1 November 2010

Next customer, please: The risk in conventional arms sales along with nuclear energy deals

At the same time as major powers are saying that they want to rein in nuclear proliferation, they are offering both nuclear energy programs and conventional weapons to client states. Military arms sales may shore up certain countries’ defenses, but such sales may also stimulate conventional arms races and conventional force imbalances may serve as a rationale for states to acquire nuclear weapons as great equalizers. More nuclear weapons in more states could increase the likelihood of losing control of these weapons to terrorists, criminals, or other malicious actors. This author evaluates nuclear energy deals that could result in changing security perceptions and shifting security alliances, and writes that such evaluations are important in the context of global security. Military and nuclear suppliers have incentives to sell conventional arms and nuclear technologies to clients, he writes, but both suppliers and clients need to be aware of the potential security consequences. A conventional or nuclear arms race may not result in armed conflict, but would divert scarce resources—especially in the developing world—from the civilian economy.