Jeffrey LewisThe Great Algerian Nuclear Weapons Scare

The National Security Archive has published an essay, as well as declassified documents, describing the 1991 crisis that ensued after the discovery that Algeria was constructing an unsafeguarded nuclear reactor:

The Algerian situation is an example of the complexities and difficulties of nuclear weapons intelligence. Questions about the capabilities and intentions of potential members of the nuclear club, whose activities are invariably surrounded by tight secrecy, have characteristically shaped the policy debate on nuclear proliferation. Declassified U.S. government documents on pending controversies, e.g., over Iran and North Korea, are practically impossible to obtain, even on the earliest stages of the controversy. Thus, recently declassified documents from 1991 on the then-secret debate over Algeria’s nuclear ambitions provide a rare glimpse of an early post-Cold War test of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Gary Samore, then-Special Assistant to Richard T. Kennedy, gets off the line of the crisis, noting that new information “should help put to rest the great Algerian nuclear weapons scare.”

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