Courtesy Reuters

The possibility that additional nations, or even terrorists, might get nuclear weapons has been a cause of deep anxiety ever since the first atomic weapon was exploded in 1945. It has been the subject of one important treaty (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT) and more recently preventing proliferation was one of the central objectives of the Carter Administration, in an effort that generated intense controversy. Today an assessment of that effort is important because nuclear proliferation continues to be a most dangerous prospect in the coming decades-deserving of as much attention as the Soviet Union and the national security risks arising from dependence on foreign oil, as well as the basic economic problems of high inflation and low productivity.

The Reagan Administration clearly faces a legacy of unresolved proliferation problems. In several non-weapons states construction continues on facilities useful for producing weapons-grade material. And serious differences persist among the major

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  • Gerard C. Smith was Chief of the U.S. Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) from 1969 to 1972, and has recently published Doubletalk: The Story of SALT I. From 1977 to 1980 he was Ambassador at Large and Special Presidential Representative for nonproliferation matters. George W. Rathjens is a Professor of Political Science at MIT; he served as Ambassador Smith's deputy in 1979-80.
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