American nuclear nonproliferation policy is a combination of economic and security imperatives. Since the early Cold War years, the GOP’s policy response to the international threat of nuclear proliferation has been pro-business/pro-market marked by the intrinsic struggle to strike the right balance between trade and controls. While the Trump administration’s nonproliferation policy might seem unique, I argue that it is far from it. In fact, there are more similarities than differences between the current Republican administration and that of Ronald Reagan when it comes to nonproliferation. Although the second decade of the 21st century is comprised of political and economic realities that are distinct from the new Cold War and the stagflation of the Gipper’s era, a look back at the Reagan administration’s policies may help identify key converging patterns that unite Ronald Reagan with Donald Trump and shed light, at least in part, on the Republican “nuclear” grand strategy. In the era of Trump, however, the balance between trade and controls, and economics and security, is harder to attain since the incentives driving such balance are not abundant.
President Dwight Eisenhower initiated the nonproliferation regime with his 1953 “Atoms for Peace” proposal and the subsequent formation of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This nonproliferation regime, as it expanded with new institutions and mechanisms, such as the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, offered innovative possibilities both in terms of spreading nuclear technologies for economic gains and controlling them for security. Even though the NPT was negotiated by the Johnson administration, when it entered into force in 1970, the Nixon administration was willing to sell reactors in the Middle East as a means to implement a “partial NPT.”
This article was originally published in the Texas National Security Review. You can read the full article here.