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.

The NPT is due to come up for reconsideration in 1995. It is our guess that the American people would strongly support the continued existence of either the present treaty or of something even more effective. Now is the best time to evaluate the effect that U.S. actions have had on the existing regime, so that its contribution to the international discussions leading up to the 1995 review may be credible and effective.

There is a second, related issue-chemical weapons. Much attention has been paid in recent months to efforts to stuff back into its bottle the evil genie of this other horrific means of population destruction. These efforts are most timely, given the signs of "usefulness" that these weapons acquired when employed by Iraq in its successful 1988 battles against Iran. However, the publicity given to attempts to restrain the chemical danger should not obscure the need to press forward with continued efforts on the nuclear proliferation front.

It is clear that nuclear proliferation poses a threat to human existence far greater than that posed by the spread of chemical weapons. One has only to compare the immediate effects on global stability of the use of nuclear weapons by any state, anywhere, with those that ensued from Iraq's use of chemical weapons, to see that this is so.


Since 1945 a major aim of American policy has been to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. After the failure of a radical operation, the Baruch plan of 1946, U.S. efforts became more modest-and realistic. Their main international elements included: a United Nations specialized agency, to promote and watch over civilian uses of nuclear energy and to alert the world if such facilities were being militarized; the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, which bans nuclear weapons in most nations and includes promises from the superpowers to get on with disarmament; and an agreement among major supplier states (known as the London Suppliers Agreement of 1976) to constrain exports of any nuclear materials or technology that have military potential.

The IAEA, an independent United Nations agency, was founded in 1957. It currently has 112 member states working "to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health, and prosperity throughout the world, and to ensure so far as it is able that assistance provided by it, or at its request, or under its supervision or control, is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose."

IAEA safeguarding has proven effective where civilian nuclear technology was exported to non-weapons states. But it has not proven as relevant in cases involving key nations suspected of harboring an intention to make nuclear weapons; these nations acquired their weapons-grade nuclear material primarily from facilities that they built especially for military purposes, rather than by diverting it from civilian facilities. The agency's effectiveness has been further reduced by the refusal of a number of its members to accept its safeguards comprehensively (the so-called full scope safeguards), as well as by political quarrels among its members.

In 1982 the United States withdrew from the IAEA to protest the politicization of the agency when it rejected Israel's membership credentials. (The IAEA majority was protesting Israel's 1981 bombing of a key, safeguarded nuclear installation in an NPT-member country, Iraq.) Ironically, one effect of the U.S. action was to escalate the politicization of the agency, further hampering its effectiveness until the issue was resolved by a 1985 promise from Israel that it would not attack peaceful nuclear facilities in other countries. This episode sent a strong signal, disturbing to many of America's friends and allies, that the United States put its friendship with Israel ahead of its fidelity to the nonproliferation regime.

The London Suppliers Agreement has been only partially effective in restraining dangerous nuclear trade. The agreement does not require that exports be conditioned on the importing countries' submitting all of their nuclear facilities to international safeguards; in addition, some nations capable of supplying nuclear technology are not members of this group. Export policies pursued by the major suppliers have become somewhat tighter than those of earlier decades, but smuggling still poses a major threat to the nonproliferation effort.

The Nonproliferation Treaty provides the general legal framework for the international effort. The 135 member states that forswore nuclear weapons have thus far kept their promises. But the treaty's effectiveness has been limited because a number of important nations have refused to sign and ratify it. Two of those countries-France and China-are acknowledged nuclear weapons states: both have played a role at various times in sharing nuclear expertise with non-weapons states. (France is a member of the London Suppliers' group. China is not, but in 1984 it pledged to apply IAEA safeguards to future nuclear exports.) Two other non-signatories of the NPT are the nuclear "mavericks," Pakistan and Israel. Four other non-NPT nations-Argentina, Brazil, India and South Africa-are also working toward nuclear weapons possession, if they do not already have them.

Three states that have demonstrated their nuclear weapons status adhere to the NPT: the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. By doing so, these states have also committed themselves to disarmament, as a complement to the promises from non-weapons signatories to forswear nuclear weapons possession. The failure of the superpowers to achieve more than a token fulfillment of this commitment has damaged the treaty's credibility. The 1987 treaty banning intermediate-range missiles is but a first small step toward remedying this situation.

For these reasons, the global nonproliferation regime has not proven as successful as originally hoped. Nuclear arms are now produced in countries that, when the NPT was established in 1968, were non-weapons states.

But unfortunately, there remains a widespread public perception in the United States that this nuclear problem no longer needs priority attention. For example, the report prepared by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford for the new administration did not even mention proliferation as an urgent arms control problem.

Why does this complacency persist?

One answer is that earlier predictions that many nations would soon possess nuclear weapons proved excessively alarmist. We should take some satisfaction that those dire predictions did not prove true, but this partial easement should not blind us to the very real problems that remain.

American policy has been on a slippery slope for decades. We started with the aim of preventing additional states from developing weapons. Now, we tolerate several national weapons programs that are undeclared and have not surfaced through nuclear tests. The United States has compromised its policy by acquiescing in foreign weapons programs having an ambiguous status. This is the prime reason why our policy is failing. The pressing problem now is how to contain and reverse the weapons spread that has already occurred. For this task, wider knowledge about nuclear proliferation is essential.


We turn first to Pakistan, whose commitment to the acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability dates back to 1971. That year, India's intervention in the dispute between East and West Pakistan enabled East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to secede. Humiliated by this defeat, and fearful of the strategic implications of India's nuclear program, the Pakistani government under Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto decided to develop its own nuclear weapons capability. (Ironically, India's own decision to develop a nuclear weapons option had similarly been spurred by a military defeat, at the hands of China, nine years earlier. Thus, in the absence of an effective nonproliferation regime, the incentives to acquire nuclear weapons have increased. None of these three states was or is a member of the NPT.)

Pakistan, until recently, denied that it had anything other than a civilian nuclear program. Finally, in July 1988, General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq admitted to ambiguity in the program's actual capabilities, saying that the ambiguities concerning both Pakistan's and India's nuclear capabilities were "good enough to create an impression of deterrence."

The facts, by contrast, allow of little ambiguity. As early as 1976 the U.S. administration was seriously concerned over a Pakistani agreement in which a French firm would build a plant to produce the nuclear explosive material, plutonium. Though this plant was due to be placed under IAEA safeguards, the French were persuaded of the seriousness of U.S. concern and in August 1977 agreed to suspend the contract. The following month the United States underscored its continuing concern by cutting off economic and military aid to Islamabad. It was restored one year later.

With its plans to produce plutonium stymied, Pakistan decided to follow an alternative route of constructing its own gas-centrifuge uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta, using design data obtained from a Pakistani working in the Netherlands. In May 1979 the United States again terminated economic and military aid to Pakistan under the terms of the Symington Amendment of 1976, which barred aid to non-nuclear weapons countries that imported unsafeguarded enrichment technology. After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, however, President Carter offered aid to General Zia to the tune of $400 million. Zia rejected it as too little, but he later accepted an offer from President Ronald Reagan for a six-year, $3.2-billion aid package.

When approving this package in 1981, Congress granted Pakistan a six-year waiver from the provisions of the Symington Amendment. The administration's request for this waiver, and Congress' approval of it, constituted tacit acceptance from both branches of government that the Pakistani program was indeed a threat to the nonproliferation regime. But these acts also stressed the decision of both branches to set aside this consideration in pursuit of a campaign to counter the Soviet presence in Afghanistan.

In 1984, as the Pakistani program progressed, President Reagan advised General Zia of his deep concern and of the "grave consequences" that would follow if uranium were enriched above a safe level of five percent. (Nuclear weapons normally require 90-percent enriched uranium, though some modern designs can reportedly function at lower levels.) Zia promised Mr. Reagan that this would not happen. It did.

By the fall of 1986 an authoritative U.S. intelligence estimate concluded that Pakistan had produced weapons-grade material at the Kahuta facility. U.S. officials have estimated that production rates at Kahuta since then have been sufficient to produce two or three warheads each year. Meanwhile a considerable amount of evidence has surfaced to indicate that Pakistan has sought to expand its uranium enrichment capacity.

Nevertheless, President Reagan continued to certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device-a certification required annually under the 1985 Foreign Assistance Act before any further U.S. aid can be disbursed. In December 1987 Congress approved a measure authorizing an additional $480 million in aid to Pakistan and waiving the application of the Symington Amendment for another two-and-a-half years. They did so at the urging of Secretary of State George Shultz, but against the advice of the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Kenneth Adelman, who reportedly argued that the United States should send a firm message to other would-be proliferators. His reservations were shared by Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio) and Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), but not by a majority of the legislative branch.1

By their actions during the years since December 1979, the congressional majority and the two successive administrations all evinced a fundamentally permissive attitude toward Pakistan's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Throughout that decade, the Carter and Reagan Administrations and their counterparts on Capitol Hill decided that rolling back the Soviet presence in Afghanistan superceded the U.S. interest in preventing nuclear proliferation. They did this even though there was little or no public debate over the relative value of these two goals. And they did so without being seriously required to demonstrate why both goals could not be pursued simultaneously. As Solarz and Glenn reportedly argued, Zia had his own strong interest in supporting the Afghan policy, in any case.

And while the two branches of government deliberately and visibly subordinated nonproliferation policy to Afghan policy, Pakistan was sliding over the threshold of nuclear weapons possession.


Israel is another nuclear proliferator. Moreover, just as in the case of Pakistan, both Congress and the executive branch have permitted or at least condoned its acquisition of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the Israelis blazed a trail for the Pakistanis in finessing some of the trickier political questions involved in pushing forward an active program of nuclear armament while continuing to receive U.S. foreign aid. In December 1981, for example, Solarz and the late Jonathan Bingham (D-N.Y.) proposed a measure that would automatically cut off aid to any nation manufacturing nuclear arms. That measure was originally designed to strengthen the controls associated with the aid package being discussed for Pakistan. But the two legislators were warned by a high-level State Department official that it might result in an aid cutoff for Israel. The measure was quickly withdrawn.2

According to published accounts, it was toward the end of the Suez crisis of 1956 that the Israelis received from the French the commitments they needed to help them launch a nuclear weapons program.3 The crucial period in which the Israelis crossed the threshold of weapons possession came in the 1960s.4 During the latter years of that decade, Israel also started to receive significant amounts of U.S. military aid.

Successive Israeli governments have adhered to a public formula that they would not be the first to "introduce" nuclear weapons into the Middle East. In 1968 Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel's ambassador to Washington (and currently defense minister), spelled out that this meant Israel would not be the first to test such weapons or to reveal their existence publicly. He notably did not state that it meant that Israel did not possess nuclear weapons.5 In 1981, after Israel used some of its newly acquired American F-16 jets to bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor, Prime Minister Menachem Begin added to the standard formula an enigmatic rider: Israel would also not be the second state to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Since late 1986 Israeli leaders have discarded some of the remaining ambiguity from their posture. With respect to the Arab states' growing ballistic missile capability, Rabin warned in April 1988 that "we also have the ability to attack their populated areas to a degree that outstrips theirs many times over."6

What is known about the Israeli program and what is the record of the U.S. government in responding to it?

In the early years of their program the Israelis received much help from the French, who at that stage were still developing their own nuclear capabilities. The French supplied the Israelis with a reactor, located near the town of Dimona, constructed with a concealed underground work space.

A secret plutonium-extraction plant was due to be installed, but there was disagreement within the French government over this part of the project, so work proceeded only fitfully. By 1965, however, according to the authoritative account of French writer Pierre Péan, the Israelis were able to conduct their first plutonium-extraction tests at the underground facility. By 1966 or 1967 they had acquired enough plutonium for their first nuclear weapon.7

In December 1960 U.S. intelligence discovered that the facility the French were constructing near Dimona was not, as Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had described it, a textile plant, but a nuclear reactor. Ben-Gurion admitted that fact, but promised that Israel intended to use it solely for peaceful purposes. He agreed to allow scientists from friendly countries to pay periodic visits to the reactor, and the following May American scientists made the first such visit. But this visit, and those that followed it, were all tightly controlled by the Israelis: in no way did they constitute rigorous on-site inspections, and in 1969 the Nixon Administration decided to discontinue them. The visitors never gained any knowledge of the secret plutonium plant throughout those years.

In 1968 the CIA's Division of Science and Technology produced a report to the effect that Israel possessed a nuclear weapons capability, but it is alleged that President Lyndon Johnson instructed the Central Intelligence Agency not to pass on this information-even to his secretaries of state and defense.8 That same year the Israelis were pressing hard for the Johnson Administration to supply them with their first delivery of F-4 Phantom jets, capable of carrying high explosives-or nuclear weapons. The secretaries of state and defense, Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara, were urging President Johnson that, if he acceded to the Israeli request, Israel should be asked in return to adhere to the NPT. This step would have forced Israel to open up all its nuclear facilities to international inspection, and thus might have stopped the plutonium production program in its tracks-or at least, slowed it down considerably.

In that election year, however, there was growing political pressure on Johnson to supply the F-4s to Israel with no such condition attached. In July the Senate passed a resolution supporting the F-4 delivery and in October Johnson announced that it would proceed.9 His administration made no subsequent public mention of persuading Israel to sign the NPT. This 1968 decision to place the arming of Israel ahead of the interest of nonproliferation laid the basis for the subsequent policy of U.S. permissiveness toward the Israeli program. (If the intention was political, it was not, in the end, effective in saving the campaign of Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey from defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon.)

Over the years that followed, the CIA repeatedly produced reports that appeared to chart Israel's nuclear progress, briefing them in secret to the leaders in successive administrations and on Capitol Hill. However, no "punitive" action was taken against Israel.10

The post-1967 period, when the U.S. government first decided to turn a determinedly blind eye to the evidence of Israel's nuclear program gathered by its own intelligence agencies, coincided with a period when the United States was increasingly coming to view its relationship with Israel in strategic terms, rather than-as previously-as a primarily moral commitment. During the Carter Administration there was some moderation of this trend to view Israel through the prism of its strategic usefulness. But the "strategic" trend once again became dominant after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.

When Jimmy Carter entered the White House in 1977, his administration laid great public stress on its opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons. However, a high official in his administration, Under Secretary of State Lucy Benson, was the first U.S. official to hint publicly that under certain conditions the administration might tolerate not merely Israel's possession of nuclear weapons, but possibly even its demonstration of the same in a test.

In what was clearly a reference to Israel, Benson told a congressional hearing, "There could easily be times when, regardless of what a country did, we might want to go ahead with military assistance for other quite separate reasons." Senator John Glenn asked, "Do you mean even if it set off a nuclear explosion?" Benson replied, "Yes, I could see how that might happen . . ." Glenn then agreed with the under secretary that "in a situation like that the President should have some flexibility."11

The pattern of congressional encouragement of the administration's permissiveness toward Israeli nuclearization continued over the following years. In 1979 the Senate rejected, by a vote of 76 to six, an amendment that would have conditioned the special aid package that Israel received after the conclusion of the peace treaty with Egypt on Israel's signing the NPT. In 1981, as noted above, Congressmen Solarz and Bingham withdrew their provision that aid should be cut off from any country found to be developing nuclear weapons, after realizing that this might include Israel.

Meanwhile nuclear weapons production in Israel was continuing, taking advantage of nuclear materials and other essential items whose illegal acquisition from the United States was reported over the years.12 In late 1986 a former technician at Dimona, Mordechai Vanunu, leaked to the London Sunday Times photographs and a wealth of technical details concerning the work at Dimona.13 Vanunu, whose motivations for going public apparently included a pacifist critique of the morality of nuclear weapons production, confirmed publicly for the first time the presence of the plutonium-extraction plant. From the figures supplied, nuclear experts calculated that Israel then had enough plutonium for 100-200 warheads. U.S. experts, using the same figures, would calculate only that the flow-rates mentioned by Vanunu might have allowed Israel to stockpile 50-60 warheads by 1986. But even that range, and the other details Vanunu supplied, indicated that the Israeli program was much further advanced than had been originally thought. However, no voices were heard from either the U.S. administration or Congress calling for any reaction to these startling disclosures.

The Israeli secret services confirmed the importance of Vanunu's evidence when they managed to lure him into their custody and prevent him from releasing more information. He was tried in a closed Israeli court on charges of espionage and is currently serving an 18-year prison term. The other noteworthy part of the Israeli reaction was that, even while Israeli officials tried to deny the truth of Vanunu's revelations, they also sought to make the best use possible of them, in order to strip away a few more layers of the ambiguity in which they had veiled their deterrent capability.

If Vanunu is to be believed, during the 1980s Israel was able to move from fission weapons to some form of potentially far more destructive fusion weapons. Work on potential delivery systems also continued throughout the decade. In the mid-1980s the Israelis reportedly emplaced their nuclear-capable Jericho-2 missiles in hardened silos. In September 1988 they displayed yet another increase in their delivery capabilities when they mounted their first satellite launch: a locally developed three-stage launch vehicle successfully boosted the Israeli-built "Offeq-1" (Horizon-1) satellite into orbit for an experimental journey that lasted slightly longer than the one month planned.

That launch had two important strategic implications. It meant that Israel might be able in the future to maintain a satellite-reconnaissance capability over a potential Mideastern battlefield, reducing its reliance on both ground-based listening posts and American information. It also meant that Israel had the launch capacity to deliver a warhead of limited size anywhere on the globe. The launch came only days before the United States was to begin its first round of discussions with the Soviet Union on the proliferation of missile technology in the Third World. But U.S. officials did not-as some Israelis feared they might-express any chagrin at Israel's display of its capacities in this regard.14

The Israeli advances of the 1980s came during a period when the U.S. administration once again viewed Israel in a strongly "strategic" light. The Reagan Administration's first attempt to conclude a formal U.S.-Israeli agreement on strategic cooperation came to naught in December 1981, but by the fall of 1983 a follow-up agreement was in place that provided the basis for strengthened strategic links over the years. Many of these links were in the field of conventional war-fighting capabilities. But in 1986 Israel became the third foreign country to join the United States in conducting research on the Strategic Defense Initiative: Israel's role has been in the field of antitactical ballistic missile systems. Many of the technologies involved in the ATBM program have direct relevance for Israel's own offensive missile programs.

One bitter by-product of the long-standing American permissiveness toward Israel's nuclear policy has meanwhile been to increase the incentive for other Mideastern states, which feel threatened by Israel's nuclear capability, to develop their own form of deterrent. In most cases, this deterrent has taken the form of chemical weapons, though there have been periodic reports of Arab states seeking a nuclear capability as well. These developments have only decreased the overall level of security in the Middle East, which remains a region vital to U.S. national interests.


What are the arguments for and against the United States' taking effective action in cases of nuclear proliferation like those of Pakistan and Israel?

Three types of arguments are made against adopting a firm position. The first is that other strategic interests may be accorded greater priority in American foreign policy than that of blocking the spread of nuclear weapons. In the case of Pakistan, both Congress and the Carter and Reagan administrations subordinated the interest of nonproliferation to that of hampering Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. And in the case of Israel, the interest of nonproliferation was subordinated to that of arming a friendly state surrounded by hostile neighbors.

A second argument is that, given the difficulties involved in achieving success in certain cases, it may be wiser not to be seen even to be trying, since too public a failure might undermine the nonproliferation regime.

This argument reveals a fundamental pessimism concerning the result of a test of wills on this issue between the United States and, say, Israel or any other determined proliferator. In many cases, however, a firm U.S. definition of nuclear redlines has proven successful, for example, with regard to Taiwan and South Korea. So the pessimistic mind-set is not universally applied.

In addition, when our government is permissive in early stages of proliferation, the political cost of protesting at later stages is much higher than if the U.S. position had been firm from the outset. By turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear program in the 1960s the United States allowed Israel not only to continue building up its stockpile unimpeded, but also to lay the basis for the further advances of the 1980s.

A third argument is that U.S. activism will unfairly penalize the United States to the benefit of other international players. This argument, however, betrays a misunderstanding of the universal nature of the threat posed by the spread of nuclear arms, and it denigrates the real willingness shown by other governments (both friendly and less so) to help resolve their share of the global proliferation problem.

During the Reagan Administration, some mix of these arguments seems to have proven convincing in some cases to the administration and Congress alike. Concerning Israel, proliferation expert Leonard Spector has written that "efforts to curb Israel's nuclear advances, according to Reagan Administration sources, have been essentially dropped from the U.S. agenda of significant issues to be addressed in bilateral negotiations with Israel."15 The judgment that Israeli analyst Shai Feldman made in 1988 concerning U.S. policy toward Israel and Pakistan was that "except for some very brief periods, nonproliferation objectives have not been at the top of the United States' national agenda. Competing interests, as well as considerable pessimism regarding the ability to stop proliferation, have resulted in recurring compromises in U.S. nonproliferation policy."16


It is time to end the erosion of our country's position on this vital question of nuclear proliferation. Fortunately, the present international situation provides some valuable opportunities to make real gains in shoring up the global nonproliferation regime.

The arguments that made building the NPT regime seem worthwhile in the 1960s have lost none of their relevance. Quite the contrary. Those arguments centered on the uniquely destructive properties of nuclear arms and on the international linkages that give any incident of nuclear use the potential to catapult all humanity into a global nuclear holocaust. However remote this threat may seem, it must still, like all matters in the nuclear realm, take precedence in American national strategy over all lesser considerations.

Since the 1960s further advances have been made in delivery-vehicle technology, guidance systems and the miniaturization of warheads. All these advances have multiplied the catalytic potential of nuclear explosions. In that same period the declared nuclear powers have moved (albeit unsteadily) toward controlling the size of their arsenals and improving their command-and-control systems and mutual communications. But meanwhile four countries-Israel, India, South Africa and Pakistan-have made significant advances that place them in a position to trigger a nuclear war, especially since these four states all exist in unstable parts of the world and face threats to their security.

There are two other major causes for concern. The proliferatory states are by definition not constrained by the NPT regime from undertaking any secondary proliferation that they might see as in their interests. In this connection, there is some evidence that the Israelis (having acquired much of their expertise from the French) may have shared some nuclear know-how with South Africa and even with prerevolutionary Iran.17 When the declared nuclear states turn a permissively blind eye to individual instances of proliferation, they lessen their influence over onward, secondary proliferation.

The second cause for concern stems from the fact that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by any power gives it new leverage over existing nuclear powers, by virtue of the unique catalytic potential of nuclear arms. Within the "club" of declared nuclear powers, these complex international leverages have been partially regulated by a series of treaty commitments, as among the NATO members, and arms control and risk-reduction agreements, as between the superpowers. Since the new nuclear states have not had their status officially recognized, their leverage remains unregulated-and can be applied in any direction. For example, the Israelis' use of barely veiled threats to rely on their nuclear weapons has become a part of their periodic bargaining for conventional arms shipments from the United States.18


A combination of circumstances signal that now is a good time for the United States and other governments to take serious steps in the fight against nuclear proliferation:

-Most important, the reduction in U.S.-Soviet tensions means that we now have a chance to act more effectively on our concerns over nuclear matters-both by reducing our own arsenals and through efforts to curb horizontal proliferation to other nations.

-In the Middle East the Israelis have been engaged in a serious debate over their national security doctrine since the mid-1980s. The Palestinian uprising has prompted U.S. moves toward addressing that part of Israel's security equation through political means. At the same time, some Israelis have started breaking the previous taboo on considering how a political settlement might be reached in their more complex military confrontation with Syria. Israel's demonstration of its impressive satellite capability meanwhile enables Israelis to think of new alternatives to keeping forces in all the occupied areas.

-In South Asia the generation change that has occurred in the Indian and the Pakistani leaderships, as well as Pakistan's move back toward democracy, give cause for hope that new formulas for control and reduction of those two countries' arsenals may be achieved. (A further easing of tensions between India and China might also make it possible to think of de-linking the nuclear ambitions of India from those of China.) Already, Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi have formalized their countries' undertakings not to destroy each other's nuclear facilities. This should be seen as a helpful first step. But if it is not to result in these two states' reliance on mutual deterrence backed up by existing clandestine nuclear stockpiles, India and Pakistan must also be moved toward real nuclear disarmament.

-In southern Africa the Soviet-Cuban disengagement from their former positions has defused much of the military tension. The apartheid state is left with enormous problems to resolve, but nuclear arms are of little use in most scenarios.

Thus, in those parts of the globe where states have accumulated secret nuclear potential, there is a real chance that the firm pressure of the United States and other outside powers can succeed, in the years ahead, in freezing and subsequently dismantling these arsenals. There is no longer any excuse for deep pessimism.

What can the Bush Administration do to remedy this situation? With respect to Israel, Pakistan and the other nuclear "mavericks," it is clear that measures to freeze and reduce their nuclear stockpiles should be undertaken hand-in-hand with other measures designed to reduce the security threat these states perceive. Such measures would include renewed efforts to reach political resolutions of outstanding regional conflicts, as well as steps toward reducing the threat from other non-conventional weapons such as ballistic and cruise missiles, and chemical and biological arms. Progress in these other areas would clearly not in itself suffice to make the threat of nuclear proliferation go away: this latter bull must also be grasped firmly by the horns.

With respect to Pakistan, there is the distinct possibility that, as the Afghan confrontation winds down, our government may place the nuclear issue effectively back on the bilateral agenda. Before President Reagan left office, his administration reportedly informed Congress that the United States would be unlikely to repeat at the end of 1989 the certification it gave in November 1988, to the effect that Pakistan did not "possess" a nuclear device.

If this certification is not forthcoming, then all U.S. aid to Pakistan would be barred under the congressional provision of 1985. The prospect of an abrupt discontinuation of U.S. aid would come as a shock for Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But the Bush Administration should use the months that remain before certification is required to negotiate the best deal it can with Pakistan, in which a certain amount of aid would be given in return for Pakistan's opening up its sensitive nuclear facilities to real IAEA-type inspections. (And U.S. aid should not, at this stage, include the sale of civilian nuclear reactors as the Pakistanis have reportedly proposed.)

Over the longer term, U.S. incentives to the Pakistanis should be similarly structured with the aim of encouraging Pakistan to cease acquisition of further nuclear-relevant material, turning over sensitive facilities to civilian production (or shutting them completely), and verifiably dismantling its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Fire-breaks-against testing, against formal "possession," against acquisition of relevant technology-should remain in place and be strengthened. More important, they should be discussed and applied in a straightforward manner, without any of the double-talk that served to mask the Reagan Administration's damaging downgrading of the nonproliferation effort.

Multilateral efforts that would deal with South Asian security on a region-wide basis should be stepped up. These efforts could be carried out alongside matching efforts on the part of the Soviets and the Chinese, or in coordination with them. The Soviets would be responsible for undertaking a policy toward India parallel to the policy that the United States carries out with Pakistan.

All our best efforts will lose their effectiveness, however, if they fail to deal with Israel. If we have a commitment to a global nonproliferation regime, then we cannot let any one country claim exception to it. Not even Israel. In the nuclear age, as the superpowers with their huge arsenals have been forced to admit, human survival is truly a mutual undertaking. No single state can seek survival by going it alone. A way must be found for Israel, like the other holdouts, to be brought into the NPT regime.

President Bush has given many public commitments to Israel's long-term security; he is thus in an excellent position to lead this effort. A first step will be to place the subject of nuclear proliferation firmly back on the bilateral agenda with Israel. He and his officials should spell out to the Israelis, in private and if necessary also in public, that the United States has a deep long-term commitment to the NPT regime, and that our commitment to Israel's security is entirely consonant with this. He should clearly inform them that the U.S. government intends to pursue the twin goals of resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute through political means and strengthening the worldwide nonproliferation effort, without in any way compromising Israel's real long-term security. Finally, the effort to draw down Israel's nuclear capabilities should be matched by efforts to reduce the Arab states' growing arsenals of missiles and chemical weapons.

The Bush Administration should recognize that a new, more aggressive approach is needed in order to freeze and then turn back the international spread of nuclear weapons. The president should make the American people aware of the present dangers of nuclear spread and of the consequent threats to our security. But President Bush need not be a prophet of doom: he is in the lucky position of being able to deal with this problem with more than just rhetoric.

2 Judith Miller, "2 in House Withdraw Atom Curb," The New York Times, Dec. 9, 1981, p. A8.

4 Péan, op. cit., p. 120; Leonard S. Spector, The Undeclared Bomb, Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1988, p. 174.

5 See William B. Quandt, Decade of Decisions: American Policy Toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1967-76, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977, p. 67.

6 "Rabin on Saudi missiles, other issues," Yedi'ot Aharonot (Israel), April 1, 1988, [translated in FBIS-NES, April 6, 1988, p. 29].

7 Péan, op. cit.

8 See Shai Feldman, Israeli Nuclear Deterrence; A Strategy for the 1980s, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, p. 216.

9 William B. Quandt, op. cit.

10 Shai Feldman, "Superpower nonproliferation policies," in The Soviet-American Competition in the Middle East, Steven L. Spiegel et al., Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1988, p. 98.

11 Ibid., p. 99.

13 An analysis of the technical details revealed by Vanunu appears in Frank Barnaby, The Invisible Bomb, London: I.B. Tauris, 1989.

15 Leonard S. Spector, op. cit., p. 189.

16 Shai Feldman, op. cit., p. 104.

17 See James Adams, The Unnatural Alliance, London and New York: Quartet Books, 1984, chapters 8-10; and Vol. 19 of the Iranian students' series of reconstructed CIA files, minutes of various meetings between Israeli and Iranian officials, July 1977 through June 1978.

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  • Gerard C. Smith served as Special Presidential Representative for nonproliferation negotiations from 1977 to 1980. Helena Cobban is a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution. When she worked on this article she was a Social Science Research Council/MacArthur Senior Fellow in International Peace and Security Studies.
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