Nuclear Sidetrack

Brass Tacks

THE NUCLEAR nonproliferation treaty sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union will probably pass the U.N. General Assembly. But far from being what Ambassador Goldberg calls "one of the most significant and hopeful steps toward world peace," the treaty will perpetuate the division of the world into independent possessors and dependent beggars, and will do little to ease world tensions.

To be effective, a nonproliferation treaty needs the signatures of all countries, a guarantee that nuclear states will not use their nuclear weapons against any of the signatories, and no escape clauses. The present draft treaty has none of these.

Publicly billed as the result of six years of negotiations by the 18-nation Disarmament Committee in Geneva, the draft treaty is primarily the work of the United States and the Soviet Union. It has the support of a third nuclear power, Britain. The two others, France and China, will not sign the treaty. As expected, China, which is not a member of the U.N., has denounced the pact as a Soviet-U.S. "plot."

Although this kind of accusation has long been a staple of Chinese official rhetoric, this time it does have a certain validity. For whatever its stated objectives, in reality the treaty will enforce an "atomic apartheid" in both peaceful and military fields. Limiting the number of members in the nuclear club can only support the strategic status quo, whose staunchest defenders are the United States and the Soviet Union. Their remarkable harmony in presenting the draft treaty last week amazed U.N. delegates. "The only thing they didn't do was hold hands," remarked one delegate.

Obviously, there is more to barring the spread of nuclear weapons than the self-interest of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Proliferation complicates the already difficult problem of disarmament and increases the possibilities of technical accidents. Perhaps the most cogent argument for nonproliferation in the view of the non-nuclear states is the high cost of nuclear weapons. The construction of small national nuclear forces would cut heavily into scarce capital needed for economic development.


The U.S. and U.S.S.R. point out that such small forces become obsolete quickly, and as a deterrent lack both credibility and utility. Therefore, they argue, these forces do not pay politically as the non-nuclear states believe. And even if a nation could begin to build a credible nuclear force, it would immediately be making itself a possible target of a preemptive attack.

TAKEN as a whole these arguments are telling and they are in part accepted by the non-nuclear states. Unfortunately their opposing arguments are more convincing.

These arguments center on three issues: 1) adequate security guarantees for non-nuclear nations, 2) specific commitments by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and 3) limitation of the arms race among the nuclear powers themselves.

Adequate security guarantees is by far the biggest issue. The United States and the Soviet Union have pledged to "act immediately through the Security Council to take necessary measures to counter aggression." This is a very vague and unimpressive guarantee at best. Brazilian Foreign Minister Jose de Magalahes Pinto claims that non-nuclear states who renounce the possession of nuclear weapons are at least entitled to "a formal obligation on the part of nuclear weapons states not to employ their nuclear weapons against the signatories."

This raises two crucial questions. First, can a nuclear nation give an effective guarantee? Second, can a non-nuclear nation accept it in total faith? Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have been extremely reluctant to give such a blanket commitment because they want to keep open as many options as possible. They just don't know what they will do in any particular crisis. And even if the nuclear powers did give such a commitment who knows whether they would keep it if their own survival was at stake?

Therefore many nun-nuclear nations doubt that they could rely on such a security guarantee. The nuclear guarantee in some cases might even be insufficient for it inherently rules out a preemptive attack. Retaliation would take place only after an initial attack. But can a nation always afford to wait until after she has been attacked, when her cities are already smoldering?

This is precisely the argument of India, which doubts that any guarantee will protect her from Communist China. Thus India will probably refuse to sign the nonproliferation treaty. Indian realists contend that in the absence of effective international peace-keeping machinery or reliable alliances only nuclear weapons can truly guarantee a nation's independence and territorial integrity. If India decided to build her own nuclear force she could do it with little difficulty. The majority of Western arms analysts believe that India could produce nuclear weapons sooner than West Germany.

THE SECOND issue of technical assistance for peaceful uses of atomic energy has raised a flurry of charges that it will keep the non-nuclear states in a status of permanent technological dependence on the nuclear powers. Brazil and Argentina particularly are seeking specific commitments in the draft treaty to enable them to use nuclear explosives to clear virgin land.

In order to allay these fears, and also to pressure countries to sign the treaty, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. have included in it sanctions against nonsignatories or countries who do not accept the treaty's requirements for international inspection of all their atomic activities. These provisions would bar such countries from any assistance in developing peaceful uses of atomic energy. However, such sanctions may be ineffective, since France will probably give non-signatories the needed technical assistance.

The third issue of limiting the arms race between the nuclear powers themselves challenges the very validity of the nonproliferation treaty. Neutrals like Sweden and India have consistently held that a comprehensive nuclear treaty signed by all five nuclear powers is a pre-requisite to any nonproliferation treaty. How can the non-nuclear states, they ask, be fairly expected to renounce nuclear weapons indefinitely, much less forever, while the five existing states fail to make any progress toward nuclear disarmament, and while two of the five still refuse to adhere to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty?

Disarmament among the five nuclear powers can be the only true step toward world peace. Because there is no likelihood of this at present, most nations will go along with the nonproliferation treaty in hopes that it will induce the nuclear powers to disarm in the future. Some nations like Japan will sign the treaty simply because they know they can get out of it relatively easily. Under Article VII any country can withdraw within 3 months "if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country," This serious loophole should be remembered after the treaty has been endorsed, when the Soviet Union and the United States join to clog the newspapers with what Indian Ambassador Trivedi has called their "pious platitudes."

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