Now for Plan B

The nuclear club couldn't keep Israel, India, and Pakistan out. The members need new ideas to curb conflicts.

PLEADING didn't work. India and Pakistan crashed the club anyway. Now what?

On June 12 the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial nations will meet in London to try to come up with a better plan for corralling future nuclear weapons danger.

Clichs abound. They're trying to keep the nuclear club from growing still bigger. To close the barn door after two more horses have gotten in. To put the genie back in the bottle. They're examining no-first-use deals and regional deterrence among India, Pakistan, and China, like the old "mutual assured destruction" between the US and USSR.

But will India and Pakistan (and some day even Israel) buy such used metaphors from the five old members of the nuclear club among the G-8 - US, Russia, China, Britain, France?

If new members India and Pakistan won't buy, how can the G-8 hope to keep policing Iraq, Iran, Libya, and even ravaged North Korea vigilantly enough to stop further spread?

Four ways to shrink the threat

Answers can be found in four separate areas: (1) Promoting peace and curbing a weapons race between India and Pakistan. (2) Dealing more rationally with Iran and not letting the guard down on Iraq. (3) Getting Israel back on track on trading land for peace under the deal it made in Oslo. (4) Determining what stockpile reductions Washington and Moscow can safely agree to in order to renew momentum on global curbing of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

At their mid-June meeting the G-8 probably won't get far beyond Point 1. So be it for now. They should start by urging India and Pakistan not to mount their nuclear warheads on missiles capable of hitting each other's cities. Then, they should seek to persuade India, Pakistan, and China to set up a system to have their defense chiefs notify each other in advance of any actions that might be viewed as threats.

Regular defense summits

It would, in fact, make sense for the three defense chiefs to hold regular meetings just to discuss their respective views of the world. If those work well, annual prime ministerial summits should follow.

The G-8 might designate one of their group (perhaps Tony Blair representing the EU and Commonwealth) to hold very low-key talks with India. Aim: to determine what, if any, openings exist for the big powers to nudge India and Pakistan to lower tensions over Kashmir. India has spurned outside mediation. But something is needed to get the two sides back to fruitful exploration.

India provides an opening

On May 31 New Delhi called for new talks among nuclear club members to limit nuclear weapons stockpiles. That provides a rationale for the five old club members to explore all war-and-peace questions with India.

It would be facile to compare the Solomonic baby of Kashmir with dual-maternity Northern Ireland and Cyprus. But in one respect all are similar. Disputed regions suffer endlessly unless the claimant "parents" can be sold some formula to let the "baby" maintain at least loose ties to both sides. India's previous prime minister seemed to be willing to explore such ideas for Kashmir. Western leaders should nudge current Prime Minister Vajpayee back toward that course as part of broad arms limitation discussions.

Why the NPT went wrong

Nearly three decades ago the world community set out to corral the atomic and hydrogen bombs. After much bickering they added a blockbuster word - nonproliferation - to the world vocabulary and signed the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Although 176 nations subsequently ratified the NPT, 67 nonnuclear states failed to fulfill their commitment to agree to UN agency inspections of nuclear power plants, research facilities, and nuclear-related shipments to prevent cheating. Nations like India, Pakistan, and Israel did not sign the NPT.

So we have a world in which the easy steps have been taken, the hard steps not taken. Outer space, Antarctica, Latin America, Africa, and the South Pacific have been declared nuclear free and open to inspection. But the hot spots - the Middle East and India-Pakistan-China, and perhaps one day Taiwan - are armed and prone to distrusting each other.

When the G-8 meet in London next week, they will have an opportunity to alter the course of this NPT failure. The nuclear club that five members barricaded for so long has been infiltrated. Israel, then India and Pakistan, made warheads long before last month. The May explosions are simply a brutal reminder that the industrial democracies who have so much to lose need to do more than posture. They can't kick the intruders out of the club. They can at best hope to persuade the unwelcome new members to get serious about defusing tensions and talking peace. They owe that to the human race.

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