A Blind Eye to Nuclear Proliferation

Courtesy Reuters

President George Bush has taken office at a time of new challenges in world affairs. The thaw in relations with the Soviet Union provides a basis from which to pursue a further de-escalation of tensions between the world's two greatest military powers, and the opportunity to address some of the other urgent issues that confront the United States and the Soviet Union. One of the most important problems is that of nuclear proliferation-an issue that was both masked by the global tensions of the early 1980s and exacerbated by them.

As the United States and the Soviet Union put their relationship on a somewhat more even keel, the U.S. government should undertake a fresh assessment of the status of the worldwide nonproliferation effort. This assessment should include a sober reevaluation of America's contribution to that effort. To be sure, our country has much to be proud of. Most recently, in March 1988, U.S. pressure resulted in Taiwan's agreeing to dismantle a nuclear program of potential military significance. But the decisions successive presidents have made in other critical instances have undermined rather than strengthened the worldwide nonproliferation regime, which is based on the twin pillars of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Of all the nuclear weapons states, the United States has not been the only, or even probably the most egregious, offender against this regime. The United States, however, has adopted a frequently permissive attitude toward two nuclear "maverick" states in particular-Israel and Pakistan. This attitude has allowed both states to reach or cross the threshold of nuclear weapons possession. It has had a significant ripple effect in eroding the credibility of the NPT regime, since other potential proliferators can point to U.S. laxness, and it has eroded the credibility of publicly stated U.S. nonproliferation commitments. American permissiveness toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons by its friends acts against its own best interests and should be stopped.

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