June 28, 2000
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.
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.
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).
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.
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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