Nuclear or Not

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.”

 

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