THE recent United States decision to stop producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear bombmaking has been heralded by the Bush administration as a "comprehensive initiative" aimed at stopping the worldwide spread of nuclear weapons. In fact the US has not manufactured weapon-grade uranium for almost 30 years nor produced plutonium since 1988.
Instead of acclaiming this prosaic policy, President Bush should announce far-reaching steps designed to strengthen the nuclear-nonproliferation regime.
His first step should be to join Russia and France in declaring a temporary halt to nuclear testing. This year the House and Senate have voted to enact limited test bans, but the Bush administration threatens to veto this legislation.
Continuing to test when other nuclear powers are not places the US at odds with its commitment in the preamble of the 1968 nuclear-nonproliferation treaty (NPT) to work toward the elimination of all nuclear test explosions. This agreement is the cornerstone of international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and US intransigence on the nuclear-testing issue may undermine efforts to extend the duration of the treaty and expand its number of signatories.
Nonnuclear nations at the last NPT review conference blocked international proliferation progress because of the continuation of nuclear testing. Now reports are circulating that at least one incipient nuclear nation, India, will resist future regional security negotiations unless there is a testing cessation. Announcing a temporary test ban could be the catalyst necessary to head off the brewing nuclear-arms race between India and Pakistan and perhaps even deter the development of nuclear weapons in the
Middle East. These are future security challenges far greater than those driving the requirements for continued nuclear testing.
While the spread of nuclear weapons is the top proliferation priority, how those weapons could be delivered is a close secondary concern. Despite the publicity focused on the dangers of ballistic-missile delivery systems, it seems that future nuclear challenges to the US and its interests are more likely to come by aircraft. Therefore, the president should make a commitment to actively seek restrictions on the international sale of advanced conventional weapons, especially modern attack aircraft.
A recent report from the House Intelligence Committee clearly outlines this emerging threat. It states that while ballistic missiles "have been viewed as the system of choice in delivering special weapons ... improvement in aircraft ... heightens the risk that they will become an attractive alternative to missiles."
Hundreds of nuclear-capable combat aircraft have been sold to the third world in the last decade. Also, the draw-down of defense budgets in the US and Europe makes additional overseas sales a very attractive means of keeping production lines open and defense workers employed.
Just last week the Bush administration reversed a decade-long policy and agreed to sell 150 F-16 fighters to Taiwan in order to save thousands of jobs in Texas and Connecticut. Similarly, it is widely expected that the administration soon will cave in to the intense pressure to approve the controversial sale of an additional 72 F-15 jets to Saudi Arabia in order to assist Missouri's defense workers.
However, adopting a business as usual approach on this important issue may not be in our long-term security interests. Therefore, instead of standing idle, our nation should spearhead a multinational effort to limit or end such sales.
Worldwide security could also be enhanced if the Bush administration would end its double standard on punishing proliferators. While chastising Iraq, the president is charitable toward Pakistan and China - nations which have developed dangerous military programs and practices that exceed those of Iraq.
Pakistan is strongly suspected of having a nuclear weapon and therefore is banned by law from receiving any US military aid and technology. Yet the administration has allowed Pakistan to purchase US military equipment, possibly including spare parts for its potentially nuclear-capable F-16s. Similarly, Mr. Bush insists on bestowing most-favored-nation trading status to China while this communist country exports dual-use nuclear technologies and sells ballistic missiles indiscriminately.
Finally, the president should state his support for more comprehensive nuclear-export controls such as those contained in the House-passed Export Administration Act (EAA). The administration has taken some steps to crack down on the export of nuclear technologies, but there are still lethal loopholes through which highly specialized technologies useful in developing nuclear weapons can flow. But again, the Bush administration threatens to veto the legislation if these provisions are included.
The demise of superpower military competition has transformed the international security environment. This new world demands revitalized approaches to the perils posed by nuclear proliferation and the sale of sophisticated weapons. If the US is to take the lead in reducing or eliminating this proliferation threat, which CIA Director Robert Gates says is of "gravest concern," we will need more than the repackaged status quo that the administration seems to be trying to sell.