FRANCE'S tricolor flag will soon be flying alongside those of the 140 nations that already support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to a June 3 announcement by President Francois Mitterand. This promises to put an end to the ambivalence France has shown to the treaty since it was concluded in 1968, and help bring other holdout states into the NPT mainstream. For more than 40 years, the world's two superpowers were engaged in a competition to multiply their own nuclear arsenals - resulting in massive "vertical" proliferation of nuclear weapons. But now, United States-Soviet relations are taking a less confrontational course. So elimination of the world's nuclear arsenals can form a realistic part of our planning for global security. Strengthening the NPT is an essential part of this effort.
The NPT was designed in the 1960s as a compact between states that were declared nuclear-weapons states and those that were not. The nuclear "haves" agreed not to assist non-weapons states to acquire nuclear weapons, but promised them access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Non-weapons signatories undertook not to develop nuclear weapons in the future, and agreed to place all civilian nuclear facilities under a mechanism of inspection "safeguards."
The nuclear "haves" also undertook, in the treaty's oft-quoted Article VI, to pursue negotiations "in good faith" on speedy cessation of the nuclear arms race, on nuclear disarmament, and on "a treaty on general and complete disarmament."
Despite the superpowers' tardiness in fulfilling this undertaking, the NPT won wide support among non-weapons states. As President Bush has noted, it has played a central role in a global non-proliferation effort that has limited the "horizontal" spread of nuclear weapons. But that effort has not been totally successful. A small number of states in the developing world remain outside the NPT. These include China (which has said it will abide by the terms of the NPT), South Africa, India, Pakistan, and I s
Two of these NPT holdouts were recipients of American aid during the 1980s. Pakistan's aid was cut off last fall because President Bush was unable to certify that Pakistan had no nuclear weapons. In the case of Israel, US commitment to the global non-proliferation effort has been less evident. Congress crafted the laws that linked aid to Pakistan with Pakistan's performance on non-proliferation so that they would not apply to Israel's more sophisticated nuclear-weapons activities.
In the Mideast arms control initiative that he announced May 29, Bush called on all the states of the region that have not done so to accede to the NPT. He also called on governments in the Mideast to place their nuclear facilities under the international safeguards regime. The major target of such concern is Israel's Dimona center, where facilities that have produced enough fissile material for a stockpile of 50 to 100 nuclear warheads continue to produce even more.
Putting Dimona under standard safeguards would presumably cap the amount of fissile material held in Israel's nuclear-weapons stockpile. This measure could thus be a helpful first step. Egypt and most other key Arab governments have indicated that they would view safeguarding Dimona as a significant confidence-building step that could reduce the need for chemical-weapons counters to Israel's formidable nuclear capabilities.
Bush deserves support in his efforts to bring Israel and other holdout states into the NPT mainstream. He proposes a realistic, stepped agenda in his attempt to bring Israel in. If Israel and the other holdouts follow France into the NPT, the treaty can fulfill its goal of providing a universal framework. Then, when the treaty's current term runs out in 1995, we can focus our attention on renewing it in even stronger terms.