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Defeat of the Test Ban Treaty and the Coup in Pakistan Marks the Path to Nuclear War



Oct. 13. 1999

LONDON- President Bill Clinton's inability to win enough Senate votes to win ratification of the American-sponsored Test Ban Treaty is one more milestone on the way to inevitable nuclear conflict. The fact that the decision to concede defeat was taken with the knowledge, following the coup in Pakistan, that a military regime, answerable to no civilian authority, is now in direct control of one country's nuclear weapons is but one more indication that U.S. congressional opinion is dangerously out of touch with the pace of world events. It sends a clear signal to the world at large that the U.S. is not committed to nuclear arms control, even when it works in its favour. America, we all know, is capable of reacting after a disaster, but it appears dangerously bereft of an instinctive, prescient wisdom that might preclude it.

The use of nuclear weapons remains unlikely between the U.S. and Russia, but today the chance of them being used in a war between Pakistan and India is even higher than it was earlier in the year when, during their fighting over Kashmir, it seemed to some observers they were playing with nuclear matches. There also remains the possibility of the use of a nuclear weapons in the Middle East or by mafia elements who may get their hands on material and knowledge from Russia's disintegrating nuclear weapons' laboratories.

Nuclear proliferation has now gone so far, and the window of opportunity that presented itself at the Cold War's end to take radical steps to wind back the nuclear clock has now all but closed, that it is difficult to argue with conviction that time is any longer on our side. What should have been done, as General George Lee Butler, formerly commander of U.S. Strategic (Nuclear) Forces, has argued, was for the U.S. to have seized, from its position of strength at Cold War's end, the moral high ground and to have led a crusade, which necessarily would have had to have many unilateral, self-denying, ingredients, to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Today I find that I have enormous sympathy for those, mainly on the right in America, who are pushing for the U.S. to build itself as quickly as possible a defensive shield that can stop an incoming missile from a rogue regime - though not a massive nuclear superpower attack- in its tracks.

The trouble, however, is not the instinctive desire for protection, it is the ability to secure it. That quite simply is an impossible quest. A missile shield will not help against a suitcase bomb parked in Grand Central Station. And if the U.S. cannot stop countless small boats and planes landing drugs on American soil, why does it think it can intercept the arrival of a nuclear bomb that could arrive just the same way?

It is, in fact, this awareness of the odds that persuaded General Butler to ask if "history will judge that the Cold war was a sort of Trojan Horse, whereby nuclear weapons were smuggled into the life of the world and made an acceptable part of the way it works?" We have been led, he says,"to think about the unthinkable, justify the unjustifiable and rationalise the irrational".

Yet for every General Butler who now sees the folly of the U.S. clinging to nuclear weapons, there is a Bill Clinton - a politician in power or about to be in power- who, while his brain says one thing does another. Nothing illustrates this more than Clinton's remark 15 months ago after Pakistan and India first tested their nuclear bombs, when he said,"I cannot believe that we are about to start the twenty first century by having the subcontinent repeat the worst mistakes of the twentieth when we know it is not necessary to peace, to security, to prosperity, to national greatness or national fulfilment".

But what has Mr Clinton done to reverse the American pysche that deeply believes for all the reasons he publically scorned that it is absolutely necesssary to hold on to its nuclear armoury, even after the end of the Cold War?

The Test Ban Treaty, once the idealistic dream of President John Kennedy was meant as a tool for stopping the nuclear arms race in its tracks. Forty years on, after labyrinth negociations, it has become, in its post Cold War text, not much more than a subterfuge for making it difficult for the new nuclear powers - India and Pakistan in particular - to develop the sophistication of their still relatively basic nuclear stockpile. Testing is absolutely necessary at this stage for minutarisation and nose-cone development, whereas the U.S. and the other established powers can maintain their commanding lead over everyone else by computor simulation.

The fact that the Senate Republicans have scuppered the treaty is nothing more than reflexive hostilty to the Democratic Administration. In real terms it penalises America by giving succour to those countries which want to go their own way.

Nuclear arms control and eventual disarmament, once the centre-piece of American foreign policy under presidents as diverse as Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and Reagan, have become the interest of a dwindling minority. Neither Clinton nor his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, have ever given the impression of being remotely interested in staking out a serious radical position and following it through with a sustained education of public opinion.

If it were not for the disintegration of the Russian nuclear armoury through lack of maintenance and replenishment we would have to conclude that the disarmament situation is all but stalled. The Second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 1993 remains unratified by the Russian Duma, a hostage first to the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms who took all the momentum out of it, and to the Russian communist and nationalist parliamentarians who, for their own reasons, took a cue from him.

To break this impasse is a must. A year ago senior Pentagon officials let it be known that they were prepared to advocate unilateral cuts in the American armoury, at least to match the de facto cuts in Russia. Again, because of pressure from Senator Helms and his colleagues the White House has refused to give a lead on this.

In normal times one would expect the coup in Pakistan to wake up those who somehow think the nuclear status quo is liveable with. But such is the degree of partisan fervour in the U.S., rational thinking comes second to dangerous schizophrenia. Nuclear weapons always were and now are more than ever the world's greatest threat. We missed nuclear war by a hair's breadth not once in the Cold War, but at least half a dozen times. Today the odds are even worst. And the American president and U.S. Senate, each in their own way oblivious to their responsibility, only think about impossible schemes for protecting America from Armageddon.


Copyright © 1999 By JONATHAN POWER


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