Limit Admission to Club Nuclear

Not long ago, the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved back the hands of the famous "doomsday" clock on the magazine's cover to 10 minutes to midnight, signaling their conviction that the trend of U.S.-Soviet relations has significantly reduced the threat of nuclear war. Time, however, does not stand still. Even as the superpowers negotiate further cuts in their nuclear stockpiles, other nations are laboring to create atomic arsenals of their own. A disturbing new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offers proof that a lot of their success can be attributed to greed and laxity within nuclear supplier nations.

Not one of these major suppliers, among them the United States, Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy and China, has been wholly successful in preventing smuggling and other unauthorized nuclear transfers. But the Carnegie report singles out West Germany for special criticism, citing the "particularly troubling" roles its citizens and firms have taken in abetting nuclear proliferation in several countries. The report notes, for example, the vital part taken by a West German broker who worked through a Swiss subsidiary to export Chinese nuclear materials to India and Argentina, enhancing both countries' nuclear weapons capabilities. Had export controls been effectively enforced throughout the 1980s in West Germany and elsewhere, says Leonard Spector, the report's author, Pakistan, India, Argentina and Brazil would not be as far along on their nuclear programs as they are today. (Israel, almost certainly a nuclear power, developed its capability in earlier decades.)

All this is bad enough. Worse is that the nuclear genie continues to ooze out of the bottle. Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea, says Spector, all aspire to become nuclear-armed. All of these countries, as the world knows only too well, are run by fanatical, implacable, ruthless leaders who are unlikely to be guided by civilized restraints in the use of nuclear or any other mass-destruction weapons.

It still isn't too late, says the report, to slow or frustrate the alarming march toward proliferation. Advanced supplier states--again, West Germany in particular--should take all necessary legal steps to close the gaps in their nuclear export-control systems. And all supplier states should work to develop a common policy to apply economic sanctions, restrict military sales and cut aid to any government that engages in or tolerates nuclear smuggling. The appalling prospect of a world in which an Iran, an Iraq, a Libya or a North Korea would control its own nuclear arms underscores the urgent need for collective action. Whatever further nuclear cutbacks the superpowers may achieve, the grim evidence is that the doomsday clock continues to tick on.

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