Dampen nuclear dangers in India and Pakistan

On Sept. 11, terrorism revealed itself as a central enemy of world civilization, capable of using mass destruction to gain its ends. Thus, an important part of the global antiterrorism effort must be to keep nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive material out of the hands of terrorist organizations, rogue states, and violent subnational groups.

As bad as the anthrax scares have been, there is no Cipro for nuclear weapons. The world's principal defense against nuclear terrorism is a strong Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. The treaty entered into force in 1970, and for nearly 30 years, no new nuclear weapon state (beyond the original five, the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia) was declared. Virtually all of the world's states, now 182, have joined as nonnuclear weapon states.

However, the cause of nuclear nonproliferation was dealt a grave blow in 1998, when India and Pakistan - treaty holdouts long considered to be so-called "threshold" nuclear states - conducted a series of nuclear-weapon tests and declared themselves nuclear-weapon states. Since then, tension on the subcontinent has only grown.

These two nuclear states pose twin risks: First, there could be a war on the subcontinent involving nuclear weapons, killing millions. And second, in a domino effect, nuclear weapons could proliferate around the world, rendering it impossible to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

Does anyone doubt that if the Taliban got hold of several nuclear weapons, they and their associates in the Al Qaeda network would use them against large cities? The recent assertion by Osama bin Laden that he has nuclear weapons is probably not true, but this is a longer-term threat that we must not ignore.

No one was more dismayed by the irresponsible acts of India and Pakistan in conducting nuclear weapon tests in 1998 than we were. Nor was anyone more supportive of the countermeasures taken by the NPT community. However, the world community can't go on like this. The situation has simply become too dangerous.

Since the war on terrorism began in earnest Oct. 7, pressure has been building on Pakistan, creating a risk of destabilization accompanied by the threat that Taliban sympathizers might try to steal Pakistani nuclear weapons or materials. Equally threatening is the possibility that the crisis could spiral into a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The announcement that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal was dispatched to more secure, secret locations is reassuring, but only a temporary solution.

Some way must be found to associate India and Pakistan with the NPT regime. Since as a practical matter neither of these states is prepared, under the current circumstances, to eliminate its nuclear weapons program, NPT membership as nonnuclear-weapons states is not possible. Nor can they be NPT nuclear weapons states, as this would require the treaty to be amended, which would risk further unraveling of the regime.

Another alternative would be to establish some kind of associate membership with the NPT regime by means of a freestanding separate agreement or protocol. Such a separate protocol could permit India and Pakistan to retain their programs, but inhibit further development. The protocol could also contain provisions controlling nuclear exports and prohibiting testing, as well as other provisions either in the NPT or associated with it.

As a result of these commitments, India and Pakistan would have a settlement of the nuclear issue with the world community and an acknowledgment of their status through association with the NPT regime. To symbolize this, the protocol could be signed by India and Pakistan as well as the NPT Depository States (the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia, which, since the 1960s, have been considered the general managers of the NPT regime).

But for this to be practical, the five nuclear-weapon states would have to strengthen the NPT regime. Measures would include significant reductions in nuclear stockpiles and strengthening existing test moratoriums pending the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban. Weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East would also have to be addressed.

This is only a concept. It would not be an ideal solution, and would be difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, given today's high level of risk, which could become worse, we recommend that the United States, working with its treaty partners, consider this option in the interests of world security.

Rose Gottemoeller is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. is president of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security.

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