Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The explosion of a nuclear device by India on May 18, 1974, initiated a new wave of concern for the prospects of limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Subsequent developments such as the Nixon proposal to provide nuclear materials to Egypt and Israel and the announcement by West Germany of its intentions to sell Brazil a plutonium reprocessing facility increased fears in the United States that the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons would continue to grow at the expense of world peace and security. Apprehension is likely to continue since the development of an atomic bomb blueprint by a Princeton undergraduate, using publicly available information, demonstrated to the world--and to the agent of Pakistan who tried to obtain the report--the relative simplicity of designing an atomic bomb.

The United States government has stepped up its activity and interest at executive, legislative, diplomatic, and administrative levels in an effort to control the spread of nuclear weapons. Increased risks of nuclear war and terrorist blackmail justify this stimulated activity and call for stronger concerted action in the face of world wide diffusion of nuclear material and technology. Present trends in nuclear energy technology test not only the United States' position as the leader in this field but also the ability of one nation to control nuclear proliferation.

Some critics of United States nonproliferation policy have argued that the possession of nuclear weapons by other nations might have a stabilizing effect. Former Secretary of State Kissinger, in 1957, wrote that Soviet aggression would be deterred if our European allies obtained nuclear weapons and that "the diffusion of nuclear weapons technology will be to our net strategic advantage." Future members of the nuclear weapon club would not possess sophisticated weapon delivery systems, a fact which would severely limit their ability to use nuclear weapons. Others argue that if smaller powers engage in a nuclear war it need not develop into a global disaster and might even serve to promote disarmament through greater awareness of the danger.

Arguments discounting the need to control nuclear proliferation are usually overshadowed, however, by concern over the grave consequences of increased membership in the nuclear weapon club. Proliferation is regarded by most to be a serious danger." In a world of frequent armed conflict, the threat of nuclear weapons use appears very real. The risk of a nuclear disaster increases in proportion to the number of countries accumulating a nuclear weapon arsenal.