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Do As I Say, Not As I Do, and No, You Can't Have Any of My Weapons: Getting MAD About Nuclear Proliferation
June 28, 2000

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Trust us, we do not want to see this
Have you read your newspaper or caught your TV news lately? Something incredible happened way over here this month. Two countries, divided by a bitter war 50 years ago, got reacquainted. North and South Korea, which haven't trusted each other for half a century, renewed old ties when South Korea's president visited the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. North and South Koreans alike were overjoyed to learn that after so many years they may finally reunite with long-lost family members on the other side.

Lots of other countries breathed a sigh of relief, too: suddenly the world seemed a lot safer. North Korea, it is believed, will be able to attach nuclear warheads to its missiles within five years, posing a major threat to its Asian neighbors.

You may have read in history books about nuclear bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. The bombs ended the war, but killed or ruined the lives of thousands of innocent people in the most horrible ways. For the most part, though, you've grown up in a society where people no longer stockpile food or scramble into fallout shelters in fear of a nuclear attack.

India and Pakistan: now
So people are celebrating the possibility that North Korea may now be less likely to want to use nuclear weapons against its southern neighbor. But don't put on the party hats just yet. The threat of nuclear war still exists--and it appears to be growing.

We've just come from India which, with its northwestern neighbor, Pakistan, is riding a growing wave of nuclear proliferation. India, the world's second-largest democracy, conducted its first nuclear test in 1974, fearful of its much larger Communist neighbor to the east, China, which has also helped Pakistan with its nuclear program.

Despite two wars and ongoing skirmishes over the middle-territory of Kashmir, India and Pakistan have largely refrained from flexing their respective nuclear muscles.

Until recently.

In April, 1998, Pakistan tested its Ghauri intermediate-range nuclear missile, named after a twelfth century Muslim warrior (Pakistan is mostly Muslim) who conquered part of India. India stepped up immediately, announcing the success a month later of five nuclear tests. Not to be outdone, and despite the pleadings of the international community, Pakistan responded a short two weeks later with its own handful of tests.

The United States quickly slapped economic sanctions on both countries, which, together with Israel, are the only three countries out of 190 which haven't signed the landmark 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


reacquainted - to know one another again
proliferation - rapid multiplication
refrained - held back
deterrent - something that discourages by creating fear or anxiety
holocaust - great destruction of life, especially by fire

But both countries are unapologetic: Pakistan sees its nuclear program as a deterrent to war with India, and India's prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is offended by suggestions that India should have held off, saying "The world community should appreciate the fact that India...waited for five decades before taking this step" and "India has responded to a stark regional and global reality that has evolved over the past 50 years."

Have India and Pakistan single-handedly made the world a more dangerous place? Or, as they and many other nations claim, are they merely stepping up to protect themselves in a world full of "nuclear weapons states" that have abandoned their leadership roles in favor of their own self-interest?

The NPT has been signed by 187 countries who have pledged to work toward reducing the threat of nuclear war worldwide. The treaty calls on member "nuclear weapons states"--countries that already possess nuclear weapons--to help end the spread of nuclear weapons, and on member "non-nuclear weapons states"--countries which do not yet have nuclear weapons--to not try to get them. India and Pakistan never signed on.

And his country won't, says Prime Minister Vajpayee, as long as countries like the United States continue to talk out of both sides of their mouths.

"The world knows the truth about the progress--or, rather, the lack of it--made by nuclear powers in the direction of nuclear disarmament," he said at the time of the tests.

India and other countries being pressured not to make or acquire nuclear weapons became upset last year when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which deploys peacekeeping forces around the world, said that nuclear weapons were "essential" to its security. They received another mixed message when the United States Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) last October.

The world worries that Iraq and North Korea will attach nuclear warheads to their missiles
And if all that weren't enough, President Clinton is considering going ahead with plans for a "Ballistic Missile Defense" (BMD) shield to protect the U.S. from nuclear attacks by "rogue" nations such as Iraq and North Korea. This may have an effect completely opposite that of the NPT: to encourage countries with nuclear weapons to build even more dangerous weapons to penetrate the system! If Clinton decides to build the Ballistic Missile Defense system, he'll have to roll back the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty the U.S. signed with the Soviet Union (now Russia) in 1972. That treaty, signed during the "Cold War" when the U.S. and Soviet Union each feared a nuclear attack by the other, guaranteed that just such a nationwide defense system would not be deployed!

Related Links

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Site

The Nuclear Files, Web site of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

"India is now a Weapons State," 1998 Interview with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee

What's going on here? Are the smaller nations who are thinking about keeping or getting nuclear weapons right? Are the U.S. and other countries acting as hypocrites by keeping their nuclear stockpiles while punishing other nations for trying to get nuclear weapons? What will happen to the tense relationship between the U.S. and Russia if Clinton decides to put up that shield? Will countries like Iraq and North Korea try to build more devastating weapons?

Or, as the U.S. urges, is it up to nations like India and Pakistan to take the high road and not acquire nuclear weapons, to set an example for other nations? In March, Clinton visited India and told the government there that, in the past 12 years, the U.S. has taken apart more than 13,000 nuclear weapons and helped Russia do the same. When Russia ratifies the second Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START II) treaty, the U.S. and Russian nuclear threat to each other-and the world-will have been reduced by two-thirds. By these efforts, isn't the world a safer place?

Decide for yourself and make a difference. This stuff is all over the news right now: Russian President Vladimir Putin has just come back from Europe where he tried to convince leaders there that Clinton's Ballistic Missile Defense shield is a bad idea, and the change in Korean relations has people guessing what will happen to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Read your newspaper and surf the Web to educate yourself. How bad is the threat? Are we sliding back into a time of fear of a nuclear holocaust?

President Clinton is expected to decide on the Ballistic Missile Defense shield by September. That gives you two months to learn all you can and get in touch with your representatives in Congress. Let them know what you think - they're in the phone book!



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