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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): U.S. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy, 1945–1991

About this Collection

Spanning the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through the IAEA inspections of Iraq's nuclear program, Nuclear Non-Proliferation offers researchers the most complete set of primary source materials to U.S. non-proliferation policy available.

Research Value of the Collection

The U.S. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy collection provides the first extensive documentary record of the development of U.S. policy in that sphere. Some specific areas of interest to researchers include: (a) a selection of the earliest, previously classified U.S. government assessments of the capabilities of de facto nuclear weapons states and the declaratory statements of U.S. policy toward those states (particularly India, Israel and Pakistan); (b) documents which illustrate the change and growth of the U.S.-Soviet non-proliferation relationship--one of the earliest spheres of cooperation between the superpowers; (c) documents which can provide a starting point for scholarly inquiry on the link between alliance relationships and the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities; and (d) materials which illustrate the connection between the export of technology for developing nuclear energy and the export of nuclear weapons technology.

The document set also contains specific materials that break new ground in terms of public knowledge of non-proliferation issues. Among the sizeable number of previously unavailable records in the collection are a series of State Department cables dating as early as 1960 which discuss Israel's construction of a nuclear facility at Dimona and a July 1986 State Department memorandum to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger which provides the first explicit U.S. government confirmation that Pakistan has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Scholars will find that the Catalog and Indexes accompanying the set constitute a road map to other examples of documents that may contain important new information.

More generally, this collection can provide the basic groundwork for a truly comprehensive historical study of the most significant factors influencing U.S. non-proliferation policy through the decades. Non-proliferation is a subject that is so broad and complex, encompassing nearly 20 relevant countries and a wide range of technical issues, that it has necessarily been broken down into smaller parts in much of the literature. This publication is no exception. However, although the degree of detail does not remain constant throughout the entire collection, it is possible to see the level of clarity that can be attained once a portion of the historical record is open to view.

The documents in this collection also provide a contemporaneous perspective on non-proliferation issues which can be used as a basis for comparison with anecdotal accounts. For example, excellent journalistic pieces have been written depicting U.S. nuclear relationships with certain nations. Frequently, however, the work is dependent on oral interviews with past policy participants. While these may be generally reliable, they are usually difficult to verify independently. Also, recollections of former officials are often incomplete and in some cases remind the reader of the old policy adage: "What you see depends on where you sit." Historical documents in this set will complement and further clarify the oral record.

The literature also contains treatises written by technical and policy experts discussing an array of issues such as the elements of the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium enrichment techniques, inspection and verification. Much of this work applies to every nation concerned with proliferation and is therefore important to the body of general knowledge in this field. However, in many cases the work does not provide insights into how a particular nation is affected by these broad issues. U.S. historical documents can help to bridge the gap between knowledge of specific issues and the implications they may have had on policy formulation and implementation. For example, documents in this collection show that during the Ford and Carter Administrations technological improvements in the ability to reprocess spent fuel led directly to a policy debate concerning the possible effects of the new technology on international proliferation.

Thus, beyond the immediate value of significantly expanding the public record on U.S. non-proliferation policy, the largest contribution this document set may have to offer is in providing a way to verify and clarify the existing body of literature on the subject. At a minimum, the collection should help to separate fact from misconception on a range of related issues.