For all its nuclear peril, the Cold War was in some ways a reassuring time. The enemy was clear, and so were America's choices, or at least it often seemed. So perhaps Congress can be forgiven for reverting to its Cold War reflexes when confronted with a sudden series of proliferation issues last spring. On May 11, India exploded several nuclear devices, becoming the first nation in three decades to declare itself a new member of the nuclear club. A few days later came the shocking allegation that two U.S. satellite companies, Loral Space & Communications and Hughes Electronics, had violated U.S. export restrictions by helping Beijing to improve its missile guidance systems -- and, presumably, the aim of a handful of Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles targeted at U.S. cities. Then on May 28, Pakistan set off its own nuclear tests, an event unconnected to the China controversy but one that seemed, nonetheless, to be insidiously linked. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, after all, made a point of thanking the Chinese for their technical help on the bomb.
Suddenly, a world long decompressed from the Cold War seemed to be back on the brink. Only this time, Dr. Strangelove had a Chinese face. On May 20, the House voted overwhelmingly to ban the sale and launching of U.S. satellites in China. After the Pakistani tests, Congress also approved a $2.5 million investigation of all technology transfers to China. America's national security, declared some politicians, was being sacrificed at the altar of commerce. Both Republicans and Democrats accused the Clinton administration of carelessly liberalizing high-tech trade with China -- encouraged, perhaps, by $1 million campaign donations from the likes of Loral chief Bernard L. Schwartz -- and engaging Beijing with a stream of deals that were helping to transform what is still a large developing nation into a 21st century superpower.
That, anyhow, was the perception. Despite the amicable Clinton-Jiang summit in late June, it is a perception that has endured. But the truth
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series