The foreign policy crises that make headlines are those that involve slaughter, starvation and flight. Sadly the list is long: Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Burundi, East Timor and others. But when foreign policy experts list the major threats to international security, scarcely any one of these tragedies is at the top. What tops a great many such lists is nuclear proliferation.
This fact is what makes the quiet, admirably professional negotiation that led to U.S. acquisition of half a ton of weapons-grade uranium from Kazakhstan a greater security achievement than any of the Clinton Administration's other recent foreign policy successes. This lethal material could have been used to make dozens of bombs, and it was recovered from a region from which nuclear material was making its way onto the black market last summer.
The end of the Cold War counts only if nuclear war--the almost unimaginable horror that made the Cold War what it was--also is ended. The termination of the decades-long armed standoff between the United States and the former Soviet Union has ended the likeliest scenario for nuclear Armageddon. Unfortunately, the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the totalitarian control that Moscow had maintained over its citizens has greatly raised the potential for nuclear smuggling and nuclear blackmail.
Some of the worst anxieties have centered around Kazakhstan. Because this now-independent republic lies at the interior of what was the Soviet Union, it was home to many weapons installations. But it is a Muslim country to which, for cultural reasons, emissaries from Iran and Afghanistan have relatively easy access. Islam is no more equated with terrorism than any of the other major world religions; at the same time, terrorism by Muslim extremists is too large a fact of international life to be passed over in discreet silence.
The Clinton Administration negotiators, led by Ambassador William H. Courtney, a former nuclear arms negotiator, deserve credit for a service to the cause of international security. Their success comes as a reminder that if, as Prussian general Karl von Clausewitz said, war is "a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means," then the reverse is also true. Some military or national security goals can only be pursued by political relations, and nuclear non-proliferation is one. No increase in military spending could accomplish what this negotiating team has accomplished. Whatever the social chaos in Kazakhstan, whatever the certainty of exporting its nuclear war-making capability, U.S. military intervention would remain out of the question.
As we confront nuclear terror in the form it will take in the years ahead, brilliant diplomacy will by far surely be the defense "weapon" of choice.