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UCLA Magazine Winter 2004
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Winter 2004
Stemming the Nuclear Tide
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Iran’s nuclear history dates back to the days of the Shah. In the early 1970s, Iran acquired its first nuclear reactor — from the U.S. By the time the Shah fell in 1979, Iran had six power reactors under contract, two of which were more than halfway completed. With the change of regime, work on those projects came to a halt. Later, with help from Russia, Iran began to rebuild its nuclear-power program. Pakistan’s assistance accelerated Iran’s uranium-enrichment program — a program that could eventually serve the dual aims of producing low-enriched uranium fuel for power reactors and highly enriched uranium for bombs.

In recent months, negotiations between Iran and three European countries (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) have focused on freezing Iran’s enrichment program in return for economic aid. This effort merits our support, for here too, diplomacy is the least-bad available option. The Iranian leadership, like North Korea’s, is very much aware of the U.S. doctrine of preemption, of Iran’s assignment to the “Axis of Evil” and of America’s demonstrated willingness to use military force to accomplish regime change. A deal that meets our needs, and theirs, probably can be struck.

As for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the most effective means for preventing their acquisition of nuclear weapons is to secure the nuclear weapons, nuclear materials and nuclear expertise in Russia, other former states of the Soviet Union and elsewhere, and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons-related technologies to additional countries, especially countries that might give or sell them to terrorist organizations.

Difficult as it may appear to be, stemming the spread of nuclear weapons is a challenge far less formidable than would be that of dealing with a world of scores of nuclear powers, possibly including one or more terrorist organizations. In the nuclear world, as in many others, an old adage applies: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale has represented the United States in high-level negotiations on defense and energy issues, including SALT I with the Soviet Union. He holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


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