Ensuring Stability in the Pacific

IN the afterglow of the recently concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings and the North American Free Trade Agreement, a new era of increased trade and economic growth is dawning. But the vision of Pacific prosperity is impossible to realize unless a foundation of peace and stability can be ensured. For half a century, the United States has provided this crucial element of security in the Asia-Pacific region, directly aiding the dynamic growth of Asia's economies. The US should build on this legacy by supporting the security arrangements necessary for economic prosperity.

Nuclear proliferation is a major threat to Pacific and US security, as exemplified by the crisis over North Korea. The Clinton administration has urged the indefinite renewal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and negotiation of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. To bolster US nonproliferation policy, the president also should build support for nuclear-weapon-free zones and join the existing nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific.

Eleven Pacific island nations are members of the Rarotonga Treaty, establishing the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone (SPNFZ), which bans the testing, stationing, or use of nuclear weapons in the zone. The treaty, a symbol for the peoples of the South Pacific, expresses their trepidation over nuclear weapons and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust in the region. With France and the US having detonated more than 100 nuclear bombs in the South Pacific, the nations there have gained a firsthand appreciation of the hazards of nuclear weapons.

Since the treaty took effect, the island nations have eagerly sought US support for a nuclear-weapon-free South Pacific. By refusing to sign the treaty, the US is increasingly perceived as indifferent to the aspirations and concerns of its South Pacific allies - many of whom fought at our side during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and supported America in the cold war. Ironically, Russia and China have signed the treaty.

The treaty would advance US nonproliferation objectives without undermining US security policy in the South Pacific, as past administrations have conceded when testifying before Congress. It was carefully drafted to accommodate US interests, including our policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on US warships or aircraft; and it protects free transit through the zone by US vessels and planes carrying nuclear weapons.

The US already supports nuclear-weapon-free zones around the world, and has signed treaties prohibiting nuclear weapons in Latin America, the Antarctic, the ocean floor, and outer space. Furthermore, the US supports creating nuclear-weapon-free zones in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. With the end of the cold war, justification for much of America's reluctance to join the SPNFZ has evaporated. The Soviet nuclear threat in the Pacific no longer exists. Instead, the US and Russia are committed to deep reductions in their nuclear arsenals, the US has removed tactical nuclear weapons from its surface fleet, and all nuclear-weapon states except China are observing a nuclear-testing moratorium.

If the US is serious about promoting nonproliferation and free trade, then it should make use of nuclear-weapon-free zones that enhance the security that makes economic prosperity possible. Signing the Rarotonga Treaty would be an important step toward realizing the promise of a secure and prosperous ``New Pacific Community.''

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