Can You Say “Nuclear?”

“If men can develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war include almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man’s intelligence and his comprehension …would include also his ability to find a peaceful solution.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Press Conference, Washington, DC, 14 November 1956

For many Baby Boomers, the words “nuclear weapons” conjure memories of air raid drills, during which sirens boomed over intercoms as teachers shooed their pupils underneath desks. Duck and cover! At any moment, Russian bombers might seed the land with mushroom clouds!
Of course, Soviet bombers never did streak across our skies. The enemy has changed … but the threat of nuclear annihilation remains.
One of America’s most vital interests is being undercut: halting the spread of WMD. The Bush Administration has slashed money from the Nunn Lugar Act, which was designed to secure loose nukes in the former Soviet Union – the ones we want to keep out of terrorists’ hands. Meanwhile, as The Wall Street Journal reports, “Congress approved $25 million for research into what is supposed to be a sturdier, more reliable [nuclear] warhead than those designed during the Cold War. If the work is successful, the U.S. could someday spend billions of dollars replacing much of the current arsenal.”
Actions like this set a very bad example. In their wake, other nations rethink their own non-proliferation stance. Case in point: a new nuclear arms race is looming over the Asian horizon.
“I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to
the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”
Ronald Reagan, 40th president of U.S. (1911 – 2004)
On March 2, 2006, the U.S. and India signed an historic treaty to exchange nuclear technologies used in peaceful energy production. In theory, the Administration should sign similar treaties with Iran and Pakistan, since both countries claim their nuclear programs are also intended for energy production, not weapons manufacture. In reality, the Bush Administration has conceded defeat with regard to nuclear weapons proliferation, and chosen sides. Although Pakistan and India are both increasing stockpiles of nuclear bombs, the U.S. believes that democratic India will be a better ally in fighting terrorism, and will counter China’s military strength.
The deal first must be approved by Congress, but this offers little comfort. India’s powerful lobbyists are adept at twisting Congressional arms. After India’s nuclear tests in 1998, they helped to “defang” economic sanctions. With a little help from its friends (including Israel), India has been admitted to the nuclear big leagues – through the back door.
What are the potential repercussions?
For one, this agreement sends the wrong message to Iran’s leaders, merely increasing their resolve to join the nuclear club. Because Iran has admitted that it intends to use peaceful nuclear technology to manufacture weapons, the U.N. may impose very stiff sanctions. Meanwhile, India has been rewarded for the same behavior. This puts the West at a disadvantage when negotiating with Iran. Iran and Russia seemed to be nearing a deal whereby fissile material for Iran’s nuclear plants would be produced in Russia. The announcement of the deal with India has jeopardized that compromise.
The idea that India may serve as a “strategic block” to China is valid, but it risks igniting a regional arms race if China feels threatened. Just five days after the India/U.S. agreement was announced, China restated its intention to increase defense spending by 14.7 percent, saying “the United States spends far more than Beijing.” A major Chinese arms build-up might even cause Japan to rethink its non-nuclear status.
What about Pakistan? Unlike Prime Minister Singh or his predecessor Vajpayee, President Musharraf has cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Of course this was a result of being caught passing nuclear secrets to Libya and North Korea. Nevertheless, under President Musharraf, Pakistan has cleaned up its nuclear act, improving security and allowing inspections without reward. It would certainly welcome U.S. technology transfers that aid in nuclear energy production for its efforts. Such aid should, of course, be premised on full and zealous efforts by the Pakistanis to eliminate terrorist networks inside their borders in addition to continued inspection. Unfortunately, now there is the chance that slighted Pakistanis may jeopardize any further examinations. By refusing to ink a deal similar to the one with India, the U.S. will merely allow Pakistan’s nuclear program to proceed out of sight – unchecked by the IAEA and unprotected from terrorists. Without any cooperation or inspections, how can the U.S. hope to prevent another AG Khan from slipping nuclear secrets to the highest bidder? In addition, we are probably pushing Pakistan closer to China, which would no doubt welcome its own “strategic block.”
Although violating domestic and international law has become passe? in the Bush White House, it would nice to revisit our commitment to end the spread of nuclear weapons. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the United States is a signatory, states that member countries will “not in any way … assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” If this treaty applies to anyone, it must apply to everyone – including India.
Congress should demand that the treaty with India be renegotiated, and push for a treaty with Pakistan. It’s too late to insist that either nation dismantle its nuclear weapons, but that doesn’t mean we should concede total defeat. If this Administration is saying, “We can’t beat ’em, so let ’em join us,” then we must raise the requirements for joining. No component of either country’s nuclear program – civilian or military – should remain hidden from international oversight and inspection.
Also in exchange for joining our club, the disputed province of Kashmir could be used as a bargaining chip. A serious effort to resolve this conflict will send thousands of terrorists to the unemployment line. The U.S. and its allies could sweeten the pot by guaranteeing aid for trade and economic development, poverty alleviation and the construction of secular schools to replace religious ones. The West should also promote stronger economic ties between Pakistan and India. Let’s provide real incentives to stop their bickering and start them on the path toward a wealthier and more stable region.
We must also recognize that Pakistan bears the burden of thousands of Afghan refugees. Aid groups are doing tremendous work to alleviate the suffering of the refugees in Pakistan, and helping the victims of last year’s earthquake. Unfortunately, this aid is not enough to eliminate support for the likes of bin Laden, who supports arming terrorists with nuclear weapons. Every day that these destitute people live without basic necessities is another day ripe for recruiting potential terrorists to do his bidding. If the U.S. is serious about fighting terrorism, it should put money into feeding starving mouths, helping people find reasons to live instead of becoming suicide bombers.
Yes, some of India’s arguments are valid. The country does need energy for its growing population, which is inadvertently creating immense levels of greenhouse gasses that are compromising the ozone. However, this is true for many other nations as well. Should the U.S. give everyone its advanced nuclear expertise for this reason? Of course not! Why not sell these countries nuclear rods processed in the U.S. instead of transferring technologies that can and will be used for weapons manufacture?
Making the decision to aid India with better nuclear technologies will cause numerous repercussions in the region, none of which lessens the threat of nuclear war. Becoming aware of the vast consequences of these and other actions by the U.S., or any other government, reminds us that one decision can have a major domino effect. In this case, we are directly and indirectly enabling three countries to become dangerous nuclear powers. Maybe four – if you count Iran. As individual citizens and as a nation, we must allow ourselves to imagine an alternative. We have imagined war, and made it a daily reality. Now let’s imagine more creative ways to promote nonproliferation, more specifically “to the cause of mankind and world peace.”

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