Courtesy Reuters

Risks of Nuclear Proliferation


When the Chinese People's Republic exploded an atomic bomb last October, it opened a new and dangerous phase in the atomic era. It is true that this original test-like the one that followed in May-had no immediate military significance, but it had considerable political and psychological impact- though less than had been expected. It is as a portent of the future that the mushroom cloud over West China has crucial importance for the peace and security of the world. All previous atomic testing has been carried out by industrial powers of the Occident; Communist China is non-Western, non- white and only semi-industrialized. The government in Peking is, by its own declarations, more revolutionary than that of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the Chinese Communist Party is strongly nationalistic and ambitious. To support its foreign policy objectives, Communist China already possesses the largest, though certainly not the best equipped, conventional armed forces in the world. Now it is placing the highest priority on the development of a nuclear capability.

That the long delayed explosion had less effect than specialists had anticipated was due in part to foreign "discounting" and to a growing understanding of the vital difference between initial nuclear tests and a developed atomic capability. The United States and other nations warned of the approaching test and it proved to be poorly timed from a propaganda standpoint. Peking probably hoped to set off its first explosion on October 1, to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the régime; if so, the plan was frustrated by weather or technical difficulties. When Peking finally broadcast the momentous news on October 16, the announcement was forced to share headlines with the unexpected purge of Khrushchev, as well as with the British elections, the U. S. political campaign and even the Olympic Games. Finally, the fact that radioactive fallout was not sufficient seriously to endanger human health abroad may have moderated foreign reactions.

The second test explosion, which came on May 14, had been

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