Atoms for Peace Revisisted

In the afternoon of Tuesday, December 8th 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a speech to the 470th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. During this speech the President outlined a possible path to peace in the nuclear age. While several matters were proposed during this landmark speech, one aspect of the plan introduced over sixty years ago bears a revisit especially considering the contemporary threats of North Korea and Iran as nuclear players.

Namely, the plan commonly referred to as the Atoms for Peace initiative should be reconsidered and updated for the modern world. As the possibility of more open talks and negotiations with North Korea becomes a greater reality with the election of Moon Jae-in, it bears considering using the promise of United States aid in the development of nuclear energy for North Korea as a diplomatic bargaining tool. The Kim regime has stated that it seeks protection from foreign invasion and access to energy as stated strategic goals. According to the regime, if these needs are met then the threat of North Korean aggression will be lessened. Therefore, offering United States aid in developing safe nuclear energy programs for North Korea could work to address the energy needs of North Korea.

The first danger posed by offering nuclear energy aid to North Korea would be that the technology shared would increase the likelihood of North Korean expansion of nuclear technology that could be weaponized. However, the North Korean military already possesses nuclear weapons; and therefore centrifuge refinement tools. Thus, the technological advantages from nuclear power would be slight. In addition, the sharing of nuclear technology would be conducted under strict supervision.

Because of the necessary supervision required, the chance of the Kim regime embracing United States nuclear aid would be very slight. With confidence, one can speculate that even meeting the stated demands of the Kim regime, improvements in relations and human rights for North Korean people would not improve. Therefore, what purpose would sharing nuclear technology serve?

The key to peacefully over-throwing the Kim regime lies in bringing North Korean leaders over to the other side; whether through a military coup or political assassination of Kim himself at the hands of internal forces in Korea. By providing a path to North Korean prosperity that is clear to key party leaders in North Korea, the likelihood of an internal change in power increases. Therefore, talks and offers of sharing technology and prosperity are not so much for Kim himself but rather those in key positions of power. Combining these clear offers of energy and cooperation along with hinted possibilities of amnesty in exchange for shifts in power can help to peacefully end the threat of North Korean nuclear attack upon allies of the United States.

Similar strategies can then be used to revamp the inadequate JCPOA as well.  Though the goal with Iran would not be so much to use nuclear energy as a diplomatic tool to undermine the government, but rather as a much more effective over watch tool.  Placing key UN and/or United States based inspectors deeply into the nuclear energy program at all times would enable the Iranian nation to possess the clean energy benefits of nuclear power bolstering and modernizing their economy and infrastructure to an even greater degree than exists now.  However, in addition to lifting up Iran it would provide over watch agencies with direct continual monitoring access to Iranian nuclear activities.  While this strategy would be a much harder sell to the Iranian government as it would completely undermine their weapons program, it would provide the UN and United States with a clear moral high ground of seeking to maintain security, aid the people of Iran, and provide that aid at the most efficient level possible.

The benefits of using a revamped Atoms for Peace strategy in North Korea center around leveraging North Korean leaders against the Kim regime.  Those leaders with access to information know as world and military leaders do that they face total annihilation if Kim decides to wage nuclear war.  Therefore, nuclear energy provides an opportunity to demonstrate that turning against Kim is the wisest move for themselves and their country.  Furthermore, revamping the JCPOA to include greater aid to Iran for safe nuclear energy would provide much greater security in regards to an Iranian nuclear weapons program and simultaneously improve the view of the West in the eyes of Iranian people by bolstering their economy and energy infrastructure.


Rhodes, Richard and Shellenberger, Michael, “Atoms for Pyongyang Let North Korea Have Peaceful Nuclear Power,” Foreign Affairs May 23, 2017, accessed May 23, 2017 at https://www.

Eisenhower, Dwight D., “Atoms for Peace Speech,” IAEA December 8, 1953, accessed May 23, 2017 at


2 thoughts on “Atoms for Peace Revisisted

  1. So really, the question is not “is Atoms for Peace a workable strategy?” but rather “How can we completely rebrand Atoms for Peace in the current political setting?” The program has exactly the same type of baggage (i.e. a perception of imperialism/colonialism/etc) which has supposedly gotten us to today’s tense climate. Nations like North Korea resent the condescending attitude of superpowers, primarily the US, and Atoms for Peace is pretty much exactly the kind of thing they find offensive. Supposedly.

    If it’s true that perceived condescension is at the root of the aggressive behavior of nuclear newcomers like Iran and North Korea, a really dramatic repackaging effort is going to be required before anything like Atoms for Peace will bear fruit.


    1. I agree completely that a dramatic rebranding and even rethinking is due. The original goal of using nuclear energy as a diplomatic tool should remain, but the perceived imperialism needs to be safeguarded against. I tend to think an emphasis upon energy development rather than an insistence upon nonproliferation can yield the same result without the imperialistic perceptions. That being said, it is a differing message depending upon the recipient. North Korean strategy should be about outlining a path to prosperity without Kim. Iranian strategy should empower Iran economically while also making nonproliferation seem like their idea. Both will require adept diplomatic maneuvering.


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