Ankara Workshop on Nuclear Proliferation

The Hollings Center awarded a small grant to Dr. Şebnem Udum (Hacettepe University) and Dr. Philipp Bleek (Monterey Institute of International Studies) to plan a workshop on the science and politics of nuclear proliferation.  This one-day workshop, titled “Nuclear Proliferation & Turkish & U.S. Threat Perceptions Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program” was held in June 2011 at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara and convened approximately twenty Turkish and American academics, policymakers and diplomats to discuss issues of nuclear energy, proliferation, regional security and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Participants had diverse backgrounds, not only in international relations but also economics, nuclear engineering, and physics. Dr. Udum and Dr. Bleek had previously attended the Hollings Center’s Next-Generation Dialogue on “Iran and the Future of U.S.-Turkey Relations” and organized this workshop as a way of exploring in greater depth issues raised at the dialogue event.

Dr. Udum and Dr. Bleek designed the workshop to cover a range of issues: a) the technology of nuclear energy and weapons; b) the evolution and politics of non-proliferation treaties and norms; and c) views on Turkish and U.S. positions regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Udum and Bleek designed the workshop to bridge the scientific, historical and foreign policy dimensions of nuclear debates and enabled workshop participants to explore the issue from a rich baseline of knowledge.

The science of nuclear matters:  In a morning session, Dr. Haluk Utku (Hacettepe University, Institute of Nuclear Sciences) delivered a lecture on the science of nuclear technology and covered a range of subjects such as plutonium production, nuclear fuel, and types of nuclear weapons.  He fielded questions on the linkage between nuclear energy and weapons programs and explained the technological threshold that a state has to cross to go from one to the other.

Politics of non-proliferation:  In a second session, Dr. Udum delivered a lecture on the evolution of non-proliferation efforts from the 1940s to the present.  This was followed by a debate on the robustness of the NPT and disagreement over the meaning of its articles.  While some participants argued that the NPT had failed to arrest nuclear weapons programs (i.e., North Korea’s), Dr. Udum noted that an underappreciated benefit of the NPT is that it serves as series of shared talking points for the international community and allows states to have a structured, off-the-shelf response when proliferation crises arise.

Turkish and U.S. views on Iran.  In a third session, Dr. Mustafa Kibaroğlu (Bilkent University, Department of International Relations) and Dr. Bleek examined U.S. and Turkish perceptions on Iran’s nuclear program.  Their presentations highlighted the chasm between Turkish and U.S. views on Iran and sparked a debate on whether that chasm is bridgeable.  When it comes to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Turkish views tend to prize diplomacy while discussions in the U.S. are often more skeptical about negotiations and instead emphasize sanctions and the possibility of military action.

Some participants noted that Turkey does not want to harm relations with neighboring Iran especially if there is still doubt about how far Iran intends to go with its nuclear ambitions.  Indeed, Dr. Bleek notes that most Iran analysts “don’t think that Iran [itself] has taken a decision about how far to go.”

Please click here to access the full workshop report authored by organizers Dr. Udum, Dr. Bleek, and workshop rapporteur Aaron Stein.


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