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The Chatter Podcast: Debunking Nuclear Proliferation Myths with Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer

Misperceptions about nuclear proliferation attempts abound, particularly when we find authoritarian leaders involved. It is easy to picture these determined owners of nuclear weapons as omnipotent, unconstrained micromanagers–willing and able to do whatever is necessary to take their country over the threshold.

Political scientist Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer disagrees. She conducted extensive research in IAEA and other archives as well as in-depth interviews with senior scientists and regime officials from Iraq and Libya, including Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. What she discovered led her to question much conventional wisdom about the Iraqi and Libyan nuclear programs, and about proliferation writ large. Her book Unclear Physics–which borrows its title from a typo in an Iraqi report from the late 1960s that characterized well the vague objectives of the early Iraqi nuclear program–presents intriguing information and insight on all of this.

David Priess speaks with Braut-Hegghammer about her interest in WMD proliferation, how she researched secretive nuclear programs, the value of archives, Iraq’s quest for the bomb, the impact of Israel’s strike on the Osirak reactor in 1981, how close Iraq was to breaking out when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the origins of Libya’s nuclear program, Gaddafi’s turn to the A.Q. Khan network for the equipment and blueprints needed, implications for the potential proliferation paths of countries from North Korea and Iran to Saudi Arabia and South Korea, the rising salience of nuclear weapons in Arctic security debates, and Norwegian views on nuclear deterrence in today’s evolving strategic environment.

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.

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