ARTICLE: Nuclear War Risk
April 29, 2003
Nuclear War Risk Grows as States Race to Acquire Bomb
by Peter Popham
A conference on nuclear non-proliferation began in Geneva
yesterday, in the shadow of North Korea's departure from the global
treaty and with the bleakest prospects for progress in the pact's
John Wolf, US Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Non-proliferation
told a news conference on the first day of the meeting that Iran has
"an alarming, clandestine program." to get hold of nuclear
technology. "Iran is going down the same path of denial and
deception that handicapped international inspections in North Korea
and Iraq," he said.
But disarmament experts said that American lack of commitment to
non-proliferation was as damaging as the behavior of the
Representatives of 187 countries are attending the Preparatory
Committee (PrepCom) of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
This is the second of three sessions that will be held before the
Review Conference in 2005.
North Korea became the first state ever to defect from the process -
Israel, India and Pakistan, all known nuclear states, have never been
members - when it announced its departure in January. More
defections are feared.
This was the Treaty that was supposed to lead to a non-nuclear world,
but experts say the risks of proliferation are worse now than for 50
years. In the past two years the multilateral effort to contain and
reduce the nuclear risk has unraveled. At the last NPT review
conference in 2000 all member states signed a 13-point program. that
included an undertaking by the five declared nuclear-weapon states to
"That agreement is now gathering dust on some filing cabinet
somewhere," said Dan Plesch, senior researcher at the Royal
United Services Institute. "For the first time since the 1950s
there isn't a global framework ... to get rid of nuclear
Pyongyang's off-the-record announcement last week that it already had
the bomb was a further blow. "Everyone is at a loss as to how to
move forward on North Korea," said Kathryn Crandall of the
British American Security Information Council, a research
organization. It is expected that the meeting will try to agree on a
statement - but given the low morale it is more likely to be an
invitation to return to the fold than a blast of brimstone.
At least as damaging as North Korea's departure have been successive
moves by Washington to distance itself from nuclear disarmament.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, the US President, George Bush,
signed National Security Presidential Directive 17, which said:
"The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves
the right to respond with overwhelming force - including potentially
nuclear weapons - to the use of [weapons of mass destruction]
against the United States ..."
This assertion, analysts say, undermined an important prop of the NPT
process: the so-called "negative security assurances",
initially made in 1978 and strengthened by the adoption of UN Security
Council Resolution 984 in 1995, not to use nuclear weapons against the
non-nuclear weapon states.
The assurances were considered vital in discouraging states from
developing their own nuclear weapons. Now people wonder if they are
worth the paper it they are written on.
The popularizing of the term Weapons of Mass Destruction has blurred
the formerly stark distinction between nuclear and other weapons, and
has paved the way for this change, claims Ms Crandall. She said:
"Such terminology reduces the understanding of the unparalleled
destructive capacity of nuclear weapons compared to the less
destructive effects of chemical and biological weapons."
More and more states are likely to buy the argument that the only way
to be secure in a unipolar world is to go down the nuclear road -
"to pre-empt pre-emption", one analyst said. "People
look at the different ways that the 'Axis of Evil' states - Iraq and
North Korea - have been treated and they draw their own
"What other countries are going to sit around after dinner
saying, if Pakistan's got the bomb why haven't we?" said Mr
Plesch. On the list of those likely to be holding such conversations,
he said, are Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey and perhaps pre-eminently Japan,
North Korea's uneasy neighbor.
No long-term ill consequences threaten those that go down such a
route. After India, then Pakistan, tested nuclear weapons in 1998,
sanctions were clamped and both countries widely condemned. But all
that changed after 11 September 2001, when the US needed Pakistan's
Last week, America's outgoing Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill,
spoke of India as "a rising great power of the 21st century"
and of how the US and India "have made enormous strides" in
the past two years towards "forging concentrated strategic
collaboration". "Two years ago, there were economic
sanctions ... against India related to its 1998 nuclear tests,"
Blackwill said. "Today, those sanctions are long gone."
India congratulates itself that its stock in the world is higher now
than before it got the bomb.
"It's a double hit," said Mr Plesch. "A failure to
disarm the world at the end of the Cold War. And now proliferating
countries and the United States all deciding that they are not
interested in this or other treaties any more ... the whole future of
the treaty is up for grabs."
Believed to have between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, but has never
acknowledged them. Refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation
treaty and does not allow United Nations weapons inspectors into the
country. Has around 90 Jericho 1 surface-to-surface medium-range (311
miles) missiles, and Jericho 2 long-range (1,000 miles) missiles, and
100 aircraft that could deliver nuclear devices.
Development of nuclear power facilities at Busheher using Russian
expertise has stoked US fears that Iran is developing nuclear weapons,
despite an agreement that spent fuel rods will be disposed of in
Russia. Recent tests of a new generation of Shihab 3 medium-range
rockets has added to US concerns, and a Shihab 4 rocket capable of
reaching Western Europe is believed to be near to testing.
In 1974, India exploded what the government described as a
"peaceful nuclear device", and has expanded its capability
ever since, bringing nuclear-capable Agni (Fire) II surface-to-surface
long-range (1,242 miles) missiles into service last year. Also has
short-range Agni I missiles, and 40 or more aircraft capable of
delivering nuclear devices. Has not signed the nuclear
When hundreds of thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops amassed on
either side of the line of control in Kashmir last May, Pakistan
test-fired Ghauri, Ghaznazi (Hatf 3) and the Abdali (Hatf 2) missiles
to show it was ready and capable of using short and medium-range
nuclear warheads. It also has 40 or so aircraft capable of delivering
nuclear devices. Has not signed the non-proliferation treaty.
Signed the non-proliferation treaty in 1985 and pulled out in
January this year. This followed a US-led decision to halt oil
shipments over Pyongyang's admission it was restarting its nuclear
program. Believed to have one or two nuclear weapons, and testing of
the long-range Pekodosan 1 (formerly the Taepodong 1) missile
continues. Has two or more aircraft capable of delivering nuclear