Monday September 11, 2017
Imagine we were back in 1948. Suppose Joseph Stalin offered to halt the Soviet Union’s efforts to develop its own atomic bomb for up to 15 years. As part of the deal, suppose he agreed to let inspectors from the United Nations enter the USSR and monitor all of its nuclear facilities. Suppose he’d even said these U.N. officials could also inspect other Soviet facilities, provided they had valid reasons to suspect proscribed activities were occurring there.
To sweeten the offer even more, imagine Stalin said he would also give up a substantial portion of the enriched uranium the USSR had already accumulated, leaving it well short of the amount needed to make a bomb. What did he want in exchange? Just some economic concessions to help rebuild the war-ravaged Soviet economy.
In making this offer, suppose Stalin insisted on retaining the capacity to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes (such as power reactors or medical uses). And let’s also suppose he made it clear he wasn’t going to withdraw the Red Army from Eastern Europe or stop trying to spread communism in other parts of the world. The Cold War would go on, in short, but the Soviet Union would not be a nuclear weapons state for as long as the agreement remained in force.