A Glaring Defect in the System

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “‘A Glaring Defect in the System’: Nuclear Safeguards and the Invisibility of Technology,” in Roland Popp, Liviu Horovitz, and Andreas Wenger, eds., Negotiating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Origins of the Nuclear Order (New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 203-219.

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National imperatives, especially commercial pressures and security concerns in supplier states, dictated loose interpretations of what should “trigger” safeguards in the 1960s and 1970s. This chapter focuses the ways the actions of the United States and other Western powers encouraged flexible restrictions on trade in nuclear equipment and material rather than explicitly tight ones. The lack of firm will on the part of the United States government in the early 1960s about nonproliferation provided ample opportunities for European nuclear suppliers to find ways to avoid scrutiny. By the time of negotiating the NPT, most of the supplier states were only grudging partners in strict nonproliferation, with only tepid commitment to limitations on trade. The result was an ongoing tolerance of technological invisibility, in which supplier states, despite being aware of the connection between specific equipment and possible weapon programs, sought to loosen rather than constrain nuclear trade.