Bomb control

Peaceful paths to curbing the ominous spread of nuclear weapons beckon beyond the Israeli "solution" of bombing and killing in Iraq. To prevent further preemptive strikes of this sort by any nation, these paths must be unstintingly pursued.

No individual should be put off by the dull and difficult sound of nuclear nonproliferation, the goal that demands renewed zeal after this week's events. No government or private organization should fail to examine its activities to see whether they worsen the problem or contribute to its solution.

A fundamental route to nonproliferation is the enlightened political activity to ease tensions between countries and thus reduce national feelings that it is essential to have the bomb. Political problem-solving in the Middle East and elsewhere is regularly discussed on this page. Today other avenues of nonproliferation come to the fore.

The superpowers have a particular role. The United States and the Soviet Union need to keep their own nuclear arsenals in balance as a deterrent to either side's use of them -- thus preserving a security which, in turn, makes the bomb seem less necessary to states under the superpowers' umbrellas. The superpowers also need to reserve nuclear arms as weapons of very last resort. These awful instruments must not become seen as invitingly usable "conventional" weapons -- and thus more tempting to countries now without them. The whole effort of arms control, essential for itself, also affects the climate of decision on whether to go, nuclear.

Then there is the comples technical process commonly evoked by "nonproliferation" -- the agreements among nations to do or not do certain things in the interest of keeping some control on the spread of the bomb. Realism says that the spread cannot be totally stopped. But the answer is not to do nothing. To the extent that the speed and extent of the proliferation can be held down, the destabilizing results of it can be managed.

The Israeli raid gives the lie to any lingering traces of the theory that wider possession of the bomb might actually promote stability, as some see possession of the bomb by both Russia and America to have done. If even Iraq's degree of potential proliferation brings military onslaught, it is not hard to imagine other raids in other places.

In this instance, the nuclear reactor attacked was inspected in January by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which found it in accordance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iraq -- but not Israel -- is a party. A further inspection had been planned for the weekend of the Israeli raid but was postponed for other reasons. Agency head Sigvard Eklund raised the pertinent point that the raid was an attack not only on Iraq but on the agency's safeguards regime. "Where will this lead us in the future?" he asked.

It ought to lead the nuclear nations to a tightening of their cooperation to ensure that exports of nuclear fuel and technology are not diverted to weapons use. In hindsight, should France have sold Iraq a reactor bigger than its apparent needs and using highly enriched uranium -- thus outraging Israel and adding to others' suspicions that Iraq had more than peaceful uses in mind?

Prospects at the moment seem dim for enough unity to set up a proposed International Nuclear Fuel Authority, which would seek both to provide a reliable supply of fuel to peaceful-use nations and to control it by means of a single channel. Yet this represents the kind of forward-looking thought that should continue to be given to nonproliferation, along with the prayers of all who see the potential horrors of the alternative.

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