Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

In Israeli High Court Case, CNS Scholar Urges Change to Nuclear Oversight

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Avner Cohen

Professor Avner Cohen's report on nuclear regulation and oversight in liberal democracies was a factor in historic Israeli Supreme Court case earlier this week.

September 15, 2017

A report by Middlebury Institute professor of nonproliferation studies Avner Cohen played an important role in a recent Israeli High Court of Justice case. Cohen, who is also a senior fellow with the Institute James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), has spent much of his career advocating for increased openness in regulation and oversight of Israel’s secretive nuclear program, and was one of the petitioners seeking a legislative solution to nuclear oversight.

Cohen directed the comparative study, “Nuclear Legislation and Governance in Four Nuclear Weapons Democracies,” which was researched and written by CNS/Davis United World College Fellow Brandon Mok.

The report presents a set of comparative raw data on the question of how four Western democratic nuclear-weapon states— the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Israel—handle the essential tension between nuclear weapons (which require secrecy) and liberal democracy.

The report was used to assist Cohen in preparing for the September 6 hearing. The petition before the court called for legislating a process to develop regulation and oversight of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission.

Although the court rejected the petition in its September 14 ruling—on grounds that the court lacks the authority to force the Knesset to draft laws on specific issues—Cohen says the ruling represented a breakthrough because the court validated the idea of changes to the country’s nuclear regulatory oversight. In its ruling, the court broke with the state’s official position, writing that the call for nuclear legislation “is a worthy issue for public debate.”

“The fact that the court was willing to effectively reject the State position speaks volumes,” said Cohen. “One must recall that nuclear affairs in Israel are wrapped with layers of secrecy, taboo and silence.”

In particular, the study looks at the comprehensiveness of the legislative, regulatory, scientific, and policy mechanisms that each of the four democratic states have created to govern nuclear affairs. The report was cited in news coverage by the Jerusalem Post just prior to the hearing.

“Such material has never before been publicly available in a condensed form in one location, making this study of use to anyone interested in the problem of governing the atom,” said Cohen. “It will be updated as structures and policy change.”

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