Critical Mass for Fewer Nukes

An old axiom of nuclear arms control goes like this: If you are a wolf in a wolf pack, it's difficult to be the first to turn into a sheep.

In other words, if you want to defang yourself, it's best to have others defang along with you.

That logic lies behind the joint affirmation by all five nuclear powers on the Security Council to make an "unequivocal undertaking" to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Such a statement is a first for the world's original nuclear "wolves" - the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China. It was made at a conference, which ended Saturday, designed to reset the global disarmament agenda among the 187 countries who have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The statement only commits the nuclear powers to try even harder to rid the world of the most dangerous weapon of mass destruction. No timetable was set to achieve this "ultimate goal." Still, it's a significant step toward rethinking global security and what makes nations feel safe.

Nuclear weapons helped end World War II and they were an effective deterrent during the cold war. But now too many nations have them or are building them. India and Pakistan crossed that line in 1998.

Nuclear weapons can be worthless against a terrorist using deadly biological or chemical agents, or against the "weapons of disruption," such as a cyberattack on a nation's computers. And as the US is discovering now, trying to dissuade North Korea from lobbing a nuclear-tipped missile at Alaska, will likely take more than a missile-defense system or the promise of nuclear retaliation.

Russia and the US are making progress in eliminating their nuclear warheads in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) talks. But without more-rapid disarmament among all nuclear powers, more nonnuclear states may just decide that they, too, deserve to have the Bomb.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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