The Shrinking Nuclear Club

Former Air Force Secretary Thomas Reed reminded attendees at AFA’s Global Warfare Symposium in Los Angeles how, in the early 1960s, then-President Kennedy predicted that the number of nuclear weapons states would grow to as many as 20. Today, that prediction has largely not come to pass as only nine nations possess nuclear inventories (United States, Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia). However, but for diplomacy, deal making, economics, and occasionally conflict, that number could well be higher, said Reed. Sweden and Switzerland stopped their programs in their infancy due to the high developmental costs. Argentina and Brazil opted to forgo them once the Cold War ended. Taiwan began a program when it saw mainland China on the ascent in the 1970s, but then sold its plutonium to the US by 1998, he said. South Africa’s program matured quickly, with the help of the Israelis, until it was abandoned in 1989. And Libya began a robust program in the 1980s with the aid of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. But US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq helped convince Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to disclose the program in 2003 and halt it, said Reed Nov. 19.