The following was authored by Richard B. Levine, former Director of Policy Development on the NSC Staff under President Ronald Reagan; after six years at the White House, he became the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Technology Transfer and Security Assistance, serving under three Secretaries of the Navy. He is the recipient of two Presidential letters of commendation and the Department of the Navy’s highest civilian decoration, the Distinguished Civilian Service Award. Mr. Levine received his baccalaureate, with honors, from the Johns Hopkins University. He holds an MBA from Harvard.
Our country possesses 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants employing 99 reactors, substantially more than any other nation. America’s nuclear industry, however, has been in decline for decades. This is in contraposition to the rise of Russia and China as the principal builders of new nuclear plants. This situation has created a policy vacuum, for the United States has limited means to monitor or control the fuel cycles of plants built in other counties by adversarial nations. The world relies on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provide safeguards for nuclear power plants, but the environment for such policing has changed.
Four recent developments concerning nuclear power (and nuclear proliferation) are of such moment that our projections must be adjusted by our consideration of these matters. NATO’s intervention in Libya and the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the North Korean nuclear weapons program, the Iranian nuclear program as adjusted by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and Russia’s objectives in this domain, each form sides of a prism: actions involving nuclear power and nonproliferation that we contemplate or initiate must address the ensuing refractions.
As unrest spread from Tunisia to Libya in the wake of the Arab Spring, which began in 2010, NATO air supremacy and precision bombing provided the margin of force necessary to destroy Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. That Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in October 2011, “We came, we saw, he died,” is all the rationale that Kim Jong-un or Ali Khamenei, the supreme leaders of their respective countries, needed to prioritize their nuclear arms programs, for despite his being a tyrant, a murderer, and a terrorist, Muammar Gaddafi did relinquish his nuclear weapons program beginning in 2003 and provided, to the United States, the names of black-market dealers who facilitated his WMD (weapons of mass destruction) efforts.
Though both the North Korean and the Iranian nuclear weapons programs preceded Libya’s disarmament of its WMD materials, grave harm to America’s security was inculcated when Hillary Clinton reformulated Julius Caesar’s message to the Roman Senate. “I came, I saw, I conquered,” should never have been the model for a statement by the U.S. Secretary of State concerning the extrajudicial execution, which almost certainly involved torture, of a head of state who had previously foreswore, dismantled, and transferred to the United States the elements of his nuclear arms program. This brief statement has and will adulterate and limit the efficacy of America’s future actions in the related fields of nuclear power, nonproliferation, and contestation of foreign and illicit nuclear weapons programs by rogue and tyrannical states.
The North Korean nuclear weapons program presents a grave threat to regional and American security. Perhaps still more dangerous is the status of North Korea as a template for other dictatorial states that seek to acquire WMDs. The recent summits have quieted the threat, but the threat has not been removed.
No matter the agreement North Korea makes with the United States, North Korea should be expected to endeavor covertly to provide, for a price, nuclear components, blueprints, or technology to other pariah nations, possibly in Asia, almost certainly in the Middle East, and plausibly, in time, in Sub-Saharan Africa. In this, North Korea only need replicate the Chinese model for proliferation, for it was China that provided substantial components for North Korea’s nuclear technology. In addition, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, was the recipient of Chinese nuclear weapons parts and designs: designs that were in turn sold to North Korea, if they had not already been transferred directly by China.
Brinksmanship, now ongoing between the United States Government and North Korea, and the recently concluded summits, will serve as primers for future states that will leverage their strategic programs to serve their political aims. What works and what does not work in holding the United States and affiliated countries at risk or in constraint will be studied. Future North Koreas, perhaps on many different continents, may, indeed, be more dangerous adversaries, for they will be educated by the mechanics and the parlay resulting from the current crisis.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, was the flower of American weakness and aimlessness. By removing sanctions imposed by the United States and other nations and by transferring enormous sums of money directly to the Iranian regime in exchange for mild and largely unverifiable curbs on Iranian nuclear endeavors, the United States created a high watermark for the price it was willing to pay for the most tepid reductions in a nation’s nuclear-weapons capacity. A ludicrous aspect of the deal was its many sideshows, such as the transfer to Iran from America of $1.7 billion, ostensibly to recompense Iran, with interest, for its purchase, before its revolution, of $400 million in U.S. weapons, which were never delivered. What is tragicomical is that the United States paid $1.3 billion in interest to a Muslim state in which the charging of interest (usury) is illegal, for Article 595 of Iran’s Islamic Punishment Law deems usury a crime. Such payment constitutes the largest single sum provided directly by America to a state that explicitly supports terrorism.
Countervailing action by the United States is required to undo the damage wrought by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; President Trump’s decision to nullify America’s acceptance of the deal and to reimpose economic sanctions positions the United States to thwart Iranian ambitions to amass a deliverable arsenal of nuclear weapons. The nature and scope of the strategic offset to Iran will be one of the defining international-security conundrums of the next decade. Thus, the matter must be addressed now.
There is evidence that the Uranium One scandal is part of a larger plan, whose intent is nothing less than the enablement of Russian usurpation and ascension in the Middle East and in Africa. This perilous course was facilitated, knowingly or unknowingly, by foreign and American actors of great position.
The Uranium One scandal, as it is presented in the media, is delineated by a subterfuge engineered to hide the real crime. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “The United States imports most of the uranium it uses as fuel. Owners and operators of U.S. nuclear power reactors purchased the equivalent of 50.6 million pounds of uranium in 2016. About 11% of the uranium delivered to U.S. reactors in 2016 was produced in the United States and 89% came from other countries.” This means that Russia’s acquisition of Uranium One, which controls about 20% of U.S. uranium production, gives Russia control of just 2.2% of U.S. power-plant requirements. Further, Uranium One’s U.S. mines and facilities could be requisitioned by the United States, in time of national emergency, or nationalized, at any time, using as a precedent our nationalization of the American arm of the German drug giant, Merck, during World War I.
American uranium supply was never the primary prize. Uranium One had assets in Kazakhstan, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the United States; in 2013, Rosatom (Russia’s state monopoly responsible for nuclear energy) completed its acquisition of Uranium One, after acquiring a controlling interest in 2010. The three dominant producers of uranium ore are Kazakhstan, which supplies 39.3% of the world’s needs; Canada, which supplies 22%; and Australia, which supplies 9.3% (America supplies just 2.1%).
Though Russia did acquire assets in Canada and in America when it bought Uranium One, it was Russia’s actions in Australia and in Kazakhstan that define key elements of Russia’s intentions. According to a report by Kaitlyn Schallhorn, “Douglas Campbell, the FBI informant, alleged that Moscow paid millions of dollars to a lobbying firm to help Bill Clinton’s charities in order to influence Hillary Clinton, who was then former President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.” According to The Hill, Campbell submitted a written statement to three congressional committees and met with House and Senate staff. Campbell related that, “The emails and documents I intercepted during 2010 made clear that Rosatom’s purchase of Uranium One — for both its Kazakh and American assets — was part of Russia’s geopolitical strategy to gain leverage in global energy markets. . . . I obtained documentary proof that Tenex was helping Rosatom win CFIUS approval, including an October 6, 2010 email . . . asking me specifically to help overcome opposition to the Uranium One deal.” (CFIUS is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States; Tenex is a Rosatom subsidiary; according to Reuters, Campbell, a businessman and lobbyist, “was a confidential source for the FBI in a Maryland bribery and kickback investigation of the head of a U.S. unit of Rosatom.”)
On September 7, 2007, Russia signed a nuclear cooperation deal with Australia; this agreement was not ratified in 2008 by Australia, as expected; instead, it was placed under review by a new (Rudd) government. Indeed, the agreement had been opposed by noted Putin critic, Gary Kasparov, who said, “You can only be confident that the Kremlin will look out for itself, that they have zero obedience to the rule of law and that all sales are final.”
The agreement was ratified finally in 2010, but exports of uranium to Russia were stopped due to sanctions imposed by the Australian government in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Of note is that the 2007 agreement was signed by Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of Rosatom, and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, the same Alexander Downer whose night of drinking in 2016 with Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos kicked off the Russian collusion inquiry by instigating the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Intriguingly, Alexander Downer was an early and ardent supporter of the Clinton Foundation, obligating tens of millions in Australian taxpayer money to the purported charity.
The uranium agreement, though portrayed as unremarkable by elements of the Australian Government, must be considered in light of the following precursors:
First, the Russian-Australian nuclear cooperation agreement came hard upon UrAsia Energy’s acquisition of extensive uranium rights in Kazakhstan. In 2005, former President Bill Clinton and Frank Giustra, a Clinton Foundation board member and major donor, arrived in Kazakhstan; Giustra had founded UrAsia Energy in 2004 to acquire and exploit uranium mining and production in Kazakhstan. UrAsia Energy obtained Kazakhstani uranium assets from Kazatomprom, the state concern of that country, following Giustra’s and Clinton’s meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev. UrAsia Energy was acquired by Uranium One in 2007; Uranium One, and its interests in other major uranium-producing countries, was effectively acquired by a subsidiary of Rosatom in 2010, substantially expanding Russia’s control of worldwide uranium production. In total, Giustra contributed in excess of $100 million to the Clinton Foundation, including the associated Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (additional donations, from those affiliated with mining transactions, totaled millions more).
Clinton received one of his largest speaking fees, in 2010, from a Kremlin-affiliated Russian bank, Renaissance Capital, which supported Rosatom’s planned acquisition of Uranium One. This $500,000 speaking fee, for an appearance in Moscow, came after Rosatom’s acquisition of Uranium One was approved by CFIUS, and announced publically (The Department of State [then led by Hillary Clinton] is one of CFIUS’s nine members). Thus, Russia, through a long-term plan, acquired sought-after uranium deposits in Kazakhstan, along with those in other countries.
Second, Bill Clinton, as a politically active, former U.S. President, was a primary intelligence target for Russia. Clinton’s nature was established during his terms in office. Of particular relevance to Russian state intelligence operations would have been Clinton’s frequent use of Jeffrey Epstein’s 727, for 26 flights between 2001 and 2003 (in 2008, Epstein was convicted of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution).
Some flights, reportedly, were taken without Secret Service accompaniment. It is thus implausible to believe that Russian and other foreign intelligence services did not attempt to obtain compromising information on Clinton during his association with Epstein.
Of note is that during Epstein’s plea negotiations, his lawyers wrote to the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of Florida; they stated, “Mr. Epstein was part of the original group that conceived the Clinton Global Initiative, which is described as a project ‘bringing together a community of global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.’” How true this statement is remains debatable, but Epstein is a known contributor to the foundation. Further, one of the key architects of Clinton’s post-presidency, who served in a senior capacity in the Clinton Foundation, was reported to have been a co-passenger with Clinton.
Due to Bill Clinton’s history, it may be conjectured that Russian state intelligence would view the Clinton Foundation as a front organization, whose supporters and staff could be coopted or turned to serve Russian purposes, with or without the target’s knowledge or acquiescence. Russia almost certainly attempted to repurpose Bill Clinton’s post-presidential activities, and the Clinton Foundation’s actions, to support Russia’s nuclear ambitions in Kazakhstan, in the CFIUS process, and, quite possibly, in Australia.
What is Russia’s purpose in amassing uranium rights worldwide? The answer is control of the Middle East and parts of Africa. Russia is building nuclear power plants in Egypt (4 reactors with significant desalinization capacity), Iran (2 reactors in addition to the facilities now in operation), and Jordan (2 reactors planned). Perhaps most importantly, Saudi Arabia will soon select a provider to build the Kingdom’s planned 16 nuclear reactors; Russia is a leading contender for this massive undertaking. In addition, Nigeria has just approved plans to buy 2 Russian reactors. Russia is also building 2 reactors in Bangladesh, 4 in India, and plans to build 2 reactors in the West-African nation of Ghana, which is an alleged transshipment point for narcotics and contraband destined for Europe.
Significantly, Russia is building 4 reactors in Turkey. That nation may prove to be a linchpin in Russia’s strategy, for Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and Hassan Rouhani of Iran met in Ankara in early April 2018 to formulate Syria’s future. This meeting, coming months after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet, presages a much closer relationship between Russia and Turkey. Natural gas supplies and nuclear power are at the center of this burgeoning relationship, which undermines Turkey’s role in NATO. (The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that 37.8% of its nation’s energy comes from natural gas, which must be imported. Russia is the dominant supplier of natural gas to Turkey, followed by Iran. The Moscow Times noted recently that “deliveries of gas to Turkey are growing this year . . . supplies to the Turkish market rose 24.3 percent.”)
The need for ample, secure supplies of uranium for Russia is a necessity in their view. Such supplies also entrench Russia’s reputation as the leader in the field of nuclear energy, thus supplanting the United States.
Energy as a Geopolitical Instrument
What will Russia’s domination in the provision of nuclear power in the Middle East and in adjacent regions accomplish?
First, by leveraging its role as a leading purveyor of reactors and fuel, and by setting its client state, Iran, which is Shiite, against the other concerned Middle Eastern countries, which are Sunni, Russia will control, to a great extent, the power dynamics for the entire region. Planned nuclear facilities and operations in Sunni states are viewed by such countries as vital to their long-term survival. This is because the Sunni states fear greatly the prospect of an Iran that, in future, could possess nuclear weapons, which Iran could mount on its ballistic missiles. (Such possible future actions by Iran were facilitated and not thwarted by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.) Indeed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, in his recent “60 Minutes” interview, that Saudi Arabia “doesn’t want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Second, on January 18, 2017, Russia and Syria agreed that Russia may expand the naval facility at Tartus. Russia has sovereign jurisdiction over this facility in Syria and can station 11 warships there, including nuclear-powered vessels. Russia also maintains and controls an airbase in Hmeimim, Syria. These two facilities allow Russia to exercise substantial power projection in the region. A dominant Russia could add still more bases from which to coerce. Thus, it may control directly, or through its surrogates, key choke points and sea lines of communication, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez.
Third, through increased support of Hezbollah, either directly or through its surrogates, Iran and Syria, Russia will enable this terrorist group (as designated by America, Israel, Canada, the Arab League, and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf [abbreviated as GCC; this organization includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar,]) to press its attacks against Israel, to serve Russia’s designs for this region.
Fourth, Russian scientists, engineers, managers, and universities will penetrate and coerce elites in the noted countries. As Russian technical, political, and military envelopment grows, American influence and our nation’s basing rights, necessary for power projection, will be constrained.
Fifth, in a region rocked by Syria’s use of chemical weapons, which has caused U.S., French, and British military action, it is of profound importance to forestall the attainment of even more lethal WMDs, such as radiological or nuclear weapons, by other states infiltrated by Russia and its agents (radiological weapons kill persons through exposure to radioactive material rather than by blast effects). For, if such WMDs proliferate, it may be impossible to block an armed engagement between U.S. and Russian military forces. Any such engagement has the potential to spiral out of control, increasing radically the potential for nuclear war.
In considering these matters, it is important to recollect how difficult it was for Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat to dislodge the Soviet Union from Egypt. Sadat launched Egypt’s Corrective Revolution in 1971, which decoupled Egypt from the Soviet Union in order to supplant the socialist ideology that had been installed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat’s predecessor; this reversal led ultimately to the breakup of the Arab Socialist Union party, which was founded by Nasser in 1962. Such courage to displace a predatory Russia from a strategic, client state would seem almost impossible to summon today: therefore, Russia must not be allowed to increase its footprint in nations not currently under its yoke.
To a National Nuclear Power Capability
A multifactorial response by the United States is mandatory if we are to block Russia’s ambitions. Part of the strategic offset to Russia should entail our supplying reactors, nuclear fuel, and equipment, to Arab states. Certainly, Russia must be thwarted from obtaining the contract to build 16 nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. Stopping this sale is imperative and is best done if American companies take part in the provision of the components of nuclear power to Saudi Arabia. In doing so, we must also supply the weaponry needed to defend Arab facilities from attack by Iran or by some terrorist group, for the greater the presence of American contractors and equipment at or near Arab nuclear plants, the more certain we can be that these facilities, their infrastructure, and their fuel, will remain secure and not be militarized.
There are positive signs that such a strategy, if pursued, will be a success. Saudi Arabia’s successful employment of its Patriot ABM system, to intercept flights of ballistic missiles launched by Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents, and the Kingdom’s intent to acquire seven THAAD ABM batteries for $13.5 billion and to spend an additional $6.65 billion on enhancements to their Patriot system must be factored into a strategy that includes the Kingdom’s nuclear power initiatives. These ABM systems constitute a de facto strategic defense to oppose the Iranian ballistic missile force that may, in future, be surmounted by nuclear weapons.
The Saudi (or Arab state) strategic defense would, of course, be used to protect their nuclear reactors and facilities, among other assets. Such strategic defense systems militate for a declaratory U.S. policy concerning our conceivable use in the region of strategic weapons, which could be non-nuclear, in order to promote interstate deterrence, thus forestalling an Iranian first strike against the Arab states of the Gulf. Such a U.S. policy would, in addition, support non-proliferation aims. A strategic, non-nuclear doctrine must also be enunciated by Saudi Arabia and by neighboring Arab states: these policies should be framed such that they are consonant with a new U.S. doctrine for this region, which should emphasize defense and development.
In contradistinction to Russia’s plans to inculcate elites within countries that are its nuclear clients, the building of nuclear power plants in Sunni states must rest on a foundation of Arab science: this requirement should be fashioned into a watershed, bearing in mind that it was the work of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton that collided with the worst forms of Catholic and Protestant militantism, to usher in the age of the Enlightenment in Europe. So, too, might this nuclear-power initiative, now underway, usher in the age of a new Ibn Rushd, the twelfth-century polymath, who made outstanding contributions in physics, in mathematics, and in philosophy. It may be hoped that an Arab cohort of new Ibn Rushds could battle today’s extremists and Islamists, as he, himself, did against the fundamentalist Al-Ghazali. Thus, science can lead to the expansion of the collective mind through the instigation of rationalism. As a matter of necessity, to help secure this future, America must entreat Sunni states to establish the means to identify, quarantine, and deprogram scientists and engineers who are or become radical or susceptible to such ideology.
Heretofore, the Middle East has attracted a low percentage of global, foreign, direct investment: there is little economic diversification. Substantial inequities exist between urban and rural populations, and looming, forecasted reductions in precipitation will be devastating if comprehensive measures are not now begun to husband all resources. Immediate steps are thus required to diversify Middle Eastern economies by embracing new technologies that promise efficiencies; thankfully, it seems the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the leaders of the other GCC states understand these needs. Therefore, American construction of reactors and power plants within certain Arab states, such states’ acquisition of ABM systems, and the possibility of the creation of a new cadre of scientists, should be structured into an innovative and comprehensive strategy in support of regional stability and a strict control of nuclear materials. This strategy should maximize current and projected investments, as well as applications of hard and soft U.S. power, to promote needed reforms and capabilities.
Another aspect of a new strategy for nuclear power must be domestic: the issue of Westinghouse’s recent bankruptcy, brought about by cost overruns in its American nuclear power-plant projects, threatens America’s ability to combat Russian, Chinese, and European dominance in the provision of nuclear reactors, fuel, and support, to foreign countries. The Westinghouse CEO, José Gutiérrez, has reiterated the hazards of the potential loss of this national resource.
Therefore, to support the American nuclear power industry, completion of recently cancelled or moribund domestic nuclear power plants (such as the two AP1000 plants in South Carolina) should be prioritized as part of President Trump’s infrastructure initiative, for the completion of the two reactors in South Carolina constitutes perhaps the largest, shovel-ready project that may be undertaken immediately.
The building of these U.S. power plants should be posited as a step to ensure what may be termed a National Nuclear Power Capability (NNPC). Such a capability will support the endowment of American firms, so that they may compete on near-even terms with the state-sponsored enterprises of Russia and other countries, in the construction, the management, and the support of nuclear plants built in foreign lands.
The NNPC would be supportive of President Trump’s often-stated objective to level the international playing field for U.S. businesses. Plant completions will emulate the President’s past business successes, for such a plan would take advantage of the sunk costs already expended in the half-building of cancelled U.S. plants, since nuclear power prices become very attractive if some of the construction costs are delimited or factored out as dead-weight, unrecoverable losses (which they are, if no functional power plant is completed).
This proposed initiative should not be viewed as a substitute for private-sector leadership in the creation of new modalities in finance, market creation, and project development and implementation. For example, the recognition of a new class of lead project developers may be required to fuse the technologies and expertize required to construct nuclear plants overseas, secure their fuel cycles, build smart grids, and acquire and operationalize area defenses.
The NNPC initiative and strategy would also be crucial to obtaining workable Section 123 Agreements with foreign nations, particularly among the states in the Gulf. Such agreements support non-proliferation objectives and are required by law when America undertakes nuclear covenants with any other nation.
In addition, the U.S. assets of Uranium One, now owned by Rosatom, should be nationalized. The American assets could then be auctioned off to a U.S. concern, after the Russians are compensated fairly by the U.S. government for the loss of this enterprise.
In nationalizing the U.S. part of Uranium One, the present administration would be following a known precedent, set during WWI, when America nationalized and then sold the American branch of the German drug giant, Merck. This nationalization is why there are two unaffiliated drug companies named Merck in the world today: Merck & Co., Inc., headquartered in New Jersey, and the Merck Group, headquartered in Darmstadt.
The nationalization of Uranium One is necessary to undo a small portion of the damage caused by the previous administration, for under this initiative only Uranium One’s American assets may be obtained. Thwarting Russia’s larger objectives will require us to work with the governments of Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan to dislodge Rosatom’s hold on their nuclear-related assets in these pivotal countries
To offset Russia, America must occupy the high ground. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project and Lockheed Martin’s Compact Fusion Reactor both hold promise as gateways to commercial power generation via fusion. The first such plants could come on line in the 2030s, thus supplying the world with limitless, clean energy, devoid of large quantities of radioactive material. The multinational, $14 billion ITER initiative was the result of President Reagan’s 1985 summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. This unprecedented project, which has received uneven U.S. support, is of tremendous scope and complexity. Its creation was championed by President Reagan’s National Security Council staff, which convoked the White House meeting that reached consensus that the United States should support this endeavor. American efforts to reestablish the ascendancy of its nuclear power industry should thus be seen as a bridge to a future that may be dominated by intelligent energy and information networks powered by fusion.
The Next Twenty Years
The production, distribution, and use of energy, during the next two decades, will undergo a transformation more profound than any experienced since the time of Edison and Tesla. Power, information, and communications will fuse; power lines will be transformed to be channels that move energy and information multi-directionally. American-made nuclear reactors and power stations, coupled with U.S. supplied smart electric grids, must be an integral part of this transformation.
The simultaneous, real-time delivery and use of energy and information, encompassing all data related to supply and demand, will permit optimality in resource allocation and investment, which never before has been attainable. Such efficiency is impossible without a spectrum of newly developed technologies. These technologies, taken as a whole, constitute the smart grid, an intelligent electricity distribution network, designed to meet the precise needs of system participants. The information layer of the smart grid will contain business process data that will be critical for industrial competitiveness in the 21st century.
The smart grid will enable unprecedented amounts of information, relating to energy, to be used by all stakeholders. It promises greater protection against cyber threats. If deployed resolutely, this advance, coupled with American-made power plants, to include fission (and, in future, fusion) plants, will be a cornerstone for American and international economic growth, security, stability, and freedom. Such enterprises, realized throughout the globe, will become an apex industry fusing information technologies with the production and distribution of energy, in modes supportive of environmental, economic, and security imperatives.
China will most probably outpace the United States in GDP during the next twenty years (China has already overtaken the United States, if GDP is measured by Purchasing Power Parity [PPP]). The limits of traditional U.S. power, as documented by the economic crisis of 2008, and the tumultuous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have necessitated ongoing reassessments of America’s potential. The National Intelligence Council reported that it is American preeminence over a broad array of power dimensions that grants our nation its status as the world’s leading power; it is this spectrum of power that must be imbued creatively to continue America’s leadership in the decades to come.
Even as U.S. GDP is eclipsed, and U.S. military power is curtailed by deficits and by competing priorities, America need not fear challenges brought about by Chinese economic or military ascension, for America has assets other than its economy or military, which other nations do not possess. America’s breadth of power includes those defined as hard or soft. Hard power relies on the use of force, coercion, or monetary inducements to achieve policy ends. Soft power relies on attraction or cooption, concerning outcomes, which become shared, to reach objectives in support of interests.
The attraction of American popular culture and its liberalizing and democratizing effects is an example of soft power. For instance, the broadcast, on Chinese television, of the anti-fascist film, V for Vendetta, supported democracy movements within China in ways in which traditional policy tools could not. In another example, Brewster Kahle, a world-renowned computer engineer, joined Sir Tim Berners-Lee of MIT, the inventor of the World Wide Web, to begin the creation of a new, more decentralized web that will permit less government or corporate control. On June 7, 2016, Mr. Kahle said, “China can make it impossible for people there to read things, and just a few big service providers are the de facto organizers of your experience. We have the ability to change all that.”
For American soft power to be dominant, America must be a world leader in the provision of energy in all its forms. Though American hard power is destined to decline in relative terms to both China and India, American soft power has many avenues for growth. The provision of American energy and security technologies and management to other nations is a prerequisite, for such transfers provide an engine for enabling and democratizing technologies to be shared across many countries and cultures.
Because the world has become interdependent and interconnected, traditional tools of hard power are insufficient to govern outcomes or to channel future courses of events. Rather than curtailing U.S. power in the decades to come, this transformation may burnish American advocacy, by vesting American influence in the connectivity and the informational domains dominated by the United States. Going forward, such power and influence in these spheres may only be retained if certain substrates are achieved globally. A chief prerequisite is access to electricity, which must be sustainable, and be distributed equitably when urban and rural populations are contrasted.
Electricity, connectivity, social media, and access to large stores of information nourish the foundations for freedom. Historically, conflicts arise from perceived inequalities or differential birth rates between adjacent groups, competition for constrained resources, religious differences, or the desire to change the political order, in support of a construct, perceived by its adherents to be utopian. The provision of electricity, coupled with the concomitant exchange of information, undercuts these threats, for the energy initiatives noted will be supportive of optimal resource allocation within market economies, which will boost 1) economic development in areas that may be destitute or barren, 2) class mobility through individual progress, 3) environmental and water conservation through enhanced knowledge networks, 4) precision farming through the mastery of information and the provision of power, and 5) human enhancement and comity through the sharing of experiences. The equitable attainment of electricity will soon be recognized as a basic human need, for without it, knowledge, personal potential, and rights are thwarted.
World population will grow to eight billion by 2025; this addition of almost a half-billion persons makes precise resource management a necessity. This is particularly so in developing states in which birth rates are very high. Abundant electricity and informational flows will dampen enmities that feed on perceptions of waste and inequality. Intelligent governance will have better prospects to take root in such enhanced environments: this will promote conflict resolution and the adoption of non-violent means of intercession.
Commenting on fellow philosopher Nelson Goodman’s conception concerning the riddle of induction, John Rawls proffered the concept of reflective equilibrium ─ that is the space in which we restate, reconsider, and adjust our beliefs, such that they may be projected reasonably so as to describe parts of the future. To Goodman, lawlike statements, proposed to picture the future, garnered their legitimacy through their numerical inerrancy as successfully projected hypotheses. A different kind of entrenchment could be conjectured to result from the magnitude and not the frequency of an impelled postulate. The constellation of possible outcomes concerning ongoing and future developments and challenges in nuclear power, its surrounding infrastructure and distribution, and its potential to be weaponized, may be reduced by reflection on the significance of present developments in this sphere. Thus, through the application of reflective equilibrium, may we discern what steps the United States and the world must take.