Farewell to nuclear arms?

Author:Thakur, Ramesh

As we survey the contemporary international strategic landscape, the mushroom clouds on the horizon appear to be the darkest they have been in six years. The most recent disturbing news has been revelations of a series of "rogue" nuclear experiments by South Korean scientists. In September 2004, Seoul admitted to some of its research scientists extracting a tiny amount of plutonium in an experiment in 1982 and conducting three enrichment experiments in 2000 to produce 0.2 grams of enriched uranium. Plutonium and uranium are two key ingredients of nuclear weapons.


The United States is asserting the right to develop new generations of earth-penetrating, bunker-busting nuclear weapons and battlefield "mini-nukes", as well as refining the doctrines underpinning the deployment and possible use of nuclear weapons. At the April 2004 session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in New York, some of the nuclear-weapon States (NWSs) opposed calls for subsidiary bodies to look at nuclear disarmament, resisted demands for "negative security assurances" not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear States, and tried to exclude reference to previous review conferences, in particular the consensus 1995 Final Document, which included thirteen practical steps to nuclear disarmament. Washington no longer accepts the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the "unequivocal undertaking" of the NWSs to the total elimination of nuclear arsenals, and the maintenance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

China continues to modernize its nuclear arsenal and is the only NWS to have it expanded since the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. However, it is still a long way behind the United States and the Russian Federation, and has no intention to catch up with them. While Israel crawled quietly under the nuclear barrier some time ago, India and Pakistan crashed through them noisily in 1998 and came close to war in 2002. Concerns remain about North Korea's capacity and intention to acquire nuclear weapons (if it doesn't already have some), the proliferation-sensitive activities of Iran, the off-the-shelf purchase of nuclear weapons by Saudi Arabia, and the potential leakage of "loose nukes" from Russia.

Worst-case scenarios see terrorists using nuclear or radiological weapons to kill hundreds of thousands of people. We...

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