Nuclear free zones: a way out of the A-bomb dilemma

What can be done to avoid the dangers of the spread of nuclear weapons to more and more countries? a comprehensive test-ban treaty that prohibited all nuclear explosions in all environments, including underground, would be the single most important step towards halting the further proliferation of nuclear weapons by nuclear as well as by nonnuclear states. If a country cannot test new nuclear devices it is unlikely to produce them.

Unfortunately, however, none of the nuclear powers seem willing to stop all tests, although on the day that President Reagan announced his nonproliferation policy -- a policy that is neither new or sufficient -- the Soviet Union called on the United States and the United Kingdom to resume the stalled talks on a comprehensive test ban which would be underground tests. The United States is even less likely to agree to this at the present time than to resume the SALT talks.

There may, however, be another and more hopeful approach to the problem.

Nuclear-free zones can provide an effective guarantee that countries will not go nuclear and they may be more immediately feasible than a ban on all nuclear testing. The Treaty of Tlatelolco, which created the Latin- american Nuclear-Free Zone, and which President Reagan supported in his nonproliferation statement, established a legal structure that not only bans the acquisition of nuclear weapons by any country in the zone, but also bans the testing, production, or stationing of nuclear weapons in the area by any other country.

In addition, it provides a legal undertaking by all the nuclear powers to abide by the treaty and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any party to the treaty -- a pleadge that the nonnuclear parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have sought in vain. Finally, the control and inspection system of the Treaty of Tlatelolco goes far beyond that provided by the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency and, unlike the NPT, it applies equally to all parties without discrimination.

President Reagan in his statement referred to the "ominous events in the Middle East" as highlighting the urgency of the task of preventing nuclear proliferation.He was clearly right in doing so, since that area poses the greatest danger. Hence, it is not surprising that great interest was aroused when Israel, in 1980, decided to support the longstanding Egyptina proposal for a Middle East nuclear -free zone, and the resolution was unanimously approved by the United Nations General Assembly. Egypt has now proposed that a study be undertaken to exlore ways of establishing this zone. Israel has welcome the idea of the study and has itself proposed that if be "undertaken by qualified experts from Middle East States including Israel."

While there are very complex problems to be solved in getting the Arab states to agree to participate in such a study, the idea is certainly an attractive one that merits the support of all states. An impartial study carried out by independent experts who would explore all aspects of the problem could serve to promote the creation of such a zone. And a Middle East zone, like the Lating-American zone, could serve as a model for similar zones in other regions of the world.

It is against the interests not only of Egypt and Israel, but of every state in the Middle East and indeed of the world, if any state in that area goes nuclear. If any nation in the Middle East explodes a nuclear device, it would undoubtedly trigger an even more insane nuclear arms race than now exists among the nuclear powers. It would put the whole world in much greater peril of nuclear incineration than even the present dangerous situation.

All Middle East states have a common interest in ensuring their own survival. Is it too much to hope that they might put aside their deep political differences, temporarily, for the specific and limited purpose of undertaking a study on how to create a nuclear-free zone? By helping to reduce mutual fears and enhancing their security, the nuclear-free zone might also help them to overcome some of their intractable political problems.

There is no technical "fix" or export regulations or safeguards that can by themselves prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Only if the nuclear and nonnuclear powers face up to their responsibilities to halt the further proliferation of nuclear weapons is there any real or lasting hope that this objective can be achieved. In the past their efforts have always been too little and too late. A Middle East nuclear-free zone would be a very important step in the right direction.

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