29 January 2009

Can we de-nuke the world, after all?

When the conversation turns to nuclear weapons these days, the focus is almost entirely on Iran. The rumour is the Iranians may be developing a nuclear weapon and that, among other things, would violate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Iran has, after all, signed the treaty. What is rarely mentioned, however, is that the treaty not only calls for non-nuclear signatories to not develop nuclear weapons, it also requires nuclear signatories to get rid of their weapons. This they have not been doing. On the contrary, they have been enhancing their nuclear potential. They, who are violating the treaty every day of the week, are hardly in a moral position to criticize Iran because it may, at some time in the future, violate the treaty.

But this may change. The United States, at least, may achieve that moral position. The most important signatory of the treaty may actually live up to its obligations. In his election campaign, Barack Obama declared, "It's time to send a clear message to the world: America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons." He promised that, "As long as nuclear weapons exist, we'll retain a strong deterrent. But we'll make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy." Now ensconced in the White House, he appears to cleave to that promise. His newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, recently stated that the new administration will, "work constructively and securely toward the goal of a world without nuclear weapons."

This goal can only be achieved by the co-operation of all nuclear nations, of course, including both those who have signed the treaty and those who have not, but what's important is that the world's major nuclear nation is apparently prepared to lead the way. If it does, if it follows through on its promise, it may finally have some moral leverage in its effort to prevent Iran from developing a weapon. But much more important, it will make a nuclear weapons-free world possible. Now there is something to hope for.

1 comment:

  1. Bill, I try to keep tabs on the dizzying array of arms races underway today. I doubt that there's much Obama can do about today's nuclear proliferation. That horse has already left the barn.

    Bush fueled most of this proliferation. Putting anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic only led the Russians to develop and field a much more capable model of missile and advanced warheads.

    Now the Americans are helping India establish its own missile shield too as part of its effort to contain China. That comprises anti-missile systems for India, South Korea and Japan.

    Then there are the "moderate" (despotic but pro-Western) Arab states. They're quietly working on their own nuke programmes in case Iran fields a Shiite nuke threat.

    I'm just guessing but I think that any serious effort at nuclear disarmament will have to wait until a nuclear exchange, somewhere.

    Pakistan-India perhaps or Iran-Israel, maybe even North Korea-Japan (did you know some powerful factions there are pushing for Japan to develop a nuclear arsenal?).

    Nuclear disarmament pretty much went out the window when the original nuclear powers - China, the Sovs, Britain, France and the US - chose to shelve their obligations to disarm under the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

    Today a lot of countries are looking at getting their own nukes not because they want them but because they fear what could await them if they don't.