’s Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. South Africa is also a candidate.

Despite the long list, Potter did not paint the overly gloomy picture posed by “most political figures, scholars, and media pundits who, regardless of their political orientation, are too quick to depict the future of nuclear proliferation as exceptionally bleak,” he said. Potter and Mukhatzhanova have found no basis that an arms race exists among the nations they considered, and they both agreed that “if one nation should decide to disavow its nonproliferation commitments, there is little reason to expect an epidemic.”

Following the talk, the pair conducted a “career conversation” with a group of undergraduates interested in internship opportunities with CNS and the new Master of Arts in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at Monterey Institute.


Learn more from Avner Cohen about his recent book and his experiences while researching nuclear weapons in Israel.

The next afternoon, a similarly engaged crowd listened intently to Avner Cohen, a senior fellow at the Washington office of CNS and author of the recent book, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb. Cohen spoke particularly of Israel’s position on its possession of the nuclear bomb, which is known as amimut—a Hebrew word used to describe an intended policy of ambiguity. “For decades, Israel has adopted a stance of opacity or opaqueness regarding the bomb,” said Cohen. “We all know it’s there, but no one talks about it.” Until now.

Cohen has been at the forefront of opening the dialogue about Israel and its nuclear capabilities. “My book is an effort to understand how this denial, this amimut came to be,” explained Cohen. “Not only from a political perspective, but also from a cultural and psychological standpoint.” It is a daring and thoughtful approach, one that begins in the late ’60s and follows with commentary on the outdatedness of Israel’s current stance. “The time has come to explore whether this policy of opacity makes sense. It is overdue for change,” Cohen said emphatically. “As nuclear issues become a more worldwide issue, Israel needs to bring the conversation out of the basement,” he said, referring to the highly censored and somewhat clandestine approach to any open discourse on nuclear arms.

After his talk, when asked by an audience member if Israel is more secure because of its nuclear weapons, Cohen paused thoughtfully before answering. “Perhaps, at this specific point in time,” he said finally, then added, “But time’s are changing.”