War may not be nuclear

Nuclear Disarmament
September 28, 2001

The world is now focused on mass destruction by terrorists, but the nuclear arms of the cold war remain a danger. Compared with the heyday of the Ban the Bomb movement in the 1960s, public opinion seems not to register any threat from the large stockpiles of nuclear weapons. This allows for a cooler debate about the role of nuclear weapons, but gives little incentive for governments to embark on radical disarmament action. At one level, the official nuclear weapon states seem to have acknowledged their responsibilities to disarm. During last year's review of the non-proliferation treaty, the US, Russia, China, France and Britain agreed that their aim was to rid themselves of all their nuclear weapons. However, they did not propose a timetable.

Is the world safer since the end of the cold war? Certainly, the likelihood of an all-out war in which thousands of nuclear weapons are detonated is much diminished. Many of those nuclear weapons still exist, but the risk of an East-West conflict has virtually disappeared. Nuclear weapons may be used in a war between India and Pakistan, in a new Korean crisis, in a dispute over Taiwan, or by Israel fearing for its national survival. Indeed, all these possibilities are perhaps now more likely given the reduced risk of a consequent full-blown superpower nuclear exchange. This is the nature of the paradox. We can abhor the nature of the atomic bomb, but it is the sheer horror of its consequences that has prevented its use since 1945. While nuclear bombs and missiles exist, there will remain the danger that they might one day be used, or some terrible accident might happen. The question is how we get from the current reasonably stable security arrangement to a nuclear-free world without passing through a period of greater danger and instability.

Eighteen distinguished academics attack the problem from different directions in Jozef Goldblat's collection. There are many suggestions for practical steps to overcome real or perceived difficulties with disarmament. The book does not flow as a coherent template for action, yet there is some excellent material hidden away. Sverre Lodgaard presents a thoughtful argument for a step-by-step approach to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. He identifies the difficulties that arise in the end game when deep reductions in arsenals are proposed.

A section on regional issues deals with weapons of mass destruction from countries other than the big five. Yair Evron is allowed only a dozen pages to cover the Middle East, which is an area of major topical interest. He focuses on what his own country, Israel, might do towards reducing nuclear dangers, but is able to offer little more than a proposal for regional declarations of no first use of weapons of mass destruction. The linkage between Israel's nuclear capability and both the Iraqi and Iranian nuclear aspirations is explored by Sharam Chubin.

In trying to bring together the disparate thoughts of the contributors, Goldblat concludes with a list of measures that he believes would lead to a nuclear weapon-free world. He argues for the need for all nations to observe the non-proliferation treaty, even if, as in the case of India and Pakistan, their status cannot be properly defined under the treaty. Next he argues for a strengthening of the enforcement of the treaty, so that the UN can take action against potential proliferators. He also requires the cessation of all nuclear weapon tests. This requirement is largely met by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but oddly he does not mention that the US Congress has refused to ratify the treaty. He argues for a prohibition on attacking nuclear facilities such as power stations. Next he would seek a ban on the use of nuclear weapons, while admitting that this would have to grow from a ban on the first use of such armaments. Such a ban would lead to the abolition of tactical nuclear weapons. Then deep cuts in strategic systems would become possible for US and Russia. Control of missile technology is an important aspect of all this, and he proposes a further tightening of the current restrictions.

The reader is left with an appreciation of the very real difficulty in freeing the world from nuclear weapons. Recent US policy developments should have been covered. It may be that the new international cooperation being built up after the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York will help to promote nuclear disarmament. However, they may make the US even less willing to participate in arms control. Although the book has some pieces of specialist interest, it contributes too little to inform this public debate.

Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden is visiting professor, Centre for Defence Studies, King's College, London.

Nuclear Disarmament: Obstacles to Banishing the Bomb

Author - Jozef Goldblat
ISBN - 1 86064 576 3
Publisher - Tauris
Price - £35.00
Pages - 269

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