Intelligence and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Programs: The Achilles Heel

Kristen A. Lau, Kevin C. Desouza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Intelligence is a critical component for all counter-proliferation activities. It allows us to assess and determine what makes up the current threat environment in terms of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. When informed with an accurate assessment of the situation, policy-makers are better suited to counter the proliferation threat. However, success and failure hinge upon how well information is managed during the intelligence process. The intelligence process as it relates to estimating nuclear capabilities or intentions is wrought with many challenges and complications. The denial and deception techniques employed by states running covert weapons programs and the dual-use nature of many weapons components create many difficulties for intelligence organizations. Additionally, illicit transnational networks obscure the situation further by serving as a source, for both nation states and non-state actors, for acquiring dual-use commodities and technologies. These challenges can lead to the miscalculation of a state's capabilities or intentions, as witnessed with the case of Iraq in 2003 when western intelligence services grossly overestimated the capabilities of Saddam's regime. This paper presents a comparative analysis of three cases of nuclear proliferation: India's 1998 nuclear tests, the exposure of the A. Q. Khan network and Iran's nuclear program. Drawing from the analysis, the authors examine the lessons learned and propose recommendations for future counter proliferation policy and strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-431
Number of pages45
JournalIntelligence and National Security
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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